Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bloody Marys and Bonding at Brophy's

I woke up at five a.m. today completely tired of the desert. I must be getting old because the same 103 heat that has never bothered me before, is suddenly becoming a cloying, irritating presence. I guess I wouldn't mind it if I could spend my days on the laptop outdoors in a swimsuit, jumping in the pool to cool off at my leisure, which was always possible before. But this year there is also an influx of flies and mosquitoes to our valley bowl that has created the incessant phenomena of polka dots all over my body from blood sucking bites. Scheduling all my meetings so that I don't have to leave the house but once a week, and when I do, making sure to ease into my fingers' first touch upon the steering wheel as to not completely sear off my fingerprints, and frequent afternoon naps to bypass the hours of four p.m. through 7 p.m. (which our local weather man has reported on Facebook today are our most torrid hours!) so that I can at least dose through my feelings of uselessness and re-garner some energy to finish my work in the evening....all of this creeping up on me at five a.m. as I gleefully packed for a business trip to Santa Barbara. For the first time ever, I couldn't wait to embrace the famous June beach city gloom.

After a long road trip that worked like a perfect sedative to my heat irritation, I met my friend Justine Hamilton at the famous Brophy Bros. Restaurant and Clam Bar in the Santa Barbara harbor. An overcast sky, the need to wear a sweater and a long skirt, the smell of ocean mist wafting off the waves, and a second floor seat on the wooden plank balcony directly overlooking the water, made everything suddenly better. Oh, and of course the addition of a spicy Bloody Mary.

Brophy's is known for its sustainable fish and the way they blacken their filets just right. My Chef's salad was served on a bed of lettuce: perfect bite sized chunks of cool salmon, crab, shrimp, julienned cheeses and pots of cocktail sauce and thousand island for dipping and a steaming basket of crevice-filled sourdough. Not only was the food fresh, healthy and simple...it was also priced right at ten to fifteen dollars for entrees filled generously with fruits of the ocean.

Content on the cocktails and tales of the boats docked nearby in the sea, we were picked up and escorted around the hills of Montecito by her husband to take in a little history of the paradise by the sea and all my desert angst vanished quickly away for the time being.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Time For Tequila!

I consider myself a loyal red wine drinker and for the most part I stick to that throughout the year. Passionate about syrahs and shiraz, and secondarily in love with bold cabs and rich zins, I don't teeter far from the probiotic-rich, dark grape trail in my choice of libations.

I am also a beer lover and value nothing better on a hot summer's day that a dark and hearty German cold one to wash down the heat on a lazy afternoon by the pool. But in considering calorie count and carbs, I find myself oftentimes looking for something else to fit the bill that won't be as warm as red wine. Problem is I don't like hard liquor much. The cloying sickly sweetness of whiskey always ends up following me around for days and the crisp, acerbic dryness of vodka makes me feel like I am drinking chemicals rather than cocktails.

On a recent trip to visit my friend Jacob I was re-introduced to the pleasures of tequila. Not the "pour in a shot glass and down like there's no tomorrow" variety of party hearty yesteryear, but the classic and sophisticated sipping kind that brings satisfying refreshment when served on a bed of cool ice with a minimal fruit adornment. While enjoying glasses of Don Julio with lime together on top of a Santa Monica hotel overlooking a June gloom, grey-streaked ocean, I remembered its subtle belly-warming qualities, and deemed it the perfect drink for my summertime.

Later, we enjoyed some Tres Generaciones Plata. It’s un-aged, crystal clear, and triple distilled and made from estate grown 100% blue agave--this time garnished with strawberry. Served with this simple, salad below, it would make the perfect simple summer dinner for two.

Tres Generaciones Salad

2 leaves of French lettuce
4 chopped mint leaves
1 avocado in small cubes
250 g/8 oz chop pineapple
4 raspberries
1 pomegranate, peeled and seeds separated
2 diced tangerine
15 g/2 tbsp diced fresh coriander
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
Sea salt
4 Spoons of Agave nectar
2 Spoons of olive oil


Mix all ingredients and serve!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chef Aaron Kiefer's Homage to the Classic Cobb

During the Golden Age of Hollywood (1930-1959), it wasn’t uncommon to see movie stars like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, or Audrey Hepburn hunkered down into an elegant booth in the famous Brown Derby Restaurant. Originally opened in 1926, in a building shaped like a brown bowler hat, the restaurant became synonymous with the joint that Tinseltown preferred for simply good food, great conversation, and peer-to-glistening-peer camaraderie at the end of long studio days.

