Monday, December 31, 2012

Cooking Ambitions for 2013

I read this list of cooking ambitions for 2013 and really liked a few of them. Editing their list, I resolve to:

Stop being afraid of making cakes. 
When I first met Jake, I told him that I didn't bake; it took too much precision and I don't really have a sweet tooth. But now that I have kids - and I refuse to let them eat store-bought cakes with more frosting than taste - I do make cakes.

Dylan's Birthday Bûche de Noël

Make friends with dough, especially sourdough.
I have made progress on this front, even making my own baguettes this year. But sourdough...yes, that's on my to-cook list this year.

Baguettes, Colwin-Style

Use our slow-cookers way more.
I don't own a slow-cooker. Sorry, Soraya. It was the victim of our great downsize...and I don't miss it.

Make sauerkraut.
Hmmm...I love sauerkraut. Okay, I'm on board with this goal.

Continue our quest to love anchovies.
Salty, little buggers. Okay. I'll find a few more ways to use these than on top of pizza!

Drink more/learn more about wine, especially white wine, because we sometimes ignore it.
I am guilty of ignoring whites, certainly. So, I'll agree to this one.

Here's a Cima Collina wine from the Pop-Up at La Balena...

Sharpen our knives more often (doing it ourselves, on the wet stone) instead of just complaining that they're getting dull.
No arguments here.

Cook at least one recipe from all the cookbooks we "collect" and never use.
I'm glad to see that I am not the only one with this affliction. My cookbook collection is out of control, especially since I began reviewing cookbooks this year. My solution: I took a bunch of cookbooks off my shelf - some have never been opened - and decided that they would find homes with other friends as gifts. For instance, I'll put an Italian cookbook in a basket with some pastas and other Italian necessities. Makes sense, right?

My first cookbook review for Quirk Books: 
Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever

Buy one new kind of cheese per week. Think about it, that's 52 new kinds of cheese in a year.
No need to say anything here. Caseophiles'R'Us. Just yesterday we went to The Cheese Shop and I said, verbatim, "Okay, boys, I know you have your favorites, but I want you to try at least one new-to-you cheese today." Riley discovered that he really like a Sicilian peppercorn pecorino while Dylan found a local Swiss-style from Schoch Dairy in Salinas that is his new favorite!


Eat all our produce before it rots.
Most of the time I'm not guilty of this, but it does happen from time to time, especially when I shove things into the bottom shelf and forget what's behind them. Whoops.

Have a fondue party.
Is is a party if it's just my family?!? We love fondue. Who doesn't like dipping, dunking, and swirling?

Cook more, but really cook (pizzas and quiches don't count).
I don't think I need to cook more, per se. But I do need to cook more with purpose. We only managed to make it through the Ks on our Cooking Around the World Adventure. We need to knock off the rest of the globe this year.


Make vin d'orange for summer entertaining. (Vin d'orange is a dangerously strong cocktail, that tastes just right on a summer day. It takes a couple of months to make, and so requires thinking ahead.)
I have no idea what vin d'orange is. That, in itself, makes it a worthwhile resolution for me! I'll keep you posted.

Start composting.
Once we get back into a real house with a real yard, this is a no-brainer. For now, in our postage-sized townhouse. I'll just have to be a little less green. Sorry, Earth.

Perfect our chicken tortilla soup recipe.
I don't like chicken tortilla soup.

Make spicy pickles.
This goes along with my 'make sauerkraut' resolution.

What are your 2013 cooking ambitions? I'd love to hear: constantmotioncamilla [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Apple Pie with a Gingerbread Crumble


Years ago - say, twenty five years! - my typical Friday night was to bake an apple pie with one of my best friends and, then, settle in for a night of watching romantic comedies. Yeah, we were real party animals. It's no wonder that the cool kids didn't invite us out for things such as rolling pumpkins down city streets! But we could recite every line from The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally.

I have no idea what recipe we used to use. This is what I used tonight.


