Archive for the ‘General’ Category

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Guest Blog Post: Our Monthly Brunch, a Retrospective

May 11, 2010

Brian Schaefer is my roommate and one of my closest friends. He writes the following retrospective on a tradition that is now more than a year old: Jared’s and my monthly brunches. When not tirelessly developing audiences for ArtPower!, UCSD’s multi-arts series, Brian is probably attending and reviewing dance performances, which he documents on his blog, http://www.mytwoleftfeet.net.

Believe it or not, it’s not the mimosas that keep people coming back.  When the brunch’s first began, it was assumed that the champagne would be the first to disappear and that one of the primary draws would be the opportunity for endless cocktails.  Turns out not to be the case at all.  Shockingly, it seems to be the unexpected menus and stellar company that has made the Klonsky/Bell Brunch such an unqualified success.

I’m coming from a unique perspective here.  I’m the roommate who is generously listed as a co-host despite contributing neither time nor money to the event.  Depending on how my Saturday night went and what time I made it to bed, I might stumble in the kitchen to help set the table, move furniture, and make myself – I mean, make one of my busy roommates – a cappuccino.

Following the brunch, and again depending on the activities of the prior evening, I’ll assist in the repositioning of chairs, scrub a few dishes, finish picking through a salad, and then promptly pass out on my bed for an afternoon nap.

But my point is this – I’m around to see the prep work (including the Saturday shopping trips and the one-week countdown in which Seth suffers a nervous breakdown developing a menu) and the clean-up and I know firsthand how much time and energy Seth and Jared put into this monthly ritual.

It’s a hell of a lot, and they do it with a near religious conviction and faith in the power of food and the value of friendship. Like a congregation of enthusiastic followers, we come together to share in the meal and in the process, to share our lives.

As legend has it, the brunches were created as an opportunity for Seth and Jared to bring together friends on a regular basis,  a pre-emptive strike against the tendency to lose touch with folks in the normal, chaotic schedules of our daily lives where most paths don’t automatically cross daily, weekly, or even monthly.

I have other theories, such as that Seth entered into a private challenge with himself to see how many different types of bread-puddings he could invent, or that Jared was too lazy to trek over to Urban Mo’s every Sunday so he devised a plan to bring the alcohol to him.

Either way, what they’ve built is an exclusive club that is both highly-coveted yet truly accessible.  Brunch on the first Sunday of the month is a much-anticipated event both to visit with old friends, meet new ones and, in the span of just a few hours, introduce out-of-town guests to almost everybody important in my life in San Diego.

Lest one underestimate the power of the actual food, however, make no mistake that the spread of clever variations on brunch staples is the glue that holds this community together.  Curated with an artist’s attention to balance, detail, and aesthetics, Seth constructs the selections with careful consideration to flavors, substance, and dietary restrictions (always making sure there is something for his poor Kosher roommate but never compromising his own love of all things pig).

And in the process, he teaches us that brunch is not about the bottomless and the all-you-can-eat – though of course, the reality is that this brunch is technically both.  But the difference is that it’s not marketed that way, that’s not the point.  It’s not about stuffing yourself or getting your money’s worth, it’s about trying new things, striking up a conversation over the yogurt parfait or citrus salad or breakfast chili with either someone you haven’t seen in a while or someone you just met.

It’s a new tradition (new for us at least) that references all the myriad social gatherings that have come before – part church picnic, part intellectual salon, part gossip circle.  And in what Seth and Jared have set out to achieve – a regular reunion of friends and a space to share their passion for fresh, inspired, and delicious food – they have more than succeeded.

While my co-hosting duties may extend no further than pouring drinks and arranging the occasional cheese platter, its been a strangely fulfilling and satisfying experience to be involved in this experiment.  Well, at this point, we’re beyond experimentation.  Klonsky/Bell Brunches have ascended to a permanent place on the calendar – getting the Evite in your inbox is the equivalent of receiving your favorite monthly magazine.

