Thursday, February 26, 2009

lavender cookie recipe?...go ask alice...

so i joined a book club. my friend brooke emailed me right before the holidays and asked if i would participate if she formed a club...she is amazingly cool and a brilliant writer (check out her blog...AficioNada)...and i immediately said "sign me up!"... last month, seven of us met at zuzu's (a local napa restaurant...tapas...really, really good...) and we crafted the "no rules, rules" for our group. we decided we did not want anything too formal...did not want to feel like we were back in school...and we selected the biography alice waters and chez panisse, by thomas our first book.
regular readers know that i am a broken record regarding using the freshest, best quality available ingredients in cooking...i consider alice waters an icon in this area...i have learned so much from selecting this book for our club was a natural. we agreed to read the book and then hold our first meeting at one of the member's homes and have each of us bring a "chez panisse inspired" dish.

first of all, i loved the book. i remember the first time i ever heard of alice waters...many years ago i was reading a restaurant review in the newspaper about chez panisse...the description of the food was unlike anything i had ever heard...the focus on the ingredients..not only what they were, but where they were from...was so unusual...i was inspired to visit farmer's markets, cheese shops, olive oil producers, bakeries for fresh bread...etc..but this was the early eighties and specialty food shops were not common...even in southern california where i am from...but, if you searched hard enough you could find them....i first ate at chez panisse in the late eighties for a company function...and knew immediately that i would be back as often as i could...every dish was the best i had ever tasted...i have followed the alice credo ever since..."fresh, local, seasonal, and where possible organic ingredients"...are words i live by.

i will refer to alice and the book frequently in upcoming posts...but for today...back to the book club...we had our first "official" meeting last night...there are seven of us...and what a group!...artists, chefs, sales executives, entrepreneurs and a cool is that? to top it off, one of the members had a friend visiting from out of town...who just happens to be a chef...and just happened to intern at chez panisse 5 years ago....we got all the scoops..and even though she had not read the book...she confirmed many of the stories...what a fun night...

so i read the book...even highlighted passages that were especially meaningful to me...and the next task was deciding what dishes to make for the book club meeting. we had agreed to keep it light...salady (i so love to make up words)"chez panissey"(i know, there i go again)... the easiest decision was the wine...they mention bandol rose frequently throughout the book...supposedly alice's i went to my favorite wine shop and purchased a, onto the food...i have been experimenting a lot with dishes made with organic lavender lately. i purchased a large quantity of organic lavender flowers while crafting recipes for our bath and body care bath tea is a natural...and... because it is too early in the season for my own lavender to flower...bought some from a favorite resource. i only use food grade ingredients in my bath & body care having so much lavender around has inspired me to cook with it!! i love the concept of lavender in food...use herbs de provence frequently...but lately, every lavender dish i taste at a restaurant...or just too "lavendery"...a little goes a long way with this herb. the concept of lavender, lemons, cheese and balsamic vinegar was interesting to i landed on an experiment of parmigiano-reggiano cheese with balsamic reduction, served with lavender cookies...i played around with many versions of the cookies...and created a recipe that was light..not too sweet..not too much lavender..balanced with meyer lemon zest..that i fell in love with...the dish was a hit....i now have my lavender cookie that i love cause the lemon and lavender pair beautifully together...and i thought i would share with all of you..please let me know what you think...

step #1..find the best parmigiano-reggiano available
step #2..serve with the balsamic reduction and lavender cookies.

that's where quality available ingredients...very alice...we also had salads, really good bread...and a delicious vegetarian version of eggplant caponata (thank you ashley)....terrific food...even better company...i am going to really like this book club...and will enjoy telling you about it each month.

balsamic reduction
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 tsp organic honey
1 tsp organic agave nectar

add ingredients to saucepan and cook over medium heat until liquid has reduced by half. allow to cool. i always keep this on hand, stored in a mason jar in my refrigerator..drizzle on cheese, fruit (esp strawberries), steak, roasted or poached chicken, steamed vegetables, pound cake....i use this on almost everything...

organic lavender cookies
2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 large egg, room temp
1 tsp lemon zest (preferably meyer lemon)
1 tsp organic lavender flowers

preheat oven to 350 degrees. grease 2 baking sheets or use silpat. set aside. sift together flour, baking soda and salt...set aside. using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. add sugar and cream together until well mixed. add honey and egg and incorporate well. add dry ingredients to mixing bowl and beat until well blended. add lemon zest and lavender and mix until incorporated into batter. drop by teaspoonfuls onto prepared sheets leaving approx. 2 inches of space between each cookie (dough will spread when baking). bake until cookies just begin to turn brown...12-15 minutes. remove from oven and cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. remove cookies from sheets, place on racks and allow to thoroughly cool.

do you have a favorite lavender recipe? please share in the comments section of this you belong to a book club? if so, please tell me about it....oh, btw..our next book is about of my favorite ingredients...i cannot wait to read the book and tell you about it...look for that story sometime in early april...


