Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Favorite Food Memories 2011

Here are my favorite foodie memories of 2011. Some are bay area related, some aren't. All were absolutely delicious.

Baker & Banker, San Francisco
My Mom and I shared dinner here and we instantly became fans. I love everything about this restaurant. I love how it is a perfectly shaped small, square room with warm wood tones throughout. I love the husband and wife team; he's the Chef de Cuisine and she's the Pastry Chef. I love their Soy & Mirin Braised Black Cod. And what I love most, is how strong every course is.  I am often left feeling "meh" after ordering desserts while dining out. However, Baker & Banker has delighted my taste buds every time...I mean, Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter Bread Pudding? You stop it.

Butcher, New Orleans
Last year, I dated an Italian guy. On one date, he asked me if I had to pick one single animal's meat to live off of for the rest of my life, which animal would it be? Bonus points for a great question, truly. My answer is the pig. I love me some pork. And Butcher in New Orleans does not disappoint when it comes to all things pig. If you are ever in the New Orleans area, visit Butcher for lunch. I recommend the Pork Belly Sandwich. My mom's father, who I unfortunately never got to meet, owned a Butcher Shop. This place felt so old school, in the very best way, and I hope to one day share a Pork Belly Sandwich with my Mom here.

Pinot & Paella at Williams Selyem Winery, Healdsburg
Drinking my favorite type of wine, Pinot Noir, while indulging in a dish full of meat and seafood? Oh, while the sun is shining, it's 80 degrees, and I'm standing here? Sign me up. This day was all about the Pinot's...some of the most delicious I've ever tasted. It left me thinking, how can I marry into this fabulous wine-making family?

Susan Feniger's STREET, Paris Girls Reunion, Los Angeles
It's impossible to describe how much fun I have when I am reunited with my girlfriends I met while eating my way through studying abroad in Paris in 2005. When together, we tend to talk like it was just yesterday we were indulging in crepes at 3am or racing to L'As du Falafel in the Marais district on our school lunch break for the world's best falafels. This year, our reunion started at Susan Feniger's restaurant, Street in LA. It offers a wide variety of dishes inspired by street food from around the world. Yes, the world. Where else can you order both Nigerian Egusi Greens and Cheese Grits? You're welcome.

And on one non-food related note, but equally favorite concert and album this year, which happens to be my go-to cooking music as well:

Bon Iver at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley
It's no secret that I am obsessed with Bon Iver's music. I can wholeheartedly say that I love every single song. His sound is multi-dimensional and his lyrics are completely unique, sometimes puzzling, and leave room for interpretation...the best kind, in my opinion. I was fortunate enough to go to the Bon Iver concert in September. Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), I'm never going to get over you or that seemingly bedazzled jean jacket you wore while rocking out at the Greek Theatre. Stacks & Beth/Rest forever.


Here's to a delicious 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa's Munch Mix

I don't have a cute story about this recipe so I'm going to put this very, very simply. This stuff is good. This is Santa's Munchie Munch Mix.

Like, dangerously addicting, can't get your hands out of the bowl, hate/love the person that made it, might as well put on your stretchy pants, call it a day and go to town good.

But it's the overindulging is okay...right? Right. Glad we got that out of the way. Make this immediately. Not convinced? Here are some reasons why:

1) It's the perfect homemade gift to give out to friends, family and coworkers. Wrap it up in some cute Holiday bag, tie a bow, and bam.

2) It actually makes a yummy breakfast. It's crunchy, sweet with a hint of salt, and absolutely delicious in a bowl with a puddle of your milk of choice. Mine is almond milk, by the way. Just do it.

3) Because even though I love cookies as much as him, sometimes you just gotta switch it up. It's nearly 2012. Santa's OD'd on cookies and milk and wants some damn munch mix.

Do you enjoy lumps of coal? Only on the BBQ friends...only on the BBQ.

Santa's Munch Mix
1 box Quakers Oatmeal Squares (plain or brown sugar kind)
1 1/2 cups cashews
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 cup peanuts or walnuts
3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2) You can do the following using the microwave or the stove (my method of choice). In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the corn syrup, brown sugar, and butter. When it comes to a boil, add the vanilla and baking soda. I love this part! The baking soda acts as a leavening agent and the mixture expands. Smell the heavenly smell and stir until blended.

3) Butter a 9 x 13 inch rectangular pan or a regular cookie sheet. Pour the cereal and nuts onto the cookie sheet and mix. Then, pour the hot mixture over the cereal and immediately stir to make sure the cereal is coated evenly.