Just don’t forget to RSVP.  And if you do, you’d better show up.  But if you don’t, the loss is yours alone.

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French Toast: Updated for Mother’s Day, 2010

May 9, 2010

For a blog that has been named The French Toast for over two years, it seems strange that I have only posted one actual recipe for french toast. So Happy Mother’s Day to all the mom’s out there. Sit down with your kids and enjoy this easy and delicious french toast recipe.

French Toast
Makes 12 slices

When possible, use day or two old bread for french toast, as the dry bread will soak up the custard and not get soggy. If you don’t have time to leave your bread out overnight, go ahead and dry the bread slices out on the middle oven rack for 20 minutes on the lowest heat.

About a year ago, Cook’s Illustrated (link on the right) did a feature on the best ways to dry out bread for bread puddings or french toast. They prefer drying bread out in the oven rather than using stale bread, noting that the bread tastes fresher when dried in the oven and still has all the benefits of day-old bread in terms of texture. So perhaps it’s best to skip the whole stale bread thing anyway?

You can use almost any kind of thick-cut bread for this, including sourdough and french bread. I really like the slightly sweet taste of challah or brioche.

12 slices stale or dried bread, cut 1/2″ thick
1 c. half and half
1 c. milk
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
2 T. sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. bourbon or grand marnier, or other liqueur
1/4 t. kosher salt

  • In a medium bowl, beat eggs, egg yolk, and sugar until well mixed.
  • Add milk and beat until incorporated, then add cinnamon, vanilla, bourbon, and salt. Pour into a 13″ x 9″ pan and set aside.
  • Preheat a non-stick skillet or, better yet, a cast iron griddle, over medium heat.
  • When hot, add a small pad of butter and melt.
  • Meanwhile, soak bread slices in custard for about 30 seconds to a minute per side.
  • When foaming subsides, place bread slices on griddle and cook for 3 minutes per side or until golden brown.
  • Add a small amount of butter in between batches. Toasts can be kept warm in a 250° oven.
  • Serve with warm maple syrup, butter, jam, powdered sugar, or any other delicious topping!

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Saturday Morning (Lazy) Breakfast

May 8, 2010

This morning was a lazy one, to be sure. While we woke up at a decent time and had an early morning coffee, I spent the rest of the morning reading the news and catching up on e-mail while Jared played video games (again). It wasn’t until 11 or so that we even thought about eating.

Mornings like this are wonderful and a luxury, so why not have a wonderful and luxurious breakfast to go along with it? This frittata, which you could make in any number of ways, is delicious with it’s sweet red peppers, creamy, tangy feta cheese, and rich eggy custard. It also makes a great dinner alongside a simple green salad.

Enjoy!

Red Pepper and Feta Frittata

6 eggs
3 T. half and half or milk
1 t. warm water
Pinch of kosher salt
2 T. butter or olive oil
1/4 c. finely chopped red pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 t. dried oregano or 2 T. fresh parsley, minced

  • Turn on oven broiler to high, and place oven rack to highest position for broiling.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, half and half, water, and salt until well combined. Set aside.
  • In a broiler-safe nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt butter until foam subsides (if using oil, wait until oil is glossy and hot).
  • Add shallot and red pepper and saute until soft and shallot is translucent, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
  • Add egg mixture and stir to evenly incorporate pepper mixture into the eggs. Turn heat down to medium-low.
  • Let cook without stirring for 3-4 minutes or until the eggs are cooked about halfway through. The mixture on top will still be very wet and uncooked.
  • Transfer pan to the oven and cook under the broiler for about 2-3 minutes or until the eggs are puffy and cooked through. For the last 30 seconds, top the frittata evenly with feta cheese.
  • Remove from the oven and let stand for 30 seconds.
  • Using a rubber spatula, loosen the bottom of the frittata from the pan by running the spatula around the sides and bottom.
  • Slide the frittata out onto a serving plate, sprinkle with black pepper, dried oregano or parsley, and slice into wedges. Serve.

