August 31, 2014

Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios

When your husband goes away on a weekend-long trip with the boys, sleeping in until noon, catching up on your reading and finally getting to that tardy spring cleaning suddenly feels like the right thing to do... and so therapeutic!  As the exemplary wife I try to be, I just couldn’t send my husband empty-handed on his getaway trip with the guys.  So, besides the usual snack-type and finger food, I also added this summery, berry studded Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios, which turned out to be a big hit!  




Since summer is a joyous fruit bonanza, juicy sweets are inevitably a must.  When I stumbled upon this Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios recipe while thumbing through the June issue of Bon Appétit, I instantly knew I wanted to make it and take advantage of the bright, fresh berries that abound at the markets these days.  The initial recipe called only for raspberries, but I feel that a mixture of berries enhances the texture and adds a vivid color to this blissful cake. 
  



    
This lemon cake is tender and zesty, citrusy and sweet, crunchy and toasty.  The fragile berries work wonderfully nestled in atop the lightly dense batter, while the fruity olive oil complements the lemony sweetness of the cake.  And the nuttiness of the pistachios completes the delightful circle.  This cake sounds, looks and tastes a lot like summer and comes just in time to celebrate the season’s last gasp.  The best part of this sweet treat is that it’s great for dessert and even better for breakfast or brunch, late afternoon snack, or a lovely picnic in the late summer heat.





Lemon Cake with Berries and Pistachios
Adapted from Bon Appétit (June 2014)

Makes: 8 servings

Ingredients:

·         Butter for the pan
·         1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
·         1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         1 ¼ cups plus 2 Tablespoons sugar, divided
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
·         1 Tablespoon plus ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
·         ¾ cup olive oil
·         ½ cup fresh raspberries
·         ½ cup fresh blueberries
·         3 Tablespoons toasted pistachios, chopped





Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Butter and flour a 9-inch diameter springform or cake pan (personally, I think that a springform works better).  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.





Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and 1 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  With the mixer running, add the vanilla extract and 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, then gradually add the oil, mixing just until combined.  Fold in the lemon zest and the dry ingredients.


 

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Scatter the berries over the cake, then the pistachios and 2 Tablespoons of sugar.  Bake the cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes.




Meanwhile, bring the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and the remaining ¼ cup of lemon juice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Let the lemon syrup cool. 





Transfer the hot cake (still in the pan) to a wire rack and immediately brush the cake with the lemon syrup (use all of it).  Let the cake cool completely in the pan.      





Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

July 31, 2014

Tableau at Wynn

I know we’re in the midst of the scorching summer and Las Vegas, where the mercury escalates to mind-numbing temperatures this time of the year, is probably the last place on Earth you’d want to be.  But if you do find yourself in the baking heat of Sin City, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to Tableau at Wynn Hotel and Casino for an unforgettable breakfast, lunch or weekend brunch.



 
I haven’t reviewed a restaurant in a very long time, and I think that Tableau is an ideal fine dining restaurant to get back in the saddle.  Tableau is a bright and charming little spot tucked away in the serene vicinity of the Wynn Tower suites.  Upon arriving, you enter a bohemian and whimsical setting with a breathtakingly stunning décor flooded with fresh flowers, natural light, cozy chairs with adorable designs on every backrest, immaculate linens, and a gorgeous single rose on each table.  



Besides the food at Tableau, I cannot rave enough about the staff: impeccably trained, attentive and eager to accommodate any extravagant requirement.  On top of it, even your purse gets a specially crafted stool to sit on!  And before I finally move on to the most important subject – the food – at Tableau you have the option of dining inside, in the romantic conservatory while enjoying a sweeping view or poolside.  Everything here is so classy yet relaxed and the perfect place to spend your day.   
   




Now, let’s talk about the food, which, in my humble opinion, is particularly good.  From the start, you should know that Tableau only offers breakfast and lunch from Monday through Friday, and brunch on the weekends, so plan accordingly.  Also, be advised that the regular and vegetarian / vegan menus at Tableau change throughout the year, and seasonal items are added and dropped regularly, but there is always a vast assortment of tantalizing and sophisticated items to choose from that are nothing short of stellar!  Here are our favorites:

-          Juices and smoothies
-          Roasted Clam & Corn Chowder
-          Handmade Orecchiette
-          House-made Pappardelle with Duck Confit
-          Soft Shell Crab Sandwich
-          Banana-Sour Cream Pancakes
-          Hot Beignets
-          Vanilla Latte
-          Cappuccino        

First off, I need to mention the bread basket.  On our first visit to Tableau, we were treated to a rather traditional bread basket filled with a couple of slices of sourdough bread, popovers, which I’m mildly obsessed with, and house-made crackers.  Currently, waiters meander around the dining area with a large bread basket loaded with four different types of complimentary popovers including cornbread and bacon popovers.  Needless to say, I opt for the cornbread while Adrian goes for the bacon popover. 




