Once upon a time, a young man (he who will not be named) and a young lady (Me, who else) went out to a Valentine’s Day dinner at the finest restaurant in the Philadelphia Main Line area (which is where the rich and the very rich once lived).  The food was bland, the service was pretentious, and the prices were astronomical.  The young lady and the young man spent the best part of the snickering and laughing about the dinner especially when the obsequious waiter opened their bottle of champagne, which was done with a flourish of a white serviette and ended with a shooting cork and a spray of the bubbly.

However when the dessert was brought to the table, it was a different story.  Sweet, creamy and tantalizing, the young man and lady lapped up their delectable goodie and purred at the end of the meal over glasses of Grand Marnier.  “Now that was perfect”, said the young man sitting comfortably in his chair.  “Yes, and it was a no-brainer to make.  Plus fast and easy”, added the young lady.

So here it is, a delectable morsel from my past to bring love to you and your partner.  Or just make it for yourself and cherish it while taking a warm soak in a hot tub.

Berries in the Snow – Prep – 10 minutes, No cooking – for 2 to 4 people depending on the size of your goblets

2 pints of sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or any combination – cleaned.  Save a couple for decoration

3 tablespoons of raspberry or cassis liquor – I used Chambord

Sugar

2 pints of heavy whipped cream

1 tsp of vanilla – I love the vanilla from  the Vanilla Queen

Wedge of chocolate or a cookie – I used a wedge from Ghiradelli Chocolate (hazelnut)

In a medium glass bowl mix liquor with a teaspoon of sugar, and add berries.  Let sit while making whipped cream.  Using a mixer, put cream in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.  You can add more sugar if you want it sweeter.  Whip until the cream is stiff enough to hold up a spoon.

I used glass wine goblets from Cost Plus that were large and have an open  mouth, unlike some goblets that are tulip-shaped.   This allows you to get the berries into the goblet easily.  If you want to be really fancy, run the liquor around the rim of the glass, and then on a plate with sugar, place the mouth of the goblet into the sugar (same technique used for margaritas).  Put the berries into the goblet, and any of the remaining liquor.  Then using a tip and plastic pastry bag filled with the whipped cream, fill the rest of the goblet (or skip the finer touch and drop in spoonfuls of whipped cream into the goblet).  Decorate with the remaining berries and a wedge of chocolate or cookie.  Put into the refrigerator until serving time (about 1 hour).

On that tension-filled day, I never was the girl that got piles of cards on my desk.  Nor did I have boyfriends who smothered me with gifts of jewels, furs, trips and chocolates.  So over the years, Valentine’s Day has been a ho-hum holiday.  In fact, it really means that it is my best friend’s birthday, and she is a real sweetheart.

When we, my husband and I, moved out to California in the late ‘80’s, we made a pact never to spend a lot of money on flowers.  Plants grow so quickly and easily in California, it seemed ridiculous to plunk $60 on a dozen long-stem red roses.  Soon we found out that roses were to be had for $3.99 a dozen, and that sealed the deal: he could only buy me roses if he found them for under $7 a dozen. It was a smart decision.

He also found out that I’m not a chocoholic and that for people that are poor at planning, reservations on the California coast seem to be impossible to get on Valentine’s Day.  And so are babysitters.  So we’ve changed game plans; we have a day of love.  The kids make valentines for all of us, my husband usually finds a card at the last moment, and I cook to sweeten up the evening.

About that chocolate thing of mine; it is not genetic, the rest of the family loves the stuff.  But we have recently found a central ground.  We just can’t resist those Cella’s Milk Chocolate Covered Cherries with 100% liquid filling.  I know that they are crap but in three days, they’ll all be eaten. Being a cheap bitch, I already bought them on sale – one box per family member.  Happy, sweet indulgence.

And so I part with you a sweet recipe for Amaretto Shrimp.  It’s fast, easy to make, and irresistible to your crowd. My family of 5 powers through 2 lbs of shrimp, but for an intimate dinner of 2, I’d suggest ½ to 1 lb.  I make it with white rice, but you could use any delicate-tasting grain.  Top it off with a green salad, shallot vinaigrette and an Alsatian Gwerztraminer wine.

Sweet Shrimp in Amaretto – Prep time:  20 minutes, Active Cooking: 10 minutes or less, rice takes 50 minutes

2 lbs of raw shrimp

½ lb sliced bacon (pan fried or even better, roasted)

1 clove of finely chopped shallots

Olive oil

½ cup Amaretto

½ cup of heavy cream

Salt and Pepper to taste

For rice: 1 cup rice for every 2 cups of water.  In a pot, boil water and at full boil, add rice.  Come to a second boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover pot with a tight lid.  Ready in 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For roasted bacon:  set oven at 400 degrees.  Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and place a rack on top of it.  I use a cooling rack.  Cook until crisp – about 20 – 25 minutes.  Be careful getting pan out of the oven since the fat from the bacon has dropped down to parchment paper.  When cool enough to handle, chop bacon and set aside.

