California Dreaming

Back in February we took a 7-day trip to California. We started in Los Angeles and then drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco. As usual, we documented the amazing food we had along the way and I wanted to share it with you  – as suggestions of great restaurants to try should you venture there yourself and also to inspire you to try something new. I can’t wait to try to re-create some of these yummy dishes in my own kitchen!

I didn’t capture everything, but I think I got a good sampling of some of the fabulous dishes we had.

**Some of these photos were taken in questionable light and with various cameras, so please forgive the inconsistency in quality.**

We stayed at The Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Home to Public Kitchen & Bar. The bar tenders there whip up fabulous concoctions featuring local in season ingredients and the kitchen is just as wonderful. We had lunch there on our last day in L.A. and I enjoyed a rum & diet coke with a steak sandwich on ciabatta roll with arugula and southwest aioli with a side of thyme dusted french fries. I loved the old school milk jug that my diet coke came in – so vintage! And the sandwich served on a cutting board gave it a rustic air which went perfectly with the sandwich. It was layers of freshly cooked rare roast beef with a little heat from the southwest aioli and the peppery arugula.

After a brief stay in Hollywood we moved on to Anaheim where we embraced our inner kid and romped through Disney Land for a day. We capped the day off with drinks and dinner in Downtown Disney. The most memorable dish of the night was found at the UVA Bar. Hello street fries with chorizo, spicy crema, shaved green onions, pickled garlic and cheese curds. This was basically a jacked up poutine which the Canadian in me LOVED! It was spicy and salty and perfect with a pint of cold beer. This is definitely on the list for a re-creation attempt at home!

Then it was off to pick up our rented convertible and start our drive up the coast to San Francisco. We stopped off just outside of Santa Barbara for lunch. We wanted to be somewhere overlooking the beach so our GPS came to our rescue to help us locate the Four Seasons hotel. We had lunch on the Bella Vista patio overlooking the ocean. We started with the ahi tuna tartare with lemon caper truffle vinaigrette and parmesan crisps. The tuna was layered between the crisps so it resembled a multi layer sandwich.

Then I had the chicken quesadilla with aged manchego and tomatillo with a side fruit salad. My husband Kevin had the portobello mushroom grilled cheese with brie, tomato spread and watercress on country bread with spring greens salad. He generously gave me a taste and it was divine. They also served their signature tomato spread with freshly baked bread which they served to us at the start of the meal. However, we devoured it so voraciously that I sadly have no picture – but that spread is engrained in my psyche. I have already attempted to recreate it but to no success. I will not rest until I figure it out!










We stayed overnight in Monterey at the Portola Hotel & Spa. We arrived very late and had not had dinner yet so at 9:00 we found ourselves in Peter B’s Brew Pub which is attached to the hotel. They brew their own beer on site and have an extensive pub menu. We had fried calamari and fried artichokes (fitting as we were in the heart of artichoke growing territory!). We also shared the portola pie which is a white pizza with locally grown roasted garlic and fresh Dungeness crab on it. I am not going to lie – I was not a fan of the pizza. It was like crab overload (can’t believe I’m even saying this!). It just tasted a bit too buttery and sweet for my liking. And as such, no pictures.

We finally made it to San Francisco and spent 3 days wandering the city enjoying some of the most amazing food of the trip. We are a big fan of wine bars and cheese platters – I mean, who isn’t?! So, we managed to hit up 2 over the course of our stay. I loved the variation in accompaniments served with the cheese. The first bar served honey, almonds and grapes. The second wine bar (The Press Club) served olive tapenade, mostarda and a kiwi peach preserve. They all were excellent pairings and not something I would think to put out with a cheese platter. However, I will now!

One night Kevin really wanted steak – but the usual suspects just seemed all together too usual. I don’t like going to restaurants while travelling that we have at home. I feel like we have to grab the opportunity to delve into local offerings. So, after some searching we found 5A5 and we were so glad we did! This was a spectacular meal from start to finish. The flavours were incredible! The chef started us with an amuse bouche which was an oven roasted mushroom with a blue cheese creme fresh (warning: terrible photo!).

Next came our appetizer of bacon wrapped scallops with maple roasted squash. The sauces were cocoa vinaigrette, garlic aioli and herb oil.  We weren’t crazy about the maple roasted squash but the scallops were perfect.

The main and sides were out of this world! We both had the 6 oz filet with candied bacon, pan roasted garlic and demi-glace. The sides were offered a la carte and were perfect for sharing so we ordered truffled mac and cheese with gruyère and cheddar and assorted wild mushrooms (maitake, golden enokitake, eryngii, honshimeji) with sherry wine & garlic. That mac and cheese was ridiculously good – the truffles added a depth of earthy flavour that paired perfectly with the mushrooms and beef.

The finale to this spectacular meal was our dessert –  a sour cream parfait with lychee, mango and coconut soup. Every bit of it was smooth, cool and creamy without being overly sweet. 5A5 served us a meal we won’t soon forget and I would highly recommend this restaurant. It was not an inexpensive meal, but the high level of service and quality makes it a stand out.

