Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scratch Moutain View

I hope you all had a great Christmas weekend! I started mine out with drinks and appetizers at a great restaurant in downtown Mountain View called Scratch. Based on the principals of high end Americana style cooking they have a full menu as well as raw bar and craft up some fantastic cocktails! My dining accomplice Tori suggested this place and she totally hit the mark. We had such a great time trying the food and lots of their cocktails!
 We started with some oysters from their raw bar, a half dozen Fanny Bays served with a slightly sweet house made cocktail sauce and a red wine vinegar mignonette. I enjoyed their house French 75 with these (Gin, Fresh Lemon Juice, & Sparkling wine) the crisp sparkling notes were the perfect compliment to the fresh succulent oysters which had an almost buttery texture to them.
The bar takes up the whole entryway with seats in the round and small tables for two along the wall. We were lucky to grab one of the tables, you can also dine along their raw bar where you can enjoy watching the chef's shuck away!
This is actually this first time I have officially had Pork Belly! (I know what kind of foodie am I) I was so excited when I saw this dish described on their menu and it did not disappoint. Bourbon glazed Pork Belly with creamy Mascarpone Grits, braised Country Greens, and honey glazed Bosc Pears. The dark sauce on the plate was out of this world, a thick sweet smoky concoction that mirror the flavors of the succulent plate. The small size of this dish (it was listed as an appetizer or small plate) was perfect for us to share. I can't wait to try making the mascarpone grits at home they were such a nice compliment to the flavors in the dish and a welcome alternative to some kind of potato dish. The greens added some nice bite to contrast the inherent sweetness of the dish and the pears were another fantastic flavor/texture element. All around this dish was really well composed and delicious I think it truly showcased their "high end Americana" style.
With the pork belly and the pizza I enjoyed the Lavender Side Car an expertly blended mix of Brandy and Scratch's house made lavender simple syrup. If you have been a reader of this blog for awhile you probably remember how much I enjoyed making lavender simple syrup with the Little Sky Lavender Sugar . This cocktail totally embodied that flavor and was one of the highlights of an exceptionally standout meal. Smooth sweet and floral with a nice richness added by the brandy this is totally a cocktail lovers drink and I felt very fancy enjoying it!
Tori and I are both huge lovers of anything with butternut squash. Scratch's seasonal pizza for the fall is a Spice Roasted Butternut Squash, Hobbs Apple wood Smoked Bacon, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and Arugula pizza a favorite blend of flavors so we had to have it. If you read my A16 post you know I'm a crust snob. Scratch did a great job. The outside had a nice crunch to it, the inside was chewy, it wasn't too thick nor too thin and has a good wood fired appearance. The toppings all complimented each other well although I could have used some more bacon (I think I only tasted one at most two pieces on each slice I had). I also noticed that there was something reminiscent of baby food in the flavor of the roasted squash, this doesn't necessarily mean it tasted bad just some what baby food like, I wish I could put a better finger on it I suppose it was maybe just a little too naturally sweet and not as balanced with savory in the spice blend.
Of course we had to finish with dessert (and a dessert cocktail!) I took a leap and tried the Hot Toddy, Warm Amaretto with cherry. Sweet and soothing I could easily spend a chilly evening by the fire sipping these lovely libations! When it came to choosing dessert we were at a lose, everything sounded so good! After a chat with our waitress we were persuaded to try the Butterscotch Pudding which is served with a big chocolate chip cookie on the side for dipping. What an experience. I have loved butterscotch pudding since I was a kind but my memories of the very sweet handisnack and     jell-o brand variations. This pudding was on a whole other level. Garnished with Chantilly cream and sea salt this butterscotch has a wonderful toasty browned butter flavor that gives it such richness and depth, the cookie was firm without being dry making it an excellent pudding receptacle although I enjoyed both elements more individually. I'm so glad our waitress recommend this dessert just a little off the beaten path because it was totally worth it!