Although the restaurant enjoyed its star studded run and a few franchise branch offs during its heyday, it fizzled out along with Hollywood’s good ole days and was long ago stripped of its previous glory. Today, one cherished culinary classic exists that was rumored to be created by Brown Derby co-founder Robert H. Cobb late one night while rummaging through the refrigerator after hours to satisfy a hungry and prestigious patron. A bowl filled with lettuce and anything else that was ready, ripe and available became the Cobb Salad, thus sparking a lunchtime legacy that retains its reputation today.

Cobbs around the nation vary around a core of ingredients including iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and blue cheese dressing. Sometimes diced into tiny pieces, other times slit into hearty quartered wedges; the tomato and egg are essential to the dish. The blue cheese dressing is served in varieties from vinaigrettes to creams but always with a dash of added crumbles. But regardless of the preparation, the Cobb remains one of America’s most popular salads among all economic and class divides.

At Melvyn’s Restaurant in Palm Springs, California, you can still receive a dose of Brown Derby-esque ambience along with your cobb. Not only was the restaurant a preferred spot during the Golden Age of Hollywood for the weekend getaways of philandering playboys and sun-starved starlets, but it offered the same kind of simple good comfort foods in an elegant dining room setting with the ever present sounds of a piano player and a good old fashioned maitre’d who even to this day, remembers every patron’s name. Today, this tradition continues and the cobb is served in an exquisite tableside presentation prior to being exquisitely tossed.

Today, it’s hard to find a restaurant whether high or lowbrow that doesn’t have this salad staple on its menu. The version here is updated into a hybrid that incorporates the beloved standard wedge as well and includes chicken and avocado, uplifting it to hearty meal status.

My favorite chef, Aaron Kiefer of East Meets West Catering, makes the best form of a redeveloped hybrid wedge/cobb salad that I know of.  He has graciously shared it with me below for the pleasure of all my readers! Enjoy!

Yields 4 servings
2 heads iceberg lettuce, cleaned and cut in half
4 strips Applewood bacon, cured and crisp (see recipe below)
4 heirloom or seasonal tomatoes, diced and cored
2 cooked chicken breasts, marinated, roasted and sliced
1 avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
4 poached eggs, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons snipped, fresh chives
1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
2 red onions, shaved

Bacon Cure

1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix ingredients, dip raw bacon into the cure and then bake until crisp.

Blue Cheese Dressing
2 cups blue cheese crumbles
3 cups red wine vinegar
1-1/2 cup aioli or mayonnaise
1 bunch of green onion, chopped
Divide all ingredients up equally in four parts and sprinkle each portion of one lettuce half. Drizzle with the blue cheese dressing to individual taste.

• The perfect cocktail to accompany a cobb salad should be fruity enough to allow a sublimely crisp flavor such as apple or pear to become a top note on the tang of the dressing and snap of the bacon. The French Pear Martini can be made by rimming a glass with super-fine sugar and then shaking the following ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice: 1-1/2 oz. St. Germain liquor and 1-1/2 oz. pear vodka. Strain into the sugar-rimmed cocktail glass and float some champagne on the top. This makes an impressive and “springy” treat!
• For wine, choose a fresh and fruity Sauvignon Blanc.
• Serve the cobb as a salad dish for an elegant, outdoor garden party along with an antipasto platter and a chilled summertime soup.

Copley's Summer Salmon Supper

I have always had an affinity for the historic Cary Grant Estate that is home to the award-winning Copley’s Palm Springs. As a child, I attended kindergarten there, in the days when the iconic building housed Mary’s Playhouse. The grounds, tucked intimately behind a gateway smack dab in the middle of downtown Palm Springs, maintain their intimate charm to this day. With dining tables dotted along the garden paths amongst trees and the glistening of the small lawn hearkening towards an atmosphere of slow eating beneath the elements, the restaurant has become a favorite for locals seeking quality meals in a relaxed yet elegant setting. Chef Andrew Copley does his magic in the kitchen while his wife, hostess with the mostess Juliana Manion-Copley graciously greets and seats guests, welcoming many of the regulars by name. During a recent trip to the restaurant, I was reminded of the serenity that comes from early morning suppers in the outdoor setting that offers views of the glorious San Jacintos while enjoying fine fare.

