Monday, September 22, 2014

A Little Crostini

I was looking for an easy, tasty recipe for an appetizer for my chicken marsala class I led yesterday. Looking through my La Cucina Italiana magazines, whose demise I am still mourning, and I will never throw them away, I found something wonderful. It was a red pepper salad which I decided to turn into something between a caponata and a tapenade by chopping up the red peppers and olives. It’s wonderful on little toasts and can be heated by adding some hot peppers. Once you have roasted your peppers and chopped them up it goes pretty fast.


Grilled Peppers with Capers, Olives and Herbs

About 40 minutes, 4 to 6 servings

2 large red bell peppers
1 lemon
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup kalamata olves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, preferably salt-packed, rinsed, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, then rinsed again. If you use the non-pareil, just rinse off the brine
5 leafy thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
sea salt

You can grill your peppers, but I use the broiler, turning the peppers as they blacken and get soft. Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. If you wish, you can use canned red peppers.

Pull skin off peppers, discard cores and seeds. Slice peppers into ¼” wide stripes and chop into smaller pieces.

For the lemon I use a zester to cut zest curls from the peel, avoiding the white pith. Put in a bowl with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, chopped peppers, oil, olives, capers, thyme, basil, and garlic. You can use less oil if you want, at your discretion. Let stand at room temperature or refrigerate overnight (serve at room temperature.) Season with salt just before serving on crostini or even crackers. Yum! Did I mention this is a pretty healthy snack?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Apricot Pie-Oh

A few years ago my friend Diane and I were roaming around in the nursery at Target and she found apricot trees just lying down (really) looking sad and were priced at $2! She insisted on buying one for each of us (I feebly protested); I planted it, it grew, and this year it really got busy. My tree is a Blenheim, which produces small apricots that are mighty in flavor.  Paul helped me make 2 batches of pineapple apricot jam, we have given fruit to our neighbors, and I made a pie. I found a recipe online, upgraded it with tapioca, and it really was a stellar pie.

I hadn’t made pie crust in a long time, because I don’t like shortening, but, dang it, it does make the best crust. My grandmother made amazing pies, using all shortening. I modified her recipe, using half butter, half shortening, and it was easy to work with and had good texture. If you’re up for it, give it a try. Apricots don’t have a long window of opportunity, so don’t delay; that’s why I didn’t dither about typing this up.

Apricot Pie

Fresh Apricot Pie

This apricot pie recipe is made with fresh apricots, butter, nutmeg, and sugar, along with other ingredients. You can use a commercially prepared package of pie dough, but homemade tastes much butter. Tapioca thickens the juices that run out of the fruit, making a much better pie.

Cook Time: 45 minutes


  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons Kraft Minute Tapioca
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pastry for double crust 9-inch pie
  • 3 ¾ cups fresh apricot halves
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut in small pieces


· Line a 9-inch pie pan with half of the pie crust. Combine apricots, sugar, flour, tapioca, lemon juice and nutmeg and let sit for 15 minutes. Fill pie crust with apricot mixture and dot with the butter. Cover with top crust, trim and flute edges and make several small slits in top to vent. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 425° for about 45 minutes, turning pie once halfway through bake time. Be sure to put pie pan in a sheet pan, as I promise you will have overflowing juices. Let cool completely before digging in!

Apricot Pie Slice

Just in Case – Pie Crust Recipe

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1/3 cup cold shortening (I used Crisco butter flavored)
4-6 tablespoons ice water

I use a food processor: pulse the flour and salt to mix. Add shortening and big pieces of butter and pulse until fats resemble small peas. Add water while pulsing until dough just starts to come together. Press the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour if possible. This will relax the gluten and cool the butter back down. Be sure to roll it out thin; it just barely makes a double crust.

All-butter crusts are just too hard to roll out. For me, they are only good for pressing into tart pans, and they aren’t really nice and flaky. This recipe is for serious pie making. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Oregon Coast Pleasures

I’ve written it before and I will again, we love road trips. And one of our very favorites is the road up to and on the Oregon Coast. We do have some favorite towns that are a must, for me, anyway, but we really made an effort to try some new restaurants. I thought I would share them with you.

For a change we took off Friday afternoon after I got off work, and headed for Petaluma, our entrance to Hwy 101. We have a favorite restaurant there, Giacomo’s, which serves great Italian food and has a nice wine list. We tucked ourselves in for the night in Petaluma, ready to head on up to Eureka.

Inside is delicious pie

I love to stop in Ferndale, just a bit off the highway. It’s an old Victorian town; you periodically hear about earthquakes in Ferndale, and there are tsunami warning signs everywhere. There are fun stores plus now there’s a pie shop! We had a classic slice of cherry pie right smack in the middle of the afternoon and it was fun to just sit down and share some pie. Not everyone knows I’ve always loved pie more than cake. Shhh.

