Archive | September, 2013

China Ranch Date Farm – Tecopa, CA

5 Sep

“Yosemite NP is burning!!!!!!”, she said with a slight tinge of panic in her voice, “Will we be able to go there?!”. California’s scale remains an abstract concept in my mother’s mind. She lives in miniature Belgium, where a 90-min drive in either direction takes you across the border in a completely different country with a completely different language. I explained to her that the national park is roughly the size of Belgium & Northern France combined, and that the wild fire is blazing in an area smaller than her province alone. I also reminded her that she won’t be here until 4th Oct 2013, which is roughly 4 weeks from today… I haven’t yet told her about the flooding & washed out roads in Death Valley NP, as I feel that might put her nerves over the edge.

For the first time in our 13-year history of annual cross-Atlantic visits, we’re actually planning a more elaborate road trip over the Sierras. A trip the ‘Bank of Mom’ has graciously offered to sponsor, with the courtesy of a few gratuitous hotel nights I was able to secure through industry contacts. Mom has never been to a national park, and I’m already excited about seeing the awe-struck look on her face when she’s standing at the foot of Half Dome in Yosemite NP or squints her eyes over the desolate salt flats in Death Valley NP. We’re planning a 4-day loop from Los Angeles, over the Tioga Pass, to Mono Lake, Mammoth, Death Valley and back home. The idea of spending 4 days in a confined space with my mother is both thrilling and utterly terrifying. Will I be able to satisfy my dainty mother’s cleanliness standards in roadside bathrooms, and what if we eat lunch 10 min past 12 o’clock noon? Will the Government collapse if we eat… late?!

One of the places I’m particularly excited about visiting, is the China Ranch Date Farm.

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I first heard about the ranch through C., who’s a friend and fellow-film producer of my beau. The ranch is an actively working date palm grove, located in a green lush oasis in the middle of the arid Mojave Desert, just South of Death Valley. I’ve always loved the sweet sugary stickiness of dates, and the idea of being in a place where they are grown and harvested just feet from where I’m standing, is almost too much foodie excitement for me to bear.

If you’re ever in the greater Las Vegas area, you too have got to check them out. The history and the gift shop with all of its ‘Olde World’ trinkets is worth the trip alone, but a stroll underneath the date palms is surely to be memorable.

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(Above pictures are photo courtesy of Flickr)

Citrus Lavender Dutch Baby with Almond

2 Sep

It’s the last day of our three-day Labor Day weekend today. I figured that calls for a celebration, as I rarely get to sit in my lazy chair on a Monday morning.

My family loves crisp ‘Dutch Baby’ pancakes. We usually get them at our local pancake house, but since going out for breakfast is not within our financial constellation lately, I urgently needed to learn how to make these at home. What did I do before the Pinterest-era?!

Seeing all those gorgeous Dutch baby recipes online, made me pause and ponder why they are called Dutch Babies in the first place. I can’t remember enjoying these in Belgium or Holland, so I’m entirely pointing my finger towards the Amish for having something to do with that… Let’s face it, doesn’t anything delicious come from the Amish?! Those folks know how to bake. Not to mention that they have access to farm fresh ingredients that haven’t been tampered with, and that they aren’t swayed by grabbing something off the grocery shelf real quick, because whatever. When I first came to the USA with my 2 suitcases, I lived a mere 2-hr drive away from the Amish country in PA, right by the Delaware Water Gap, in a tiny town called Blairstown, NJ. My then roommate & I would drive down in our weekends, and we’d load up the car with the most amazing jams and baked goods I have ever tasted. While I have to admit that I don’t fully understand their religion and culture, I recognize that the simplicity & ‘purity’ of their lifestyle brings forth amazing products. Apart from the many wonderful things I have learned from traveling all over the world, is to be tolerant and appreciate the best in each culture, and I thank the Amish for their contribution to my culinary journey, even if I’m completely wrong and they had nothing to do with the invention of this tasty pancake.

This Dutch baby was wonderful sweet & tangy at the same time. I confess that I had never baked one before, so I got a bit jittery and skeptical, but it was truly that easy! Who knew?! I gave it my own twist by going Provence on this classic and infusing a citrus-lavender flavor directly into the batter.