For shrimp: In a large frying pan, add enough olive oil to cover bottom and place on a medium heat.  Add shallots and sauté for 1 – 3 minutes.  Add amaretto and cream, and cook until it begins to bubble (don’t boil).  Add shrimp & bacon – cook until shrimp turns pink – 3 to 5 minutes.  Take pan off of the heat, and serve over a bed of rice.  Add salt and ground pepper to taste.

For those of you without a SaladSuccess shaker, use 3 parts olive oil, one part sherry, wine or balsamic vinegar, a tsp. of Dijon Mustard, 1/2 finely chopped clove of shallots, 2 dashes of salt and a dash of pepper.  Toss into a jar with a closed lid, and shake until about 20 times.

We are in the middle of the rainy season here in central California and sniffing the air has become an art form.  I was driving my little daughter to a play date and just as I pulled into the driveway, I smelled it everywhere.  What was that delectable odor, what was that perfume?”  Finally, it dawned on me; and field of bay leaf trees growing wild.  So, as a good little cheap bitch, I quickly tore off a few branches, thus saving myself a small fortune in bay leaf purchases.

There are other freebies that are located in my garden and grow all year ‘round; parsley, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Rocket (arugula,rockette, roquette), mache (rapunzel, field salad, or lamb’s lettuce), and chives are free too, since they reseed themselves.  We call them volunteers.  When I am in the grocery stores I’m stunned how much they are charging for a small packet of herbs and forget buying mache, it’s exorbitant.  And they are all so easy to grow.  So the next thing I am putting on my gardening list, is to buy a bay tree starter.  Just think of the years of enjoyment we’ll get from this one small purchase.  And it’s a real cheap bitch purchase.

Now talking about cheap, white fishes such as Dover sole, tilapia and skai are very inexpensive at the moment.  I found both skai and tilapia on sale at my market for $3.99 a pound and decided that for under $8 dollars we would eat regally, all 5 of us.  So instead of pan frying, I want this delicate white fish to be cooked in its juices with wine, lemons, onions and herbs.  To do that, and to have an easy cleanup, I cooked the fish “en papillote” or less elegantly, in parchment paper.  This is the best and healthiest way to cook a fish other than grilling which can dry out a low fat fish.  Parchment paper from the grocery store is expensive, but a large roll (don’t worry, it’s no larger than the 200 ft of aluminum foil at the grocery store) is cost-effective and I found it at Costco.

I also made a chicken and rosemary flavored polenta which is so more exciting than rice and once again, cheap.  Polenta is one of the simplest grains to cook, but if your cupboard is bare, okay, bring out the rice.  Of course don’t forget a nice salad – greens, rocket, mache, feta crumbles with a shallot vinaigrette and a glass of Reisling (if you want to go nuts, spend the wad on Jos. Meyer’s family of Reisling wines – they are from the Alsace region of France and totally to die for).

Poisson Blanc en Papillote (White Fish cooked in Parchment Paper – sounds better in French):  Prep – 5 minutes: Cooking time: ½ hour:  Serves 4-6

2 lbs of a white fish – Tilapia, Skai, Dover Sole

¼ cup of white wine – I use 2 buck Chuck from Trade Joe’s

¼ cup chicken broth

3 -4 bay leaves

1 -2 lemons

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Set oven to 375 degrees. Place fish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a similar sized piece of parchment paper.  Pour chicken broth and white wine over fish, place onion slices, lemons and bay leaves on fish.  Sprinkle salt and pepper.

With the 2nd piece of parchment paper, place over fish and fold 2x both edges of parchment papers together and staple edges so that it makes a sealed package.  When complete, pop into the oven for 30 minutes.

Chicken and Rosemary Infused Polenta: Prep – 5 minutes,  Cooking time – 20 minutes, Serves 4 – 6

4 cups water

1 cup polenta

1 tsp. of chicken broth –  Better than Bouillon found at Costco or better grocery stores. (If you have liquid broth, substitute 2 cups of the water for 2 cups of the chicken broth).

1 sprig of rosemary

Boil 4 cups of water (or 2 cups with 2 cups of chicken broth, bouillon, or stock) with “Better than Bouillon” in a medium size pot.  At full boil, gently add polenta, lower heat to a simmer and whisk mixture until there are no lumps.  Add sprig of rosemary. Serve in 20 minutes.

INGREDIENTS – for a single salad or use the Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette in Salad Success container
1 minced shallot
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 heads Belgian endive, halved lengthwise, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 small fennel bulbs, halved lengthwise, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 large Fuji apple, halved lengthwise, cored, and very thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Whisk together shallot, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a wood, or glass salad bowl. While constantly whisking, add oil by pouring in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Whisk until all oil is incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Add endive, fennel, and apple slices to the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Taste again and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve.

