Monday, October 13, 2014

Stella Barra Santa Monica

Since moving to the Main Street neighborhood of Santa Monica back in January, Stella Barra has become my home away from home. I'm probably there for dinner at least once a week.  I also tend to frequent M Street Kitchen for their wonderful brunches, M Street is connected to Stella Barra by a narrow passage-way but I'll save that write up for a later post. Why venture all the way to Mozza in Hollywood for a delicious pizza when Stella Barra is right down the street and to me, serves up equally glorious pies.  Not only is the food impeccable but the ambiance makes it the perfect meeting spot to gather with friends. I love how the windows open up to the sidewalk allowing the fresh air to permeate the restaurant. There is always a lively bar crowd and some nice wines by the glass to boot, not to mention great white sangria (the same recipe I posted years ago). 

There are some great apps including the burrata with sea salt and grilled grapes. There is also a wonderful baked goat cheese dish as well as a beet and ricotta plate that will excite any cheese freak like yours truly. Typically, I will bypass the apps and go straight for the Italian chopped salad. Theirs is great because it's chopped as finely as possible and has a really mild dressing and some great Italian meats.  One salad is plenty for two to share.

As far as pizzas go, my go-to is the prosciutto and farm egg pie. It is a well known fact that I'm an egg fanatic. Put a fried egg on anything and I'll eat it!  I also love a white pizza; I don't need the typical red sauce smeared all over my pie -- this way the crust, prosciutto, cheese and egg all really sing. I do like simple food and this is as simple as it gets but because the ingredients are all so fresh, the end result is pure deliciousness. The shaved mushroom and truffle pizza is also worth trying, it's also a white pizza and is a bit lighter than the prosciutto pie.  They also have a really nice glutton free dough that my Mother is a big fan of. Personally, I am a huge fan of glutton! Both glutton filled and glutton free crusts are cooked in the wood burning oven and done just to to my liking, thin enough and slightly browned at the crusts. 

Stella Barra doesn't take reservations so if the restaurant is packed and you aren't willing to wait, it's possible to order at the M Street cafe counter and grab a table outside or in the cafe seating area.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Father's Daughter inspired Cheesy stuffed Turkey Burgers

I've made these bad boys several times now and not only are they divine, they just scream Summer! Who would think Skinny Gwynnie could come up with a burger recipe that's so tasty? I've also added some personal flare to their tastiness in buying turkey meat with 20% fat, the meat needs to bind together to seal in the yummy pocket of cheese -- the flavor is also enhanced tenfold by the fat content. Another key flavor enhancer is cooking the burgers in butter in a cast iron skillet. And with all the new studies I've been reading lately that fat is no longer the enemy (sugar is! See the movie Fed-Up) why not fat it up?!  I've also doubled the onions, rosemary and cheese called for in the recipe, I've tried it both ways and to me, more is better in this instance..Here's the recipe:

  • 1 lb. turkey meat 80% lean 20% fat
  • 1/2 one large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 TBSP finely cut fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked pepper
  • 4 wheat buns (I buy TJ's honey wheat buns)
  • 1 cup grated cheese -- I like Gruyere but you can also use baby Swiss
  • Butter for toasting buns or cooking burgers in cast iron skillet
-- Serves 4

Heat oil in skillet on medium heat and add diced onions and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes until the onions sweeten. Allow to cool and transfer to large mixing bowl.  Add the turkey meat, salt, pepper and then mix it all together with your tool of choice, mine being my own digits. Next, divide the mixture into four patties and then those four patties in half again. Add 3 TBSP of the grated cheese to each half of the patty and then seal the halves together again. I like to make a few days in advance so the flavors can all marinate for a bit. If you choose to do the same just wrap each patty in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days.

The recipe calls for either grilling or broiling the burgers but I am in love with the flavor my cast iron skillet provides to proteins. So, either grill/ broil on one side for five minutes on medium heat or heat a dash of butter in your cast iron skillet on medium and cook for about five minutes. Putting a large metal bowl on top of the skillet will prevent the meat from drying out. Flip after five minutes and cook on the other side for four more minutes (same on grill or in broiler).  While you're cooking the burgers, toast up the buns in some butter in a separate pan for about five minutes. This will make those burgers even more AMAZE. Prepare a tray of your favorite fixins and let your guests build their own, enjoy! 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta by Barefoot Contessa

This recipe is heavenly. I've probably made it at least four times and every time I do, people ask me for the recipe.  It's beyond memorable. I love any type of toasted baguette and tomato combination - bruschetta as they call it in Italy. But what really makes this recipe sing is the whipped feta with lemon. It's so unique yet the feta and lemon married together with the toasted baguette, tomatoes, basil and garlic, becomes a harmonious melding of flavors -- all so "fresh and so clean."

I hosted a dinner party last weekend and I knew there would be a lot of prep work involved. One guest was a vegan so that required my finding something new to make and then some recipe testing - but this recipe is mindless. And although it's not as simple as throwing some cheese and bread on a plate, I knew that my vegan guest could appreciate the crostini almost as much as we cheese lovers do because the tomato topping is so good on it's own.  And because I have made it so many times and it is fail safe, I knew it would be a fun way to start the evening.  I like to start a party out with prosecco, it sends me straight to Italy and it always feels so festive but light at the same time.  It paired perfectly with the crostini. Here is the recipe:

  • 6 ounces good feta (I use the 6 oz. crumbled feta from TJ's and it is fabulous)
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2/3 C EVOO divided
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cloves shallots finely minced
  • 2 garlic cloves finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 lb ripe cherry tomatoes (I prefer tomatoes with some color variations, looks so pretty) 1/2 inch diced
  • 3 Tbs julienned fresh basil leaves (reserve some for garnish)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. This will be to toast the bread which we will get to later on. Begin by whipping the feta and cream cheese in the food processor. Pulse until the two cheeses are mixed. Add 1/3 c of oil, the lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Process again until totally smooth. 

