Christmas Dinner

I hope you all had an incredible Christmas with loved ones and are enjoying the lull until the new year. 2016 has been really tough for many of us, but upon reflection, I have to admit that I had a really good and extremely blessed year. It was full of wonder and adventure and opportunity, and was so fulfilling on so many levels – emotional, professional, cerebral, physical. It sure had its challenging moments, but in retrospect, those were such rich learning moments. There was so much laughter and joy – and so much generosity and an abundance of good things. I am so grateful – I really could not have wished for a better year or for better people to have spent it with.

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David and I hosted Christmas dinner for our families this year, so we attempted to cram 11 of us into our very tiny home. I prepped a pretty traditional meal of prime rib with a red wine au jus (thank you Food Lab), along with an assortment of accompaniments including a goat cheese, pear and spinach salad; Dungeness crab cakes; garlic shrimp; sauteed cremini mushrooms; classic popovers; and caramel flan and berry cheesecake for dessert. I unfortunately did not get pictures of the meal, but did have lots of leftovers, which really do not give the food any justice. Twice-cooked meat and day-old cheesecake — not pretty. But, I would eat these leftovers any day.

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Ad Hoc Cheesecake
Source: Ad Hoc at Home
This is my favorite cheesecake recipe. Period. I’ve been making it for years and cannot believe that I haven’t blogged it yet. The custard is dense and creamy and so so velvety. I added a strawberry coulis on top, but you could really do anything to it or serve it as is. I personally like a tart berry coulis to contrast with the sweet custard, but several members of our family really would have preferred a sweet topping, like caramel or chocolate. To each their own. This recipe is pretty straightforward, though I cannot stress enough the importance of having the ingredients at room temp – it makes combining them so much easier and really helps with those lumps! Also, you’ll notice that my cheesecake is a bit yellow-toned, and that’s due to the orange egg yolks that our backyard chickens produce. They’ve clearly been eating well! And lastly – I really like a thick crust so doubled the crust recipe – you certainly don’t have to.

Ingredients
Crust:
1 c graham cracker crumbs
3 tbs granulated sugar
5 tbs unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
1 lb (2 packages) full-fat cream cheese
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp fresh lemon juice [I had really sweet lemons, so ended up using 2 tsp]
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 c + 2 tbs heavy cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 325*F. Combine the ingredients for the crust and press into a 9 inch springform pan and go up the sides. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned, and set aside to cool.

Bring a pot of water to boil for a bath.
In a mixing bowl with a hand beater or with a stand mixer, combine the cheeses and sugar at a low speed to mix, then raise to medium speed for 3 minutes until light and smooth. Try to beat out any lumps you find.

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In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and the extra yolks, and drizzle in the lemon juice. Add the lemon-egg mixture to the cream cheese mixture, and continue to beat at medium-low speed to combine, ensuring that there are no lumps. Lastly, add the lemon zest and heavy cream and combine.

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Meanwhile, wrap the cooled springform pan in foil to prevent water from entering the pan. Fill the springform pan with the cheesecake mixture, so it’s level with the top of the graham cracker crust. If you have extra custard, you can save it for smaller molds/ramekins.

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Place the foiled springform pan into a large and deep baking dish (great time to pull out that Pyrex), and fill with boiling water until it comes up halfway of the pan. This water bath ensures a steady baking temp that will prevent the cheesecake from cracking during baking and cooling. This is a necessary step.
Carefully place the entire baking pan + springform pan into the oven and bake for an hour at 325*F until set. When you check on it, the top may jiggle just a bit, but you can clearly see that it’s set and not wet. Once cooked, remove the baking pan + springform pan combo, and allow the cheesecake to cool completely in the water bath, about 1-2 hours. Then remove from the water bath, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Top with coulis, caramel or melted chocolate, to your own liking.

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To serve, run a warm knife along the edges, then carefully remove the springform ring. Slice and enjoy.

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I was really surprised when everyone at the table finished their slice of cheesecake… even my mom doesn’t love cheese and definitely not cheesecake! It was a proud moment, and I give all credit to this awesome Ad Hoc recipe. I think the mascarpone really helped to lighten it up, as did all that lemon zest and lemon juice. I also really loved my berry coulis – so festive and perfectly sweet-tart. Yum. I’ll be sharing my favorite popover recipe shortly, so stay tuned.