Courtesy from Chowhound, Recipe of the Day, 2/3/2010

They stare at me in the veggie store, waving their little green stems. Like a woman possessed I rush to the bin with my bag.  I give one a quick snap.  Crisp, most and verdant, I pop the two pieces into my mouth.  They are nearly perfect.  Quickly I stuff 2 pounds worth into a bag and rush to the baby Roma tomatoes.  They are just as tasty as the cherry tomato mix but at one third the price.  I put a dozen in my bag: four for our meal, four for the salad and four to end up in my mouth.

Easy and elegant, I love sauté green beans Provençal.  It can be a meal in itself (just add some tofu to the mixture), the perfect accompaniment to a leg of lamb, or in my case, a fine trout.  All is needed is a fine dry Riesling and a mesclun salad with feta cheese crumbles and a shallot vinaigrette.

I know it is winter and I should only eat local, but I’m tired of broccoli and root vegetables.  Forget kale, an indigestible plant that can only be consumed with copious amount of oil, butter and potatoes, I’m breaking out to eat French-style green beans simmered in a tomato sauce.  After all, we hit a high of 50 degrees, which means its summer to me.  And I’m making a great meal at $2.50 per person since trout is fairly inexpensive.  If you can’t find fresh green beans, I’ve used in the past Trade Joe’s frozen French green beans which can be found in the freezer section.  They are almost as good as the real thing.  So celebrate summer in the winter and enjoy!

Sauté Green Beans Provençal Prep: 5 minutes, Cooking time: 30 – 45 minutes

1 -2 pounds of fresh or frozen green beans, with tips removed and washed

Olive Oil

1 large clove of garlic – crushed, pressed or finely chopped

1 large tomato or 4 baby romas quartered

¼ cup of water

1/4 tsp. Salt & 1/8 tsp. Pepper

Directions

With enough oil to cover the bottom of heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat (medium fire) and toss in garlic.  One minute later, toss in green beans, tomatoes, water, salt & pepper and cover tightly.  Wait until pot is steaming (about 10 minutes), then lower heat to a simmer.  Serve when ready. Add more salt & pepper to taste.

Here is another southwestern rendition of ranch dressing, this time with chipotles, limes and cilantro. Has a delightful clean fresh taste and it’s great as a dressing or a dip.

INGREDIENTS

Mayonnaise

Buttermilk or sour cream

4 large spoonfuls of parmesan cheese

4 large spoonfuls of lime juice

4 large spoonfuls of pureed chipotle peppers

1 large spoonful of cilentro

1 spoonful of minced dried onion

1 spoonful of cumin

1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced

2 dashes of salt

1 dash of cayenne

DIRECTIONS

Mayonnaise to the ½ blue marks on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Buttermilk or sour cream to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add the rest of the ingredients

Shake vigorously and chill for ½ hour or more.

Reshake before serving

Once again, don’t squeeze out the dressing through the poppet top; just unscrew the top and pour over your salad.

Well, let’s turn up the heat.  And the spices.  You can use any taco seasoning with this recipe.  I myself have a large bottle of McCormick Taco Seasoning that I bought at Costco, but the best I found was Chef Andrew Cohen’s Southwest Spice Seasoning.  Give a call at Malabar Trading Company at 831-469-8233 to order.  Warning, these packets are small so order enough.  This dressing is not only great while eating chicken wings, but also on a green salad with jicama, cheddar cheese, sweet red peppers and of course, avocado slices.

INGREDIENTS

Mayonnaise

Buttermilk or Sour Cream

4 large spoonfuls of taco seasoning

1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced

2 dashes of salt

2 dash of cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS

Mayonnaise to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Buttermilk/sour cream to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add taco seasoning, garlic, salt & cayenne pepper

Shake vigorously and chill for ½ hour.

Reshake before serving

Once again, don’t squeeze out the dressing through the poppet top; just unscrew the top and pour over your salad .

Fried Chicken with Ranch Dressing, it’s an American classic.  Here is a simple and wonderful way to make Ranch Dressing for chicken or for a mixed salad.  I especially love it over beets.  If you want it with a  richer taste, then replace the buttermilk with sour cream.  Delightful, either way.

INGREDIENTS

Mayonnaise

Buttermilk

4 large spoonfuls of Parmesan cheese

2 large spoonfuls of dried parsley

1 spoonful of minced dried onion

1 clove of garlic, pressed or minced

2 dashes of salt

1 dash of pepper

DIRECTIONS

Mayonnaise to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess Shaker

Buttermilk to the top of the blue vinegar line

Add Parmesan cheese, dry parsley, minced dry onion, garlic, salt & pepper

Shake vigorously and chill for ½ hour.

