More Pan Seared Salmon, Please

One of many things my fiancé and I love to do together is going on wine tasting trips. We often visit Temecula (just under two hours south of Los Angeles), where there are tons of wineries along a couple of long roads, making it convenient for us to hop from one winery to the next. With all the wine we drink, we have to make sure that I eat enough throughout the day (he can handle his alcohol intake much better than I do)!

One early afternoon, we had lunch at Ponte Family Estate Winery’s well-known restaurant, The Restaurant at Ponte. The dining area is located outdoors, with a nice view of the gardens and vineyards. The restaurant’s menu features locally grown produce and changes seasonally.

We started off with a plate of fried Calamari, which came with zesty marinara and roasted garlic & lemon buttermilk sauces. The calamari was lightly breaded and fried to the right amount of crispness.

Calamari with Marinara, Roasted Garlic + Lemon Buttermilk Sauce, Radicchio, Arugula, Bell Peppers, Frisee Salad, Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Calamari with Marinara, Roasted Garlic + Lemon Buttermilk Sauce, Radicchio, Arugula, Bell Peppers, Frisee Salad, Blood Orange Vinaigrette

My fiancé ordered the Meatloaf, which was made of beef and lamb–the perfect combination of meats for him! The wild mushroom demi added an extra depth of flavor to the dish. The creamy Yukon potato and celery root mash and side of broccolini nicely balanced out the flavors of the rich sauce and hearty meatloaf.

Meatloaf with Wild Mushroom Demi, Broccolini, Yukon Potato + Celery Root Mash

Meatloaf with Wild Mushroom Demi, Broccolini, Yukon Potato + Celery Root Mash

I tend to find that restaurants overcook their salmon, but this Salmon was perfectly cooked–soft and flaky on the inside with a slightly crisp outer layer. The orange pomegranate sauce added a fresh, fruity flavor to the dish. The salmon rested on a bed of creamy butternut & pumpkin squash farro. The sweet and savory flavors blended well together.

Salmon with Orange Pomegranate Sauce, Acorn, Butternut + Pumpkin Squash Farro

Salmon with Orange Pomegranate Sauce, Acorn, Butternut + Pumpkin Squash Farro

It was the perfect lunch to accompany a day of wine tasting! Overall, the food was fantastic and the service was spot on. We originally thought the menu was a bit pricey, but the quality and portion of food justified the price. I hope to dine at the restaurant again during my next trip to Temecula wine country!

The Restaurant at Ponte
35053 Rancho California Rd
Temecula, CA 92951
Price: Appetizer, $8-24; Lunch Entrée, $15-$35; Dessert, $9

More Garlic Ice Cream, Please

As I turn older, I care less about having big birthday celebrations. However, I do still love going out for a nice dinner! For my birthday this year, my fiancé took me to The Stinking Rose, a unique restaurant that serves American-Italian cuisine and pays homage to all that is garlic.

Mussels & Shrimp

Mussels & Shrimp

We started off our dinner with Mussels & Shrimp roasted in an iron skillet. The mussels, though slightly overcooked, were tasty and plentiful. Each bite of juicy shrimp dipped in garlic butter was extremely satisfying.

Bone-In Filet Mignon

Bone-In Filet Mignon

With perfect timing, our entrées came out right before we finished the mussels and shrimp. My plate of Bone-In Filet Mignon was nicely seared to a medium rare plus. I loved how my fiancé’s Garlic Braised Boneless Short Rib came in a leaner (read: healthier) cut but was still pull-apart tender. My fiancé, on the other hand, does not like his meat so lean and preferred the filet mignon–we ended up switching our entrées with each other! Both entrées came with a side of delicious creamed spinach and creamy garlic yukon gold mashed potatoes.

Garlic Braised Boneless Short Rib

Garlic Braised Boneless Short Rib

I love it when a restaurant brings out free dessert for a diner’s birthday! Along with some garlic hats to wear for a photo, we were served a large scoop of Gilroy’s Famous Garlic Ice Cream in a martini glass. Not knowing what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised by the taste of the ice cream! The thick, sweet caramel molé sauce was a nice complement to the subtle garlic flavor of the decadent ice cream.

Gilroy's Famous Garlic Ice Cream

Gilroy’s Famous Garlic Ice Cream

My birthday dinner was so decadent and will be remembered for years to come! This was my first time eating at The Stinking Rose, and I plan on dining here again in the future. My fiancé and I left the restaurant with our appetites sated and our mouths smelling of garlic. We almost had dinner here for our first date over four years ago–perhaps it’s a good thing we didn’t!

