25 March 2011

Afternoon Tea Review - Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara



Afternoon tea is something I happen to know a bit about; so when I don my hat and set out, my expectations are high. A recent visit to Santa Barbara, California, included an afternoon set aside for tea at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore. This Five Diamond Award hotel is a Santa Barbara landmark. Built in 1927 in the classic Spanish colonial style typical of Santa Barbara, it sits next to the ocean (Butterfly Beach, Montecito) amidst lush landscaping with a tropical feel.

Afternoon tea is served Fridays and Saturdays in the Bella Vista Restaurant. With its retractable glass conservatory roof giving one the pleasures of open-air dining without any of its (sometimes) attendant discomforts, the dining room's ambience might be described as California Casual Chic. A wall of windows gives diners expansive views of the Pacific Ocean from nearly every spot in the room.

The service was friendly and attentive but unobtrusive--no hovering, but always there when needed. The table was set with white napkins, but they were replaced with black ones for those of us wearing black so that no white lint would mar our clothes. That is just the sort of attention to detail that makes afternoon tea an "experience" rather than just a meal.

The sandwiches, more substantial than one often finds, are works of art. Many's the time I have been disappointed by the sandwich course at places I've had tea--dry bread, bad bread, dull fillings, unattractive. Not the case here. Even the toughest tea sandwich critic in my party, the one who always finds fault with the sandwiches wherever she goes (except my house!), loved these sandwiches.

I am often unhappy with the scones when I go out for tea. These scones, one currant and one plain, were delightful. Not too sweet, not too fluffy, not dry, no off flavors from questionable ingredients. The scones were accompanied by strawberry jam, whipped cream and lemon curd. One of my party was a bit disappointed to not have clotted cream, but I actually sometimes prefer the unsweetened whipped cream.

The array of desserts had something for everyone. My favorites were the apple tart, madeleine and pistachio cookie. My guests were happy to take my chocolate tart and chocolate eclair, since I'm not a chocolate fan. I ended the delightful repast with an extra sandwich or two and more Darjeeling tea.

For reservations, call 805-565-8203 (1260 Channel Drive, Santa Barbara, about 2 hours from LAX).

For tea at home, see: How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea
and Tea and Scones. Also, my review of the Zojirushi Water Boiler and Warmer, something in constant use in my house!

18 March 2011

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie




















How I came to make my famous vegetarian shepherd's pie (shepherdless pie) this week: I was visiting Foodbat.com the other day and reading about her taking an extra beef tongue off her friend's hands ("How can one say no?"). Even though her motto is "Exploration is delicious," she chickened out and threw it in the freezer. Made pork chops instead.

Well, I can't help her! I would have said no to anyone trying to palm off a spare tongue on me. You see, I was exposed to tongue early in life. Unlike many children, I was a fairly adventurous eater and I would at least taste most everything. But whenever my mother cooked tongue, only she and her mother would eat it. I had to fall in with the more picky eaters on those occasions. It might be perfectly delicious, but I wouldn't know and I never will!

I was just a toddler when I began hanging out in the kitchen with my mother and grandmothers, eager to watch and learn. Well, I kept my eyes closed when it came to the beef tongue. So I can't give Foodbat any tips. She's on her own. No, wait, I can help! I can put her in touch with a man in England who is sure to know all about it, Le Charcutier Anglais.

All that talk about tongue has put me off my feed! I'll be vegetarian all week now! I'm all about "comfort food," but foods like tongue make me distinctly uncomfortable! (Discomfort Food, anyone?) So my shepherd's pie this week is made with lentils instead of beef, turkey or lamb. Hope you'll try it and let me know how you like it. (And, if you happen to be a beef tongue aficionado, I hope I haven't offended you!)


Update 06/27/16: You can make vegetarian freezer meals of this just as I did with Shepherd's Pie Freezer Meals.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie - Shepherdless Pie


(Serves 6-8)

1 2/3 cups dried green lentils
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
4 pounds potatoes (I use organic russets)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 or 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

4 ounces (1 stick) butter
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup grated Cheddar

1 In 3-quart saucepan, bring lentils, salt and water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, until tender. Cooking time may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the variety and the age of the lentils (I cooked these for 40 minutes--the package said 30). When they are done, there will be just a little water left. Drain it off and reserve it for another use.

2 Pare the potatoes, and rinse and quarter them. Put them in a 3-quart saucepan; add salt and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3 In the meantime, prepare filling. In 12-inch skillet, heat olive oil and cook chopped onion for 10 minutes. Add diced carrots and cook an additional 10 minutes. Sprinkle vegetables with flour and cook, stirring, until flour is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes, soy sauce and seasonings. Stir in cooked lentils. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in frozen peas. Set aside.

4 Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain and mash potatoes. Stir in butter, milk, salt, pepper and cheese.

5 Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish with vegetable cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with half the mashed potatoes, cover with all the filling, top with remaining potatoes. Fluff potato topping with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

6 If making ahead, refrigerate unbaked casserole until 65 minutes before serving time. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 55 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes.

