Norma’s, Palm Springs

Breakfast.  As we’ve all been told a bazillion times, it’s the most important meal of the day, right?

To confess, I’m not really a big breakfast person.  I’m much more likely to grab an apple or muffin on the go than I am to sit down and you know, actually eat.  Like with a table and flatware and stuff.  Unless you are talking about something special, something I normally wouldn’t make at home on those rare occasions when I actually cook breakfast. Something like Eggs Benedict.

I’ve had a love affair with Eggs Benedict for my entire adult life.  I mean, what’s not to love? English muffin?  Check.   Poached eggs?  Good. Canadian bacon? Even better. Hollandaise?  Just heavenly. For Eggs Benedict, I head to Norma’s, where they have a whole menu category, entitled Benny Sent Me, devoted to five (5!) Benedict variations. Bless them.  While each of these interpretations is noteworthy, I’m partial to the traditional version, which they serve with three eggs, tons of scrumptious, creamy Hollandaise, and a side of fingerling potatoes garnished with fresh, peppery arugula.  

Although I can’t really imagine why, let’s just go ahead and suppose you might want to order something other than Eggs Benedict.  Norma’s will not disappoint.  Crepes, waffles and french toast are all well-represented here, often with a decadent twist, ranging from Valhrona Chocolate Sauce to Toffee Crunch Filling. For those who like a little spice to start their day, there is the Breakfast Quesadilla, a crisped flour tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, a generous amount of chopped bacon, monterey jack cheese and house-made guacamole, all topped with a lively tomato salsa.

Whatever you decide to eat, make sure you do so outside, because this is where Norma’s shines.  The citrus-hued patio has just the right amount of sun and shade, and you can soak up the funky, mid-century mod aesthetic (courtesy of Jonathan Adler), thoughtfully framed by a gorgeous garden.

It is the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and Norma’s will start you out with a complimentary shot of their smoothie of the day.  On this particular occasion, our fruity concoction was peach, passion fruit, and mango, with a little hint of coconut. If you like the smoothie shot (and I’m pretty sure you will) you can also order it by the carafe, and you can even enjoy it mixed into a cocktail if you so desire (which, of course,we did).  I’ve been told that boozy breakfasts are totally okay, nutritionally speaking, as long as you include some fruit.  This seems reasonable, and I’m giving it my whole-hearted support.

Finish up with a nice cappuccino or an individual french press pot of coffee and, just maybe, dessert.  Dessert after breakfast?  Aw, go ahead – start the day off right.  It’s important, remember?

norma's cappuccino

Details:

Norma’s (at the Parker Palm Springs)
4200 East Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA  92264
Phone:  760.770.5000
Parker Palm Springs website, here.

norma's

Quick Jambalaya

You know that “one-pot meal” bandwagon?  Yeah, I’m still on it.

It functions as a sort of flip side to all those multi-course extravaganzas the holiday season brings.  So easy, with minimal clean-up, and a whole lotta taste.  Casual, delicious and comfortable, when a quiet evening in is something you are really looking forward to.

This quick jambalaya fits the bill nicely.  There are likely as many “traditional” recipes for jambalaya as there are cooks, but it nearly always resembles a thicker rice stew, as opposed to a soup. This is a spicy version, for a little less heat, just omit the cayenne pepper.  Use a good quality andouille – I’ve had great results with Aidells Cajun Style Andouille.

The most unique thing about this jambalaya is the cherry tomatoes – they really add a lovely flavor that other types of canned tomatoes don’t even come close to replicating. Taste has the very best canned cherry tomatoes I’ve ever sampled, and I use them whenever I can get them.  Until I went looking for them, I had no idea that canned cherry tomatoes were so hard to find – I’d just assumed they would be as readily available at my local market as other canned tomato products.  If you can’t locate them, fresh cherry tomatoes make a good substitute – just dip them in a pot of lightly salted boiling water for about 90 seconds to soften the skins.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes from the pot and place them in a bowl.  Allow them to cool, then crush them lightly with a pestle or the back of a spoon.  Set them aside at room temperature until the recipe calls for them to be added.