Crust
2 C flour
1/2 C organic powdered sugar
3/4 C butter
4 T heavy whipping cream

Use a pastry cutter to cut the flour and powdered sugar into the butter, forming pea-sized chunks. Add the whipping cream until the dough comes together into a ball. Roll the dough out between two pieces of parchment paper - to fit your pan with at least 1" overhang. Press the dough gently into the pan and trim the crust to the top of your dish. Flute the edges and reserve the dough for the topping. Place the crust in the freezer until the filling is ready.

Filling
2 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 C organic granulated sugar
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 t ground cinnamon
2 T butter

Stir the apples with the sugar and spices and scoop them into the chilled crust. Dot the apples with butter. Preheat the oven to 415 degrees.

Topping
leftover ninjabread dough
leftover crust dough (above)
1/4 C organic brown sugar

Use a pastry cutter to create pea-sized chunks with the topping ingredients. Top the pie with the gingerbread topping. Place strips of foil around the edges of the pie.

Bake for 45 minutes with the foil on. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Let cool slightly, but serve warm.

Edible Flower Friday: Coming Up Roses

For December's Edible Flower Friday, I decided on roses - or, rather, rosewater. I am not a big fan of cut roses. It would be fair to say that I despise rose bouquets. Roses on bushes, I love, especially those small, potent Cecil Brunner roses; cut roses with ferns and baby's breath, are not beloved and my husband knows it. But that is another story.

I do, however, adore cooking with rosewater. It adds a little botanical intrigue to recipes and, really, doesn't actually taste like roses. Here are a few recipes from my blog...

Muhammar (Bahrainian Sweet Rice)
This sweet, sticky rice seemed an odd pairing with spicy fish on our tabletop travel to Bahrain. But it was actually quite delicious.




Last January we ended our Feast of Befana with this Spanish Epiphany Bread. 



I made this tomato jam for a Moroccan-flavored birthday party for Jake a few years back. 

And probably our favorite combination of flavors with rosewater is rosewater+raspberry. Here's my version of the...

from Cyprus


Do you like to cook with rosewater? If so, I'd love to hear your favorite recipe. Leave a comment or email me directly at constantmotioncamilla [at] gmail [dot] com. Or find me on twitter: @Culinary_Cam.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Churchkhela for New Year's Eve {Georgia}


Our final international treat for our Global Dessert Tasting menu, based on Global Table Adventure's new year's food suggestions - is a nut candy from the Caucausus Mountains in Georgia. Normally we quickly eat a dozen grapes to accompany the strokes of the clock at midnight - in Spanish, or Portuguese, style - but this year, we'll be getting our 'grape' on with churchkhela, a Georgian grape confection.


While Sasha's recipe looks fantastic, I wanted to simplify and find a recipe that used grape juice instead of me having to puree and drain grapes overnight. I still needed 3-4 days for it to dry. And since we're an anti-walnut household (don't ask!), I went with pecans.

Ingredients

  • 40 pecans, approximately
  • 6 C grape juice
  • 3/4 C organic granulated sugar
  • 1 C flour
  • Confectioners' sugar



Procedure
I didn't have a needle. But I always have sterling silver jewelry wire. So I improvised and threaded my "needle" with heavy-duty thread. Riley and I carefully threaded the pecans onto our thread, looping it when we were finished.

In a large pot, combine the grape juice and sugar. Bring to a boil, then very gradually whisk the flour into the heated juice. Bring to a boil, again, stirring constantly. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly.



Rig something on which you can hang the nuts after they are dipped. I used a jewelry rack, but you can use a wire hanger or something like that. Be sure that there is something below that is either disposable or washable.

Dip the strand of nuts into the grape mixture, allowing the nuts to dry for 20-25 minutes or until the coating is slightly tacky. Return the nuts to the juice, which has been kept warm, and repeat the dipping process. Allow to dry again for 20-25 minutes or so. The drier the coating, the better the next layer will adhere.


