Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts

Santa Cruz Cuisine - Lillian's, Gayle's

A recent spate of sunny weather spurred a weekend stay in Santa Cruz and some time at the beach.  With the sun setting we turned our focus to dinner and how best to answer the usual questions:  "What should we eat?" and "Where should we go?"

Turns out we didn't have to go far before we came across Lillian's, a family-style Italian restaurant where reservations are scarce,  the atmosphere is cozy, the service is attentive and the food is simply killer.  Don't miss the Sunday gravy and meatballs or you will experience food envy!

1116 Soquel Ave
Santa Cruz CA  95062

Italian food served up in a comfortable, casual setting.  Attentive, authentic service from the family-owned personnel.  Specialties:
  • Sunday gravy - tomato base meat sauce simmered slow with beef, pork, Italian sausage and spare ribs.  Your choice of penne, spaghetti, fettucine or polenta.  Don't forget the meatballs. Yum.
  • Black truffle stuffed gnocchi with white wine pesto cream sauce.

Bakery & Rosticceria
504 Bay Avenue
Capitola CA  95010

The glass display at Gayle's contains a bevvy of eye-catching pastries and cakes which beckon and confuse as you try make a decision.  In the end breakfast burritos and cookies won out and we happily started the day on a high.

7-Ingredient Whipped Cream Cake

7 ingredients = one great cake
It was one of those moments where buying whipping cream at Costco seemed rational and then...I got home and realized it was too much.  "Yes, you purchased a half gallon of cream" my friend politely reminded me when lamenting this impulse purchase.

Only recently did I notice the due date (this week) and the fact that I'd only really used about 1/3 of the container.   While putting the container back in the fridge some text caught my eye:  "Delicious Recipe" followed by "Whipped Cream Cake" and a short recipe on the side.

I chuckled when imagining someone saying "but we need a hook or recipe to get people to buy this in bulk" only to realize later on that no one (but me) reads that stuff.  So to honor the effort - and use up the remaining cream - I made that recipe.  And what do you know...the cake was indeed delicious. And easy.

What I love about this recipe is its simplicity:  you only need seven ingredients which you probably already have on hand. The resulting cake is a moist, delicious canvas you can dress up or down according to the occasion or the state of your pantry.

Me?  I split the cake in half, brushed the center with a little lemon/sugar water and then added whipped cream for richness as the "frosting".  A simple garnish of fruit and there you have it, dessert in very little time-to-table.

Delicious Recipe
Whipped Cream Cake
1 cup cream
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whip the cream until you have stiff peaks.  Drop in each egg and beat until light, fluffy.  Add the sugar and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Add to the whip cream mixture.

Pour the mixture into a greased 9-inch baking pan.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick, inserted in the middle, comes out clean.

When the cake has cooled a bit, turn out onto a wire rack.

- Optional for garnish -
1 cup whipping cream (whipped until you have stiff peaks)
Sugar, vanilla, fruit

Cheddar cheese takes cake to a new level

The Cheese Cake Challenge

I love a challenge and I love cheese so when friends suggested a cheese "cake" for their wedding, it seemed only natural to step up to the plate.

Although I am confident in my ability to crank out a wheel of cheese that's edible, this project caused me to re-think some of the basics and plan carefully.  For example, I wasn't sure where the cheese would be consumed and the temperature of the room.  A small, warm room might cause the "cake" to permeate everything and everyone with the aroma of cheese.  I'm used to the smell of cheese - it hits me every time I open the refrigerator - but maybe not what others want to remember from a summer wedding.  

The Cheese Cake Challenge - Some Serious Considerations

Once cheese warms up sometimes there is a change in texture as it softens up.  Because of this I knew the bottom layer would have to be sturdy or I'd risk a cave-in.  For this reason I settled on a basic cheddar which would be sturdy enough despite any potential change in temperature and hardy enough to withstand an evening of...standing.    

The project started with multiple trips to the store - over a period of weeks - for supplies at which point the checker started to ask if I drank a lot of milk!  Once home with my precious 1% (and a lot of cream) the layers were crafted over a period of weeks.  The final product, below, is the outcome and pretty close to my original vision.  The fruit and ribbon - courtesy of friends - added the final, festive touch.

The bottom layer will be aged until the end of the year.  A perfect treat for the holidays!

The original inspiration from the California Cheese Festival in Petaluma.  