Our final dinner in San Francisco was a happy accident. We had drinks on the top floor of the Marriott, watching the sun set over the city. We were planning to head out for sushi after that but when we got to the street level we turned the wrong direction and found ourselves facing Tropisueno. All thoughts of sushi went out the window and we knew we just had to go for Mexican instead.  It was an excellent decision! The food was so good we totally forgot to take pictures of the first 2 dishes we ordered. They serve home-made tortillas with a trio of salsa – in my opinion the tomatillo one was the stand out, but I prefer a mild salsa.

We decided to order only appetizers to share. We started with molotes de elote y chorizo (corn masa “cigars” filled with Mexican chorizo, fresh corn and cotija cheese) and empanadas de hongos (Mexico City style turnovers filled with pasilla, mushrooms, and cheese, topped with guacamole). Those were devoured without any thought of photos – both were awesome! Then we ordered tacos al pastor (soft tacos with grilled marinated pork, pineapple, and salsa) and camarones al mojo de ajo (wild white shrimp sautéed with butter and lots of garlic, finished with a squeeze of lime. The tacos were just ok, but the shrimp was probably the most amazing, most flavourful shrimp I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I HAVE to find a way to make this one at home.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this run down of the great food we had in California as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it.


Cinnamon Roll Scones

Last month we took a trip out to California (more on that later!) and ever since we got back I feel like I lost my cooking mojo. No motivation to cook or try any new recipes. That is, until this recipe sprung up in my news feeds. Cinnamon roll + scone = fabulous combo!

I wanted to make these for coffee with the in-laws  this morning but the last thing I wanted was to have to get up at the crack of dawn to make them. Luck for me these are freezer friendly. I whipped them up yesterday afternoon and froze them overnight. This morning I woke up and popped them in the oven to cook while I got ready. They turned out so perfectly I think I need to make more to have a stash in my freezer for any last minute scone emergencies.

Cinnamon Roll Scones
Makes 8 scones

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup low-fat greek yogurt
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Milk or cream, for brushing
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar
2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup mini white chocolate chips

2 tbsp melted butter
Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 425˚ F.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Grate the frozen butter using a food processor. (Frozen butter is extremely hard to grate on a regular box grater so using your food processor is a must.)

Whisk together the milk and yogurt in a medium bowl and refrigerate until needed. Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the grated butter to the flour mixture and toss with fingers until the butter is thoroughly coated.

Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold with a spatula until just combined. Transfer the dough to a generously floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour. Knead with well floured hands (6-8 times) just until the dry ingredients have been mostly incorporated.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Fold the dough into thirds (like you are folding a business letter) using a dough scraper to lift it off the work surface. Fold the short ends of the dough into the centre in thirds to form a smaller square (approx. 4-inches). Transfer the dough to a flour dusted plate and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Return the dough to the floured work surface and roll into a 10-inch square. Lightly brush the surface with milk or cream. Sprinkle the surface with the cinnamon sugar. Layer with the toasted pecan pieces and chocolate chips. Roll the dough up into a tight log. Lay the log seam side down on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to slice into 8 round discs. Please the shaped scones onto the prepared baking sheet.  Lightly brush the top of each scone with the melted butter and sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar.

If you are making these ahead, at this point you will need to flash freeze the scones on the baking sheet for 20 minutes. Then wrap each one individually in plastic wrap and store in a freezer bag until needed.

Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown, 15-18 minutes. If cooking from frozen, bake for 18-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth. You may add additional milk or sugar to reach your desired consistency. Drizzle the icing over the scones. Serve warm.

Source: Adapted slightly from Annie’s Eats


Bailey’s and Guinness Cupcakes

Every few months we get together with a group of friends for a great night of food and drink. We alternate houses and it’s always a group effort for food. It’s a great opportunity to experiment with new recipes on a willing group of honest food lovers. I always bring the cupcakes and there are never any complaints!

I’ve had this recipe flagged on my cooking bucket list for quite awhile and when it was decided that the theme for our last get together was a pub night, I knew it was the  perfect time to give these a try. It’s the classic combination of the Irish car bomb pub drink – Bailey’s and Guinness. Warning – these are very rich but oh so good! The Guinness adds a real depth to the chocolate cake rather than a pronounced beer flavour.  And the Bailey’s buttercream pushes this cupcake over the top.

Bailey’s Guinness Cupcakes
Makes 30 cupcakes

Guinness chocolate cupcakes:
1 cup stout (Guinness)
16 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup light sour cream

Bailey’s ganache filling:
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
4-6 tsp Bailey’s Irish cream

Bailey’s buttercream frosting:
16 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
6-8 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
8-12 tbsp Bailey’s Irish cream (or more if desired)

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  Combine the stout and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the eggs and sour cream to blend.  Add the stout-butter mixture and beat just to combine.  Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed just until incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling them about 1/2 to 3/4 full – this ensures that when the cake rises it will not spill over the top of the wrapper. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache filling, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour it over the chocolate.  Let sit for one minute and then whisk until smooth.  If the chocolate is not completely melted, place the bowl over a double boiler or give it a very short burst in the microwave (15-20 seconds).  Add the butter and Bailey’s and stir until combined.