Repeat the dipping process, 6 to 8 times, or until the nuts are completely coated. Leave to dry for 3 to 4 days, until the strands are no longer sticky to the touch. When dry, pull out the strings and dust it with confectioner's sugar.

To serve, cut the delicacy into rounds.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Mexican Fruit Salad {¡Feliz Navidad!}


In the style of the refreshing fruit salads you can pick up at the puestos de frutas all over Mexico, I decided to make a Mexican fruit salad for our family's Mexican Christmas feast. It's hardly a recipe, but it is delicious!

Fruits, thinly sliced or julienned (I opted for pineapples and carrots)
salt
chili powder
lemon juice
pomegranate arils for garnish

Arrange the fruits on your serving platter, season with salt and chili powder. Drizzle with lemon juice. Garnish with pomegranate. Enjoy.

Champurrado {¡Feliz Navidad!}


On this grey and drippy Christmas afternoon, the boys were asking for hot chocolate. I decided that since we were heading out for our (larger) family potluck with a Mexican theme, this year, I could make champurrado - Mexican chocolate atole. Filipinos have a dish called champurrado, too, but it is completely different.

6 C milk
1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 C organic granulated sugar
1 C masa harina
cinnamon sticks for garnish

Whisk the milk, cocoa powder, and sugar together until smooth. Bring to a simmer. Whisk in the masa and cook until thickened. Serve in mugs with cinnamon sticks.

Figgy Pudding {Dickensian Christmas Eve}

I originally had Plum Pudding with a Hard Sauce on our Dickensian Christmas Even menu, but Nonna asked, "No figgy pudding...like the song?!?" Fine.


I started with this recipe for Warm Sticky Figgy Pudding, on the FoodNetwork's website, but I wanted more fig than date and didn't have any chocolate in the house - that was unwrapped and not destined for stockings, that is. So, I adapted quite a bit...

2 C dried figs
1 C dates

Cover the dates and figs with boiling water and steep till cool. Drain the liquid, but reserve 2 C for the recipe. Destem and deseeds the fruits and use a potato masher to create a paste.

In a large mixing bowl place the 2 C of liquid, 1 t baking soda, fruit mash, 1 C organic brown sugar, 2 T dark rum, and 2 eggs. Whisk until smooth. Butter your ramekins or other baking dishes.

Gently fold in 2 C white whole wheat flour, 1/2 C ground almonds, 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 t baking powder. Spoon the mixture into the ramekins - less than 3/4 full. It will rise.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes...until the top springs back to the touch. Let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and invert to unmold. Serve with a hard sauce and/or vanilla ice cream. We just had the ice cream...and mugs of Smoking Bishop.

Merry Christmas!





Roasted Goose {Dickensian Christmas Eve}

While our Thanksgiving menus are decidedly non-traditional, I decided to go ultra-traditional with a roasted goose being the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner. One of my friends from high school is also making a goose this year; I'm sure we'll be swapping our challenges and our successes. This was delicious and moist!


Never having roasted a goose. I did a lot of reading while the goose defrosted for a day and a half, debating on cooking technique. In the end, my goose is the product of a multitude of recipes.

Step One: defrost the bird...oh, after you recover from your coronary of paying for the thing! Kathey mentioned that hers was pricey. Mine was, too, but it was worth it.

Step Two: To brine or not to brine? I opted not to brine, but I did rub our 11-pound bird with truffle salt and let it sit for 4 hours.

Step Three: Stuff. I am not a fan of stuffing cooked inside a bird. Can you say botulism?!? So, I stuff with whatever I have on hand to help my roast keep its shape. For this I used a whole pomegranate and two Meyer lemons. Also, in calculating cooking time, what I read instructed: 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes per pound. I cooked ours for 4-1/2 hours.


Step Four: Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. I opted to steam the goose for the first hour. Reduce the oven temperature to 350. Place 2 C of coffee and 4 halved lemons in the bottom of your roasting pan. Use something to keep the bird off the bottom of the pan; I placed mine on top of half a dozen watermelon radishes. Cover and roast for an hour.