The Cheesecake Challenge - and Conclusion

Although not the vision for every bride and groom, this cake was the perfect gift for two friends who embrace and embody the idea of fun and unusual.  Perhaps there is a subtle metaphor here; something about the cake being something sturdy that will become better over time.  In any case, congrats to Tilla and Chris. I wish you the best life has to offer!

Cambria crushes it with a laid-back vibe and tasty cuisine

When asked about the past weekend and a trip to Cambria I was surprised how many people had heard about Hearst Castle (it's nearby) but never ventured for a visit to this charming, coastal town.  I expected the usual:  beautiful scenery and ocean breezes (so romantic!) but the cuisine and coffee were the things that really surprised this traveler (ok, really more of a day-tripper.) 

Hearst Castle:  it's a must.  We took the 45 minute tour and then walked around to check out the views, art sculptures and pool.  Yes, it's a bit tourist-y but fun to take in a bit of history amid the grandeur.                     

Fried green olives stuffed with cheese.  The best of all worlds!

All that walking worked up appetites so we headed to dinner at The Black Cat.  It's hard for me to convey how much I really loved this restaurant except to say we ate here both nights during our stay.  The Black Cat serves "innovative fresh farm fare" which translates to almost everything on the menu is superb (the opinion of Funfeasts, of course!)  Here's our menu for two nights:

  • Fried olives - enough said!
  • Pork belly with gigante beans.
  • Black bean soup (who knew black bean soup could be THAT good?)
  • Cauliflower gratin.  This was definitely overkill but I couldn't resist.
  • Rib eye with black quinoia (drizzled with a ginger-scented sauce.)
  • Duck, risotto and bok choy (overall my favorite dish.)
  • Pesto pasta and prawns (this one disappeared really fast so no comment.)
  • Dessert the first night was a salted chocolate pot de creme, good but...
  • The sticky toffee pudding and caramel sauce really took the cake (no pun intended)  the second night. SO rich and flavorful it was hard to keep spoons from colliding in the bowl.  
Pork belly and gigante beans - giant flavor

The rib eye with quinoa. 

For breakfast and coffee here are a few options: 
  • Allocco's Bakery, next to The Black Cat, for housemade cookies and pastries with friendly service.
  • Redwood Cafe for breakfast outside on a sunny day.
  • Cambria Coffee - Main Street - serves house-roasted blends and items from the French Bakery up the street                                                                                                                                 
Should you venture out to a few wineries in Paso Robles, check out Penman Springs Vineyard (loved their Syrah), Sculpterra with amazing gardens and the Red Soles Winery.  Red Soles was my favorite and most laid-back in atmosphere but there are many places to stop and taste from Cambria to Paso Robles.

Finally, for places to stay, check out the Chamber of Commerce website.  We ended up at San Simeon Pines which is a bit retro but easy on the budget and very clean.  Plus, the location is perfect for a stroll on the boardwalk and a view of the ocean.

This was a long post but there is a lot to love about Cambria and the surrounding area.  Thanks for reading!

Saltbox in San Carlos CA

The transformation from hardware store to shiny new neighborhood restaurant didn't happen overnight.  But now the wrapper is off and the food is making a presence at Salt Box in San Carlos.
And the food - plus overall ambiance - is stellar. 
My favorite:  castelvetrano olives.  
While the space itself isn't cavernous, it's got an open, airy vibe that buzzes once the place - and bar - fills up.  Salt Box is one of those places that doesn't appear to take reservations so be prepared to wait with a glass of wine in hand.  We arrived on a Friday around 6pm and just barely nabbed a seat.
The menu?  A good sampling of California style fare; pork chops, salad, burgers and the like.  For me it was a toss-up between the pork chop and burger and the burger won.  In the end, I feel like I won because I had the perfect meal - an expertly cooked burger with melty cheese and fries on the side.  

Anything but classic, the burger was sooo tasty with carmelized onions, melted cheese and fries.
A word of caution:  don't be tempted to skip dessert.  We ordered the profiteroles which arrived with a small pot of salted caramel sauce for dipping which we were tempted to lick clean (but didn't of course.)   If you are tempted, I wouldn't blame you and promise not to tell!

Johnston's Salt Box
1696 Laurel St, San Carlos, CA 94070
(650) 592-7258

Miette, macarons and more in Hayes Valley, SF

Hayes Valley is a very walkable, enjoyable neighborhood perfect for window-shopping and lunching.  Pair it with a Saturday morning and your favorite friends and you've got a fun way to play tourist in San Francisco.

First things first; if you arrive at a decent hour parking isn't too hard to find.  Both times I recently visited parking was no problem and the meters now accept credit cards.  Somehow paying $4 on your credit seems more palatable than plugging $2 worth of quarters into the old-school machines. 