4) Place the pan in the oven. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on your oven). Stir every ten minutes. This is the trickiest part, as the the nuts can burn easily. All ingredients should turn a golden brown.

5) Take the munch mix out of the oven and let cool until warm. Transfer the mixture from the pan or cookie sheet into a bag, box, or cute Holiday tin. The mixture is sticky so it can be challenging to get it off the baking sheet/pan, so don't be afraid to get your hands a little dirty.

Santa will thank you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Medjool Dates Stuffed with Chorizo Wrapped in Bacon (to die for)

I once got into an argument with a man at a dive bar over pork. More specifically, the best pork chop in San Francisco. I insisted it was Nopa's. They brine that sucker for hours. It's so juicy good. He very adamantly disagreed with me (I don't even remember his top choice for best pork chop) and we went on to argue for a good thirty minutes. After I won we agreed to disagree, I ended up leaving the bar with a napkin in which he wrote his favorite 5 dishes in SF for me to try, the restaurants where I could find them...and his number on the back.

I never did call him. Though he was quite handsome, I knew it'd never work. He thought Nopa's pork chop was "okay." I thought it was pretty damn good. He preferred prime rib. I prefer filet. That kind of thing. Clearly I have my priorities straight, am I right?

Back to the pork. I served Medjool dates stuffed with pork chorizo wrapped in ...well, more pork, bacon, at a Holiday get together and they were received warmly. I think these are the absolute perfect appetizer to bring to or serve at a Holiday party, or any party for that matter. If you like spicy chorizo, you'll like these. If you don't like dates, you'll still like these. If you like bacon, you'll like these. If you don't like bacon, huh!?


Medjool Dates Stuffed with Chorizo Wrapped in Bacon
Inspired by Chef Debbie Duggan (aka, Mom)

12-15 Medjool Dates (Trader Joes sells them, but you should be able to find them at your local grocery store)
2 to 4 oz of Pork Chorizo
1 pack of bacon (15 to 20 slices)

1) Pit the dates: split each date open using a small knife and take out the pit. Place the pitted dates on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Preheat the oven to 375.

2) Cook the chorizo: in a skillet over the stove, cook the chorizo (it's not the prettiest site). Make sure you take it out of the casing prior to cooking. Cook the chorizo for 10 to 12 minutes. Once done, put the chorizo into a bowl and let it cool slightly.

3) Stuff the dates: using a small spoon, stuff a little chorizo into each date; it really only takes a little bit, as chorizo can be quite spicy.

4) Cook the bacon: cook the bacon, but make sure to not overcook it. It should be slightly undercooked and not even close to being crispy. Once the bacon is finished, place on layered paper towels and de-grease it, patting the pieces down slightly.

5) Wrap the dates: take a slice of bacon and wrap it around the stuffed dates, securing each date with a toothpick. This can get messy, and it's ok if your dates are bordering on the obese side.

6) Bake the dates: Bake the dates for 12-14 minutes. The chorizo should be sizzling and the bacon should turn a golden brown color. Take them out of the oven and serve warm, or even, at room temperature.

*Note: I tripled the recipe in the pictures on this blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Motivating Cold Weather Workout Playlist

Those who eat well, must exercise well too. It's no secret that I like to run. A lot, actually...even when it's cold, foggy, and you can't see more than 2 feet ahead at 6:30am (cough, San Francisco, cough).

Here's my running playlist I'm digging right now. You could say I have eclectic taste...Glee Mash-Up and Chronic 2001 in the same playlist? Don't knock it until you listen...

1) Without You (featuring Usher) by David Guetta
2) September by Earth, Wind & Fire
A classic, happy tune, always.
3) That's Right by Girl Talk
Only Girl Talk could mix Rihanna with a David Gray classic. When I saw Girl Talk DJ this past Summer, he looked like a muppet on ecstasy...and it was amazing.
4)  Lost In the World by Kanye West
5) Good Feeling by Flo Rida
Because what cardio playlist would be complete without Flo Rida?
6) We Found Love (featuring Calvin Harris) by Rihanna
Such a great beat; perfect for high intensity cardio.
7) It Will Rain by Bruno Mars
This song was passed onto me by a dear friend (oh hey B!); always brings a smile to my face when I'm panting running.
8) Rumour Has It/Someone Like You (mash up) by Glee cast 
An amazing Adele mash-up. Seriously.
9) Take Care (featuring Rihanna) by Drake
10) Just Fine by Mary J. Blige
11) Your Ex-Lover is Dead by Stars
I love this song because the intensity builds throughout. I also kind of love the title, though the song isn't as morbid as it sounds.
12) Bombs Over Baghdad (B.O.B) by Outkast
Always on my marathon or 1/2 marathon playlists. Absolutely one of the most intense, fast paced songs, ever. Listening to it forces you to move faster and harder.  I always feel as though I am racing the song...and just when I feel defeated, the song ends (thank goodness) and I can breathe again.
13) Oh No by Girl Talk
14) Under Your Spell by Desire
15) Best Thing I Never Had by Beyonce
16) Gettin' It Good by Too Short
One of my all time favorite rap songs. Period.
17) Never Let Me Go by Florence & the Machine
If you have not yet bought her latest album, Ceremonials, you are seriously depriving yourself.
18) White Blank Page by Mumford & Sons
19) One More Chance/Stay With Me (Remix) by The Notorious BIG
20) Xplosive by Dr. Dre
I mean, probably one of my all time favorite rap songs. And why not end your workout on a bang...literally. I think there's a gunshot at the end.