11 March 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies - The Classic Comfort Cookie










Peanut butter cookies are one of the most popular (the classic after-school comfort cookie), but I only seem to make them about once a year. They're so easy to make--I use all sorts of different proportions of ingredients depending on what I have on hand. One thing I insist on, though, is natural (also called "old-fashioned") peanut butter--none of that phony stuff with stabilizers and shortening and sugar and who knows what all. And I use all organic ingredients.

I've always loved the traditional crisscross pattern on a peanut butter cookie. But there are those people who can't leave well enough alone and decorate the cookie with chocolate kisses or other candies. I admit peanut butter and chocolate are a classic combination, but I'm a purist--just give me my little crisscross pattern! And a proper cup of English Breakfast tea with just a little splash of milk.

If you happen to live someplace where peanut butter is not readily available, you can easily whip some up with a food processor. Natural peanut butter is just shelled and roasted peanuts, skins removed, processed with a bit of peanut oil (maybe 1 tablespoon to 8 ounces of peanuts, just guessing) and salt to taste.

Texture is everything in a cookie--can't stand a gummy peanut butter cookie! You can use 2 1/2 packed cups (12.5 ounces) of unbleached all-purpose flour for my recipe, but I really like the texture and extra nutrition you get by using some coarsely ground old-fashioned oats in place of part of the flour. Try it and let me know how you like it!

Peanut Butter Cookies
(Makes 40 3-inch cookies)

3/4 cup (3 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
2 packed cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 packed cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

1 In food processor with metal blade in place, process oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill organic extra thick rolled oats) for about 30 seconds until ground into coarse flour.

2 In small bowl, whisk together flour, ground oats, baking powder, soda and salt.

3
In large bowl of electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in peanut butter, then eggs and vanilla. Slowly beat in flour mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours.

4 Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Shape #40 scoops* (0.8 ounces or approximately 1.5 tablespoons) of dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Shaping into balls before pressing results in perfectly smooth cookies, edges and all. (If you don't mind a less smooth look, just press the scooped dough down. That's what I often do!) Place 3 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment. With a fork, flatten each in a crisscross pattern into a 2 1/4-inch round. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until lightly golden.

5 Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

* If you don't have one of these
7/8 Ounce Size 40 Stainless Steel Round Squeeze Disher (13-0638) Category: Dishers, you need to get one now! How do people make cookies without it!

04 March 2011

Bananamis├╣ - Banana Pudding My Way



Banana pudding is a Southern classic, an easy comfort food dessert put together in a bowl, chilled and later spooned out into small bowls. Nothin' wrong with that. It's how I usually make it. But sometimes something a little fancier is called for, and that's when I make it in a springform pan so I can serve it in tidy slices.

It was when I decided to use a little alcohol on the vanilla wafers and a dusting of cocoa powder on the top, as with tiramis├╣, that I started calling this dressed-up banana pudding "Bananamisu." A lot of people top their banana pudding with meringue, but I prefer whipped cream. Wish I didn't. Meringue would be a "healthier" choice.

And, sure, you can use boxed pudding mix, but homemade custard is so much better. And it allows me to cut back a little on the sweetness. After all, the custard is layered with sweet cookies and sweet ripe bananas, how sweet does it need to be? Just sweet enough!

If you have a nice heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, you can make the custard right in the pan. But if you're new to custard, making it the double-boiler way will help you avoid curdling the eggs. Either way, it takes a bit of time; so I just pull my kitchen stool up to the stove and settle in for some serious stirring. If you didn't grow up in the banana pudding tradition, maybe you want to start one now?

Bananamisu Banana Pudding
(Makes one 7-inch round, 6 to 8 servings)

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 packed cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8-ounce box Country Choice Organic Vanilla Wafers
2 or 3 tablespoons dark rum, optional
3 medium (about 1 1/2 pounds) ripe bananas
Juice of half a lemon
2 teaspoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder, optional
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 In top of double-boiler, whisk together sugar, flour and salt. Gradually whisk in milk. Whisk in egg yolks until thoroughly combined. Cook, uncovered, over boiling water, stirring constantly until thickened (which might take 10 to 15 minutes; should register 160 degrees Fahrenheit on instant-read thermometer). Remove from heat. Whisk in butter and vanilla.

2 Spray 7-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Cover bottom of pan with vanilla wafers (21 of my brand). Sprinkle rum over wafers. Peel bananas and cut 1/2 of them into 1/4-inch-thick slices, squeeze on a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning (I usually forget this step, and it doesn't really matter unless you're making the pudding 24 hours ahead) and layer over the wafers. Cover with 1/2 of the pudding, making sure bananas are completely covered by pudding. Repeat. Drop the pan on a towel-cushioned counter a couple of times to settle the layers. Sift cocoa powder evenly over top. Cover with a paper towel and a piece of foil, and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or up to 24 hours. (The paper towel keeps condensation from forming and dripping onto the cocoa powder.)

3 To serve, run a knife around edge and release pan sides. Slice into 6 or 8 wedges. Just before serving, whip cream with sugar and vanilla. Pipe a rosette of whipped cream onto each wedge. Garnish with vanilla wafer crumbs and shaved chocolate, if desired.
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