Next, there are a few "must stops" on my local tour:  La Boulangerie (yes, the bakery now owned by Starbucks) and Miette.  The first offers up delicious almond croissants and turnovers - love the lemon - and Miette has enough sugar to make my dentist wince.  It's eye-candy at it's finest and a great start to the day for me.

449 Octavia St
San Francisco
(415) 626-6221

Miette treats:  delightful!
In addition to the bakeries mentioned I love some of the 
fashionable boutiques such as Azalea  (clothing for men and
women) and Azil (great jewelry at affordable prices).  Also, do
stop by the heavenly-scented bath/home furnishing store "Nancy Boy" to check out the unique items on hand.

There is so much to see in Hayes Valley.  Hopefully this will
motivate you to create your own visit to this urban playground
where you'll find many fine things tasty and fashionable.

Azalea Boutique
411 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 861-9888

398 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 551-1590

Azil Boutique
451 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 552-2335

Stylish jewelry at affordable prices!

Nancy Boy
347 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 552-3636

Chantal Guillon
437 Hayes St San Francisco, CA 94102(415) 864-2400

Macarons on display at Chantal Guillon

La Boulange almond croissants.  On my list of faves.

Easy, breezy weekend getaway to Carmel and Monterey

We liked our first trip to Monterey so much we headed back for another weekend getaway.  It's no surprise this area is a very popular destination for tourists both near and far with something for just about everyone within arms reach.

This time we stayed in Monterey but spent our first day in Carmel meandering down Ocean Ave looking at all the shops.  We wandered into Il Fornaio which is tucked away off the street and opens up into a large comfortable atrium-covered dining area.  Here you can order a tasty margarita pizza - enough for two - with the usual toppings (cheese + tomato sauce) and a delightfully thin crust for about $7.50.   Add a cookie and coffee for the perfect midday meal.

Lodging this time was Casa Munras on, you guessed it, Munras Avenue.  The hotel is well-located and well-priced with most restaurants a few minutes walking distance.  Also within close proximity is the pedestrian-friendly foot path which winds past Cannery Row down to the Aquarium for a leisurely way to see the sights.

For breakfast try the Old Monterey Cafe located on Alvarado Street.   You might have a bit of a wait but the breakfast burritos and Belgian waffles are worth it!

Finally, we returned to Montrio Bistro where we ordered family style:  bacon-wrapped prawns, spinach salad and a sirloin steak accompanied by mashed potatoes.  All fairly standard but well done and served by the ever-friendly, knowledgeable staff.  The dessert - bread pudding - is simply a must-have!

The bread pudding with passion fruit ice cream at Montrio Bistro in Monterey.  Amazing!

Seasonal Snacking – Seattle Style

Every year it’s the same:  the holidays sneak up on me, I wait until the last minute to buy gifts and before I know it I’m on a plane headed to the Pacific Northwest to visit family.   The routine might seem, well, routine, but changes to the menu lineup make this “the most wonderful time of the year” for me. 

While Seattle hosts a bevvy of fine dining choices I actually think the unique quick-meal options – some would call this fast food  - define the area (yes, you are welcome to disagree).    Good food at a good price really does make me jolly J  Here’s a snapshot of our adventures…
Taco Time
Crispy meat burritos, housemade salsa and the “mexi fries” (tater tots) all make for a good quick meal at this Northwest classic.  Select from the combo menu and your wallet will thank you.  Oh and it's not just me. A co-worker commented that his first stop in Seattle is Taco Time as well (followed by Starbucks!)
Nestled in a strip mall in Factoria (suburb of Bellevue) Mushashi’s is the second installment for this family-owned restaurant.   The food was good, tasty and reasonably priced.  My very-picky mother liked it and said she’d definitely return which is good as gold in terms of reviews.
3720 Factoria Blvd SE, Bellevue WA 98006

Sushi from Musashi's in Factoria

The Daily Grill (Seattle) and The Keg (Factoria) share the same paragraph simply because they have similar menu items (steaks, chops, salads) but the experience – and food – couldn’t be more different.
To be fair, we dined at the Daily Grill on Christmas so I have to cut some slack here.  But overall, food was just “okay” (steak wayyyy overdone) with service that seemed to amplify the subpar nature of the meal.  On the bright side, the huge slice of chocolate cake for dessert was decadent and delicious.

Chocolate cake from The Daily Grill - a nice holiday treat.

