Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011...

Don't let the door hit you in the a** on the way out!

Yes, 2011 was a bear in many ways - but as I look back, I'm finding it hard to complain too much. We traveled, we had lots of good food and great times with friends and family and generally enjoyed ourselves quite a bit.  On the flip side, there was more sadness and loss around us than we are used to - both in our lives and the lives of some close friends.   I hope that's not a continuing trend.

A few weeks ago, I saw a quote that really resonated with me:  "Enjoy the little things, for someday you will realize that they were the big things."  Late this summer, I had a mini health scare that gave me just enough pause to see the wisdom in this.  The things that make my life great are the "little" things - like meeting a friend for coffee and a chat on a weekday morning, making and serving a killer dessert,  showing my nieces one of my favorite movies or playing a game with them, reading a book to a two year-old, going to the farmers market or harvesting fresh vegetables from the garden, drinking a great bottle of wine on the patio, putting a vase of gorgeous flowers on the table, roasting a perfect chicken, going to a great yoga class... just being with the people that matter most and enjoying the moments in between the stressful, inevitable realities of life.  These are the things that make life good, even when the big picture isn't so rosy.

Regardless, it still feels like it's time for things to start looking up in 2012, doesn't it?  Let's hope so.  Here's to better times ahead.  Salud!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holidays, 2011

It's been a good week. We took a few days off before the weekend and spent some time with the girls (our 8 and 11 year old nieces).  We played with the puppy, who is growing like a weed and is such a sweetheart we can hardly stand it.  I did a lot of baking.  Too much, it turns out. One can only eat so much peppermint bark.... (or should, anyway.)  To cap it off, on Friday we brought back the now bi-annual Posole party - complete with killer margaritas.  
Our Christmas celebration was low key.  I received some lovely gifts.  The tile is from a local artisan, and my friend Lisa gave me an autographed copy of the Chez Panisse book, and James got me the Clare Vivier tote I asked for. I also got the Milk Bar cookbook and the Chez Panisse menu book.  Planning a post on those soon.  The jars are Saba, a grape must product that is absolutely delicious, and a small bottle of fine balsamic vinegar - from my personal trainer, because she is a huge foodie. I gave her the Mozza cookbook.
I just harvested the first basket of tangerines the other day.  Usually they're ripe in time for Christmas, but not quite this year.  We also have Meyer lemons coming in.  I've been doing some dining out and need to write up a few new places, and have a year end post in the works so stay tuned...

I hope your holidays were filled with joy and peace and your new year is as well.  See you soon!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Treats!

Jora and I were busy little bees this weekend.  Have you ever done your holiday baking with a friend?  I highly recommend it!

Sweets:  clockwise from top -  Peppermint bark, mandelbrot (made by my mom), Mozza's chocolate hazelnut maltagliati, vanilla bean fleur de sel caramels, and caramel pecan shortbread.

Savories:  (not pictured)  cheddar cayenne crackers, blue cheese and walnut crackers, bourbon soaked cherries, and Nancy Silverton's roasted almonds with salt and olive oil.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pizzeria Mozza and the Mozza Cookbook

Pizzeria Mozza - Newport
A few weeks ago I took a day trip up to Newport Beach with a friend to do a little Christmas shopping at Fashion Island and have lunch at the new Pizzeria Mozza up there.  It's an easy day trip from San Diego, and the food is just as good as the Los Angeles branch.  We started with the caprese salad and toasted bread - a first for me.  They roast the tomatoes lightly on the vine, and serve them over a bed of fresh burrata with pesto and olive oil.  This is simple enough that it is all about the details, and this version was divine.  I tried making it at home using the instructions in the cookbook a few weeks later, but the same magic just wasn't there.  The one thing that was just as fantastic was the bread - grilled in the panini press with garlic olive oil and sea salt.  HIGHLY recommend recreating it at home if you have one of those fabulous devices.
Pizzeria Mozza - Newport
We split the salad and an order of the squash blossoms (a must) and moved onto the mushroom pizza.  I hadn't tried this particular one before - I've been stuck on the goat cheese, scallion and bacon pizza - but it was really good, with the same puffy crispy edges, an assortment of mushrooms, good cheese and lots of garlic.
Pizzeria Mozza - Newport
For dessert we split two of our favorites - one of which is the Caramel Copetta.  It's a sundae of caramel ice cream, marshmallow fluff, caramel sauce and spanish peanuts with a pizzelle cookie on the bottom and a liberal sprinkle of sea salt.  I think that's why I like it so much - all that salt and caramel.
Pizzeria Mozza - Newport
Our other favorite is the Butterscotch Budino - the most popular dish at either of their restaurants. It's a deep butterscotch pudding, topped with the same caramel as the Copetta, with a dollop of whipped cream and creme fraiche on top.  It's worth every bit of the hype.
Pizzeria Mozza - Newport
Just after this adventure, a friend of mine went to Nancy Silverton's book signing at Chino Farms and got me a copy of the new Mozza cookbook (autographed to Alice Q. Foodie - awww!)   Opening it up, I immediately wanted to make everything in it.  I was thrilled to see that it included the recipe for my favorite cookies they sell in their to go shop - Chocolate Hazelnut Maltaglieri, the Torta Della Nonna, pizza dough, pasta dough, their composed mozzarella crostini, salads, etc.  It really is a complete compendium of almost every dish at Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza.

