Book Review: Mushrooms of the redwood coast

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast is the most impressive and comprehensive book on mushrooms that I have ever read.  There about 500 pages of information 750 species of mushrooms growing in coastal northern California with accompanied pictures.  The authors gave a lot of tips on how to find them in their natural habitat, identifying them, collecting them, and what tools are essential for mushroom foraging.  Twenty five major groups of mushrooms take center stage in this book such as chanterelles, amanita, dark-spored mushrooms, waxy caps, tooth fungi, truffles, and morels.  Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast is perfect for those mushroom nerds and those interested in mushroom foraging.

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher 

Cookbook Review: Plated

Saturday, July 30, 2016

When I received Plated in the mail, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Plated is a cookbook from the online food delivery company Plated, similar to Blue Apron or Sun Basket.  One of my favorite sections is the flavoring chapter which teaches you how to make your own spices, marinades, dressings, sauces, condiments, and infusions.  This section is perfect for the home cook who loves those dyi projects instead of buying prepackaged spices and marinades.  

With regard to recipes, I’m not sure if the ones in the book are similar to the ones posted online but they seem very straightforward and versatile ranging from classic American dishes to Italian, Asian, Greek, and Middle Eastern.  Some of my favorite recipes are seared duck breast, beer braised pulled chicken, and steak gyros with yogurt sauce.  Since cherries are in season I tried the cherry clafoutis and everyone in my family loved it.  I’m already bookmarking many more recipes that I want to try.  With no expectation whatsoever, I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the recipes from this book are.  I highly recommend Plated to anyone new to cooking but want to try a variety of recipes.          

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher

Earl Grey Pavlova with Figs

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My obsession with Earl Grey started a few years ago when I first discovered the London Fog at Le Marche St Georges. Coming back from Vancouver, I started making the London Fog at home and eventually moved onto experimenting with Earl Grey tea in desserts. Incorporating Earl Grey in ice cream was easy since all I had to do was steep the tea in the milk. However, the baked goods were a bit more challenging especially cookies, meringues, and pavlovas. I can’t say that I’ve mastered meringue or pavlova yet but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that hopefully will help you with your meringue journey.

Like macarons, meringue and pavlova are quite fickle. With very few ingredients, egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, cornstarch, and a tiny amount of vinegar, they’re supposedly simple to make but even the most experienced home bakers find them intimidating. Over the years, this Earl Grey pavlova has grown to be one of my favorite summer desserts when figs are in season. I hope you like this pavlova as much as we do!

Earl Grey Pavlova with Figs
4 egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup of sugar
1 tbsp loose Earl Grey tea leaves
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp of cornstarch
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
Powdered sugar for dusting

Earl Grey syrup
2 tbsps of Earl Grey sugar from above
¼ cup of water

1 cup of heavy whipping cream
½ cup of mascarpone
2 tbsps of powdered sugar
8-10 figs, torn in half
2 tbsps of roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw a 8 by 10 inch rectangle on the parchment paper and dust with powdered sugar to prevent the pavlova from sticking.
3. Add the sugar and Earl Grey tea leaves to a spice grinder and grind until the sugar and tea leaves become powdery. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the Earl Grey sugar for the syrup.
4. Whisk the cornstarch into the Earl Grey sugar mixture until well combined. Adding cornstarch helps prevent the pavlova from shrinking during baking and creates a crispy outer layer.
5. Before placing the egg whites into a mixing bowl of an electric mixer, wipe the bowl clean and make sure that there’s no residual moisture. Any moisture will make it impossible to achieve thick, stiff peaks.
6. Beat the egg whites and whisk on medium speed until it becomes foamy, about 3 minutes.
7. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the Earl Grey sugar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the sugar has been added. Continue to whip until the the egg whites are stiff and glossy and firm peaks form, about 12-15 minutes.
8. Add the vinegar and cream of tartar and fold in gently with a metal spoon to combine. The vinegar creates a chewy pavlova and the cream of tartar helps stabilize the egg whites.
9. Spread the egg white mixture inside the drawn rectangle, making a slight indent in the center. Alternatively you can make 6-8 individual mini pavlova.
10. Reduce the oven to 275 degrees F and bake for 50-60 minutes or until firm to touch.
11. Leave the pavlova in the switched off oven to cool for an hour with the door slightly ajar.
12. To make the Earl Grey syrup, combine 2 tablespoons of Earl Grey sugar with water in a small sauce pan over low heat until the volume is reduced in half.
13. Whip the mascarpone, heavy cream, and powdered sugar together until thick and smooth and soft peaks form.
14. When ready to serve, remove the pavlova from the oven and place on a serving platter.