Step Five: 2nd hour of cooking...I squeezed the juice from the roasted lemons over the bird and drained off the fat rendered during the first hour. Return to the oven, covered, for another hour.

Step Six: 3rd and 4th hours of cooking...drain off fat again. And return it to the oven for another 90 to 120 minutes. Baste with cooking liquid every 30 minutes.

Step Seven: Brown. For the last 30 minutes of roasting, rub butter over the exposed skin and return it to the oven uncovered. In the end, my goose was not very photogenic - the skin split over the breast, but it was amazingly tasty.

Step Eight: Carve and serve with gravy, stuffing, and whatever else you want.

Merry Christmas!

Smoking Bishop {Dickensian Christmas Eve}


At the very end of the beloved Charles Dickens holiday classic A Christmas Carol, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge and his long-suffering employee Bob Cratchit share an oddly named libation: a smoking bishop.

"A Merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"

The drink, as NPR's Neda Ulaby discovered when she interviewed Cedric Dickens, Charles's great-grandson and author of Drinking with Dickens, is hot, spiced wine similar to wassail — something like a mulled wine, scented with citrus and infused with port.

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • same amount of water
  • 1/2 C organic dark brown sugar
  • juice from 4 roasted oranges + 1 roasted grapefruit
  • 8 T of mulling spices (cinnamon, cloves, all spice)

Procedure
Place all ingredients in a large souppot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Let steep for another 30 minutes. Before serving. Pour in 1/2 bottle of port and warm.

We served this with our figgy pudding. Recipe to come. Cheers!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Revising the Dickens

After finding this 16th century recipe for mincemeat pie, I decided to nix mincemeat pies from our Christmas Eve Dickensian feast. Yuck. And yuck again. I'm sorry. I try to be open-minded about food, but this sounds so unappetizing to me - mutton, saffron, suet, vinegar, prunes, raisins, and dates...oh, and powdered beef broth.

I don't want to waste all that good fruit!


Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced & seasoned with pepper and salte and a lytel saffron to colour it
suet or marrow a good quantitie
a lytell vynegre
pruynes
great reasons
and dates
take the fattest of the broath of powdred beefe. 
And if you will have paest royall
take butter and yolkes of egges & so to temper the floure to make the paest.

Other changes: Nonna requested figgy pudding - like the song! - instead of plum pudding, so I changed from the brandy hard sauce to vanilla ice cream.

Bûche de Noël with Eggnog Slush



Every year I make a Bûche de Noël for my almost-Christmas baby's birthday. This year Dylan asked if I could add an eggnog glaze on top. Okay. And he was also in charge of the decorations this year. Let's just say 'less is more' is not his motto. This bûche had marzipan grubs, worms, holly leaves and berries, mushrooms, and gingerbread hearts!

I use Nick Malgieri's recipe in Perfect Cakes as my starting point. You can also find his recipe on the FoodNetwork website. His chocolate genoise is, well, perfect. Actually his book is aptly named; there is not a recipe in there that I've made that hasn't turned out just divine. I did opt for a marscarpone filling instead of the traditional coffee filling.

Chocolate Genoise Sheet:3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cake flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa

Butter and line a 10" x 15" jelly-roll pan with buttered parchment.

Set rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

Whisk the eggs, yolks, salt, and sugar together in a stainless steel bowl. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, test with your finger. Then whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume.

Stir together the flour, cornstarch, and cocoa. Sift 1/3 of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until well risen, deep and firm to the touch. (Make sure the cake doesn't overbake and become too dry, or it will be hard to roll.)

Use a small paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Invert the cake onto a rack and let the cake cool right side up on the paper. Remove the paper when the cake is cool.

The filling...1 container of marscarpone cream, 1 brick of cream cheese, 1 stick of butter, 2 C powdered sugar, a splash of almond extract. Blend all together with a hand mixer. Spread evenly over cake layer.

