Friday, September 30, 2011

Eat Here: Oasis Grille

For my birthday last week my husband surprised me and took me to a mediterranean restaurant. Back when we were honeymooning we ate at a Greek restaurant and loved it. It was our first time and we instantly fell in love with the diverse flavors and textures associated with Mediterranean food. For my birthday we went to a restaurant called the Oasis Grille, located under offices belonging to psychotherapists and psychologists on busy Main Street in Pleasanton.
We were ushered to the patio seating, which was an enclosed garden near the street. The weather was perfect and the city garden aura was a nice junction of relaxation and suburbianism. The flowers were in full bloom, overwhelming their stone confinements. Towering oak trees gave plenty of shade and purple morning glories, white roses, and fuchsia bleeding hearts filled the air with their delightful scents.
The time of day we arrived let us partake in the half-off appetizers. We went with the global cheese tray, which arrived with brie topped with glazed walnuts, feta with tomato, and basil chiffonade, and goat cheese with dried cranberries. A basket of warm flat bread with butter accompanied the cheeses. We also ordered the half-off marinated olives, which were quite flavorful. The cheeses were delicious and fresh.
For dinner we ordered the rack of lamb, medium, with mashed potatoes, and the filet mignon kabob, medium rare, with rice and satzi, a greek-style sauteed spinach with lemon.
The flat bread was, well, flat bread. My husband didn't care for it, but I was expecting it. We tend to enjoy those yeasty breads that melt in your mouth like a gluten-laden version of savory cotton candy. The rack of lamb was well done, but flavorful. The garlic mashed potatoes were not as flavorful as I was hoping, but the red pepper puree that accompanied the lamb was delicious! It was a bit spicy and added a lot of flavor to the dish.
The kabob arrived well done, but was immediately snatched up by the waiter to be corrected. A large portion of lightly seasoned rice was piled on the plate and the sauteed spinach was flavorful and satisfying. Overall, I would definitely return, but probably stick with the appetizers, which seem to be where the chef really shines.

780 Main Street
Pleasanton, CA 94566
(925) 417-8438

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Autumnal Equinox

I like soup. There is something downright homey about a pot of soup simmering away all day on the stove, tantalizing everyone with its aromas, and the occasional rattling lid. Whether it is for a first course, or just served with a grilled cheese sandwich as dinner, I am really quite fond of soup. It changes so easily, and can accommodate so many extra ingredients. Just a dash of this, a dab of that, and a handful of chopped vegetables (that would otherwise be left to eventually meet their end in the compost pile) and you can change a soup entirely. Add some cream or noodles, voila. A bit of shredded beef or some shrimp, some beans and fresh herbs and you are crossing continents. I cannot say I had anything to do with this recipe. I wish I could say I altered the ingredients, or improved upon it in some way, but you can see it in all its glory right here, exactly the way I found it.
There was a large pile of fresh, ripe tomatoes sitting on the counter, wondering if they would be left to shrivel or turned into something marvelous. I wanted to redeem them, I truly did, but I was trying my best to use what was in the fridge.
But, I was in one of those moods. The mood where I don't leave the kitchen until the sink is full of dishes and the counters are lined with cooling racks, loaded with goodies. The unfortunate part was, its not quite cool enough to do that so the entire house was a bit warmer than was appreciated. It always happens when the mornings start getting cooler, and I get that fall itch to start making soups, roasts, and sweet goodies.
I wanted to blog about this, not so I could share some wonderful recipe I developed, but so next fall, when I feel like defying the last of summer's heat, I will know just where to find the perfect recipe to use up the last of those fresh, garden tomatoes.
Serves 4
3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken  stock
6 1-inch slices from a large loaf of sourdough or bread of your choice, buttered, cut into cubes and toasted until hard.
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 cup coarsely grated cheddar (or more to taste)
Make soup: Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Place on center rack of the oven and roast until tomatoes are brown and tender (garlic will be very tender), about 1 hour. Cool slightly.
Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, crushed red pepper and stock and bring to a boil Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.
Create cheddar lid: Preheat oven to 350. Arrange four ovenproof soup bowls, crocks or large mugs on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Stir grated onion into the warm soup. Float bread cubes in each bowl and divide grated cheese generously over top. Bake soups on tray for 15 to 20 minutes, until cheese on top is bubbling and brown at the edges. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pumpkin time