Tableau offers an eclectic selection of detoxifying freshly squeezed juices and smoothies plus an additional juice of the day.  Below, you have the Flight of Fresh Juices, which comes with samples of their three main juices, Orange Zest (a mixture of orange, carrot, ginger, asian pear and nectar), Red Deliciousness (a mix of fuji apple, bell pepper, pomegranate, beet and lime), and Purify (a combination of honeydew, green apple, kale, spinach, cayenne and organic honey.)   




The Roasted Clam & Corn Chowder listed on the Lunch menu is a must for a corn junkie like me.  This soup is sweet and savory, creamy yet light, with a delicate smokiness, a vibrant punch from the poblano pepper, richness from the bacon, and a cheesy crunch from the house-made crackers.  You’ll also receive a side of hot sauce to drizzle over the soup for that extra kick of spiciness and light acidity.  Personally, I skipped the hot sauce and fully enjoyed this out of this world super delicious soup unadorned.  I was very, very happy! 




As mentioned above, the restaurant provides a generous vegetarian / vegan menu.  On our last visit, we decided to try the Handmade Orecchiette with wild mushrooms, asparagus and fresh tomatoes, although we’re both die hard carnivores.  Truth be told, I didn’t think there was anything ground-breaking about this dish, but it was definitely simple, elegant, and very tasty.




To continue with the pasta theme, our most memorable pasta dish is hands down, the House-made Pappardelle with Duck Confit.  It is a rustic yet refined plate of freshly made artisanal black-pepper pappardelle pasta served with tender house-made Muscovy duck confit, sautéed organic spinach, and a poached organic egg, and finished with a few drizzles of extra-virgin olive oil, fleur de sel and a couple of shaves of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The good thing about this luxurious delicacy is that it’s a truly glorious dish.  The bad thing about it is that it’s no longer the menu.  But I wanted to tell you about it so that you see the fine art, quality ingredients and small details that go into preparing the sophisticated dishes at Tableau.  
           



La pièce de résistance, however, is without a doubt the Soft Shell Crab Sandwich.  A fat, meaty soft shell crab, deep fried to a perfect crunch layered on fresh bibb lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes and fried onions, nestled in a toasty brioche roll and smeared with a lovely creole rémoulade.  The sandwich is accompanied by seasoned fries and a wonderfully sweet and tangy house-made ketchup speckled with tomato seeds that I couldn’t get enough of.  This sandwich will rock your world and I don’t see it going away anytime soon.     




The Banana-Sour Cream Pancakes are the best pancakes I’ve ever had!  They are great as your breakfast main course, sweet treat or shared dessert after a copious meal.  These sour cream and lemon pancakes are adorned with slices of banana, nutty and crusty house-made granola, dusted with powdered sugar, and smartened up with a good shower of pure Vermont maple syrup.  I should probably add that they are nothing short of spectacular; light and airy, dense and rich, not the slightest bit heavy or rubbery or bland, but packed with flavor and delicate texture, just how proper homemade pancakes should taste like.  It didn’t take us long to polish the plate until it shined.   




For a more proper dessert, try the Hot Beignets injected with boozy caramel sauce and drenched in powdered sugar.  All you have to do is dip them in the side of decadent chocolate sauce and fully enjoy these boozed-up cottony pillows.  Heaven!   





And to end an excellent meal, order a frothy cappuccino or a cup of vanilla latte.  Either one will seal the deal quite nicely.




One final word, like with many other restaurants at Wynn and Encore, it’s always a good idea to make reservations ahead of time.  If you’re celebrating anything in particular it never hurts to let them know.  And I’d encourage you to venture out to Tableau at the beginning of your Las Vegas trip because you might want to go back!




Restaurant Information:
Tableau
Wynn Resort Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 770-3463
Tableau serves breakfast daily 7-11:30 am and lunch 11:30 am-2:30 pm.

June 30, 2014

Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto

With summer finally here, the markets abound with fresh herbs, making this season the perfect time to transform those tender greens from mere garnishes into the stars of your meals.  Therefore, I’d like to introduce you to this vibrant and vegetarian recipe of Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto!    


