Wednesday, December 28, 2011

There's a Newf in My Soup's Best of 2011

After scrolling through my humble contribution to the food blogging world during the past year, over 100 posts, I can honestly say, "I've come a long way, baby!" My passion for food, cooking, entertaining, writing, travel, and photography continues to grow, and this past year has been quite a journey.  In no particular order, this post recaps some of the most memorable moments of our 2011, in food and life.

At the beginning of the year, I joined French Fridays with Dorie, and began cooking my way through Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. Although I don't participate every week, a majority of her recipes have been fabulous. I gravitate to unfamiliar and unique recipes, for the challenge and learning experience. Dorie's introduction to each recipe entertains and educates, and the recipes are sophisticated, yet approachable.

In February, we traveled to New Orleans. That trip, and another wonderful cookbook, John Besh's My New Orleans, inspired many wonderful dishes throughout the year. In May, I hosted The Daring Cooks' Gumbo Challenge. I mastered the art of roux, and fell in love with Drew's Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo in the process.

Best Gumbo - Drew's Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo

Another winning recipe from My New Orleans is Beignets. After our early morning walks to Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, famous for beignets and chicory coffee, we had to come home and recreate these pillowy doughnuts blanketed in powdered sugar. With a more modest dusting of powdered sugar, and John's decadent dunking sauces, I was ready to open my own beignet bakery in Coronado!

Best Sunday Morning Treat - Beignets

In yet another fabulous cookbook, Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon and Fennel is a winner.  The flavors in this one-pot dish are magnificent.

Best Chicken - Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs

We discovered several sandwiches this year, and it was really tough deciding on a favorite between Donald Link's Fried Oyster and Bacon, Croque-Madames, and this Pork Schnitzel and Chipotle Sandwich. This one made the finals as one of the editors' choices in Saveur's Home Cook Sandwich Challenge, but didn't make it to the winner's circle.

Best Sandwich - Pork Schnitzel and Chipotle Sandwich

We don't eat nearly enough salads, and I was thrilled to create this Salmon, Arugula and Couscous Salad, inspired by one on Il Fornaio's brunch menu. I developed a fondness for arugula this past year.

Best Summer Salad - Salmon, Arugula and Couscous Salad

If you eat mostly salads throughout the year, you have permission to reward yourself with Walnut Turtle Pie, a signature dessert at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse. Chocolate heaven. This pie won out over Bobby Flay's Throwdown Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving this year (and Bobby's Pumpkin Pie is one of my most visited posts).

Most Decadent Chocolate Dessert - Walnut Turtle Pie

While photographing one of many food and wine events we attended this year, we tasted our first Liege Waffle, made with Belgium Pearl Sugar.  I was able to order the sugar from Get a Waff and tried a few different recipes at home. After mastering these, I was ready to add Liege Waffles to the menu, along with the beignets, at my Coronado bakery!

Best Waffle - Liege Waffles

Getting back to French Fridays with Dorie, I looked through all the 30 or so recipes I've made from Around My French Table and decided this Tourteau de Chèvre deserves the highest recognition. I love that it's so unique and adaptable. The recipe provides the option of using a savory or sweet tart dough, depending on whether you plan to serve it with white wine as an aperitif, as a dessert with a drizzle of honey and fresh fruit, in the afternoon with tea, or in the morning with coffee. 

Best French Fridays with Dorie Recipe, so far - Tourteau de Chèvre

Speaking of unique - these Cherries as Olives were a surprise hit at one of our summer Concerts in the Park. These come from Chef José Andrés' Made in Spain cookbook. Fresh cherries are marinated in a mix of olive oil, orange and lemon juice and zest, garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and sherry vinegar, with an optional sprinkling of Marcona almonds before serving. Please try these for your next party or picnic. They are addicting!

Best Nibble - Cherries as Olives

One of our highlights of the year was getting to know several chefs.  Chef Bernard Guillas (The Marine Room, La Jolla) is one of San Diego's most respected chefs. Recipes from his award-winning cookbook, Flying Pans, are often featured on The Marine Room's web page. I have a copy of the cookbook and love that there is a stunning photograph accompanying every recipe. It's nice to see how the chef wants his dish presented.

For Thanksgiving this year, I made Sylvie's Stuffed Turkey Breast Ballotine with Croissant Sausage Stuffing, Glazed Carrots, Cipollinis, and Apple Cider Gravy. If you're looking for an alternative to roasting a whole turkey, this dish is so impressive.