One pot + one hour = dinner.  Dining while in your pajamas is, of course, optional.

Quick Jambalaya
Makes four servings.  Adapted from Martha Stewart, here.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into one-inch pieces
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1/4- inch rounds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
2 cups chicken broth or stock
14 ounces crushed cherry tomatoes with juice
1 cup long-grain rice

In a large heavy stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, place in pot and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown (about 10 to 12 minutes).  Add vegetables and sausage and cook an additional 8-10 minutes.   Stir in garlic, cook 1-2 minutes. Add Old Bay seasoning and cayenne pepper and stir through to combine.  Mix in stock, tomatoes and water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Add rice, stir through to combine, cover and simmer on low heat until rice is cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for five minutes before serving.

Note:  Jambalaya can be made up to two days in advance.  Reheat, covered, on medium-low temperature.  If jambalaya has become too thick, thin with a tablespoon or two of stock or water while reheating.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta

Ah, soup.  I’m a big fan.

What’s not to like?  You throw everything in a pot, and whether it simmers slowly all day or is done in an hour, you still only have that one pot to clean.  So easy.

This soup is one of my favorites –  butternut squash is draped with pancetta and roasted in the oven, then pureed.  Its hearty and flavorful, and practically screams autumn.  Plus, it so deliciously, gloriously golden-orange – there is some serious beta-carotene going on here.

A word about how much squash to buy – you’ll need about 6 pounds of the flesh for the recipe, and you won’t be using the stem, seeds, or skin.  I find it best to buy by weight, rather than number of squash.  Approximately six and a half pounds of whole squash on the grocer’s scale will yield the proper amount, usually four small or two medium-sized butternuts.  I usually make the soup with homemade stock, but purchased low-sodium chicken broth from the market is a good stand-in.

The original recipe indicated it would serve twelve, but in reality, even with sides or served as a a starter, ten servings is the maximum.  I’ve served it as the soup course for a traditional thanksgiving meal, and for a starter with practically everything (from a crown roast of pork to stuffed cornish game hens) – all with fantastic results.  The soup is also terrific starring as the main attraction, with a mixed platter of sandwiches, a spinach salad, or a simple kale tart on the side.  Served in a big tureen, it is a warm, welcome addition to any fall or winter buffet.

If you happen to have leftovers, mix any remaining pancetta crumbles right into the soup and pop it in the freezer – it will last for up to two months.

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta
Makes 10 servings.  Slightly adapted from Food and Wine, here.

6 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium-sized or 4 small)
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces (dependent upon number of squash used)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 ounces of thinly sliced pancetta*
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2  tablespoons dried thyme, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 quarts chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400℉.  Line rimmed baking trays with parchment. Halve the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place on prepared baking trays, cut side up.  Place a piece of butter in each squash cavity, season with salt and pepper, and drape evenly with sliced pancetta.  Roast in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until tender (squash should pierce easily through with a fork).

Transfer crisped pancetta to a paper towel to drain, then crumble and set aside.  Scoop the squash flesh from the skins into a large bowl.  Set aside.

In a large, heavy stockpot, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add garlic and thyme, and heat for 2 minutes more.  Stir in the reserved squash, the chicken stock or broth, and the bay leaf and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat to low and remove the bay leaf.  With an immersion blender, puree soup in pot until completely smooth. Alternately, carefully transfer soup to a heatproof bowl with a pouring spout and, working in batches, puree in a blender or food processor until smooth, then return to pot.  Stir in the heavy cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low until heated through.

Transfer soup to bowl and garnish with reserved crisped pancetta crumbles.  Serve immediately.

* Pancetta:  If you don’t have pancetta on hand, bacon is a fine substitute.