And onto the tomatoes: Up to an hour before serving, combine the shallots, garlic and vinegar in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes.  Whisk in the remaining olive oil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Then add the tomatoes and stir gently. Set aside for 10 minutes. Stir in the basil, taste for seasoning (which should go without saying :).  

Slice one large baguette into 1 inch pieces and coat each side with good EVOO. Place them onto a cookie sheet and toast for 6-8 minutes. Let cool. Once cooled, spread each slice of bread with a very hefty serving of the cheese mixture and top that with the tomatoes. Add basil as a garnish. Ina likes to add toasted pine nuts to garnish as well but I omitted this time and it was just as good. Enjoy the yumminess!

Just for fun, my table top. How much do I love a blue hydrangea?! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Smitten Kitchen Wild Rice and Kale Gratin

This is my first attempt at a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and because the dish turned out so well, I'm sure it won't be my last. The book is chalk full of gorgeous recipes and moreover, food porn. When cooking, I need gorgeous pictures of dishes to inspire me into recreating them. Deb Perelman has a wonderful eye for food photography as well as a knack for creating delicious recipes.  Because I'm hosting a small dinner party next week and one of my guests is vegan, my mission for the week was to find something fabulous for the vegan that would also work as a side dish for we fish-eaters. As time consuming as it was, it was actually very easy to make. The wild rice takes about an hour to cook and that is the real time sucker but it allows you to prep the other ingredients while it is cooking. It is hearty, healthy and totally divine. I'm excited to serve it to the vegan and carnivores alike next week. I'm cutting the recipe in half as to serve four people, feel free to double the recipe for more guests. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 C wild rice
  • 2 TBS butter divided 
  • 1 large sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 TBSP Kosher salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 C stemmed and ribboned kale leaves (about 1 bunch)
  • 1 C coarsely grated Gruyere or baby Swiss cheese (I will omit this for the vegan)
  • 1/2 C Vegetable broth
  • 1/2 C Panko bread crumbs

Cook the wild rice according to the directions. I bought a wild rice mix at Whole Foods that required two cups of water to the 1 cup of rice and brought to a boil then reduced to simmer for 50 minutes. It was suggested that I add a TBSP of butter which I will omit next week. When a recipe calls for butter and I am cooking for myself, I will always add it! After the 50 minutes simmering allow to cool for ten minutes.

Next preheat oven to 375. Coat your 1 quart cooking dish with either 1 TBSP melted butter or cooking spray, I used TJ's olive oil spray. Then while the rice was cooking I prepared the onions and Kale mixture.  To caramelize the onions, heat the olive oil and 1 TBSP of butter over medium low heat for several minutes. Add the sliced onions and cook for 30 minutes or golden and tender.  Stir occasionally.  Then add the kale ribbons and let them wilt in the onion mixture for about 5 minutes. 

Once the rice is cooked, combine it with the onion and kale mix in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and then stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese. (I will abstain for my vegan friend).  Pour the mixture into your 1 quart dish and then pour 1/2 cup of the broth over it. Toss the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs over the top and then add the remaining cheese to top. I will save the cheese for we dairy enthusiasts and leave a portion without cheese. Finally, add one TBSP of melted butter on top and pop in that oven for 30-35 minutes or until bubbling and beginning to brown. Serve hot. Enjoy the hearty yummy-ness! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Garlic and Pecorino Croutons

Wow-wee.  It's been an eternity since my last post. But now that I am in my new kitchen, I'm hoping to be a bit more consistent in updating my blog.  For this my first time back in months, I didn't want to be overly ambitious but rather post a simple recipe. These croutons could not be easier to make not to mention a salad show-stopper. Salads are salads, but throw these crunchy little morsels of goodness in there and that salad will be elevated to a whole different dimension. And combined with the vinaigrette from My Fathers Daughter I posted a while back entitled: The Poor Girl's Seafood Salad (
it is THAT good. I use Trader Joe's butter lettuce mix, some gorgeous organic tomatoes, one avocado diced and these little bad boys and a simple salad became a dinner highlight. Here's the recipe:

  • 1 day old baguette
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher or sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine the EVOO and garlic in one small bowl and allow to sit as long as it can as to infuse the garlic into the oil. Cut baguette into 1" squares and place into a large mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese, salt and pepper to bread mix. Then strain the EVOO/ garlic mix over the bread  making sure to get every last drop of garlic onto the bread and evenly distributed. Toss until the bread is coated with oil. Pour bread mixture onto baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and re-mix the croutons as the ones on the outer edge will cook more quickly. Cook an additional 15 minutes and then remove from oven once again and add the last 1/4 cup of cheese. Cook for a final 15 minutes until crunchy and golden. Your house will smell unbelievably good and your guests and salad will thank you. Enjoy!