Cocoa Buttercream Frosting...
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) butter, softened
To make the buttercream: Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in a stainless steel bowl. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. Whip on medium speed until cooled. Add 1/4 C unsweetened cocoa. Beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth.

Eggnog Glaze...
1/2 C organic powdered sugar
1 T eggnog

Whisk till smooth.

To assemble..
Turn the genoise layer over and peel away the paper. Invert onto a fresh piece of paper. Spread the layer with the marscarpone filling. Use the paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder. Slice a piece from one end and place it on top of the log to make a branch stub. Frost with the buttercream, drizzle with glaze, and decorate with marzipan mushrooms, holly leaves, holly berries, and grubs and bugs.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Blame the Mayans: End of Days Dinner

So, today is the day on which the Mayan calender ends. 12.21.12. Will the world end today? Not bloody likely. Why did they pick this date? Who knows! But I'll certainly commemorate this day with an end-of-the-world Mayan-inspired dinner.  Click on each title to go to the recipe post.

Image from laughtershub blog



Death by Chocolate Truffles {End of Days}



















Ingredients
  • 12 oz high-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 C heavy whipping cream
  • pinch of fennel pollen
  • 1 T licorice liqueur
  • unsweetened cocoa powder


Procedure

In a small, heavy saucepan bring the whipping cream to a simmer. Place the chocolate in a separate bowl with fennel pollen and licorice liqueur. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 3 minutes. Whisk till smooth. Allow to cool, then place in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Roll half-teaspoon sized balls in your hands as quickly as you can. Roll in unsweetened cocoa. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Doomsday Stew {End of Days}


On any other day, this would be called posole; today, I'm calling it 'doomsday stew.' I braised the pork ahead of time - to make this an easy after-work dinner. I subbed ingredients to match what I had on hand. Most of the recipes I found, cabbage and onions were used; I had chard and fennel.

3 pound of pork (slow braised in beer for three hours, left in its cooking liquid)
3 C white hominy
1 C yellow hominy
6 C chicken broth
1 C tomato sauce
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced
3 bay leaves
juice and zest from 1 lemon
freshly ground salt and freshly ground pepper
paprika
ground cumin

1 avocado, diced
1/2 C fresh cilantro

Cube the pork and return it to the soup pot. Add in the hominy, chicken broth, tomato, sauce, fennel, and bay leaves. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook until the fennel is softened. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, and lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with avocado and cilantro.

Bloody Orange Mary {End of Days}


Ingredients

  • 2 C tomato juice
  • 1/2 C vodka
  • 2/3 C orange juice
  • 1/3 C lemon juice
  • 2 T hot sauce, such as Ginger People's Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 2 pinches of fennel pollen
  • Freshly ground salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Ice cubes
  • Fennel spears, tomato wedges, lemon wedges, and fennel pollen for garnish

Procedure
Whisk together tomato juice, vodka, orange and lemon juices, soy sauce, and hot sauce in a large pitcher. Season with salt, pepper, and fennel pollen. Pour into ice-filled glasses, and garnish each with fennel spears, tomato wedges, lemon wedges, and a sprinkling of fennel pollen.

Gingerbread Marshmallows


When we were in the baking aisle at the grocery store, Dylan honed in on the flavored marshmallows. "Look, Mommy!" he declared with glee. "Gingerbread marshmallows!!!" They were cute, tan-colored puffs in the shape of a gingerbread man. As he gave the bag one last hug and put it back on the shelf, he concluded, "Yours would taste better." So, I was inspired to whip up these yummies and put them on my holiday cookie platters for the guys at work. Mine aren't cut into an adorable shape, but they taste fantastic!

butter or canola oil
powdered sugar
1 C cold water, divided
4, 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 C organic raw sugar
1/3 C unsulphered molasses
1/3 C ginger syrup
3 T dark rum
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cinnamon

Prepare a 9×13 inch pan by oiling it with canola oil or butter. Dust powdered sugar over the oiled sides of the pan. Place 1/2 C of water in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water and allow to soften, 5 minutes. Add in the spices and 2 T of the rum.