Note:  Soup can be made up to two days ahead.  Reheat the soup on medium temperature, covered.  Reheat pancetta separately.  If soup has become too thick, thin with a tablespoon or two of stock or water while reheating.

Tip:  Poured into a jar, individually-sized portions make great thinking-of-you gifts for friends and family, especially during cold and flu season.

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Owls

Things are getting spooky.

This month, which celebrates all things creepy, crawly and downright scary, you may find yourself eating and drinking some weird-looking stuff.  Halloween revelry can go a little looney that way.  Along with all the dry ice cauldrons of witches’ brew, there will be party fare that, visually speaking, veers on the morbid side – bugs and mold, blood and guts, severed limbs and spiderwebs. And, sometimes, eyeballs free-floating in your glass. Suddenly, black and orange and gross all over is in. Deliciously fiendish.

For the most gloriously macabre confections you’ve ever seen, check out Lou Lou P’s Delights.   While the Halloween Lovers fruitcake and the Classic Horror red velvet cupcakes are eerie, the Women in Horror cake pops (via Laughing Squid) are truly frightening.  Plus, they are heads impaled on sticks… how very Vlad!

Dialing down the terror and turning toward the whimsical are these toasted coconut shortbread owls.  Light, buttery and crisp, with a lovely coconut accent – and without the overly chewy texture often associated with coconut. Toasting and grinding the coconut enhances the flavor, while eliminating the “grit”.  If you don’t have pure coconut extract on hand, you can double down on the vanilla in its place.      

With shortbread,  it is fair to say that butter is the star, so use the very best you can.  For this recipe, I used Straus Family Creamery European-Style Organic Unsalted Butter.  The high butterfat content (85%) is just perfect for this cookie, yielding an excellent, crumbly composition and uniform light golden brown color.

These are very good plain, but here I’ve topped the cookies with a little melted chocolate drizzle for some extra sweetness.  Just because I give a hoot.   

     

Toasted Coconut Shortbread Owls
Makes about 36 cookies.  Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, here.  Original recipe from Bon Appetit, here.

Cookies:
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure coconut extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cup flour

Chocolate Drizzle:
4 – 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the cookies:  Preheat oven to 325℉.  Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment and spread coconut on top.  Bake about 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until coconut is light golden throughout. Allow to cool completely, then pulse in a food processor or blender until coarsely ground. Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Mix in extracts and salt.  Stop mixer, add in half of the flour, and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Repeat with remaining flour.  Add reserved toasted coconut, mixing until just incorporated.  Remove dough from bowl, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least one hour*.

Preheat oven to 325℉.  Line two rimmed baking trays with parchment and set aside. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin, and roll out dough disc to a scant 1/4-inch thickness.  Using cookie cutter (the owl I used was about 3 inches tall by 1 1/4 inches wide), cut dough into owl shapes.  Transfer cookies to reserved baking trays, spacing about an inch apart.  Gather dough scraps, roll out dough again, and cut out remaining cookies.

Once all cookies have been cut, place trays in the oven and bake until light golden, about 15-17 minutes, rotating trays halfway through the baking process.  Cool on baking trays 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the chocolate drizzle:  On the stovetop, heat a small saucepan of water to simmering.  Place chopped chocolate and one tablespoon of the butter in a small, heatproof bowl.  Set the bowl on top of the simmering water and heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is completely melted, adding more butter as necessary (up to 2 tablespoons) to achieve piping consistency (chocolate should be smooth and shiny). Remove from heat.

Spoon chocolate mixture into an icing bag fitted with a small tip, and pipe over cooled cookies immediately.  Allow chocolate to set completely, about 30 minutes.

Cookies will keep for up to one week, stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature.

*  Refrigerated dough can be prepared up to two days in advance.  Allow to soften slightly, for a few minutes, at room temperature before rolling out.

Crochet Pot Holders

Fall has arrived. Officially.