  

What I really love about this summer dish, besides its sublime simplicity, is its daring versatility.  Although, basil is the main player in the classic pesto, replacing it with the sturdy, more affordable and available year-round parsley makes for a bright and balanced sauce.  Swapping in walnuts (which I always have lingering in my pantry) for almonds also works wonders.  Tossing in some garlic instead of chives will nicely boost the entire mixture.  Lastly, adding white cheddar in lieu of “the king of cheeses” never worked better.  Needless to say, this recipe is wide open to adaptations; personally, I prefer the parsley, flat-leaf or curly, whichever I can get my hands on, but feel free to try it with basil or cilantro for a new dimension and elegant transformation.     





There’s nothing labor-intensive about this meal; in fact, you don’t even have to cook anything but the pasta, yet the flavors and nuances are complex and sophisticated.  The freshness and vivid color of the parsley shine through.  The nuttiness of the almonds adds depth, while the subtle garlicky aroma fades quietly in the background.  The floral olive oil and the mild sharpness of the cheese enhance the herbal notes and make this dish mighty successful.  Enjoy and Happy Fourth of July!  

  


         
Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appétit (June 2013)

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients:

·         1 lb. spaghetti or bucatini
·         Kosher salt
·         ½ cup unsalted, roasted almonds or walnuts
·         4 cups (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (curly parsley also works well)
·         1 clove of garlic (the recipe calls for  ¾ cup chopped fresh chives, but I don’t always have them on hand and I found that garlic works very well, too)
·         ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
·         ½ cup finely grated white cheddar cheese or Parmesan
·         Freshly ground black pepper




Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente.  Drain, reserving about 2 cups of pasta cooking liquid.    





Meanwhile, pulse the almonds in a food processor until smooth.  Add the parsley, garlic, oil and cheddar cheese, and process until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.  




Toss the pasta and pesto in a large bowl, adding pasta cooking liquid, ¼ cup at a time, until saucy.  Season with salt and pepper. 




Do ahead: Pesto can be made 5 days ahead.  Cover the surface directly and chill.





Note:  You can also try this recipe with basil or cilantro. 



Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

May 24, 2014

Fish Soup with Fennel and Baby Potatoes

Bon Appétit calls this dish a Fish Stew with Fennel and Baby Potatoes, a perfectly acceptable name except that this fish concoction seemed at odds with the description “stew” especially after I had toyed with it and custom-made it to fit my wishes.  In the end, it turned out to be a gloriously light and meaty fish and broth mélange, something that nestled comfortably between a soup and a chowder.  Rachael Ray might name this fish soup a choup, meaning that it’s thicker than a soup but not quite a chowder, but I’ll simply call it a Fish Soup with Fennel and Baby Potatoes





Whatever you decide to call it, make sure you try this recipe!  It’s super easy and fast to whip up and the result is deliciously refined.  I first made this soup a couple of days after I laid my eyes on it in the April issue of Bon Appétit and more than half a dozen times since.  But the best part about this simple yet flavor-complex fish soup is that it instantly brings me back to Westport, MA and The Bayside Restaurant where I used to religiously devour their legendary Rhode Island style chowders (and the ridiculously stuffed lobster roll) on our regular trips to the beach every summer when we lived in Boston.  





Overall, this dish is so refreshing and summery, piled up with subtle flavors and silky fish.  The crème fraȋche gives the soup a pleasant richness while still keeping a thin and light broth.  The corn and potatoes add a tad of sweetness and that extra level of texture, the dill brings freshness and color, whereas the highly encouraged squeeze of lemon before serving brightens up the symphony of aromas.  It is so good, you’ll make this soup all summer long!    





Fish Soup with Fennel and Baby Potatoes
Adapted from Bon Appétit (April 2014)

Makes: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

·         ¼ cup olive oil
·         ½ lb. small waxy potatoes (such as baby Yukon Gold), scrubbed, sliced ¼” thick
·         ½ medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
·         2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
·         Salt
·         Freshly ground black pepper
·         ¼ cup dry white wine
·         1 cup frozen corn
·         Heaped ¼ cup crème fraȋche
·         1 ½ lb. skinless flounder or fluke fillet, cut into 2” pieces
·         2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
·         Lemon wedges (for serving)





Instructions:

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the potatoes and cook them, tossing occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the fennel and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is soft, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes.  





Add the corn and 6 cups of water to the pot, season with salt, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10-12 minutes.  Stir in the crème fraȋche.  Add the flounder and 2 more cups of water, cover the pot, and reduce the heat.  Simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.  





Stir the dill into the soup; season with more salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve with lemon wedges.    
  




Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)