15. Spread the mascarpone over the center of the pavlova, top with figs and pistachios, and drizzle with syrup.

Tomato fig peach prosciutto and burrata salad

Saturday, July 9, 2016

People always ask what my favorite season is and I find it quite hard to pick one. Each season brings its beautiful fruits and vegetables but summer would be my favorite. Summer arrives with its glorious stone fruits, cherries, berries, melons, figs, tomatoes, avocado, zucchini, squash, and their beautiful blossoms. I find myself eating even more salads, churning a lot of ice cream, and turning on my oven as often as winter to turn those beautiful fruits and vegetables into delicious tarts, pies, and cakes. Summer is also the perfect time for indulging in lazy afternoons and gathering with friends over delicious meals that go into the wee hours of the morning. Speaking of gatherings, today we’re sharing our favorite summer salad that is often served at dinner parties. The heroes behind this salad are sweet summer fruits--heirloom tomatoes, figs, and peaches--which provide a nice contrast to the creaminess of burrata and saltiness of prosciutto. 

It’s an effortless salad that can be thrown together in a few minutes but requires hunting for the best ingredients at your local farmers markets the day before. Your guests will love this salad and don’t be surprised if it becomes your favorite summer salad.

Tomato, fig, peach, prosciutto, and burrata salad
8 ripe figs (Black Mission figs, Brown Turkey figs, or your favorite), torn in half
2 heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, halved if big
2 peaches, ripe but firm, thinly sliced
1-2 whole burrata
8 slices of prosciutto
¼ cup of basil leaves

For the salad dressing

1 tbsp of raw honey
2 tbsps of good quality olive oil
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. In a small sauce bowl, whisk the ingredients for the salad dressing together and set aside. Keep in mind that the cheese and prosciutto are slightly salty.

2. Arrange the salad ingredients on a serving platter. Garnish with basil leaves.

3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

Wild ramps pesto pizza with asparagus and peas

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Pizza was not something that I grew up with. It was my husband who introduced me to pizza when we met in college. While I grew up with Vietnamese food, Vu grew up with American food. I credit him for my love of pizza as well as Italian food. A few years ago, we began making pizza at home and started experimenting with seasonal ingredients to expand our arsenal of pizza recipes. It’s been a very rewarding journey in pizza making. 

Today, we’re sharing one of our favorite vegetarian pizzas--wild ramps pesto pizza with asparagus, peas, and ricotta. Everything is homemade from the pizza dough, to ricotta cheese, and wild ramps and hazelnut pesto. All the flavors marry together and sing of spring.

Wild ramps pesto pizza

8 oz pizza dough
Semonia or all purpose flour for dusting
½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup homemade ricotta cheese (recipe here)
2 tbsps wild ramp and hazelnut pesto (recipe here)
¼ cup fresh/frozen peas
5-6 spears of young asparagus
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 chive blossoms

1. Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. It will take about 15 minutes for the pizza stone to heat up.

2. Lightly dust a clean work surface with semolina or flour. Roll out the pizza dough into a rough 12x6 inch oval about ¼ inch thick.

3. Transfer the pizza base to a piece of parchment paper.

4. Prick the base with a fork, place the pizza on the lowest rack, and bake for 7 minutes. Leaving the pizza on the lowest rack helps crisp the base.