Please, please send any of your favorite workout songs my way! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Thanksgiving Dinner

Since my Mom is a Chef, I'm always asked by everyone about what my Thanksgiving Dinner is like. I think our spread is pretty traditional, but then again, I've never really eaten anyone else's Thanksgiving meal. Everything is homemade, from the rolls, to the pie crusts, to the turkey bastin' juice. And the woman can cook fast; the entire meal is done in a matter of 6 hours. It's a 1 1/2 woman show...I help with the pies. 

I leave you with these images of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Someone, get me something green, quick.

Morning run; the leaves in San Luis Obispo are so vibrant!

 Homemade Crescent Rolls rising...

Undressed Apple Pie

Crescent Rolls Brushed with Butter

 Sweet Potatoes topped with Caramelized Brown Sugared Walnuts

Traditional Cranberry Sauce and Cranberry-Orange Sauce

 My Mom's Famous Bread Stuffing, with sausage, cranberries, apples, port, pecans, and name a few ingredients.

 Turkey Slicings. It's all about the dark meat, people.

 Barely made a dent.

Triple Chocolate Pecan Pie, my favorite. Semisweet, milk chocolate and white chocolate gooeyness.

Trio of Pies: Triple Chocolate Pecan Pie, Apple Pie, and Pumpkin Prailine Pie.

What was left Saturday morning. I swear, I had nothing to do with this.

Friday, November 18, 2011

With (oh so many) Thanks

Two years ago, one Sunday morning, I went with my roommate and her boyfriend to cheer on a friend who was doing the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco. I stood in amazement amidst other supporters and spectators on the Marina Green, watching all the swimmers run to shore and transition out of their wetsuits into their biking gear. My eye caught an older man, around 65 or so, tall, lean, taking his wetsuit off. I noticed he had outlined, in black marker, around his heart. And it read "Heart Transplant 2000." I will never forget him.

It's easy to get caught up in the negative in life. Most of the time it feels like we're just trying to deal. With stuff. In the midst of all the craziness that is life, there are so many things, people, and experiences to be grateful for. This is what is important in life; this is what I want to remember every day.

Here are just a few things I am grateful for.

Sunday Farmers' Markets

My supportive, thoughtful, and crafty roommate who is just as happy as I am when in the kitchen.

My legs. They allow me to jump and run. And my best friend, Julie.

My Mom. And my Big Sister (not pictured).

My very best friends from childhood.

Central Park NYC. And, my TA. (Inside joke, but lets just say, I won.)

Girlfriends in the city.

Home in San Luis Obispo. 

Laughter. And puppies named [Marga}Rita.

College best friends from UC Davis. And creepy photos of Kacey.


The city I live in. I am so incredibly spoiled. It's ridiculous.

And yes, I entered the 2012 lottery for the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. I sure do hope I get in.

What are you grateful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!
XO Laura

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

Lets talk about butter.

That would be my best friend, Julie, standing next to a tower of butter in a toast shop in a food court in Bangkok. Thailand knows whats up. And yes, my mouth might have been salivating when I snapped that shot. In that moment, we felt so at home. So at home.

Anyways. Back to the butter. The key ingredient to shortbread is butter. It produces crumbly, rich cookies. My version of these cookies involves my three favorite food groups: butter, chocolate, and peanut butter. And my friends wonder why I run so much...