This was really just a small sampling of all that Scratch has to offer, the next time I have a chance I'd love to experience the full dining room dinner. The prices definitely reflect the quality of the food as well as the high end atmosphere so be prepared to spend some money if you want to really enjoy the full experience (cocktails all range around $10 a piece, appetizers $9 - $14, entrees in the $18 - $29). Their food is exceptionally satisfying and totally worth the cost!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Panettone Bread Pudding

Christmas time is here! While for the last week up here in the Bay Area you would barely know it (I was sitting outside yesterday and actually got too hot for my long sleeved shirt) the Christmas season is in full swing. No doubt your schedules, much like mine, are packed with holiday gatherings. This last Friday we had our Christmas gathering of all of our girlfriends and I took advantage of the opportunity to introduce them to my new favorite holiday treat, Panettone Bread. While I have seen it sold for years I was never quite sure what it was or if I would like it. I had always imagined this Italian Christmas bread filled with raisins and Citron pieces as being very dense (having never actually seen one out of the box this was a sort of silly assumption). But the other day while browsing around Whole Foods I decided to give one of their little personal sized ones a try. Let's just say- it rocked my world. Light and almost flaky inside this bread is not too sweet and the raisins and citron burst with flavor, I was instantly in love. I began searching for recipes to make it on my own for my holiday blog post but soon hit a snag. Making panettone from scratch is a full day ordeal which requires a standing mixer and a warm kitchen, neither of which I have. Hmmm... what to do instead? Why make bread pudding from the store bought Panettone of course! So with the help of the ever amazing Epicurious I was able to make this delicious treat. Panettone is an excellent bread style for bread pudding since it has natural sweetness and the ability to absorb the custardy mix. This dessert (or breakfast as I plan to serve it to my family Christmas day) is full of flavor has great texture and warms the soul. Hopefully your family and friends will enjoy it as much as we did!

Panettone Bread Pudding
Courtesy of Gourmet Magazine January 2009, via Epicurious

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup brandy, heated
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 pound panettone, sliced 1 inch thick
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Accompaniment: lightly whipped heavy cream

Soak raisins in hot brandy 15 minutes, then drain (I actually skipped this step, I felt the Panettone had enough raisins on it's own and didn't want to buy a whole bottle of brandy just for this)
Meanwhile, butter panettone on both sides and cook in batches in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.

Tear panettone into bite-size pieces and spread evenly in a buttered 13-by 9-inch baking dish.
Whisk together remaining ingredients. Scatter raisins over top of the bread pieces, then pour in egg mixture. Let stand 30 minutes.                 (When I make this Christmas day I plan to pour the mixture over the torn pieces in a large bowl and toss them first before putting them in the baking dish so it more evenly absorbs the custard mix)
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Bake until pudding is golden and just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.                                                              Cooks' note: Bread pudding can be made 2 days ahead and chilled. Reheat before serving.                                        
You could serve this with whipped cream (as they suggested and I did here) or for a breakfast with Maple Syrup! Making your own whipped cream is much easier than you think, just get the small carton of heavy whipping cream, pour it in a nice big bowl (one with tall sides is better as it keeps it from splattering) add a Tablespoon of vanilla extract, and 3- 5 Tablespoons of powdered sugar (it all depends on how sweet you want it I like mine only lightly sweetened) just beat with a hand mixer on high until it starts to form "stiff peaks" (basically- till it looks like whipped cream, thick and more solid seeming than liquid) about 5 minutes

I love sharing new things with my friends and family and this was a great holiday dish for just that. You can find a large 1 lb Panettone at select Trader Joe's right now for only $5 so make this dish soon before it is out of season and you have to wait till next year!! Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 12, 2011

2 Appetizers from the Parties That Cook Recipe Deck

If you read last weeks post about the Parties That Cook Recipe Deck release party then I am sure you have been waiting with bated breath to see which two appetizers I whipped up this weekend.The wait has ended!I chose the Bacon-Wrapped Dried Plums w/ Roquefort & Balsamic Honey as well as the Honey & Orange- Braised Fennel Tartines with Mascarpone. I got to share these two tasty treats with some of my friends up in San Francisco as we had a lovely dinner party together. After tasting the Bacon Wrapped Dried plums at the party I knew those would be a hit, but I was nervous about the Tartines. Not everyone loves fennel (I have actually only recently come around to it) so I was really curious to see how it would turn out. It ended up being a major hit! After cooking it down for almost an hour combined, half that time simmered with wine, Fresh squeezed orange juice and honey, It had such a lovely fresh flavor everyone devoured them!