Until then, thanks for reading and stay warm out there!
AnhD

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Review: Petite Crenn

Petite Crenn
609 Hayes St
San Francisco, CA 94102
http://www.petitcrenn.com/

This is becoming an annual tradition, where we dine at fancy Michelin restaurants for David’s birthday. After watching Dominque Crenn on Chef’s Table, I just had to visit Petite Crenn in Hayes Valley. This quaint little shop serves up a mean seafood family-style prix fixe inspired by Crenn’s homeland – the Brittany region of France. David and I went to celebrate his 33rd and we loved it.

Menu for the evening:
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We started with this delicious fresh-baked pita bread and a type of hummus. I love that I could see the chefs in the kitchen charring the bread. So toasty and yet soft at the same time.1120161814_HDR

These little British Columbia oysters followed, and they were bite-sized and really mild in flavor. Not too briny, not too unctuous, and the mignonette wasn’t overpowering either. 1120161827_HDR

Next, we had this charred squid stuffed with wild rice in some sort of tomato-based sauce (I think?). Great texture, not over-cooked squid. I love that the wild rice added this nuttiness to the dish. So yum. I plan on recreating this one for the blog at some point.
1120161844a_HDRNext, we had these cute little puffs that were dotted with honey and a bit of cheese. I probably could have eaten a dozen by myself.
1120161827b_HDRThe main course was this perfectly cooked fluke and beurre blanc. The fish was flaky and still moist, and the rich beurre blanc was a great complement. Side note, I love that each dish is intended to be shared, so David and I took turns serving each other. It makes the environment really convivial and intimate. Ooh, also of note in this image – we ordered a bottle of cider to share, and it was served in traditional Brittan ceramic mugs or tea cups. Super cute, I am so in love. For reference, we had the Eric Bordelet Granit Poire ($70! yikes), and it was really tasty! On the sweeter, fruitier side and really refreshing. 1120161913_HDR

This gnocchi and mushrooms dish accompanied the fluke – TO DIE FOR. I will never want any type of gnocchi any other way again.
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Also served alongside the main course was this grilled squash dish – the crutons provided a great texture contrast to the sweet squash and thick vichyssoise.
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We finished with a light salad – Romaine leaves that were individually brushed with a light dressing and sprinkled with dill and chives.
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Dessert was a lovely bowl of beignets for dipping in chocolate and milk jam (essentially a reduced milk aka dulce de leche). I like that neither the chocolate or milk jam were sweet – nice and mild – like everything else about this meal.
1120162008_HDRLastly, mini sweets to nibble on as the conversation and evening died down. A sable, pate de fruit, and a piece of fudge served in a shell – another nod to Crenn’s coastal roots.
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There is an overwhelming sense of gentleness and delicateness to this meal that is hard to describe in words. The whole meal aims to not offend – everything is mild and graceful and soft. Nothing polarizes, the food and service and ambiance – it tiptoes. All the while, the conversations are warm and the company golden hued. Perhaps it is a reflection of Brittany and the local culture and lifestyle. I found it all really endearing. I would definitely recommend a trip to Petite Crenn – reservations open exactly 1 month to the date you intend to reserve, so make sure to do that. There are only 2 seatings each night (only 1 on Sunday’s at 6pm). Corkage fees are a bit steep at $45 a bottle, but the wine selection is quite rich and I’m sure you’ll find something you like. They feature only one French beer, but the cider menu is also a great option. Lastly, price already includes gratuity, so feel free walking out the door without having to do any additional number crunching. Enjoy!

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More Pumpkin

I celebrated my first free weekend in a long while by baking Smitten Kitchen’s Pumpkin Bread. And as guaranteed by Deb, the crackly top of this bread is addicting. It’s really best eaten the day-of when the crust is still crunchy… it gets softer the longer it sits in my experience. It’s got great flavor and that snickerdoodle top is to die for. I baked it up in a regular size loaf pan as pictured, and it rose to amazing heights. Position your oven rack accordingly. The whole house smelled like lovely cinnamony goodness. I enjoyed this bread warm with a pat of salted European-style butter, though freshly whipped cream also sounds delicious. It makes for a great on-the-go breakfast/dessert.

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Crackly Pumpkin Bread
Source: Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients
Bread:
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1/2 c vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 2/3 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp fine sea or table salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg, rounded
1/4 tsp ground ginger, rounded
generous pinch of ground cloves
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour

Topping:
1 tbs sugar
1 tps ground cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a loaf pan or coat it with nonstick spray. These days, I’ve been a huge fan of brushing baking pans and sheets with coconut oil – I highly recommend it! It doesn’t leave any sort of lingering coconut scent, and still does the job of an artificial spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs and sugar until combined. Sprinkle baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all spices over the wet ingredients and whisk until combined. Add flour and salt and stir just until mixed. Scrape the batter into the buttered/oiled pan and use the back of a spoon or spatula to smooth out the top.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon topping. Sprinkle mixture over the top of the batter. Yes you must use all of the cinnamon sugar to achieve an optimally crackly, snickerdoodly crust. Bake for 65-75 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Once cooked through, remove from oven and allow to cool inside the pan. Serve warm or room temperature. Enjoy.