Best Holiday Dinner - Slyvie's Stuffed Turkey Breast Ballotine

Much of the fabulous food we enjoyed this year was shared with friends and family, at some of our annual events and parties. If you've followed There's a Newf in My Soup, you know we spend our summer Sundays at Coronado's Concert in the Park. eCoronado named me the unofficial Top Chef of Concerts in the Park this year because our group puts out such incredible spreads of food. We always have a culinary theme, and Childhood Favorites was one of our most memorable concerts of the summer.  Everyone shared a photo from their childhood for the blog post.

Best Concert in the Park - Childhood Favorites
Photo of Alec's Grandma Rachael

John went over the top with our Annual Halloween Party. This year's theme was Pirates, and he transformed our yard into a movie set right out of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Best Halloween Party Ever
Coronado Island Pirates Board the HMS Obsessed for a Halloween Sail

One of the funniest parties of the year was Alec's Rat Pack Party.  Nina set up a little photo booth and the boys really got into posing in the Marilyn dress and wig! Many of the photos had to be censored from the blog, but this one of Kai and Alec, with my plate of cannoli, is classic.

Funniest Party - Take the Cannoli, to Alec's Rat Pack Party

John and I work well together behind the camera, and the blog has opened a few doors this year. We've provided photography for several local food and wine events, cooking classes, and restaurants, and fly to Colorado next month to photograph a Relais & Châteaux guest ranch.

Best Photo Shoot - Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge, Coronado

Best Chef Photo - Chef Marco, Il Fornaio

My life would not be complete without plenty of pasta. We're regulars at Il Fornaio and are now considered family. We photographed two of Chef Marco's cooking classes (Risotto and Homemade Pasta), and attend the monthly Tuesday Night Tasting of the Festa Regionale Menu. This Spaghetti alla Lucana is from The Il Fornaio Pasta Book.  Chef Marco moved to Seattle, and we miss him dearly.

Best Pasta - Spaghetti alla Lucana

We continue to acquire beautiful copper cookware, and other blogalicious cookware, serveware, props, utensils, and tools. This copper Cataplana from Williams Sonoma is my favorite of the year. We also have the matching Couscoussier. I need to cook in these pieces a bit more in 2012.

Best Cookware - Copper Cataplana

When you love pasta as much as I do, you must have a few artisanal pasta tools in your kitchen! I acquired these two, courtesy of Terry Mirri at Artisanal Pasta Tools, Sonoma, CA. Although I haven't made the time to use them often enough, they are very special (see my Playing with a New Kitchen Treasure and Feel Like Makin' Gnocchi posts featuring these tools).

Best Pasta Tools - Corzetti Stamp

Gnocchi/Garganelli Board

Although you may have caught me complaining about the electric stove we acquired when we moved in June, we are fortunate to be living in a beautiful home, with a lovely private courtyard off the dining room for entertaining, and a picturesque front yard. After all the drama we went through the first half of 2011 in the old house, moving was definitely the highlight of our year.

John bought us a gorgeous grill, and we devoured the best grilled lobster, ever. Never mind that it was the only grilled lobster we had all year, but John prepared and grilled it to perfection, and we were so happy to be sitting outside, soaking up warm afternoon sun, and sharing one of many wonderful times on our new patio.

Best Lobster - Wolfgang Puck's Grilled Lobsters with Spicy Herbed Compound Butter

And finally, one last photo...the Best Bread of the year!  Three loaves of Chocolate-Cinnamon Babka contain 5 sticks of butter and over 2 pounds of chocolate.  I made these for Christmas, and the recipe can be found here, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

Best Bread - Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

If you're still with me after this rather long recap of 2011, I want to thank you for reading and supporting There's a Newf in My Soup! We look forward to continuing our journey, wherever it may lead, and hope you'll come back to visit from time to time to see what we're cooking.

Eat well, drink only good wine, and have a very happy and healthy New Year.

-Denise, John & Dooley


As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy, and to make plans.
                                                                                                  - Ernest Hemingway


Monday, December 26, 2011

Reviving Traditions with Mario Batali's Porcini-Rubbed Prime Rib Roast

The Chew, starring Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Clinton Kelly and Daphne Oz, celebrates and explores life through food -- from cooking and home entertaining to food trends, restaurants, holidays and more. It is broadcast live, weekdays, from New York City. In California, it airs at noon, so I've only been able to catch it a few times.