You should make these cookies for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because they are quick, require just a few ingredients, freeze wonderfully, and are the perfect breakfast afternoon pick-me-up with a hot cup of tea. Last year, I sent a care package of them to Julie, my butter-lovin' friend pictured above (the cookies travel well!); all the way from San Francisco to Philadelphia. True story.  I was worried about her butter intake during her law school finals. What can I say? I am a really good friend.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies

12 oz unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 to 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your shortbread; this means you'll need to sample the dough; rough life)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup peanut butter (chunky or creamy)
10 oz high quality chocolate chips (can be milk chocolate or semi-sweet; this equals out to be a little less than using a whole bag; I used Guittard Chocolate for these)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray it with canola oil. Or, if you really want to honor thy butter, you can butter the cookie sheet.

2) Soften the butter in the microwave so that it starts to melt. Mix the butter and sugar together in a large bowl, using a fork. You can use a mixer too, but I prefer to mix by hand.

3) Add the flour and vanilla. The mixture will get crumbly and eventually, turn more dough-like.

4) Soften the peanut butter in the microwave, then add it to the mixture, incorporating it evenly throughout. Note: you can actually omit the peanut butter from the recipe, should you choose; you'd simply keep all the other measurements the same.

5) Fold in the chocolate chips. And taste your dough. If it doesn't taste sweet enough, add a bit more sugar.

6) Roll the cookie dough into small 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls. These cookies won't spread out a lot, so you can fit many on one sheet.

7) Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Some ovens are hotter than others, so always set your timer for the lowest amount of cooking time and check on your cookies. The cookies will continue to bake upon removing them from the oven since they are on the hot cookie sheet and also, know, that these cookies don't turn very golden brown.

If you are wondering if I made myself sick from eating the cookie dough, then you should know, I most certainly did. But it was worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Applesauce

It is prime apple season, folks. While normally, I'm extremely content eating an apple in its original whole form, when the air gets chillier (and by chillier, I mean, 60's in San Francisco...brr...), I feel the urge to make homemade applesauce. Not only is this applesauce tasty, rich with cinnamon and sugar, but it will also make your house (or apartment, in my case), smell so very good. Perhaps the loud cute boy upstairs will notice? It's just a thought.

I promise; this recipe is so easy. The hardest part, is waiting patiently for your apples to soften and brown. The cinnamony-apple smell is slightly intoxicating...but not worth burning your tongue for a premature taste. So take a seat, pour yourself a glass of wine lime fizzy water, and peel your apples. Don't forget to turn on the music.

First, get yourself some apples; 4 to 5 medium sized ones will work just fine, to make a decent sized pot o applesauce. I prefer to use Jonagolds, Gravenstein (an August apple), Galas, or Fujis. Wash them. Peel them imperfectly.

Then, cut them into slices, about 1/4 inch thick.

In a large saucepan, add 1/2 cup of white sugar, 1 cup of water, and the naked apples. Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus, a cinnamon stick if you're feeling frisky. I used two in this recipe; I was feeling especially bold after Sunday afternoon yoga. Namaste. Stir it all up, making sure to coat the apples with the liquid.

Let the apples come to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Every 10 minutes or so, stir your sauce! This where the music comes in. Relax. Listen. Stir. Repeat.

Over time, the apples will brown and soften; time will vary but this batch took about 30 minutes. When they are cooked to your liking, remove from the heat and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes or so. Stir a bit more. Yeah, they should be a bit syrupy.

My favorite way to enjoy this applesauce is over a thick pork chop. To be honest, it's more like, would you like some pork chop with that applesauce? It's also absolutely delicious atop a sweet potato, mixed in with some roasted squash, brussel sprouts, and onions, or in your morning oats. Or alone, eaten out of a jar. Like so.

Even though I'm perfectly capable of making this applesauce, whenever my Mom cooks for my birthday, she asks me, "What do you want me to make you? Prime Rib? Filet?" And every year, I reply, "pork chops with applesauce." It's simply the ultimate comfort food meal.

Now go pick some apples and make this applesauce. Even if it's just to lure your cute neighbor in.

Homemade Applesauce

4-5 medium sized apples (Jonagolds, Gravenstein, Galas, or Fujis)
1/2 -3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus more to taste)
1 cinnamon stick (optional, but recommended)

1) Wash and peel apples. Slice into 1/4 inch thick slices.

2) In a large saucepan, combine apples, sugar, water, cinnamon, and cinnamon stick. Stir to coat the apples with the liquid and spices.

3) Bring apples to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 30 minutes or so, stirring every 10 minutes.

4) Once the apples are brown and syrupy, remove from heat and let sit to cool.

Serves 6. Eat very hot, warm, or cold. You may need to add more sugar or cinnamon, depending on the quality of your spices and your personal taste preference.