I served this frittata with challah toast topped with a sprinkling of olive oil and dijon mustard. Delicious for a slow Saturday morning. Then I went out and mowed the lawn…that part was not so much fun.

Enjoy!

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Mint Julep Granita

May 4, 2010

Granita is an Italian-style shaved ice. Think snow cone but softer and with the syrup already mixed in. In other words, better.

For brunch this past Sunday I created a menu with a loose Kentucky Derby theme. A big thanks for this goes to Kyle Leuken, who brought the best mint juleps to the brunch.

So after a meal of bread pudding, citrus salad, breakfast pizzas, and parfait almost everyone was filled to the brim, so it was good that dessert was basically just sweetened ice flakes. I think they were a success.

This is an easy dish to throw together so I really encourage you to give it a shot for your next weekend or 4th of July party.

Mint Julep Granita
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s Mint Julep Sorbet

3/4 c. sugar
2 c. water
1/2 c. fresh mint leaves
1/4 c. good bourbon
1/4 c. club soda

  • In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, water, and mint to a boil to dissolve sugar. Turn heat off and let cool to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes. Add bourbon and club soda.
  • Pour into a freezer safe container. It’s best here to have a wide, shallow dish such as a 13″x9″ glass baking pan. Put the dish in the freezer, uncovered.
  • After 30 minutes, whisk the mixture, scraping down the sides of the dish to loosen up any frozen ice pieces. Return to the freezer uncovered.
  • Twice more after 30 minutes repeat the whisking and scraping of the mixture. At this point the granita should be the texture of wet snow. Cover the dish and freeze for 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
  • Serve in a small bowl with mint sprigs and powdered sugar as garnish, both optional.

Enjoy, friends. Later this week, Brian will be giving everyone a recap of the brunch so stay tuned.

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

April 30, 2010

I’m on a quest to find my favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. They are in my favorite cookie, and I’ve made at least a dozen different recipes, but I’ve yet to find the recipe, the one that will end my search.

One of my co-workers, Sarah, brought this recipe of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies into the office this week, and had baked them that very morning. They…were…delicious.

Well I just had to make them myself, of course, and she was gracious and gave me the recipe. The (brief) history is that her sister used the supposed Mrs. Fields recipe, modified it slightly, and has been making these cookies for years ever since.

Here’s the thing: my version was not as good. But I think I know the culprit. The recipe that I’ve listed below calls for quick-cooking oats. I used old fashioned rolled oats instead and I wouldn’t recommend that you do the same. The quick cooking oats make these cookies softer and more tender, and bring the flavor of the oats out for a softer but nuttier tasting cookie.

Mine were good, but Sarah’s were great.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted by co-worker Sarah’s sister from Mrs. Fields

1 c. brown sugar
1 c. granulated white sugar
1 c. butter
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2.5 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
2.5 c. quick-cooking oats
1 c. chopped nuts
1 c. chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 400°
  • Cream together sugars and butter until light and creamy
  • Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then add the vanilla
  • In a bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, then add to the wet ingredients and mix to combine.
  • Stir in the oats to combine, then add chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop in large tablespoons onto cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges but still soft and light on top. Don’t overbake these cookies or they will toughen up considerably.

Cool on a wire rack and serve, preferably with milk. Cookies deserve milk.

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Yakisoba

April 29, 2010

For the second time this week I’ve been seduced by the call of the Minimalist. This time, I was thinking about a video from back in February about Yakisoba. He describes the sauce for yakisoba as any number of ingredients — mostly condiments — that make up a slightly sweet and salty, though decidedly Asian sauce.

Yakisoba was a fairly common meal in our house growing up. We’d buy the fresh egg noodles from that Maruchan company (yup, the same people who make every college student’s Ramen stash), stir fry up some pork or chicken, vegetables, and pour on the sauce from the package. Honestly, I still crave that meal sometimes. It’s that good. And in fact, I don’t discourage you from trying it.