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CITRUS LAVENDER DUTCH BABY WITH ALMOND
(Adapted from recipes for simple Dutch babies I found on Pinterest)
– 3 eggs, room temperature
– 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup of 2% or whole milk
– 1.5 Tbsp of brown sugar
– 1 tsp of almond extract
– zest of 1 lemon
– zest of 1 small orange
– 1/4 cup of fresh lavender blossoms, rinsed and finely chopped (no stems!)
– 10-inch cast iron skillet

Place 2 Tbsp of butter in your cast iron skillet, and place in the middle of your oven. Then preheat oven to 425F, to get the pan nice & hot and the butter slightly brown and bubbly.

In the meantime, blend eggs with flour, milk & almond extract into a smooth batter. Fold in lemon zest, orange zest, brown sugar and lavender blossoms.

Take skillet out of the hot oven and pour in batter. Don’t stir! It’ll be quite runny, but don’t worry as it’ll puff up nice & golden in the oven. Bake pancake for approx. 15-20 minutes, until the edges are dark and crisped, and the pancake has puffed.

Take out of the oven and let it ‘sink’ a bit. Squeeze half a lemon out over the pancake and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve hot.

Blackberry Balsamic Onion Jam with Bacon

1 Sep

A few years ago, during a random browsing session at Williams-Sonoma, my eye fell on a small jar of balsamic onion spread. With a $10.99 price tag, I decided it was entirely too expensive so I bought it anyway. For a little while I smeared it on anything from bread to crackers and grilled cheese sandwiches, until I could see the glass bottom and went into full-blown panic mode and rationed it as though the end of civilization was nigh.

So when my mom arrived for a visit some weeks later, we picked up a few gorgeous cheeses and a loaf of crusty French bread at the farmers market for lunch one day. As I was setting the table, mom came upon my nearly empty jar of balsamic onion spread, tucked in the back of my fridge, where it was shielded from impulsive midnight snacking. I think she must have seen the frantic expression in my twitching eye, cause she grabbed it and dismissively announced that wherever it came from she was sure they had more. Later that afternoon, one sales rep at Williams-Sonoma in Palos Verdes, CA became employee of the month for a record sale of balsamic onion spread, financed by the ‘Bank of Mom’.

With onions being fairly inexpensive, and fueled by my degree in Business, I figured their profit margin on that drug stuff must be sky-rocketing high, and so I set out on a quest to recreate my precious anything-spread. Only, I’d make it even better. There was some unpalatable trial & error, and a fair amount of spontaneous gagging, but in the end I came up trumps with something that is out-of-this-world delicious. The addition of bacon was real stroke of genius, but you can leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian version.

For your BBQ pleasure, I also smear this deliciousness on a Brioche bun, and top a crusty browned beef patty with some blue cheese, a fried egg and arugula, for a killer-hamburger that has just the right amount of ‘wrong’!

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BLACKBERRY BALSAMIC ONION JAM WITH BACON
(…because bacon makes everything better!)
– 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, sliced into very small pieces
– 2 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
– 1/2 cup of fresh blackberries
– salt and cracked ground pepper, to taste
– 2/3 cup good quality balsamic vinegar (*)
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2/3 cup cooking sherry
(*) I used a lovely blackberry balsamic vinegar I found at the Torrance farmers market, and it gave this jam an even sweeter & fruitier touch.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bacon pieces and cook until browned but not crispy, approx. 5-8 min. Remove the bacon from the pan and let it drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Drain off all but 2-3 Tbsp of the bacon grease and then stir in the onions. season with a pinch of salt & pepper, to taste.

Saute the onions for 2 min. then add a splash of cooking sherry, and scrape the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the blackberries, cover the pot and cook the jam until the onions are soft and brown, and the berries have broken down, approx. 15-20 min.

Stir in a small pinch of cayenne pepper, the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and remaining sherry, and add in reserved bacon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens and is almost completely absorbed, approx. 10 min. The jam should be a dark rich brown at this point.

Allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

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