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

will you help celebrate the napa farmhouse 1885 first anniversary? there is meyer lemon cake!

o.k...there is cake...but you have to make it. the recipe is listed at the end of this post.... today is valentine's day (happy v-day everyone)...but it is also the one year anniversary of this blog. sounds cliche, but i really cannot believe how quickly the time has passed. when i first started blogging i did not have a clear purpose...i just started telling stories about my post-corporate life. as the time passed, the emphasis focused on cooking and eating...using the best possible quality ingredients...and not messing them up with overly complicated recipes...broken record, i know...but my motto "the ingredients really do make the difference" is the theme for this blog...

what i did not expect was the many comments, emails, suggestions, ideas and tips that would come from readers...nor the many regular visitors who have provided tons of support for both my blog and my new business. i think these connections have been the greatest benefit of this process...also, since i love to ramble on, this gives me an outlet so i do not bore my family and friends to death hearing my stories over and over...

while each blog post has been meaningful to me...certain posts have resonated more than others with readers...and have showed up countless times in internet searches...i thought i would celebrate my one year anniversary with a recap of the most requested posts...all in one place for future readers...
hands down, the number one search has been about fresh figs...and my post do you like fresh figs? is read daily. the questions range from "what do i do with figs?" to "do you peel figs?" to "what do figs taste like?" and there are frequent requests for recipes using figs. i have listed a few additional fig recipes in other posts and, since my tree fruits twice each year, plan to write many more stories about figs...there seems to be a major interest in this topic.
a very close second in terms of popularity is my post about popcorn and olive oil...creatively called :) popcorn and olive oil? ....this story gets numerous hits every day with people asking the question..."can you use olive oil when popping popcorn?" the simple answer is yes...but the story was about my family's tradition of drizzling extra virgin olive oil on popcorn...instead of butter...and sprinkling the best grey salt you can find over it all. easy, quick and delicious...and everyone goes nuts over this when i serve at parties...i told the story of making this for the napa valley wine auction a few years ago...was a hit...and the company i represented "stole" the idea and now packages the ingredients as a gift, what a complement!!...try this "recipe"...the secret (as always) is the ingredients...fresh organic popcorn, best quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling, a good evoo for the popping...and really good grey sea salt as the final touch...
i had such fun last summer participating in the martha stewart, everyday food food fest. my friend deb...who was an edf editor, but has since been promoted to executive editor of martha stewart living magazine (congrats deb!!)...started an 8 week blog-a thon focusing on a different summer fruit or vegetable each week. i had a blast with each post...and the recipes for pears, so what do you do with 30 pounds of pears? , for winter squash, is it time for winter squash yet? and, of course, for tomatoes, is it tomato fest time yet? are requested every day.
i think the concept of making soft boiled eggs is intimidating for many people...i wrote a story last fall that was really about my newly discovered love of writing...but my realization that my style...which is a very basic form of story a far cry from truly brilliant writers...and i used the author toni morrison as an example. i thought it would be fun to compare and contrast i took a classic passage from one of my favorite of solomon...and listed my recipe for soft boiled eggs...then toni's. i expected numerous comments regarding the writing ...what i got...and still do daily...are requests for instructions as to techniques for soft boiling eggs...try the egg recipe...more importantly...enjoy toni morrison's beautiful words in soft boiled eggs, anyone?
i could go on and on...talking about recipes for persimmons, or recapping my 30 day thanksgiving series (thanks to all the guest bloggers)...or showing all the photos of mose that have been requested by readers( you will see him peeking at the lemon cake in a few photos today)...but this post would be longer than the preceding 70 posts together (70!!) unless i stop now...
if you are a new reader...welcome..and if you go back to the first few posts you will hear more about my story... for regular readers please keep the comments and emails coming...i so enjoy meeting all of you.
but i promised to help celebrate this anniversary, i am posting my new meyer lemon cake recipe. i have been making this cake for years, but it is "new" because i made this one with agave nectar...i have been experimenting with agave nectar a lot it as a substitute for white sugar...and will write about it the interim..enjoy this very, very intensely lemony anniversary gift to you...

meyer lemon cake
1/2 c fresh meyer lemon juice
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
3 eggs, room temperature, separated
1 tbsp finely chopped meyer lemon zest
1 2/3 c unbleached flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

preheat oven to 325 degrees. lightly oil(i use olive oil) and flour a 9-5-inch loaf pan and set aside.
add the lemon juice, agave nectar, olive oil, egg yolks and lemon zest to a medium mixing bowl and stir together. in a larger mixing bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. in a third bowl, beat the egg whites until you get soft peaks. stir the lemon juice mixture into the dry mixture just until all ingredients are not over mix. gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter until thoroughly combined. pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

bake until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean..approx 45 minutes. cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes...then turn out of pan and place on wire rack. place lemon slices on top of cake and drizzle with glaze. keep on rack until completely cool. (note, i add a plate under the rack to catch glaze drippings)

meyer lemon glaze
1 meyer lemon, thinly sliced
1/2 agave nectar
1/4 c fresh meyer lemon juice (about 2 med lemons)

place all ingredients in small saucepan. cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, 10-12 minutes or until mixture has thickened slightly. cool about 10 minutes before using
enjoy!...and let me know if you try the cake...
diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™
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Friday, February 6, 2009

want some ice cold limoncello this summer?