Place remaining water, sugar, molasses, rum, and syrup, and salt into a large saucepan. Melt all of the ingredients together, without stirring, and bring to a boil. Boil until the syrup reaches 240 F on a candy thermometer.




With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour hot syrup down the side of the bowl, being sure to avoid the whisk as it will splatter the syrup and could possibly burn you. Once all of the syrup is incorporated gradually increase mixer speed and whip on high until the mixture turns lighter and become very thick and stiff. Beat for another two minutes. Then, spread the marshmallow into the prepared pan and with wet hands, smooth the top.

Dust liberally with powdered sugar and allow to set at room temperature for at least 4 hours or overnight, if possible. Once they are set, cut them, roll them in more powdered sugar.


*I am linking this recipe to Katherine Martinelli's Christmas Linky Party.*

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Transported by Tagliatelle


I am, admittedly, not Italian by birth or even genetics. But because I lived in Italy as an adult, learned to love food in Italy, and cook Italian on most nights that my family is not traveling by tabletop on our Cooking Around the World Adventure, I am a tough critic of Italian restaurants. Brutal.

Nothing annoys me more than an Italian restaurant whose menu has typos or whose servers blatantly mispronounce Italian words. 'Bruschetta' is, probably, the most egregious error that grates on my ears. Say it with me, people. Brew-SKEH-tah. There's no 'sh' sound in that word.

In any case, I'm difficult to impress when it comes to Italian cuisine. But when Jake and I found ourselves kid-free for long enough to duck out for a dinner date, our pick was unanimous and we eagerly made our way to La Balena in Carmel for the third time in a week. Yes, three times in one week...really three times in five days. That's saying something!

Restaurants that have to assert "authentic" usually aren't. La Balena makes no such claims. They don't need to; they are the real deal. And since all of the tables were packed on a Wednesday evening, with a couple of people waiting for a vacant seat, other people must know it, too.

We started with the salumi selection [photo up top] and found ourselves moaning in delight. Literally moaning. I can only imagine what the people at the next table thought. But the roasted garlic was so creamy that I could have eaten the entire head all by myself. And the selection of meats and cheese, including a prosciutto crudo di San Daniele, were the perfect way to start our meal. We shared a glass of Salice Salentino from the Cantele vineyard in the southern tip of Puglia. It was balanced, soft, but confident.

Next we ordered the insalata gorgonzola. The Savor the Local pop-up showed just how Chef Brad Briske layers flavor upon flavor that magically don't compete but, with each bite, have you wondering just what's in the dish. The salad was just like that. Crisp greens, sweet fresh onions, thin slices of something red that we still can't agree on - beets, but without the earthiness?!? - layered on a plate, tossed with a light gorgonzola foam, and sprinkled with a confetti of crisp bits of bread. I am not a big fan of croutons; it never occurred to me to break them up. Genius!

And the dish that prompted me to write this post: Tagliatelle alla Menta. Minted tagliatelle with a lamb ragù. Two bites in and I would have sworn I was back in Italy. It was hearty but not heavy. Comforting. Delicious. None of the flavors - and there were many - overwhelmed the others. It reminded me of dinners I would cook in Rome. So fresh. Che squisito!