Although it isn’t going to dip down much below 100 ℉ during the daytime for awhile, the nights will soon begin to cool off, bit by bit.  Here in the desert we will still enjoy warm days with sunshine and swimming and well, summer, for longer than most, but after sundown things will slowly segue into more of what I refer to as “oven-friendly temperatures.”  It is a subtle seasonal shift – not at all like the autumn of cooler climes.  No changing leaves or coats in sight, just a refreshing breeze in the evenings.  In other words, good baking weather.

This year, I have aspirations to try my hand at a few things I’ve not made before –  a danish kringle, mini dessert soufflés, baked alaska (gasp), a traditional cassoulet, a few savory baked puddings, cinnamon buns, croissants, and several different kinds of bread.  I know, I can’t believe I’ve never made cinnamon buns either, but there it is.

In celebration (and preparation), I broke out my new pot holders, gifted to me by my mother, who is a crocheting fiend.  This particular group reminds me of creamsicles, sans the drippy part.  I love how she mixes up the patterns, so that each one is a little different – a chevron, a stripe and a color-block.  She’s clever that way.  Plus, she knows I will use the pot holders much more than any scarf or cap she might send my way.

Whether vintage or newly-crafted, crochet pot holders seem to be popping up all over. Finally, a trend I can get behind!  Although I have my own little stash, that doesn’t stop me from admiring more of these handmade gems, here and there. Below is a round-up of five that have recently caught my eye.

One:  Black and white simplicity by textile artist Renilde de Peuter via Remodelista, here.

Two:  Celestial blue grouping, also by Belgian artist Renilde de Peuter via Remodelista. More on Renilde and her label, At Swim Two Birds, here.

Three:  Kitsch and character to spare – and just a bit spooky.  Fringe-eared owl via Sew Lucky Boutique, here.

Four:  Vintage offbeat floral in a sunshiny spectrum via Quirky Quriosities, here.

Five:  Turquoise and unbleached cotton result in rustic elegance via Divisions T Designs, here.

Lastly, I’m mesmerized by this stunning kaleidoscopic installation from conceptual artist Ana Tuominen (via Things Bright, here), which manages to elevate the everyday pot holder into a magnificent mosaic.  Simultaneously gorgeous and contemplative.

Nothing inspires creativity, in the kitchen or elsewhere, like a thing of beauty.

Happy autumn baking adventures!

Corn Chowder with Bacon

My good friend, Mike, has a t-shirt that reads “Bacon Makes Everything Better”. He wears it frequently, especially when our group goes out for breakfast. Every so often, whatever restaurant we happen to be eating in brings him an extra side of bacon, gratis, usually with a big smile and a compliment for his shirt.  Whenever this happens, we are all ecstatic, because there is more bacon, free bacon, which Mike graciously shares with us (one of the many reasons we all love Mike).

I think his tee resonates because it’s true – practically everything is better with bacon. Yes, I said practically, because I never could jump on that bacon-in-desserts bandwagon.  I’ll take a pass on that bacon and chocolate ice cream.  I don’t want meat in my trifle, pudding, or cake.  But bacon on everything else, everything savory?  Yes, please.

This creamy chowder marries the salty smokiness of bacon with fresh, sweet corn. Although it contains bacon fat, butter, milk and cream, which makes it sound as though it would be heavy, it is surprisingly quite light.  In a pinch, you can substitute frozen corn for the fresh – just add it straight from the freezer without thawing.  I often use two large jalapeños or one jalapeño and one serrano, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your taste by using milder or hotter peppers.  For helpful information on choosing peppers, check out this graphic Scoville Heat Index (via Greg Emerson Bocquet), here.

This soup can stand alone as a meal, but if you want to up your bacon ante (and really, who doesn’t?) it is terrific paired with the classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  For those over their bacon limit, the chowder is also great with a simple grilled cheese.

Corn Chowder with Bacon
Makes four servings.  Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, here.