Bacon-Wrapped Dried Plums with Roquefort & Balsamic Honey
Recipe Courtesy of the Parties That Cook- More Sumptuous Small Plates Recipe Deck

12 Strips of Bacon
2 oz. Roquefort (I cheated and used some crumbled Salem Blue Cheese I already had)
3 oz. Cream Cheese (Cheated again. I subbed Mascarpone, once again cause I already had it)
1/2 tsp Thyme Leaves - Plus more for garnish
Pinch of kosher salt
24 Pitted Dried Plums (Prunes)

Balsamic- Honey:
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp Honey

Pre-Heat the Oven to 350 F

Bacon: Cut bacon strips in half crosswise. Lay the cut bacon on a cooling rack over a sheet pan. Transfer to the oven and partially cook the bacon for 5-7 minutes. Remove bacon and preheat oven to broil.

Filling: In a small bowl, mix the Roquefort and cream cheese together using a hand mixer or fork. Add the thyme and salt. Chill in the freezer for 5 minutes. Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch tip, stuff each plum with 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture. Wrap with a piece of partially cooked bacon and secure with a toothpick.

Broil: Place plums on a sheet pan (I suggest lining it with a sheet of parchment paper) and broil on one side until the bacon starts to brown (about 2-3 minutes). Turn and finish cooking until the bacon is crisp(another 2-3minutes). If left too long under the broiler, the cheese will melt and run out. Transfer to a platter and garnish witha few sprigs of thyme.

Balsamic Honey: Combine balsamic vinegar and honey in a small saute pan and simmer for 2 minutes to reduce. Drizzle or brush over plated plums

These are the perfect one bite appetizer. Sweet and chewy with a  nice little tang from the blue cheese and wrapped in bacon? Who can resist!

Honey & Orange- Braised Fennel Tartines with Mascarpone
Recipe Courtesy of the Parties That Cook- More Sumptuous Small Plates Recipe Deck

Braised Fennel:
2 large fennel bulbs
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp orange zest
2 tsp chopped thyme
1 Tbsp chopped parsley (I left out the parsley.... mostly because I was being cheap and didn't feel like buying any, partly because I don't  really like parsley)
1 1/4tsp kosher salt

1 baguette
1/3 cup olive oil

8oz mascarpone
1/4 tsp orange zest (I put more like 2 tsps)
1 tsp fresh orange juice
1/2 tsp chopped thyme (again I put more like 2 tsps)
1 Tbsp chopped parsley (skipped it)
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Fennel: Remove stems and core from fennel bulbs then slice very thinly into 1/4 inch thick slices. Reserve the fronds for garnish. Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Saute fennel until it starts to soften and brown, about 25 minutes. Add wine and reduce to a syrup. Add the orange juice, stock, honey, and vinegar.
Braise over medium heat until the fennel is caramelized, about 15- 20 minutes. Add orange zest, thyme, parsley, and salt. Set aside.

Bread: Slice baguette on an angle into 1/4 inch thick slices. Brush the bread with olive oil (or spritz it if you have a cool olive oil sprayer like me! buy one HERE)  Arrange slices on a baking sheet and cook until crisp and golden around the edges, about 10 - 15 minutes (I flipped them over half way through just so they were even). Cool Slightly

Mascarpone: In a small bowl, mix the mascarpone, orange zest, orange juice, thyme, parsley, and salt together witha  fork. (since I was assembling the appetizer elsewhere I scooped it back into it's original container for travel purposes)

Assemble: Spread 1 heaping teaspoon of mascarpone mixture onto each crostini. Spoon 1 tablespoon of fennel mixture on top, garnish with fennel frond or parsley leaf and serve

While mine wasn't quite as pretty as the picture I was so pleased with how this turned out. After all that braising the fennel really takes on the fresh flavors from all the components and is nice and soft. Next time i will definitely try to chop it in thinner pieces (some I actually pulled out and cut again cause they were just too big). This dish was a great success and every piece was eaten, we found ourselves later digging in to the left over mascarpone spread with some bread because it was so delicious!

After witnessing first hand what crowd pleasers these were I can't wait to attempt more recipes from the deck!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Parties That Cook Recipe Deck Party

It never fails that I always feel really hip when I get a chance to go to some kind of event in San Francisco. When Abbie mentioned that her sister's company "Parties That Cook" would be having a party for the release of their newest recipe deck "More Sumptuous Small Plates" I invited myself along. I knew this would be a great chance to get to know the company a little better as well as sample some of the great food! They were serving a number of the recipes from the deck we would be purchasing so it was fun chance to taste test.
I've had some experience with PTC within my day job, one of our mutual clients had a number of their programs at our site. What PTC does is create an interactive atmosphere where the evenings participants join together to cook the meal. The events I got to witness were corporate team building dinners, but PTC also puts on their own events as well as parties for people in their homes or other venues. They bring all the gear they need which is great because as long as you have space and power you can have a party that cooks!