Set aside to let the ganache cool until it is thick enough to be piped. You can either pipe the ganache into the cupcake with a filling tip (Wilton tip #230) or use the cone method (cut out a cone shaped portion from the center of the cupcake using using a small paring knife).  Once the ganache has reached the correct consistency, transfer it to a piping bag fitted with the tip and pipe it into the cupcakes.

To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Gradually add the powdered sugar until it is all incorporated.  Mix in the Bailey’s until smooth.  Add more if necessary until the frosting has reached a good consistency for piping or spreading. Be careful to not ad to much or the icing will end up runny. If this happens you can thicken slightly with more icing sugar. Frost the cupcakes as desired.

Source: Annie’s Eats (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)


Risotto alla puttanesca

I hosted a family dinner recently and wanted to try out a new Italian recipe. That might sound a little risky, but to be honest, nothing in David Rocco’s cookbook has ever let me down.

I have never tired to make a cheese free risotto – I wasn’t even sure it would be that good – but this one was very easy and packed with flavour! I was slightly skeptical given that the recipe didn’t call for adding parmesan at the end (which usually adds a super creamy luxurioius punch to most risottos), but the pureed tomatoes gave this one a very thick and rich texture. This recipe is gluten and lactose free – but don’t worry – you will not feel deprived!

I had to increase the recipe amount as it was for 4 and we were having 6 people over. I seriously underestimated how much pan space risotto for 6 would take. So, needless to say, my risotto started in one pan and ended up in 2. Word to the wise, making 2 pans of risotto simultaneously is not an easy task – especially since it requires constant stirring for about 45 minutes. I also forgot to add the parsley and pine nuts at the end, but to be honest, it was so good already that I didn’t miss them.

Risotto alla puttanesca
Serves 4

4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
4 anchovies, roughly chopped or 1 tbsp anchovy paste
2-4 tbsp capers, drained
12 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Chili pepper flakes
2 cups Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
1 cup white wine (or extra vegetable stock)
2 cups tomato puree
4-5 cups vegetable stock, heated to a simmer
Finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for sprinkling

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-heat. Add the shallots, anchovies (or paste), capers, olives and chili pepper flakes; cook gently until the shallots are slightly browned. At this point, add your rice, giving it a good stir. You want the rice to toast a bit and absorb all the flavours.

Add the wine and stir. It will be absorbed quickly. Now add the tomato puree. Again, stir it a bit and keep your eye on it. In a few minutes, it will get thick as the rice starts to absorb it and take on an intense tomato flavour.

Now start adding the broth. Lower the heat to medium and pour the broth, one cup at a time adding more when it’s absorbed. Stir constantly to keep risotto from sticking to the pan. Add salt as needed (I didn’t add any and it was perfectly flavoured). Continue to do this for the next 15-20 minutes, until the risotto is al dente (soft to the tooth), not too liquid and not too dry.

Remove from the heat and add the parsley and half the pine nuts. Use the rest of the pine nuts to garnish each serving.

Sprinkle each plate with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to finish.

Source: David Rocco’s Dolce Vita


Homemade Vanilla Bean Agave Marshmallows

I’ve been eyeing up recipes for homemade marshmallows for years but never got around to actually trying them. However, when I stumbled upon this one I knew I had to try it immediately.

First, I popped out to a local kitchen supply store to pick up a candy thermometer, which is a critical piece of equipment for making these fluffy little pieces of heaven.

These were surprisingly simple to make and taste so delicious! They are perfect to give as a little holiday gift for enjoying in some hot cocoa. Once you try them, as with many homemade alternatives, you will likely never be able to go back to the store bought version again.


3 packets unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light agave syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
Icing sugar, for dusting

Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in a small bowl; let it sit while you make the syrup.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, agave, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a medium sized saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and, using caution not to boil over, cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (careful it doesn’t boil over, this will be hot). Remove from the heat.

Add the gelatin mixture and scraped vanilla bean to the bowl of your stand mixer, outfitted with your whisk attachment.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Be very careful as the sugar is extremely hot and can result in third degree burns if it comes into contact with your skin (I put on my oven mitts to protect myself while pouring the sugar).

Set the mixer to high speed and whip until the mixture expands and is very thick and glossy – about 17 minutes. It will resemble whipped egg whites. This is very messy as the mixture will spit out of the bowl at this high speed. I recommend using the pouring shield or cover the bowl with a tea towel to avoid splatters. Add the vanilla extract towards the end of the mixing.

Lightly spray a 12 x 17 jelly roll pan or large glass baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. With a sifter or small sieve, generously dust the bottom of the pan with icing sugar. This is probably the most important step, skipping this step will result in the marshmallows sticking to the paper and never coming off.

Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth and dust generously with more icing sugar. Let the marshmallows sit uncovered overnight until they dry out.

Use a cookie cutter (dipped in icing sugar) to make pretty marshmallow shapes or turn the marshmallows onto a board sprinkled with icing sugar and cut them into squares. Dust with more icing sugar to prevent sticking.

**It is not easy to cut these out using cookie cutters – as you can see in the picture above, the edges are less than precise. But, I decided it didn’t matter because they still taste amazing!**

Source: Skinny TasteAdapted from Ina Garten