6 ounces bacon, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 1/2 cups fresh yellow corn (kernels from about 3 ears)
1 1/2 cups small white potatoes, diced
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk

In a medium stockpot, cook bacon over medium-high heat until fully crisped.  Remove bacon with tongs or a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.  Set aside.

Discard all but two tablespoons of the bacon drippings.  Add the butter, onion, shallot, celery and thyme to the stockpot.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook over medium-low heat for four to five minutes.  Stir in garlic and jalapeño pepper and cook about three to four minutes more.  Add chicken broth or stock, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Add corn and potatoes and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in cream and milk until incorporated, and simmer, stirring frequently, until soup is heated through.  Ladle into bowls and serve hot, garnished with the reserved crisped bacon pieces.

Proof Bakery, Los Angeles

Is it possible to fall in love with a bakery?

In case you were wondering, it is.  Most definitely.

Especially so if the establishment in question is Proof, a quirky, mod little jewel box of a bakery located in Los Angeles.

The smallish scale of the actual building belies the plethora of choices here, which may be your only conundrum – what to order?  Sweet and savory, Proof has it all going on, simultaneously. Those cases and counters are jammed full of good stuff – quiches, breads, tarts, galettes, cakes, cookies (sandwiches debut at noon each day).  The menu varies to take full advantage of seasonal produce.  All that plus fresh juice and fantastic coffee, via Handsome Coffee Roasters and Cognoscenti Coffee.

This dizzying bounty temporarily distracted me from my primary purpose, a mission really, to sample their chocolate chip cookies.  I’d been referred by a friend who is adamant that the baking wizards at Proof make The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie, Ever. Being a lifelong devotee of chocolate chip cookies (a sort of a unofficial ambassador, really), I decided it fell within the scope of my duties to investigate fully.  This kind of claim can’t just be allowed to hang out there in the universe, unsubstantiated.

Although self-appointed to this position, I have my credentials – I’ve tried countless chocolate chip cookies from all over (other continents, even!), and it has been super hard work.  Okay, it hasn’t been super hard work, but nevertheless, there it is.  So I marched in to Proof and requisitioned their chocolate chip cookie.  In reality, I just asked the smiling, friendly guy behind the counter for several cookies and paid my modest sum, but “requisitioning” sounds more in line with my self-bestowed title.  We took our treats to one of the little marble-topped window tables, as both of the highly-coveted al fresco spots on the sidewalk were occupied.

I’m not precisely sure if it is the Maldon sea salt, the rich chocolate, the perfect, chewy/crumbly texture, or the fact that they are just the absolutely spot-on amount of sweet, but yes, it was confirmed – these cookies are the best ever.  Swoon.  Proof also offers these same phenomenal chocolate chip cookies as the magnificent foundation for their version of the perennial summer classic, the ice cream sandwich, which features Straus organic vanilla ice cream in the center.  Double swoon.

So now that the whole chocolate chip cookie thing was resolved, we celebrated by eating more stuff, of course.  My companion, who is way more into the savory side of life (like, cheese is an acceptable dessert for him), ordered one of the specials for the day, salami and arugula on stecca.  Basically, it was a salt-flecked, slender baguette, which I’d imagine would taste fabulous with just about anything on it – truly great bread has that way of elevating good, simple ingredients to lofty heights.  He was kind enough to share, then ordered another to go.  I tried to convince him to try one of the sandwiches with beets and goat cheese, which sounded amazing, but he was already quite attached to the salami and arugula combo.  In the end, I relented, mostly because he bought another half-dozen chocolate chip cookies for me for the road (plus a latte and a coconut macaroon).

With a schedule to keep, we left reluctantly, with our traveling provisions, but not before scooping up a bag of the house-made granola and a jar of preserves from Sqirl, for gifts.   

I just knew there was no way those cookies would make it to our next destination intact.

Details:
Proof Bakery
3156 Glendale Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA  90039
Phone:  323.664.8633
Proof website (and menu!), here