5. Remove pizza base from the oven. Spread the wild ramp pesto evenly over the base leaving a ¼ inch border.

6. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the pesto. Top with asparagus and peas. Dot the top with ricotta cheese. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

7. Transfer the pizza onto the heated stone and bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crisp.

8. When done, transfer the pizza onto a serving plate and top with cut chive blossoms.

Fava bean tahini and pepita dip

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fava bean, or broad bean, is one of my favorite spring ingredients and only available for a short period from mid March through May. They’re an ancient member of the pea family with a delicious nutty and buttery taste. It takes a bit of work to get to the edible part--shelled, blanched, then removed from their tough outer skin--but completely worth it. 

Although most people like to make a fava bean soup, add them to salad and risotto, and even a tart but I love making a fava bean dip for flatbread and vegetables or as a spread on toast with soft boiled eggs. 

This fava bean is quite versatile so use your culinary imagination and enjoy!

Fava bean, tahini, pepita dip

¾ cup fresh fava beans
½ cup roasted pepitas plus extra for garnish
1 tbsp tahini
2 tbsps lemon juice
6 tbsps olive oil and extra for drizzling
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds for garnish

1. Remove the fava beans from the shell.

2. Bring a small saucepan to a boil over medium heat. Add the fava beans to the boiling water and cook for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the fava beans.

3. Drain the fava beans and add the fava beans to a bowl of cold water.

4. Drain again and pop each bean out of its skin and set aside.

5. In a food processor, add the fava beans, pepitas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic and process for 2 minutes until the mixture resembles a course paste.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Remove the fava bean mixture and place it in a serving bowl. 7.Drizzle with extra olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds and extra pepitas, and serve with vegetables as a dip or as a spread on toast with soft boiled eggs.

Wild Ramps and Hazelnut Pesto

Monday, May 16, 2016

Let’s talk about ramps! Ramps are, ramsom, wild leeks or wild garlic, not to be mistaken with scallions, shallots, or onions. When spring arrived, their images flooded across social media--Instagram, Pinterest, and you name it. Why are ramps so popular? They grow wild in only certain regions along the Appalachian ridge from Georgia to Quebec, and are foraged like truffles. Chefs and home cooks alike go wild for their pungent garlicky-onion flavor. I personally have never seen them at our local farmers markets or even Specialty Produce.

When I saw a picture of a field of wild ramps on Lawrence’s IG feed, a friend I had met on Instagram, I left a teary emoji knowing the chance of me finding ramps is like winning the lotto (I’m exaggerating of course but it would require a trip to the east coast in the spring and a full force hunt for them). Imagine my surprise when Lawrence sent me a text that the ramps were on their way to my kitchen! Aaaaaaahhhhhh! I jumped for joy! 

When I finally got that precious gift in the mail, I jumped for joy again and dropped everything I was doing to take a few photos for evidence that they were real and not a figment of my imagination. The possibilities swirled in my head--saute, pickle, grill. In mid April, I had gone to Chicago and got to taste both grilled ramps and pickled ramps and decided to do something different. In the end, I went with a ramp and hazelnut pesto since their long trip from the east coast to San Diego took some life out of the leaves even with Lawrence packing an ice pack to keep them fresh. I gave them a nice cool bath as Lawrence had suggested to plump them up then salvaged as much of the leaves as I could.  

For the pesto, I purposely did not add any garlic to preserve the unique flavor of ramps. I kept my pesto simple with hazelnuts, a little Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. This ramp pesto is quite versatile and can be used in pizza, paired with gnocchi or pasta, and even chicken or fish. It’s the perfect blank canvas for your culinary imagination. Good luck finding some and have fun cooking!

Wild ramps and hazelnut pesto

⅔ cup hazelnuts
1 ½ cups ramps (leaves), washed and roughly chopped
¾ cup olive oil
2 tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Dry-fry the hazelnuts in cast iron skillet over medium heat until golden brown, stirring frequently to avoid burning them. Once they’re done and cool enough, peel the skin off.

2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a fine texture and set aside.

3. Add the chopped ramps, olive oil, and lemon juice to the food processor and puree until smooth.

4. Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and hazelnuts and pulse for about 1 minute until everything is well combined.

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6.Transfer the pesto to a glass container and store in the coldest part of your fridge for up to a week. Or you can freeze the pesto and thaw it when needed.