The event we attended was held at the Horatius Gallery and Event space in the Portero Hill area of SF. A former restaurant the space has been transformed into the ideal setting for parties and events. There is a gorgeous granite bar running almost the length of the room framed with light wood accents. There was a casual seating area at the front and more at the back with high boy tables running the length of the room. We were greeted at the front by Abbie's sister and got name tags, each one with a cute little question like "If you were a spice what would you be?" or "what is the best thing your mom cooks?". These make for a great ice breaker if needed. As we made our way in search of our complimentary glass of Banshee wine (Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc) we heard someone call our names. Unbeknowst to us our friend Michelle was there with one of her colleagues! We eagerly joined their spot at one of the high boy tables and had a great time catching up as the different appetizers were passed by the PTC staff.
First up was their Bahn Mi meatball sandwich, their take on the popular Vietnamese sandwich with seasoned beef & spicy pickled veggies in a baguette. I had actually just tried Bahn Mi for the first time a few weeks ago and loved it. I was not disappointed by the PTC offering! The meat was moist and flavorful, the veggies adding the appropriate tang and crunch, and the spread just took the flavor over the top! As this was my dinner by the end of the night I had gone back for a second one because these were so tasty as well as filling. I could absolutely see making these for a picnic lunch although they do seem a little too large to offer as an appetizer. The recipes were all small plates though so combined with a few other small things this makes for a great party food.
The next thing to pass our way were the crostini with house made ricotta and red pepper jam. First off - I love bruschetta and crostini, they are some of my favorite appetizers to make. Secondly I have recently become obsessed with this style combo the creamy with a sweet and spicy on top. While rudimentary it hearkens back to one of my mom's classic party dips- the block of cream cheese topped with salsa. Obviously this is a much more refined version of that palate play and is one of my favorites. I was so impressed by their making of their own ricotta and am eager to use the recipe I bought and try on my own. I often lament the fact that the container of ricotta available is almost always way to big for my needs and it is difficult to use it all without wasting. Hopefully if I can make my own I'll be able to make just what I need! This was a great treat and absolutely one I will make in the future.
As the different appetizers passed by us on their way to the back area where many of the guests had congregated it became a running joke that try as we might we could not get our hands on these little Chalupas. Every other server with a tray would kindly stop at out table but it seemed inevitable that if the chalupas were coming through they would either run passed us, tray held high above their heads, or as soon as one of us would walk up someone would be grabbing the last piece. This, of course, made their appeal that much greater. We had to get our hands on them! Everyone at our table kept a keen eye out for the next batch to be distributed to walk by. Finally I caught sight of a tray coming. It was obviously meant to make it's way to the back but with a quick dive I stopped the girl in her tracks and finally got to savor this treat! The base had a similar consistency to a crumbly shortbread with the flavor and texture of cornmeal, the avocado was fresh and abundant, the lime sour cream added a freshness and the chorizo some spice and saltiness. While I enjoyed this bite I was left wishing there had been more chorizo and less avocado. While it was tasty the avocado overwhelmed the palate and the chorizo was only barely noticeable.

I am sad to say I was too busy popping the fourth appetizer in my mought to take a picture! The Bacon-Wrapped Dried Plums with Roquefort & Balsamic-Honey is one of PTC's biggest crowd pleasers with it's sweet, salty and tangy notes and definitely on of my favorites! A perfect bite size these appetizers are served on a toothpick which is perfect because they are a little sticky with the sauce but well worth it. I plan to make them for a get together this weekend check my Cntrdbytheplate twitter feed for pictures of my attempt!
Just as the party was winding down the dessert was served and the servers didn't have to walk far! Guests flooded the trays to get a bite of PTC's "Coffee & Doughnuts" cinnamon sugar beignets with a mocha dipping sauce. Again they were not disappointed. This sweet treat really hit the spot and finished the evening on a high note.

Overall we had a great time at this event, the Parties that cook staff is warm and inviting and they really know how to put on a lovely event. If you are looking for a great team building or a fun theme for girls night you should definitely check them out! Partiesthatcook.com  And look for part two of this post next week in which I will make two of the Appetizers from their Recipe deck!