My mom happened to see the "Christmas Spectacular" episode, and told me about Mario Batali's Prime Rib Roast. Our Christmas Eve traditional dinner used to be prime rib, but we've celebrated at friends' homes the past several years. On Christmas morning, we realized we didn't have a plan for dinner. Mom reminded me again of Mario's Porcini-Rubbed 3-Rib Roast. I watched the video clip from The Chew, and couldn't get to the store fast enough! Thankfully, the butcher was able to accommodate our last-minute request, and I already had the ingredients for the rub. I came home, prepared the rub, slathered it all over the roast, and e-mailed a teaser photo to mom. 

Mario describes prime rib as America's greatest gift to the world - our beef is something special and we should celebrate it as the true centerpiece of the holiday table.  In Mario's recipe, the porcini mushroom powder makes the rub rich and delicious, equal parts of salt and sugar help create the wonderful caramelized crust, and the red pepper flakes provide a bit of spice.

The standing rib roast emerged from the oven smelling heavenly, with a beautiful, caramelized, spicy porcini-peppery crust, and perfectly pink throughout. Thank you, Mario, for reviving our Christmas tradition.

Mario Batali's Porcini-Rubbed Three-Bone Rib Roast
From The Chew, Christmas Spectacular Episode


2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
¼ cup Porcini mushroom powder*
5 garlic cloves (minced)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
5-6 pound 3-rib standing rib roast (preferably cut from the loin or small-end)

*If you can’t find Porcini mushroom powder, simply grind dried Porcini mushrooms (about 3/4 ounces) in a coffee or spice grinder until they are powder.

Grind dried Porcini Mushrooms in a Coffee or Spice Grinder for powder

The ingredients for an amazing rub

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, mushroom powder, garlic, and olive oil. Stir well to form a thick paste.

Mix it up, and slather it on!

Rub the paste all over the roast, coating it evenly.

Now that's a nice piece of meat!

Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours (ours only managed about 5 hours). Remove the roast from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and let it stand at room temperature for about an hour before roasting.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Place the roast on a rack in a roasting pan, rib side down and fat side up, and insert a meat thermometer in a thick part. Roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and continue to cook until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees F (our 5 1/4 lb. roast took about another hour).  Remove the roast from the oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes before carving. During resting, the meat will continue to cook and will reach a final temperature of 135 degrees F (medium-rare).

Let it rest 30 minutes to allow the juices to distribute and the meat to finish cooking 

Using a long, sharp slicing knife or chef’s knife, cut the meat from the rib bones in one piece, following the contour of the bones.  Slice the meat across the grain into whatever thickness you prefer. 

See this Fine Cooking article, How to Buy and Carve a Prime Rib Roast.

Today, we thinly sliced the leftovers for sandwiches, with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and horseradish-mayo, and Dooley spent the afternoon happily feasting on prime rib bones.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding My Christmas Spirit, Italian-Style

I think I just found my Christmas spirit...enhancing, and served alongside, a crumbly, Italian torte called Fregolotta.

Grappa is a uniquely Italian drink, made from pomace, the discarded grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes. I've had a few sips in the past, but it didn't really appeal to me. When I asked for a recommendation from the selection of grappas available at BevMo yesterday, the salesman replied, "they all taste like lighter fluid, but this one is the easiest to get down." Nice sales pitch.

Like wine, grappa comes in all varieties and qualities, with the flavor based on the grape or fruit used.  I choose Grappa di Moscato.  The perfume is fuity, with hints of peach, apricot and spiced sage, and the taste is aromatic, typical of the moscato grape, with hints of rose.

Traditionally, grappa is served chilled in small glasses, and after the meal, to aid digestion. Grappa should be swirled gently in the glass, brought to your nose, and then tasted in small sips. I could get used to it on a cold winter's night, paired with this fregolotta from Gina DePalma, pastry chef at Mario Batali's Babbo Ristorante.

Chef DePalma explains that Italians have a fondness for crumbly, porous textures when it comes to sweets, mainly because dry, crumbly textures are perfectly partnered with local wines and spirits. They are also easy to prepare and store, which was especially necessary in leaner times when rich ingredients like milk and cream weren’t so readily available.

Fregolotta is a crumbly, cracker-like confection from Venice, where the finest grappas of Italy are produced.  It's filled with fragrant almonds and perfumed with a bit of lemon zest. The texture is slightly chewy, from a bit of polenta, another revered ingredient of the region. It is best enjoyed alongside a glass of grappa.  I've now enjoyed it alongside a glass of grappa, a glass of wine, and my morning coffee!