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This ‘bread’ is really a cake in disguise, but perhaps if we keep calling it a bread, then I won’t feel so bad eating it for breakfast.
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Autumn has crept on us pretty subtly – the weather is still beautiful and sunny here in California, though the days are progressively getting shorter as the sun prepares for winter. David and I have been busy at work, balancing our jobs and our side venture, while finding time for family and friends.
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Luckily, we are just days away from embarking on some much needed R&R. We’ll be unplugged for most of the next few weeks, but can’t wait to share the stories and pictures when we get back.
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Thanks for stopping by!
AnhD

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Avocado Toast

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I am clinging on to the last remnants of summer – California-grown Hass avocados. We are at the tail end of the Hass season (and being unapologetically California, I won’t eat Mexico or other imported varieties), and avocado toast is the perfect ode to avocado. Here I top it with a crispy olive-oil fried egg for a great Saturday brunch. In terms of seasoning, you can pretty much go in any direction – here I keep it really simple with some EVOO, lemon, red pepper flakes, flaky salt and pepper.

Avocado Toast
Ingredients
3 small avocados, smashed with the back of a spoon
1/4 tsp sea salt
Zest of half a lemon
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Splash of good extra virgin olive oil
Good bread, toasted

Directions
So simple – combine all ingredients. Smear on toasted bread. Enjoy. Yes, it’s really that simple. And I hope I just saved you the $8 if you had gone to one of these San Francisco joints. I probably spent less than $8 on ingredients, and had enough for about 4-5 servings.

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This is such a satisfying and delicious meal – one that I could have over and over again. The avocado is creamy/buttery, and really doesn’t need much to give it a lift. The zest adds a nice zing of brightness, and a nice crusty bread adds good texture contrast. Yumm.

With autumn comes all wonderful things autumn… here are some of my favorites:

BoarPasta ChickenNoodleSoup
PumpkinCoffeeCake PumpkinSammies
PumpkinSugarCookies PumpkinPie
PotatoLeekSoup TomatoSoup
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Golden Hour

The last few days have been a whirlwind as David and I prepped for our friend Kari’s special wedding. Luckily, all that hard work paid off and I was so proud of the florals. The wedding took place during golden hour on top of Mt. Hamilton at the Lick Observatory, and a gorgeous golden light washed the happy couple and all the guests. I had so much fun, and forgot about how tired or how worried I was about it all.

DSC_0653_editedClose-up of Kari’s bridal bouquet

Despite the stressful and long days, David and I managed to sneak in a pretty delicious meal, thanks to ATK. This recipe is super easy, really flavorful and makes a wonderful weeknight dinner. It was so easy, I didn’t even get a chance to snap pictures with my DSLR, so apologies for all the Android photos here. Enjoy with couscous and a cold beer.

Moroccan Chicken with Olives, Lemon and Dates
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen, my alterations noted with an asterisk*

Ingredients
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces [or 8-10 pieces of your choice – I chose thighs with skin and bone]
1 large onion, diced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/4 tsp ground paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 c chicken stock
1 tbs honey
*4-6 dates, pitted and rough chopped
*1 medium carrot, cut into thick rounds or half-moons
1 lemon, zest + juice
1 c green olives, rough chopped
*2 big tbs capers + juice
Olive oil, salt and pepper, to taste
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Directions
Season both sides of the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or cast iron pan until it begins to smoke. Gently place the chicken pieces, skin side down, and brown until golden, about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over and brown the second side until brown, about another 5 minutes. Remove chicken pieces to a plate, and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Return the pan to the stove and add onions and garlic, allowing to soften and sweat. Add all the spices and stir until dark and fragrant. Stir in the chicken stock and scrape the bottom of the pan for any browned bits. Add the honey and dates, and allow to simmer. Add the chicken pieces back to the pot and continue to simmer the chicken for another 5-10 minutes, to allow the liquids to thicken.