The new Hawaiian ahi taco appetizer is small but refreshing. Two miniature caramelized sesame miso shells host a tumbling sea of diced tuna tartare with bits of avocado and green onion. Topped with generous amounts of Tobiko caviar, they are the perfect ginger and soy spiked bite for the start of a meal. 

One of the menu’s longtime stars is the Beet and Warm Goat Cheese Salad which comes served atop micro greens, sprinkled with candied walnuts, and all over accented by a honey mustard dressing that warms up the dish and causes the flavors to mingle together deliciously. 

Although my taste buds were tempted to choose tried and true signature dishes like the rich and sinful “Oh My Lobster Pot Pie” or the Grilled Niman Ranch Pork Chop, I stuck with a summery selection of Cilantro Scented Scottish Salmon. The thick filet came served atop steamed basmati rice and sautéed broccolini covered in a tangy Thai curry sauce perfectly complemented by a salad of julienned carrot, mango and mint.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t extol the virtues of the exquisite basil ice cream for dessert—a perfect green dollop of refreshing herbal coolness to bring the palate down from a meal of so many textures and flavors!


As a rule of thumb, with the advent of summer comes lighter fare and drink. As a lover of red wine, I find myself yearning for something more in the middle, even when the mercury rises here in the desert. On a recent excursion to Copley's on Palm Canyon, I discovered a bit of both.

Lately, the restaurant has been touting its bright, dog-day inspired menu and there are certainly some standouts. For starters, I chose to pair a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with an appetizer of tuna tartare, avocado and roe. The 2009 vintage from Babich Wines was full of nectarine and passion fruit flavors. The menu's tasting notes also mention flavors of gooseberry...if I knew what a gooseberry was or what it tasted like, I could tell you if this description is accurate...alas, we may never know...that being said, the flinty quality of this wine melded quite well with the flavors of the sea.

My dining partner, food writer Unorthodox Foodie, ordered a cilantro-scented Scottish salmon in a curry sauce, which I paired with a 2007 Zaza Grenache Rose. This gorgeous wine hails from the Campo de Borja region of Spain, which has a knack for producing quality Garnachas (the Spanish name for this grape). The wine was scented with raspberry and strawberry, which stood up to the heat of the Thai-inspired sauce.

This may ruffle some feathers, but I would have married my entree if it were legal in California. I thoroughly enjoyed the fork-tender braised short ribs in a merlot reduction, topped with a beautifully grilled shrimp. In fact, I took such a liking to the reduction that I decided to pair it with a 2007 Camelot Merlot. The flavors matched amazingly well, with the wine a jammy blend of dark fruit, vanilla and spice in a glass.

Sure, it wasn't a traditional summer meal by definition, but its parts certainly equaled one sum of delicious dining.
Special thanks to Juliana Manion Copley and her terrific staff:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hemingway Lunch With Lee

Yesterday my friend Arlene and I had the pleasure of dining at Spencer's at the Mountain with our beloved friend Lee. Lee, always fashionable and sharp-witted in her pea coats and massive blue-lens glasses, shucked the menu and decided to order poached eggs and cottage cheese. The poached eggs, incredibly perfect white clouds with beautiful and delicate folds, reminded me of Ernest Hemingway and his literary love of eggs and egg cups. Lee reminded me of a story Hemingway once wrote where the eggs were accompanied by "crackling crisp" wine. We all agreed that "crackling crisp" is how we enjoyed summertime wine best. Somehow discussing one of my favorite literary lions with one of my favorite doyennes became the perfect fit for the sun-dappled courtyard and the leaves from the trees that fell upon our table during a lazy desert noontime.