Recipe from Gina DePalma, Babbo Ristorante
10-12 servings

¾ cup sliced, blanched almonds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1tablespoon instant polenta or finely ground cornmeal
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cubed, plus additional butter for greasing the pan
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grappa
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan generously with butter and set aside.

Place the almonds, flour, polenta, sugar and salt in a food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add the cubed butter and pulse until it disappears into the dry ingredients.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, olive oil, vanilla, grappa and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture forms crumbs and is evenly moistened.

Press the crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of the cake pan. Bake the fregolotta for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is golden brown and firm to the touch.

Allow the Fregolotta to cool completely in the pan, then carefully unmold it. To serve, break it into large pieces and enjoy with a glass of wine or grappa.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sunsets, Shrimp, and Slow-Cooker Grits

When I look back over my blog posts for 2010, I am reminded that many of our favorite dishes have been Southern - inspired by our trip to New Orleans, cookbooks by John Besh and Donald Link, and the abundance of fresh seafood available in San Diego. In fact, the Blogher Publishing Network just featured my Gumbo post, along with Besh's My New Orleans cookbook, in its Holiday Food Guide!

In addition to making gumbo several times this past year, Shrimp and Grits has made a few appearances on our table. And please don't get me drooling over Fried Oyster and Bacon Sandwiches or Beignets, a few more southern favorites we've ordered in restaurants and then recreated at home.

On a recent stormy evening, we tried yet another version of Shrimp and Grits, this time from Michael Ruhlman.  Although I didn't butter poach the shrimp, I followed the method of cooking the grits in a crock pot for about eight hours.  Eve Felder, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, and native of Charleston, South Carolina, recommends slow cooking the grits for hours to achieve the perfect consistency.

If I was out clamming in the cold surf like these two guys in the photos below, a bowl of hot, creamy grits and butter-poached or sauteed shrimp would be most appreciated when I came home.  John was out photographing at the beach last week, while I was still stuck behind my desk at work, and came home with these beautiful shots.

Sauteed Shrimp and Slow-Cooker Grits
Adapted from Michael Ruhlman
Serves 4

4 ounces chorizo, cut into small dice
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
1 1/4 cups high-quality stoneground grits
2 cups milk
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound large, uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
4 lemon wedges

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, saute the chorizo for about 5 minutes.  Add the onion, season with a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the grits and stir. Add the milk, and 2 cups of water. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook the grits, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Add several grinds of black pepper to the grits. Add more milk or water as needed (about 2 cups more) to keep the mixture fluid. Transfer the grits to a slow-cooker set to low, and cover.  Monitor the moisture level, adding milk or water as needed, and stir occasionally.  Cook for about 8 hours.  Taste and add a touch more salt to taste.

Again, I didn't butter poach the shrimp this time, but you can follow Michael Ruhlman's step by step instructions and recipe here (I simply sauteed the shrimp in about 4 tablespoon of butter, just until pink and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes).

Spoon the grits into bowls, and arrange the sauteed shrimp over the top.  Garnish with parsley, freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

I initially plated our shrimp and grits in these little cast iron pans, but we both wanted a much larger serving!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Highlights of Gingerbread City 2011: Hit a Home Run for Epilepsy

Over 350 guests attended the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County’s Gingerbread City Gala on December 1 at The Grand Del Mar. Honorary Chairman Jeff Moorad, Vice Chairman and CEO of the San Diego Padres, was presented with the “Key to Gingerbread City." The theme, Hit a Home Run for Epilepsy, was an open-ended theme that challenged the gingerbread artists to create spectacular structures ranging from baseball inspirations to creative interpretations of the word "home."

Each year, the gingerbread-design competition and holiday gala attracts talented gingerbread artists, local celebrity chefs, and generous sponsors and patrons, who all join together in support of the mission to ensure that people with seizures are able to participate in all life experiences; and to prevent, control and cure epilepsy through services, education, advocacy and research.  We donated our photography services again this year.

Melody Morse won first prize in the Grand category for her Victorian Christmas.  She won last year's competition with The Tale of Despereaux Mouse World.

Victorian Christmas
Created by Melody Morse and Tiffany Morse

Melody's grandchildren inspired her this year, with their love of trains and all sorts of toys. Several of the elves resemble them - one with blond hair and blue eyes, the other brown hair and brown eyes. The theme was also influenced by Melody's love of all things Victorian, and the challenge to make something different. The string you see used throughout the structure - from the tiny baskets, horse's hair and bridle, cord for the cranberry garland, décor on the baseball, and all cords for the ornaments, was made using edible gourd strips. Rice paper dusted with corn starch was used to make the angel on the tree top, lining in the boxes, and the Christmas crackers. 