Chef Brad, Chef Salvatore Panzuto who is currently in Italy, and owners Anna and Emanuele Bartolini have created an authentic Italian experience tucked into a tiny restaurant in Carmel. I was transported by that tagliatelle. So, until I can scrape together enough money to buy four tickets to Italy, I'll just dine at La Balena.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Tis the Season to Savor the Seafood at La Balena

‘Tis the Season to Savor the Seafood – With LaBalena, Savor the Localand Local Catch Monterey Bay
Story and Photos by Camilla M. Mann


I have crossed paths with Anna and Emanuele Bartolini, owners of La Balena, at a few different local good food events. They are a duo that you can’t help but adore. Their philosophies about life and food are impressive and reflected in the choices they are making at their restaurant. From the tables in the main dining room that are made from reclaimed trans-Pacific shipping crates to the bench seating that they rescued from a local Habitat for Humanity store, refinishing the wood and upholstering the cushions themselves, and the fact that their menu is simple, seasonal, and sourced from local suppliers as much as possible, Anna and Emanuele aim for excellence in all aspects of preparation and presentation of traditional, rustic food with the spirit of a classic Italian Enoteca.

Originally the Bartolinis explored opening an enoteca, literally a library of wine instead of books. But an enoteca, as defined by the Associazione Internazionale Enoiteche, must offer a minimum of 100 different wines that represent at least ten different regions of Italy, five regions of France, and two other countries.  Additionally, an enoteca must carry at least five kinds of grappa and one brandy. Instead of focusing on those daunting quantities, Anna and Emanuele opted to create their wine list with local artisanal vineyards and serve some small production Italian wines with the same standards.

Tucked off the main street in Carmel – on Junipero between 5th and 6thLa Balena, which has been open for less than a month, is heavy on charm and lovely details. And I have been eager to dine at the Bartolini’s California restaurant with a Tuscan heart, since the doors opened and the chefs declared Pronto al tavolo!

Last night, I finally had my chance. Jake and I headed to La Balena with some friends for a pop-up dinner presented by Savor the Local. As Colleen Logan, the director of Savor, explained, she aims to shine the spotlight on local farmers and food artisans, bringing them to the community and linking people to the Earth via their food. The other components of the festive feast: fresh seafood from Local Catch MontereyBay, organic produce from Mariquita Farm, wines from Cima Collina, and – most importantly – the culinary stylings of Chef Brad Briske. There was no printed menu. Just amazing food, great wine pairings, and good company


As we mingled outside and Colleen checked people in, Jane Beery of Cima Collina started us off with a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Made with grapes from their Cedar Lane Vineyard, at the mouth of the Arroyo Seco Valley, this wine is slightly grassy and floral with aromas of grapefruit. Cool and crisp, it was a nice way to start the evening.



Peter Eichorn of Country Flat Farm in Big Sur strolled up to the entrance and handed a box of freshly harvested mushrooms from Palo Colorado to Colleen who took the bounty back to Chef Brad. These saffron-hued, fleshy chanterelles appeared on our plates less than an hour later.

Once inside, we were seated at communal tables, introducing ourselves to our tablemates and settling in for an impressive parade of innovative dishes from la cucina. Here’s what we ate…



Sea Bass Sausages with a Persimmon Moutarde and Crisped Red Russian Kale
A Deconstructed Seafood Stew with Baccalà and Perón Purées topped with Dungeness Crab and Fresh Radishes Drenched in Brown Butter

Sablefish Drizzled with Truffle Oil astride Sunchoke Purée, Chanterelles, and Potatoes topped with Fried Sunchokes and Crispy Kale

Between courses, we cleansed our palates with some Meyer lemon and blood orange ices that Chef Salvatore Panzuto made before he left for Italy.

And for dessert: Armagnac ice cream with still-warm cantucci.

All of Chef Brad’s culinary creations were elegant and innovative, with a mélange of textures and flavors. Each dish was comprised of layer upon layer of distinct but complimentary flavors.

The pop-up at La Balena – ‘Tis the Season to Savor the Seafood – was a lovely collaboration between the Bartolinis, Savor the Local, and Local Catch Monterey Bay, with some help from Cima Collina, Mariquita Farm, Country Flat Farm, and Burst and Bloom.

What a delightful evening with my love and our great friends! And the perfect way to kick off this festive season. I am looking forward to more culinary adventures with these local purveyors in the new year and beyond. Cheers and happy holidays!

December 2012