if you want to make your own, you must start takes 80 days before it is ready. limoncello is a delicious italian liqueur...very, very lemony...traditionally served straight from the freezer. the first time my husband and i visited italy, it was june...unbearably hot...and we discovered limoncello was the you down...after dinner treat. needless to say, we had a lot of limoncello on that forward many years to when we purchased our farmhouse. the first year we planted meyer lemon, lime and mandarin orange trees. wow...napa is this magical place where..."if you plant it it will grow"...our trees started producing fruit the first year...and now it is hard to keep let's start with the meyer lemons which are ripe NOW!!...familiar story to regular readers...many of my "go-to" recipes are inspired by fruits, vegetables or herbs from our garden...and meyer lemon recipes are no exception. in fact, next monday and tuesday will be spent making my meyer lemon marmalade...a family/friends favorite...and this year i will be offering it for sale on our website...i have spent the past few weeks putting lemons in everything...cakes, pies, lemonade, candied peel, vinaigrette, name it..i have juiced millions (only a slight exaggeration) and frozen for year round use..and yesterday..started this year's batch of one of our favorite traditions...limoncello...cause the memory of that first trip to italy...and the smell, taste, look of the country...stays with me...
i have been thinking a lot about italy lately..i love visiting that country...have been fortunate to have been there numerous times for business and pleasure...and living in napa is very similar in many ways...the weather, the terrain, the emphasis on fresh, local, sustainably grown food, the wine...many, many things. my husband is 100% italian, his grandparents immigrated here when they were young...i am 1/2 italian...but my family has been here forever so no italian speaking grandparents on my any case, italy is very special to both of for christmas this year, my husband and i did something a bit different for our gifts to each other. we decided a few years ago that we had enough "stuff"...didn't need more...and would give each other gifts of things we could do together...part of the "i am finally retired from corporate life and can be home more often" lifestyle. last year we did a series of concerts at the opera house here in napa...this year we gave each other "conversational italian" classes. our joke is that... going forward...if we have a disagreement...we can only argue in italian...gestures and all. we figure we will be laughing so hard we will forget about the argument...our first class was thursday...we had a blast...and if you will indulge me...i will practice a tiny bit in some blog posts....i seem to have a large number of regular readers from please feel free to correct me when necessary.

anyway, back to the limoncello...this recipe is easy...delicious..and will become a favorite of your family and friends too...but here is the twist...this will be an interactive recipe...let's make it together...i am encouraging everyone to give it a i am only going to post a bit of the recipe at a time...the following recipe is just for the first part..make it needs to infuse for 40 days...then i will post the next set of will then sit for another 40 days...then, sometime near the end of april it will be ready...just in time for all of us to share a toast to summer.

this recipe makes a lot but, trust me, never too much..and it keeps indefinitely in the freezer...makes 20 8.5 oz bottles..but you can reduce by 1/2 or even 1/4 (i wouldn' friends actually stop by on summer mornings, ask for a bottle..and proceed merrily on their way!)
note, i have experimented with many versions of limoncello...but i discovered this recipe a few year ago in sunset magazine and this has become my favorite...the addition of a small bit of rosemary is brilliant...thank you sunset...

meyer lemon limoncello
step 1
36 meyer lemons
two 4-in rosemary sprigs, washed and dried
2 bottles (750 ml. each) 100-proof vodka such as stolichnaya or smirnoff
2 1-gallon glass jars with a tight seal

peel lemons with citrus peeler, taking only the zest (the top layer). avoid any white pith. put a sprig of rosemary in each jar. place half of zest in one jar and remainder in second jar.

pour 1 bottle vodka over jar of rosemary and zest. repeat with second bottle of vodka over second jar of rosemary and zest. let jars sit undisturbed in a cool, dark place for 40 days...

to be continued

the traditional way italians drink limoncello is straight from the freezer in a well chilled small a shot glass...some people mix with club soda or sparkling water...i say no...go for the straight version...but experiment...and i know i said "after dinner"...but you will find early afternoon, before dinner, sitting around the pool, relaxing on the porch...etc...are all really cool choices..

here's to summer...
please let me know if you decide to participate in the limoncello making party...would love to read about your experience...oh yeah...and if you ask me how i am doing today, i will say..."molto bene, grazie. e tu?" (very good..and you?)


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"
please sign up for our mailing list on the sidebar of this blog....

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