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Add the carrots and continue to cook until the chicken is cooked all the way through. Add the chopped olives and capers and the lemon zest and juice, and continue to simmer and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper, to taste. In the final minutes of cooking, stir in a bunch of roughly torn/chopped cilantro to add some brightness. Serve immediately over couscous.

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This meal comes together in under an hour, and it is really transformative – making an every day meal truly extraordinary. It’s one of those meals that makes you feel like you’ve gone somewhere really far away and exotic, and you come back feeling really refreshed and satisfied. It was the perfect meal for such a busy crazy week. Our house has been a jungle lately, flowers and greenery in every room, as we prepared for our friend Kari’s wedding. Alfred didn’t seem to mind too much though 🙂

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Thanks for reading!
AnhD

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Sunday Funday

Today, Jo and I spent a fun Sunday picking flowers at B-Side Farm, and then arranging them with tips from owner Lennie Larkin. B-Side Farm is located on a third-acre parcel in Sebastapol, about an hour and a half north of San Francisco. Lennie was really gracious and walked us through how to grow flowers, when to harvest the flowers, and how to arrange them to best showcase the blooms. She even provided a wine and cheese spread for us after spending time in the hot field.

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A gorgeous centerpiece made by Lennie, and our delicious wine and cheese spread

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Jo picking out a few dahlias
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Jo’s first time arranging flowers – like a pro!

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My arrangement – olive branches, zinnias, yarrow, dahlias, snapdragons, sweetpeas

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My arrangement made it home and I added a few finishing touches – scabiosa, tulips and garden roses

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Jo’s final vase arrangement

If you get a chance to visit Lennie at B-Side, I highly recommend it! She’s a great teacher and really reaffirmed my aspiration of one day becoming a flower farmer. Again, I’m having a tough time reconciling my professional and personal aspirations, but am actively trying to find a way to intersect or marry the two.

Thanks for reading,
AnhD

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Homemade Pâté

Before the avocado toast craze, my people loved pâté. It’s one of those gifts we inherited from our French colonizers, and I think we probably apply it better than the French do. Most Vietnamese bánh mì shops will shmear a bit of pâté into a baguette before stuffing with all the meats and veggies. We even use it in our savory pâté chaud pastries, little puff pastry pillows of deliciousness. A little pâté goes a long way. And while you could buy the little tins from France or perhaps even the fresh Trader Joe’s version – home made is so easy, so fresh, and so delicious. I whipped this up in under 20 minutes, then let it set for a few hours before slathering over some sandwich bread. Thanks to my cousin-in-law for sharing this method and ingredient list.

Chicken Liver Pâté
Ingredients
1 large vidalia onion, rough chop
2 heads of garlic, peeled and kept whole
1 pound chicken liver, trimmed
4 tbs butter, at room temp
splash of cognac, optional [I can’t tell the difference]
1 hard-boiled egg
salt, sugar, and pepper, to taste

Directions
In a pan over a medium flame, heat a bit of olive oil and caramelize the onions and garlic until golden brown. Add more oil and adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning. To the pan (or if you have a small pan, then do this in batches), add the liver and stir-fry, until all the liquids have reduced and just about all evaporated. For me, this took about 10 minutes. Try not to overcook the liver, as it will be chalky and the texture won’t be as smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of soft butter and a splash of cognac (if using), and allow to simmer. Remove from heat.

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Transfer the liver-onion-garlic sautée into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Add the remaining soft butter, hard boiled egg, and season with salt, sugar and pepper, to taste. For 1 pound of liver, I used about a rounded teaspoon of kosher salt, a half teaspoon of sugar, and a ton of freshly-cracked pepper. I like the flecks of pepper in my pâté, but feel free to season to your own liking.

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Transfer the pâté into smaller containers – I was able to divide 1 pound of liver into 2 small tupperware containers pictured here. One went to my mother, and I kept the other. Chill and enjoy.

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Pâté is not the most photogenic food, but it’s so delicious. The garlic is still very prominent, but sweet and mellow thanks to the long sautée. The egg and butter adds a nice creaminess, and the overall dish isn’t too liver-y. This is not your grandma’s liver and onions. It’s waaay better.

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In addition to toast and sandwiches, pâté is really good with crackers, and we paired some of it with cheese and mustard for an at-home cheeseboard. Pâté – one of the few things we can thank our French colonizers for.
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In other news, summer 2016 has been great. And while I look forward to my favorite season autumn – there is something about the long summer days, the al fresco dining, the flowers, the beach days, the bbq’s, and the sunshine that I am going to miss. So hope you enjoy these last few days folks!

Thanks for reading,
AnhD

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