The Keg Steakhouse, located in the same strip mall as Musashi’s in Factoria is part of a long-standing Northwest chain that seems to have aged well and delivers quality in terms of food and service.   I have ordered the rib eye twice (once during my last trip and this time too) and it’s amazing; well-cooked and bursting with flavor.  At 20 oz. you might be tempted to pass up dessert, but don’t.  The Billy Miner pie -mocha ice cream on a chocolate crust with hot fudge, caramel and almonds - is fantastic. 
Now with the holidays soundly in my rearview mirror I am ready to embrace 2013 and all the food adventures I can find.  As always, I’m truly grateful for the people in my life who bring joy and laughter despite anything I might really deserve.  I am blessed and hope you – and those around you – are too!  Thanks for reading.

Whoopie pies. For kids of all ages.

What do you get when you crave chocolate and feel a bit nostalgic?  WHOOPIE pies.

Cakey, chocolate-y whoopie pies. 

These tasty little chocolate cake-lets filled with marshmallow buttercream are so named because supposedly kids would yell "whoopie" when they made an appearance.  I do think adults WANT to shout that out but instead just gobble them down and smile profusely.

If you are so inclined to buy a pan specifically designed to bake the cakey outer pieces..don't.  A standard baking sheet for the recipe below will suffice.  I do admit the marshmallow fluff (isn't that a great name?) is a bit ooey gooey and tends to stick to everything so consider yourself forewarned!

Whoopie Pies  (recipe courtesy of

For cakes

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
• 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• 1 large egg

For filling

• 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
• 2 cups marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
Make cakes:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered large baking sheets. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.

Make filling:

Beat together butter, confectioners sugar, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Assemble pies:

Spread a rounded tablespoon filling on flat sides of half of cakes and top with remaining cakes.

Now get ready to yell whoopie!

Perfect Pie Crust

This is my go-to crust recipe for all things pie and more (also makes a great base for quiche.) Add this one to your repertoire and you too can churn out the desserts of your dreams. Any way you slice it, it's easy guessed it but I couldn't resist! Start with:
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Use a wire whisk or fork to blend. Then add:
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening or...
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (cubed) + 1/2 cup shortening*
Blend the shortening in with either a pastry cutter or food processor (easier, of course!) When you have pea-sized pieces of fat/flour (should seem dry and powdery.) Drizzle over the flour mixture:
  • 1/3 cup ice cold water + 1 tablespoon ice cold water
Mix together until the dough coheres. If using a food processor press the "pulse" button a few times to incorporate.** Note: the dough should not look smooth. It should have a rough consistency which can be formed into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or more. You can also freeze the dough at this point.
*I like to use vegetable shortening in stick form as they are easier to measure and add to your dough. Alternatively you can use lard (although leaf lard is preferred.) 
**For the perfect pie crust, try the French technique fraisage to help distribute the fat evenly. With the dough mixture pulled together on a board, use the heel of your hand to smear a small portion in one or two quick, forward motions. Once complete, gather the dough and wrap it. You may need a pastry scraper to pull the dough up from your board.
Recipe courtesy of "The Joy Of Cooking" - All About Pies and Tarts. Irma S. Rombauer.

Peachy Pie with cream - amazing!

The reason I wanted to learn all about pie dough a few years ago was to master this peach pie. The recipe is from a family friend who lived a mile away or "right down the street" from us and whose family eventually seemed to blend with ours. She shared her family favorite with us and the Peaches and Cream pie eventually became our favorite too.

Now, when I can get my hands on ripe peaches during the summer I churn one of these out of my tiny oven. It's a crowd pleaser each and every time and brings back fond memories of Mama D and the sweet taste of summer all locked up in a rich butter crust.

Peaches and Cream Pie

· 5 cups sliced peaches (9 medium)
· 1 teaspoon lemon juice
· 1 cup sugar
· 3 tablespoons cornstarch
· ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
· Dash of nutmeg
· 1/2 - 3/4 cup whipping cream
· Pie crust for 9 inch pan (chilled for at least 1 hour to 1 day)

Sprinkle lemon juice on peaches to keep them from browning. In a separate bowl mix sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon thoroughly.

Add sugar mixture to peaches, set aside for 10 minutes.  Pour ingredients into a pie pan and drizzle whipping cream on top.

Cover the edge with foil to keep from burning.

Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes then 350 for an additional 20-25 minutes.  Allow the pie to cool thoroughly.  For best results, refrigerate until chilled.  This will help set the filling.

Recipe courtesy of Mama D.