The Stinking Rose
55 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Price: Entrée, $19.95-$49.95; Dessert, $7.95-$9.95

Dragon’s Loyalty Award II

The wonderful Jhuls of The Not So Creative Cook nominated me for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award! Some of Jhuls’s latest recipes include delicious biko (sweet rice cake) and grilled chicken wrap. I always enjoy visiting her blog!

Dragon's Loyalty Award

The rules are:
1. You must link the person who has nominated you.
2. You must share 7 things other bloggers may not know about you.
3. Nominate up to 15 people.
4. You must go to their blogs and notify your nominees.

Seven things about me are:
1. I cannot wait for 24: Live Another Day to air in May! One of my all-time favorite TV series is 24.
2. I normally drink a huge (and I mean huge) mug of coffee throughout the day, and several cups of tea at night.
3. Aside from a few exceptions, I usually don’t like eating anything pickled.
4. I took piano lessons up through high school, for about ten years.
5. My favorite video game series is Resident Evil.
6. History was my least favorite subject in school.
7. If I could only choose one favorite movie genre, it would be horror/suspense.

My nominations for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award are:
Maui Girl Cooks
La Petite Casserole
The Good Food Theory
Oh Lidia

All of these bloggers, like Jhuls, create wonderful posts and are amazing supporters of other bloggers as well. Thank you, Jhuls, for this award!

The Imagine Award

Thank you to tastytreats13 for awarding me my first blog award this year–The Imagine Award! The things I like about tastytreat13′s blog are:

  • the pictures of delicious desserts
  • the variety of easy-to-follow recipes
  • I can pretty much find a recipe for any dessert I can think of

The Imagine Award

What is The Imagine Award?

“The Imagine Award” is an award created by Jenn Mulherin (who is the writer of the blog “My Fibrotastic Life!”) in October of 2013. This award was made in order to recognize the bloggers who express their passion and dedication towards their blogs through their creativity.

How is creativity found in a blog?

Just like beauty, creativity is in the eye of the beholder. There are many unique ways which bloggers can express their creativity. Creativity can be displayed through:

Words (such as writing fictional stories or real life experiences, poetry, quotes, using metaphors, etc.)
Pictures (this can include photos, comics, computer-drawn pictures, etc.)
The layout of the blog page
The degree of creativity is one of the qualities in a blog which not only draws more readers, but it shows how much the blogger cares about their blog. The caretaking of a blog is like taking care of a plant. In order to keep it healthy and growing, you need to feed the blog with your ideas and give it a lot of love.

If I am nominated for The Imagine Award…then what??

In your post which is dedicated to your award…

1. Copy and paste the award to your post.
2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link their blog page to your post.
3. List 3-5 things about the nominator’s blog that you like (which you think are very creative).
4. Nominate 5 other bloggers/blogs which you think display a fantastic use of creativity and imagination.
5. Notify your nominees.
6. Copy and paste The Imagine Award to your blog page.

My nominations for The Imagine Award are:
Improv Artz
The Seasoned Traveler
Fae’s Twist & Tango
food for fun
Chaos and Cookies

Thank you again, tastytreats13, for this wonderful award!

Century Egg & Pork Rice Porridge (皮蛋瘦肉粥)

Although I am usually not a huge fan of white rice, there are certain rice dishes that I am more than willing to eat. One such dish is Chinese rice porridge (稀飯), or congee or jook. A bowl of rice porridge is perfect on a cold day or when you’re sick! The most basic rice porridge involves boiling rice in a large amount of water until it reaches a fairly thick consistency. This popular Chinese dish is typically served with a variety of savory accompaniments, such as pork sung (肉鬆), braised eel, Chinese crullers (油條), fermented bean curd, fried gluten, and chili bamboo shoots.

Rice Porridge with Accompaniments

One style of rice porridge is cooked with century eggs and pork (皮蛋瘦肉粥). This particular dish is commonly served in dim sum restaurants. The flavors of the century egg and pork meld into the soupy cooked rice to create a hearty, wholesome dish.

2 cups white rice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 lb pork, fat trimmed
1 tsp salt
2 tsp chicken bouillon powder
20 cups water
6 century eggs, cubed
2 tsp ground ginger or 2 Tbs fresh ginger, sliced
2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 cup green onions, diced (optional)

Prepare the rice: Rinse the rice with water, until the water comes out clear. Stir in salt (1/4 tsp) and sesame oil. Leave the rice in a large pot to marinate for 15-20 minutes.