Well, I have quite a few things to blog about. I have some restaurant reviews, and a couple of recipes I had forgotten about, but one sticks out among the rest. I thought this recipe was on my blog. A friend asked about it and I was about to give them the link when I realized it wasn't on here!
This recipe I discovered when reading Gourmet magazine a few years back. It was from the book of the month, and the recipe was for pumpkin bread. I absolutely adore pumpkin bread. It symbolizes everything fall to me. All things pumpkin signal the arrival of cooler weather; pumpkin spice lattes show up at the beginning of September, and my coffee even knows its time to get baking. Pumpkin rolls, filled with cream cheese frosting are a given at fall potlucks and family gatherings. Pumpkin scones make their way to the table on cool autumn mornings and pumpkin spice cakes and breads add to the festivities. Last year I made a pumpkin spice cake with maple cream cheese frosting. Amazing.
Up until I read this recipe in Gourmet magazine, I had never had a pumpkin loaf recipe that really impressed me. I had made breads that were more like cakes, but never a real bread with some substance. I made this recipe, and I knew I needed this cookbook. It was from the Art and Soul of Baking. I know. You are probably like 'Blah, blah, that the only cookbook she reads?' Its not. I really do read a lot of cookbooks, but I am seriously telling you this one is a winner.
I fell in love with this cookbook, just because of this pumpkin bread. I made it for lots of people, and they still talk about it. As a matter of fact, a friend made a pumpkin bread, then sent me a message asking for that recipe because it is so superior. It is the best breakfast/snack time bread. Seriously.
So.....while you are wasting time reading this, I am going to be baking it. You should do. You won't regret it. As a matter of fact, you will probably wish you had made two, and put one in the freezer to thaw and enjoy later, or take it to a neighbor.

Pumpkin spice loaf (with walnuts, if you want)
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and position the oven rack in the center. Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray. Combine dry ingredients, except sugar, in a medium bowl. Whisk together eggs, water, and sugar in another bowl. Add the pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and vanilla, and blend well.
Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the walnuts, if desired, and stir until they are evenly distributed. Scrape into prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 55-65 minutes, until bread is firm to touch and toothpick inserted comes out clean. In the meantime, make cream cheese frosting, if desired. (The bread is great without it, so don't sweat it if you don't have the ingredients or just don't want to make it.)

Cream cheese frosting (this makes a lot)
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 stick butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Marshmallow world

Well, we are all moved now, not quite moved in but we will get there. There is some exciting stuff on the docket, September holds my birthday, and a baby shower for my sister-in-law (I can't wait to make the food!) with an exciting and fun themed menu, cooking show in October, my mom and husband's birthdays, November has Thanksgiving and our annual craft shows! And I won't even get started on December because I haven't planned any events...yet...
I have my husband's promise that we are never moving again. The last time he said that we bought a house, lived in it for two years, completely remodeled and then moved out of state. I hope I can get at least a two year stay out of this one...;)
If you are like me, and like cooking, you probably bake things just because you want to try them or have that itch to bake (btw, I saw this super cute apron at World Market said something like "Stay calm and keep baking". I want it) Anyway. So you probably (like me) end up with lots of baked goods and no one to eat them. I freeze things, give them away to friends, family, the elderly, coworkers, etc, and I still usually have leftovers. I want to post this recipe, because its fun, you get that "I have got to make something" out of your system, and you don't have 6 dozen cookies sitting all over your counter that you are trying not to eat.
These are fun and great for the upcoming holiday season; you can cut them in any shape by using a cookie cutter, dip them in chocolate, or use them plain, and they last forever (well, that might be a bit of an overstatement.) You can flavor them by substituting the vanilla for something else, like almond, orange, or even lavendar. And, the best part is, people are pretty impressed when you make them ;)


Powdered Sugar
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice water, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla

Using a sifter or fine mesh sieve, dust a large baking sheet liberally with powdered sugar. Place 1/2 cup of water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle gelatin on top.
Stir together remaining 1/2 cup of water, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved.
Increase heat to high and cook until mixture reaches 240 F on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage).
Using the whisk attachment, with the mixer running, slowly pour the sugar mixture into the gelatin. Beat on high speed for 10 minutes or until mixture is very thick and glossy. Add vanilla and beat for one minute more.
Spread mixture 1-inch thick onto prepared pan. Dust with powdered sugar and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours.
Cut into desired shape and toss in additional powdered sugar.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Those special things

I was recently going through a large stack, and when I say large stack I mean a box full, of recipes, magazines, and other miscellaneous papers that held on them some information that at one time I had deemed worthy to keep. There are a few items in there that others have saved for me-pulled out of a magazine and circled, paper clipped and starred, etc, that they thought I might enjoy. I was going through these papers because they have been sitting in said box for several months now and I haven't even tried to make a dent in it in some time. And, my husband has decided once again that I have become too comfortable with our life and has decided to move, yet again. Either that or he is running from the authorities, that is why we move so often.
At least we are moving back to California. I had considered renaming my blog to 'journeys in a desert land' but opted against it. So, as I was going through these stacks of papers, I found several recipes I had forgotten about! I was really excited, because I have some new fuel for my blog, and several of the recipes we quite enjoy but literally completely forgot about them.
But the recipe that really stood out has a bit of memory attached to it. My husband and I were travelling from our home in north/central California to visit his family in Arizona. On the way we stopped and stayed the night with my grandparents, who lived about halfway in between in southern California. This was a time when my grandma was sick, but was feeling a little bit better. She knew of my budding interest in cooking, and when we arrived she had made us a fantastic dinner.
Unfortunately I don't remember everything. I know there was a lot. I think there were potatoes, I know there were some delicious green beans with garlic and butter, and an amazing veal scaloppine. That night at her house was one of the last time I got to sit and talk with her. She gave me some great ideas on making things stretch, like using an old pair of my husband's pants to make pants for my sons, and other things that have been lost in our era of convenience. I remember that night with decided clarity.
I also remember how special I felt because she took the time to prepare a meal for me and my young family.