Inside the Pie Shop

In Eureka, there’s a seafood restaurant we have eaten at several times, and it’s good, but it’s that old style, soup, salad, main course and stuff yourself silly type of place. If that sounds good to you, go to the Sea Grill, on 316 E St. I wanted to try something new and found the Bless My Soul Café in the Dining Guide. It’s a Creole Café with great food and it’s clean and comfortable. I tried chicken and waffles for the first time ever – don’t know why it took me so long – and I have to say I liked it. The chicken breast meat was hot with a crispy, not greasy coating. Sweet Mama Janisse is the owner and she runs it with her daughter, who made me a delicious tropical cocktail made with fermented, not distilled vodka. Sweet Mama Janisse is a wonderful lady who knows how to work a room. She sat down and regaled us with stories about catering her style of cooking for the rich and famous in Los Angeles for many years. Please go and see her when you go to Eureka.

Sweet Mama Janisse

Just a bit north of Eureka is Trinidad, an extremely tiny but pretty place up on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Amazingly, we bypassed Katy’s Smokehouse (smoked salmon), but we tried The Trinidad Bay Eatery for breakfast, and we gave it both thumbs up. Typical breakfast fare, cooked well, accompanied by Hawaiian music. Yum.

After crossing the Oregon border, you soon reach Brookings, a sweet little town with two must do’s for me: stay at the Best Western in the harbor where every room faces the beach and eat at the Superfly Martini Bar and Grill. Superfly has their own vodka distillery and it’s good stuff. They make delicious seasonal martinis with real fruit – I had the watermelon martini and the raspberry. Oh my. Their food menu consists of small plates, nothing over $10 I think. Their wedge salad so far has no equal for me. Great blue cheese dressing with lots of chunks of blue, balsamic reduction drizzle, bacon, cherry tomatoes and I think walnuts.

Wedge Salad at Superfly - almost looks like dessert!

We motored on to Florence, with pit stops I won’t bore you with. We found a nice place to stay, the River Inn right in Old Town so we were able to walk to dinner. After looking around we decided on Spice, global but also distinctly Asian. We had a few small plates and loved them. The bartender considers himself a scientist and explained that to me in some detail. I did have the chocolate martini, made with Crown Royal, not vodka and I must say it was delicious. On our way out of town we stopped at Nature’s Café on the main drag. They’re really a gluten, and I think, everything-free place. We ordered biscuits and gravy with an egg and sausage. The biscuits were gummy and awful but the gravy was good, the egg was cooked perfectly and the sausage was good too. The menu didn’t say the biscuits were gf, but I’m suspicious! Need I say, if you go, don’t order biscuits!

Scallop App at Spice

At Newport we headed east to Portland. Our first night there we headed downtown to Saucebox, a recommendation from our server at Superfly. This is a nice, kind of hipper than thou, place with really great food. We had 3 marvelous small plates at the recommendation of our server, Raylan: Thai Cucumber Salad, Pork Sarong (noodle wrapped pork balls) with tamarind dipping sauce, and Softshell Crab Steam Buns. The food was so good we didn’t want to stop eating so we ordered the SBX chicken wings, which were just average. Serves us right for being greedy. So if you go, skip the wings and ask Raylan what to have. I just can’t believe he will steer you wrong.

Pork Sarong at Spicebox

We did a little driving tour of the hipster streets in Portland and happened on Little Big Burger on 2032 NE Alberta. The menu is on the outside wall and it’s very simple. We decided to share a cheeseburger and fries since we were going to the great and magnificent Toro Bravo for dinner. Let me say this: the cheeseburger was served on a brioche bun and the fries were drizzled with white truffle oil. Do I really need to I say more? Regarding the hipster spots, not on the list (in AAA’s Via mag) is the Mississippi district. Go forth and indulge in that!

Little Big Burger1Little Big Burger

Ah, Toro Bravo, our last transcendent dining experience. It’s a tapas place which gets very busy, they realistically don’t take reservations unless you have a big party, so get there early. Our prized spot is at the cook’s bar so we can watch them do their magic. Go look at the menu: we had Harira Lamb Osso Bucco, Grilled Flat Bread, Fried Spanish Anchovies, Fava Beans, and Steve’s Cheese Board for dessert. They have a nice wine list too, with Spanish wines too of course. They really do deserve their reputation for quality. This was our last great meal of the trip and it left me yearning for another experience. I did buy the owner’s new cookbook, so perhaps I can conjure up some Toro Bravo magic myself. Meanwhile, when can we go back, I whine.

Fava Beans at Toro Bravo