Prepare the pork: Chop up the pork into thin slices. Add salt and chicken bouillon powder, then toss to evenly distribute. Leave the pork in the refrigerator to marinate.

Cook the rice: Add all 20 cups of water to the rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 40 minutes. Stir the pot every 10-15 minutes.

Add the eggs and pork: Stir in the chopped century eggs (皮蛋) and turn the heat up to medium-low. Add in all the pork, and quickly stir the mixture to make sure the pork pieces don’t stick together.

Season the porridge: Stir in the ginger, garlic salt, and white pepper. Continue cooking until all the pork has been cooked through.

Garnish the porridge: Upon serving, top the rice porridge with green onions. Serve with accompaniments, if desired.

Makes: 20 servings

Clearly, this recipe can be halved–I just always make a large batch to have leftovers for the week. Although this dish can be eaten on its own, I often pair it with chili bamboo shoots, braised eel, and other fermented and pickled accompaniments. This is the perfect dish when you want something warm, filling, and cheap but delicious!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

How did you celebrate the New Year? I attended a house party and brought a sticky toffee pudding (along with some of my leftover macarons that I made a couple weeks prior)–the dessert was a huge hit! I followed Marie Simmons’ recipe with a few adjustments.

Ingredients for the Cake:
4.6 oz (3/4 cup) pitted dates, finely chopped
300 g (11/4 cups) water
1 tsp baking soda
55 g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
150 g (3/4 cup) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
130 g (1 cup + 1 Tbs) all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder, sifted

Prepare the dates: Combine the chopped dates and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the baking soda.

Prepare the batter: Beat the butter and brown sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until well-combined. Gradually mix in the flour and baking powder.

Make the batter: Pour the entire date mixture into the batter, and mix on low speed until well-blended. The cake batter will appear runny, but this is normal.

Bake the cake: Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch round pan. Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes, until the center comes out clean with a toothpick.

Ingredients for the Sauce:
113 g (1 stick) unsalted butter
115 g (1/2 cup) heavy cream
220 g (1 cup, packed) brown sugar, light or dark
1 – 2 Tbs bourbon

Make the sauce: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat to melt and evenly distribute the mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for another 10 minutes to thicken the sauce.

Complete the pudding: Poke several holes in the cake with a chopstick. Pour 1/2 to 2/3 of the warm sauce over the cake. Allow the cake to soak in the sauce for at least 20 minutes. When ready to serve, invert the cake onto a plate and drizzle the remaining sauce over the cake.

This turned out incredibly delicious without being overly rich and sweet! The gooey, buttery sauce with a hint of bourbon really added to the flavor and texture of the moist, spongy cake. This sticky toffee pudding has become one of my staple desserts!

Rose and Lavender Macarons

Macarons are such a delight to eat! Aside from the variety of scrumptious flavors available, I enjoy tasting the different textures of a macaron. The cookie’s crisp outer shell contrasted by its tender and chewy center, followed by the creamy filling, can all be experienced in just one bite.

My very first attempt at making macarons did not turn out very well. I didn’t pay attention to my technique and completely overmixed the batter–the cookies turned out flat and had no feet at all. After several months of practice, I am proud to say that I can bake beautiful, tasty French macarons on a large scale! There are still times when I don’t make perfect macarons (they really can be finicky), but for the most part I have, dare I say, mastered the French meringue method.

I’ve tested several recipes since I first started making macarons, but the one that I most closely followed was Not So Humble Pie’s. For the filling, I have made flavors ranging from a simple chocolate ganache to a pumpkin buttercream.

I completed a major macaron project just a few weeks ago–making hundreds of rose and lavender macarons as favors for my brother’s wedding. I based my rose and lavender buttercream recipes on the ones from You can do it…at home! and Plant Food Fabulous. It took awhile to get into the flow of the large-scale process, but towards the end I was able to produce a good number of batches in one day.

Ingredients for Macaron Shells:
125 g (1 cup + 2 Tbs) almond flour or 125 g (11/4 cups) blanched almonds
215 g (13/4 cups) powdered sugar
100 g (3 large) egg whites, aged
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
35 g (3 Tbs) granulated sugar
1-3 drops gel food coloring (optional)
chopped almonds, flower buds, etc. for shell toppings (optional)

Prepare the dry ingredients: Grind the almonds and powdered sugar together in a food processor for 2 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides. Sift the mixture twice, regrinding any large pieces of almonds if necessary.