Grandma's Veal Scaloppine
3-5 lbs rump roast, boneless (use veal steak if available)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons paprika

12 oz sliced mushrooms
3 teaspoons beef bouillon

32 oz tomato sauce
8 oz thinly sliced roasted red peppers
12 oz tagliatelle verdi (spinach pasta)

Trim the fat from the meat. Slice into 1/4- 1/3- inch pieces and pound with a meat tenderizer. Combine flour with salt, pepper, and paprika. Dredge meat in the mixture. Heat vegetable oil or bacon grease over medium high heat and brown the meat. Place in a very large baking dish (like a 20" roaster).
Add 3 cups of water to the hot saute pan, mixing it into the fat and meat drippings. Add the bouillon and boil for a minute or so, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the stuck-on flour so it will mix into the liquid. Pour all of this over the meat. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30 minutes.
Mix remaining flour (used to coat meat) with enough flour to make a pourable batter. Into this batter combine the tomato sauce, roasted red peppers, and mushrooms. Pour over the meat and continue baking uncovered at least 15 minutes, but probably 30 minutes more. Baste the meat occasionally. The meat should become tender enough to cut with a fork.
Cook noodles. Drain and toss in a little butter. Baste the meat with the sauce just before serving.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rub a dub

Another recipe I wanted to commit to the annals of this blog is one for a bbq spice rub. I found this in Saveur magazine's Texas issue a few years back. I love that magazine. My husband bought it off of a kid who came to our door, trying to sell subscriptions to help pay for something for his school, or a trip or something. I had never heard of the magazine, but it was food related so of course I was very grateful to my husband for his thoughtfulness.
I instantly loved the magazine. I loved it because a lot of freelance writers contributed essays dealing with eating, cooking, traveling (and eating), and culture. Even if it is a genre of food that I am not particularly fond of I like knowing what people eat, and how they eat. I love reading stories about somebody's grandma who lives in New York City and makes some special dish from the old country in her tiny apartment every year and her family gathers around to eat and celebrate.
I love their 100 list that will have anything from homemade ketchup and mustard to dutch ovens and spatulas. Things I love reading about!
This recipe is great. I mix up the ingredients in a Mason jar and keep it in my cupboard throughout the BBQ season. It packs a lot of great flavor and is basically effortless.

Barbecue Rub
Photo credit Todd Coleman
3 Tbsp. salt
3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp. paprika
4 tsp. garlic powder
4 tsp. mustard powder
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried thyme

Massage into chicken, beef, or pork before grilling or oven roasting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fruit of the Sea

I was recently updating my catering menu and I was trying to think of seasonal recipes for summer. I came across avocado, and I pulled together some ideas from books, and a few things I have made in the past and came up with the recipe I am going to share today. Now, if you don't like avocado, or shrimp, obviously this might not be a good recipe for you to try. My husband absolutely adores both. I like avocado, but I wouldn't say I love it. He loves it. So, naturally, when I paired that with shrimp, freshly fried flour tortillas, and some homemade pico, he fell in love. He actually said it was the best thing he has ever tasted. If you read my blog you know he says that with some frequency, but it is definitely a sign that I have a winner on my hands.
These would make a great appetizer, or just have a few for lunch like we did. I named them quesadillas, although I didn't put a shell on top, so I guess that would make them tostadas or something else.
Mini Shrimp and Avocado Quesadillas
Makes about 14
Serves 5-7
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno, finely diced
¼ red onion, finely diced
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon cumin

4 large flour tortilla shells, preferably cheddar jalapeno or another yellow colored shell
1 lb shrimp, thawed, peeled, and deveined
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 avocado
½ cup spring lettuce mix

Vegetable oil for frying

Combine salsa ingredients in a glass bowl and mix well. Set aside.
Using a biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds as possible out of the flour tortillas. Set aside.
Roughly chop the shrimp until they are all in medium to small size pieces. Place in a glass bowl with salt, pepper, cumin, and lemon juice. Stir to combine.
Place a sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil. When oil is ready add shrimp and sauté just until pink. Turn heat to low and keep warm. In another pan, heat 2 Tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Fry tortilla rounds just until crispy and transfer to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Meanwhile, halve the avocado, scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork. Set aside.
To assemble: spread a thin layer of avocado on each tortilla round. Top with shrimp, lettuce, and salsa.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
For a lighter option, use corn tortillas and warm them in a dry pan.

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