Unfortunately I haven't had the best luck with the recipes. The instructions for the caprese suggest roasting the tomatoes for way too long at too high a temperature.  Mine broke down during the process and I didn't cook them as long as the instructions suggested  (on the plus side, they're great in pasta!)  I also tried the budino right away for James' birthday last week, since it's pretty much his favorite thing ever.  The first time it set up too soft and super grainy. It calls for an outrageous amount of cornstarch (2/3 of a cup!) and three cups of whipping cream, where most pudding recipes call for just a few tablespoons of cornstarch and whole milk.  I tried again with a half recipe (which was plenty for us - it makes ten servings!) but as I cooked the custard it turned grainy and lumpy again.  This time I used a hand blender to smooth it out again - but the recipe doesn't say to do that, it just says to strain it.  It worked pretty well, but it still wasn't perfect.  The flavor wasn't quite right either - it was more "butterscotch" than theirs - not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I was after.  I'm determined to get it right.  If and when I do, I will post a recipe.

The Chocolate Maltaglieri and the Torta Della Nonna were a success, luckily. Will post about those later.  The baking times were still off -  for the cookies it was too short and for the tart it was too long, but I was able to figure that out on my own.  I guess it also depends on your oven somewhat - there is a little natural variation there.  All in all, it's a lovely book and I would definitely recommend it - but my advice would be to take matters into your own hands if it appears necessary!

Amended:  I have made the pizza dough twice and it's fantastic!

Pizzeria Mozza
800 W Coast Hwy (toward Balboa Island)
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 945-1126

parking is impossible, just plan to valet. It's not as hard to get a reservation as it is at the LA branch, but it's still a good idea - they are on Open Table.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Meet Lucy.

Well we didn't exactly plan to get a puppy again so soon, but you know how they say the dog chooses you...  This little girl picked us at an adoption event this past Saturday.  She's a black lab mix and she is ALL sweet baby puppy, all the time.  She does look like Lola, but she is a different breed mix, and she seems to be a bit less feisty and stubborn - for better and worse.  :)  Bart is adjusting - he was six years younger the last time we brought a puppy home and was a bit more tolerant, but he started playing with her this morning which is a good sign.
This is what she looks like right now.  I'm really not looking forward to the day when she discovers that all my shoes are just behind that curtain!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Camp Honey Badger

Camp Honey Badger
First off, I just wanted to say thank you for all the warm and lovely expressions of sympathy about Lola.  They made a rough week a little more bearable.  Before we got the call that led to our early return, we were having a great time at Camp Honey Badger - the affectionate name given to this little annual Thanksgiving gathering at William Heise County Park in Julian.  It was a beautiful setting  - a little chilly but nothing a wool blanket, a camp fire and some ugg boots couldn't take care of.  We had this great tent to stay in courtesy of James' family - it's hand made, y'all.  Not as easy to put up and take down as a two man popup, but a great option for a trip of at least a few days.
Camp Honey Badger
 This is pretty much how we spent our time - sitting around the blazing fire (which we kept going from dawn to lights out at 10 PM) and drinking something. Coffee, champagne, scotch, you name it.
Camp Honey Badger
On the first night we had Japanese food. I fried up karaage (Japanese style fried chicken marinated in soy sauce, garlic and mirin and dusted with cornstarch) by head lamp in the dark in our turkey fryer, while Andrew made ramen with tofu in a dashi broth, and Shihomi - owner of Azuki Sushi in Bankers Hill, supplied a delicious traditional beef curry and rice.  Sake, Japanese scotch and at least a couple of kinds of wine rounded out the menu.  It was the best camp food I've ever eaten, bar none.   Afterwards there were Vosges s'mores - courtesy of Janice. That's right, Vosges s'mores bitches.  I said it.  Boom.
Camp Honey Badger
We had a great kitchen set up going - here's James frying up some bacon for breakfast  on Thanksgiving morning on our camp stove.
Camp Honey Badger
We had two other stoves, a small oven, a fryer and even a small portable dishwasher for the pots and pans and our dishware - and lots of coolers - though the temperature wasn't really a problem.
Camp Honey Badger
We took a nice little hike on Thanksgiving with Heidi's dogs - Ruby set a blistering pace.  The scenery still shows the unfortunate effects of the brush fires that roared through here a few years ago - but it's lovely in it's own sort of desolate, scrubby way.
Camp Honey Badger
For the Thanksgiving meal, Andrew cooked up Jidori chickens - first on a rotisserie over the fire, and then directly on a grill.  I had made cranberries and some pies, and we had dressing (which we rolled into balls and fried in the deep fryer - genius).
Camp Honey Badger
James had brought some lobster tails that he wanted to fry - so I whipped up a corn dog batter and fried those up as an appetizer with some champagne.
lobster fritter
Janice and John prepared brussel sprouts with bacon and pecans...
Camp Honey Badger
And we feasted and drank rose in our cold weather gear.
Camp Honey Badger
My last photo from the trip, literally, is this box of Dallman chocolates that were passed around just after the meal - generously supplied by the owner Isabella, who had joined us that afternoon.
Camp Honey Badger
When we go back next year, we will seriously consider bringing the dogs with us.  Not just so we can keep an eye on them, but because their body heat will come in handy on those long, chilly winter nights!