Prepare the meringue: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites on low speed until bubbles begin to form (speed 4 on the KitchenAid mixer for 1 minute), then add the cream of tartar. Continue to mix on low speed until the cream of tartar has dissolved and the egg whites appear frothy (about 1 minute). Add the granulated sugar in three portions, while mixing on medium speed, until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites have soft-medium peaks (speed 6 on the KitchenAid mixer for 2 minutes). Continue mixing on high speed for 1-2 minutes, until the egg whites have firm, glossy peaks (speed 8 on the KitchenAid mixer). Add food coloring, if desired, then beat on the highest speed just long enough to evenly disperse the color (speed 10 on the KitchenAid mixer for 30-60 seconds).

Perform the macaronage: Gently fold the dry ingredients into the meringue in 2 to 3 portions. To properly fold in the ingredients (i.e., to evenly mix while deflating some of the air in the meringue), scrape the spatula along the bottom of the bowl, then bring the spatula to the top and press down into the batter. Check the consistency of the batter in between every few folds. The batter should slowly fall off the spatula in ribbons, and any peaks should flatten out in about 15 seconds.

Pipe the batter: Transfer the batter to a piping bag fitted with a round tip (about a 1-cm diameter). Pipe circles on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Use a template to ensure uniform circles.

Rest the piped batter: To eliminate any air bubbles, firmly rap each baking sheet against the counter (while keeping the sheet level). Place decorative toppings on half of the shells, if desired. Rest the sheets on the counter for 30-60 minutes, until the tops of the shells form a skin–the batter should not stick to your fingers when lightly touched.

Bake the shells: Bake the macaron shells, one sheet at at time, at 275-325°F for 15-18 minutes, until the shells don’t wobble and can be easily removed from the parchment paper. Allow the shells to cool down before filling them.

Makes: 30-35 filled cookies

I normally bake only one sheet at a time, but time and oven space were big issues for making large-scale batches. Halfway through baking my first tray of macarons, I moved that sheet one level down and placed a second tray of macarons above them. For the rose macarons, I added one drop of red food coloring to create pink shells, and sprinkled the top with chopped almonds (this was more for the look than the flavor). I placed 3-4 lavender buds on the shells for the lavender macarons.

Ingredients for Rose Buttercream
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
65 g (2 large) egg whites
155 g (11 Tbs) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
1 Tbs + 2 tsp rose water

Prepare the meringue: Place the sugar and egg whites in a double boiler and whisk continuously, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 160°F. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed, until a stiff, glossy meringue forms and the bowl is cool to the touch.

Make the buttercream: Switch out the whisk with the paddle attachment, and beat the meringue on medium speed while slowly adding the butter. Make sure each addition of butter has blended in before adding another chunk.

Flavor the buttercream: When all the butter has completely blended in, add the rose water to the buttercream mixture. Continue beating until the mixture is well-combined.

Makes: 2 cups

Ingredients for Lavender Buttercream
60 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream
1/2 tsp lavender buds
113 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
200 g (12/3 cups) powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Steep the lavender in cream: Place the heavy cream and lavender in a saucepan over medium heat, until it comes to a boil. Leave the lavender to infuse in the cream for 30 minutes off the heat. Strain the mixture and allow the cream to cool to room temperature.

Make the buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and salt, then beat on low speed until well-combined. Continue beating while adding the lavender-infused cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the buttercream reaches the right flavor and consistency.

Makes: 3 cups

I tend to have leftover buttercream after filling one batch of macarons, but the great thing about buttercream is that it stores well. Buttercream can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months. To reuse the buttercream, simply whip it in the bowl of a stand mixer until it comes to the right consistency.

Prepare the buttercreams: Place the buttercreams in the refrigerator if they are too soft to work with. When ready to use, transfer each buttercream to a piping bag.

Assemble the macarons: Match like-sized macarons to each other in pairs. Pipe the buttercream in the center of one cookie. Gently press down on the filled cookie with the other cookie until the filling just spreads to the edges.

Mature the macarons: Place the macarons in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 24 hours (to allow the flavor and moisture of the filling to infuse into the cookies). Allow the macarons to come to room temperature before serving.

Macarons can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for a few months. Since I had to make several hundred macarons ahead of time, I stored most of mine in the freezer, then in the refrigerator one night before the big event. After my big project, I’m a little macaron’ed out at the moment. However, I do plan on baking macarons again and will create different flavors I haven’t tried yet!