The names on the letters to Santa are a combination of names of family members. 

The fiber optic tree took a week to take apart, so she could use the internal structure. The interior trunk was covered with modeling chocolate, and the branches with dyed rice paper. The greenery on the tree was made using dyed Agar Agar, an algae noodle found at her favorite Asian food store. Soy wrappers were used to make the paper chain. The simplicity of the decorations on the Christmas tree reminded her of the way her parents decorated their trees growing up on their homestead in Alaska.

Most of the artists included some element of baseball, and it was fun to examine the structures closely to find those artistic touches.

Tiffany, Melody's daughter, carved several of the boxes using a wood burning tool and then a dremel tool. She also carved the train engine, rocking horse, lamb and toy soldier from a block of gingerbread using the same technique she employed last year for making Draco, her dragon.  She baked 1/4-inch of gingerbread at a time and then carved the large structure down to the shape and size she wanted.  

Victorian Christmas was purchased by Ron Kohn, the owner of Sprouts Farmers Market.  It will be displayed at Sprouts (Eastlake Parkway and 3rd Avenue locations, Chula Vista), and then donated to a library.

Veronica Centeno's Waterfall Home, a replica of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, won Second Place in the Grand category.  

Waterfall Home
Veronica Centeno, Maria Gonzales, Hector Sanchez, Irene Fombon, San Ysidro Adult School


Amanda Hamilton’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas won Third Place in the Grand category.  Amanda's husband, who serves in the US Navy, was able to come home this year for the holidays, and attended the Gala with Amanda.

I'll Be Home for Christmas
Amanda Hamilton, Shelly Ceciliano, Lulu's Sweet Art

The fourth Grand structure, Changing Seasons at Kylemore Abbey, was also stunning.  Kylemore Abbey is the oldest of the Irish Benedictine Abbeys. The Community of nuns, who have resided here since 1920, have a long history stretching back almost three hundred and forty years.

Changing Seasons at Kylemore Abbey
Moeve Rochford, Mary Margaret Rochford, Andrew Hertel, Sugar and Scribe Bakery

In the Petite category, Rancho Grande won first place.  The details were colorful and whimsical.

Rancho Grande
Imelda Guzman, Ana Flores, Nancy Wilson, San Ysidro Adult School

Enchanted Victorian Chalet was exquisitely decorated, and represented the ultimate, fairytale gingerbread house.

Enchanted Victorian Chalet
Kathleen Lange, Confectionery Chalet

The Golden Dream
Claudia Soto, Cecilia Rodriguez, Letticia Vazques, San Ysidro Adult School

San Diego Padres
Franciois Grosjean, The Grand Del Mar

The Grand Del Mar’s signature restaurant, Addison, features Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef William Bradley.  Chef Bradley was joined by several other distinguished chefs who offered delectable bites throughout the evening.

Fresh off winning Chef of the Fest at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, Chef Daniel Barron was well-equipped with an immersion circulator and liquid nitrogen for his creation:  Duck fat and butter poached local corvina, pumpkin custard, smoke almond fluid gel, crispy Maitake nitro, and crystallized micro Thai basil.

Executive Chef Daniel Barron, Blue Point Coastal Cuisine

We were set up just outside the ballroom, with our camera and lights, and it was quite challenging running in and out with plates of food.  The chefs were very gracious in taking a little extra time to plate their dishes for the camera, and some even stepped away from their "kitchens" to run out the finishing touches and garnish.  

Chef Stephane Voitzwinkler presented this beautiful house cured salmon with local root vegetable salad.

House Cured "'Amed" Salmon
Executive Chef Stephane Voitzwinkler, Bertrand at Mister A's

Here are a few other favorite bites of the night...

Roasted Lamb Chop, Purple Mustard, Dried Cherry Spoonbread, Fried Leeks
Executive Chef Dennis Cortez, The Grand Del Mar

Seared Diver Scallop, Persimmon and Butternut Puree, Vanilla-Ginger Sauce
Executive Chef Steve Pickell, Cafe Champagne at Thornton Winery

Red Wine Risotto
Executive Chef William Bradley, The Grand Del Mar

Dark Chocolate Truffle Torte, Hazelnuts, Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise, Gingerbread Ice Cream
The Grand Del Mar

We took many more photographs, available for viewing on There's a Newf in My Soup's Facebook page, in photo albums.  Next year, we hope to be on the other side of the camera with another gingerbread creation of our own!

Happy Holidays!