Reshake before serving

Once again, don’t squeeze out the dressing through the poppet top; just unscrew the top and pour over your salad.

capitolaAfter many years of trying different places to live, I finally decided to move to the San Francisco bay area and settle down. So of course, the fickle finger of fate had me fall in love with a Colorado Mountain man and move out to Colorado Springs. During those days, Colorado Springs had beautiful scenery, lovely woods, Air Force boys, no jobs and even worse, NO GOOD FOOD. To me, living this was dining hell. I only found one passable restaurant and it closed up four months later.

Finally I talked my fiancé into moving back to my beloved Bay area where we negotiated and decided that the coastal area near Santa Cruz (45 minutes north of Carmel) was a great place to live. No more sweaty summers, no snow to shovel, beach, mountains and GREAT FOOD. Well, not exactly great, but I could find fresh produce and fruits at my local markets. One day, when we were looking over the shoreline cliffs, my new husband, Warren, looked me in eyes (sometimes when the light is right, he looks like Sean Connery, my eternal crush), squeezed my hand and murmured, “You’re right, the food is so much better here”. A great romantic moment, and a newly-born fresh food convert.
My main market was (and still is today) the Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College which for several years, was stuggling to survive. People still didn’t understand the concept of “from field to table” and the nutritional value of organic foods. However about 5 years ago, when the market moved into their final location at the college, Catherine Barr – our straight-talking Market Director, Annaliese Keller – a renaissance woman, master baker, tea blender extraordinaire, and I decided to give the market a kick-off celebration and we’ve never had to look back since. The Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College has become a passion to many area shoppers with its great selection of foods, live music, and arts.
Now the market has not only a wonderful website but a brand new blog which I adore and plan meals with the wonderful recipes provided by area and visiting chefs, prize-winning cooks and savvy farmers. It’s call Edible Paradise, and every day I thank God for this bountiful land that provides to us daily, the wonders of the land. We are blessed, for living out here, not only with the great weather, fine beaches, beautiful mountains, is truly an edible paradise.
So I part with you this week with a prize-winning Harvest Festival 2006 recipe from Penelope Kenez, a fresh fig tart with almonds.
Fresh Fig Tart with Almonds
INGREDIENTS:
Crust
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground unblanched almonds

Filling
1 1/2 lbs. fresh figs, washed and halved lengthwise, left unpeeled
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw, flavorful honey (e.g., orange blossom)
1 tablespoon superfine flour (Wondra)
Butter 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place sugar in a mixing bowl and pour in cooled melted butter and extracts and stir to blend. Add flour and salt and stir to moisten. (Don’t over mix-you want a crumbly mixture.) Pour mixture into prepared tart pan and press mixture evenly up sides and bottom of pan. Bake on middle rack of the oven until slightly puffy and barely set, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle ground almonds on the crust.
Arrange the fig halves in the lightly baked tart shell at a slight angle in concentric circles starting on outer edge and moving to center. In a medium bowl, combine cream, egg, extracts and honey and whisk to blend. Whisk in flour. Pour cream mixture over figs in tart pan. Place tart on a sheet pan and place on middle rack in oven. Bake at 375 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until filling is firm and pastry is golden brown.

Cool slightly on a rack.
If desired, melt 1/4 cup of apricot jam with 1 tablespoon of apricot brandy (or other fruit flavored brandy) and brush onto figs to glaze. (You will not need all of mixture). Remove from tart pan and serve.
SOURCE: First Place Winner, Adult Division, Penelope Kenez, Harvest Festival 2006

Vinegared dishes in Japan are called sunomono as su means vinegar in Japanese. Sunomono has a light, clean taste and goes with many types of dishes. Try this dressing on finely sliced cucumbers (get out the mandoline), a bit of daikon (Japanese radish), scallions and carrots.  If you want to be adventurous, put few tiny raw scallops and a slice of raw salmon, along with a little dollop of crab meat (steam these if you’re squeamish). Then sprinkle with sesame seeds.  This recipe is from a fabulous web site, www.edibleparadise.com and was contributed by Chef Andrew Cohen, Chef in Residence, Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets.
INGREDIENTS
Rice vinegar
Dashi (see below)
5 large spoonfuls of sugar
DIRECTIONS
Rice vinegar to the ½ blue mark on the SaladSuccess Shaker
Dashi to the top  vinegar line
Add sugar
Shake vigorously in the SaladSuccess Shaker
Pour over salad
In small bowl, whisk all ingredients vigorously until sugar goes into suspension.

Chef Andrew has provided a dashi recipe at Edible Paradise.  Dashi is the stock used in Japanese cuisine.  It’s made with kelp and bonito flakes, all available at Asian markets. Instant dashi powder is also available at stores. Use it if you are time-limited. Usually, about 1 tsp of dashi powder is used for 3 to 5 cups of water. Just follow the instructions on the package.