Nevertheless making your own sauce is really simple so there’s not a whole lot of reason to not do it. And while yakisoba is made with chinese-style egg noodles traditionally, I actually enjoy the tenderness of Japanese soba noodles, made with buckwheat. You could use any number of noodles that you’d like, including Italian angel hair (in a pinch), but I’d stick with either tradition or soba.

Yakisoba

For the sauce:
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. worcestershire sauce
2 T. mirin, honey, or sugar
2 T. ketchup
2-3 dashes (to taste) tabasco sauce PLUS 1 dash or more sriracha if you have it.
1/2 t. dijon mustard

Everything else:
2 T. ginger, minced
1 T. garlic, minced
3 thin-sliced pork chops, cut into strips
2 carrots, finely diced or shredded
1 small head savoy cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups or to taste)
Any other vegetable you love, like snow peas or mushrooms, about the same quantity as carrots.

  • Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl, set aside. (boy that was easy)
  • Bring a pot full of salty water to a boil over medium high heat. When boiling, boil noodles according to package until tender. Drain in a colander and toss with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking. Set aside. (see? nothing to it!)
  • In a large skillet or Chinese wok heat 3 tablespoons of peanut oil until hot. Add ginger and garlic and saute for 60 seconds or so.
  • Add pork and saute until it begins to brown. Don’t worry about fully cooking the meat here as it will continue to cook as we continue on to the next step.
  • Add carrots and cabbage and saute for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender. You might need a little water in case it starts to stick. I didn’t though.
  • Add noodles and sauce and toss together until well combined and the noodles are warmed through.
  • Serve, garnished with chopped scallions and more sriracha to taste.

Here’s the before and after. Clearly we liked it.

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Balsamic Marinated Skirt Steak

April 28, 2010

Believe me, I love me some good fajitas. But you know, I live in San Diego and Mexican food is everywhere. Really good Mexican food. Everywhere. So when I saw some really great skirt steak at the market this week, I thought of taking the fajita steak staple and turn it into something a little different, something say, Italian.

Well, wouldn’t you know it I made a nice tangy balsamic marinade and then turned my attention to the side dish options. I roasted up some bell peppers, sauteed some onions and before I knew it, I was one tortilla away from, you guessed it, fajitas.

Thank God we were out of tortillas. How embarrassing!

Back to the steak (I’m eating it as I’m writing this, by the way, so I can tell you it’s delicious and you should make it tonight). The marinade was a simple mix of balsamic, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, some dried herbs (thyme, oregano, and fennel seed and yes you could use fresh herbs here, too), red pepper flakes, and fresh parsley. Poured over the steak and marinaded for an hour the steak was incredibly flavorful and sweet.

So skirt steak isn’t just for fajitas anymore! They’re also for, well, okay Italian fajitas.

Balsamic Marinated Skirt Steak

1/2 c. olive oil
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1 t. dijon or yellow mustard
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 t. each oregano, thyme, fennel seed
1 t. dried crushed red pepper flakes
1 small handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 lb. – 1.5 lbs. skirt steak, cut into 4-6″ pieces (any more than this and you’ll probably need to increase quantity of the marinade)

  • Sprinkle steak pieces with a small amount of kosher salt on both sides, set aside for 10 minutes or up to a day.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix all ingredients (except the steak) together until they form a smooth sauce. Pour into a quart-sized zip log bag. Add steak and marinate for 1-2 hours. I wouldn’t go for too long here because a) the steaks are thin and b) it will get pretty salty after too much longer. Honestly a short marinade time here will be fine.
  • Heat a small amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. When hot, sear each steak for 60 seconds on each side until brown.
  • Remove steaks from heat and immediately wrap in foil for 10 minutes.
  • Cut steaks across the grain and serve as you please.

Enjoy!