Perfect Poached Eggs
Set a saucepan to boil that is about two-thirds full of water. Milk can also be used for a richer taste.
Add a dash of white vinegar.
Crack an egg into a ramekin, small bowl or soup ladle.
Spin the boiling water to cool down the water before you drop in the egg. You will want the water temperature to be about 160-180 degrees Farenheit. Use a thermometer to gauge.
Carefully lower or drop the egg into the center of the whirlpool.
Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Remove with a slotted spoon and serve immediately with buttered toast.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Carol's Comfort Kugel

I have a handful of Jewish women who have become like sisters to me this past year. Ranging from the radical to the wise, all of them older than me,  they were disparate friends before and this year somehow became all connected together delightfully so. They are my mentors and friends, each passionately engaged in their lives through volunteerism, healing professsions, or creativity. Recently, we got together at one of their desert properties that doubles as an organic farm for a potluck. Glasses of wine, laughter and thoughtful conversation peppered the dinner of fresh sauteed greens and moist roasted chicken but the icing on the evening came in the form of my friend Carol's Noodle Kugel.

Being an honorary Jew, I've always felt a soothing sense of comfort in the distinctive foods that mark the Jewish culture and traditions. Instead of chicken noodle soup, I find myself eating matzoh ball soup when sick and oftentimes dream of things like blintzes for breakfast when feeling in need of emotional nurturing. Kugel is one of those dishes that has always mystified me: the idea of mixing cooked noodles with sweet or savory ingredients and serving it casserole style has always seemed a bit odd and exotic. It is said that eating kugel gives one a sense of spiritual fulfillment and after trying my first one, I would have to agree. There is something extremely nurturing about the rich taste of noodles dotted with creaminess and spiked with cinnamon milkiness and raisins; each biteful so sweet and satisfying that it lingers in the mouth and produces a perpetual craving for more.

Carol's version below is highly addicting. It's the kind of thing you want to make in large batches as it makes the best leftover breakfast for days to come.

Carol's Comfort Kugel

Soak one cup of golden raisins in brandy overnight

Heat oven to 350

In a bowl mix
one container of Sour Cream 2 cups
Four eggs
1/2 cup sugar
Cinnamon mixed in with the sugar per taste
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Combine all ingredients together with a spatula
until creamy

Cook one package 8 oz. of egg noodles
Drain completely

Melt 1/2 cup of butter in a saucepan
pour into a baking dish.  Add noodles and smooth out.  Put mixture evenly over the top.  Add raisins and 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the top.

Bake at 375 for 50 minutes until golden on the top.  It is delish.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fig Fantasmagoria

During a recent dinner party where I gathered with foodie friends to celebrate the beginning of summer, we decided to lighten the fare by only cooking vegetarian. 

A non-carnivorous evening where creativity was key included an exquisite menu of fresh, chilled and pureed edamame soup in margarita glasses with a dollop of creme fraiche; eggplant parmesan; hearty beet, feta, arugula and wheatberry salad; soft and buttery tomato and vegetable tart; and a tangy lentil salad. 

But the stars of the evening were the soft and pliant dark purple figs, plucked that day from our host Mary's tree, three of which went straight from branch to my mouth before I tried the two dishes that she cooked for our pleasure. An appetizer of warm halved figs filled with walnuts and topped with a gorgonzola cream sauce kicked off our feast and an exquisitely moist and rich carmelized Fig-Upside-Down-Cake ended it with a round table of sighs from all of the guests. While figs are in season, I think I will make this one often! Not only are the fruits one of the most beautiful and sensual to eat, but they are rich in potassium and help to lower blood pressure in a season of over 100 degree heat!

Fig Upside Down Cake 

Cooking spray

2 tablespoons butter melted
3 tablespoons brown sugar  
10 medium Dark skinned fresh figs halved, about 1 pound 
1 1/2 cups All purpose flour  
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon ginger ground 
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon  
1/4 teaspoon cloves 
1/4 teaspoon Mace  
1/8 teaspoon salt  
1/3 cup butter softened 
3/4 cup brown sugar packed 
1/2 cup Light molasses  
2 large egg yolks 
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 large egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Coat bottom of pan with melted butter, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Arrange fig halves over sugar, cut sides down. Set aside.
3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk. Place 1/3 cup butter and 3/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Add molasses and egg yolks; beat well. Beat in milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; stir with a whisk just until blended.
4. Place egg whites in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter; spoon over figs in prepared pan. Bake at 350 fot 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Place a plate upside down on top of cake; invert onto plate.