July 25, 2012

Baking with stone fruits

Lately, my life has been revolving around sniffing, eating and baking a lot with stone fruits.  And that’s no wonder since we’re slowly but surely reaching the peak of our most glorious season.  These summertime sensations have been rolling into my kitchen like ambassadors of sheer bliss, fighting for my undivided attention.  I’ve loved peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, nectarines and all their sensuous colorful varieties ever since I was a child, and that’s because they’ve always been and still are a constant presence in my grandma’s kitchen during summertime.  They infuse the air with their addictive ambrosial perfume and you’re instantly hooked. 

I wanted that perfume so badly in my kitchen these days, so I’ve decided to recreate one of my Grandma Vicki’s favorite summer cakes – Peach and Plum Cake.  This is an updated version or better said my own version because my grandma usually prefers to make this cake with either plums or apricots.  I like to give it a twist, more color and zing, and combine zesty plums and velvety peaches.  But the great thing about this cake is that it’s so versatile; peaches, plums, apricots – you get to choose.       

This sweet creation is always a must during the hot months.  And it’s not because stone fruits are widely popular but because it’s a mouthwatering sweet treat.  You simply can’t resist it!  And for me this cake brings back so many wonderful memories of my summers in good old Transylvania.  So, when I made it the delicate ambrosial aroma invaded the entire apartment while the cake was still bubbling in the oven and the fruits were slowly sinking into the buttery dough.  When it was done, I took a bite immediately.  The luscious flesh of the peaches made them so meaty and sugary, a perfect contrast to the juicy and tart plums.  And then there was the soft, springy, sweet dough.  Heavenly…  


What have you been baking lately or what summer fruits fascinate you?  I’d love to hear from you!

Peach and Plum Cake
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Serves: 24 squares


·         250 grams (2 sticks and 2 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
·         6 large eggs, at room temperature
·         300 grams (1 1/3 cup) granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         300 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
·         8 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder
·         Small pinch of salt
·         1 kilogram (2 pounds) – 500 grams (1 pound) each plums (pitted and sliced), and peaches (peeled, pitted and sliced) – feel free to use whatever variety of peaches and plums you love; you can even use frozen peaches and plums; you can also use apricots if you so desire (peeled, pitted and sliced)
·         Confectioners’ sugar


Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Coat the bottom and sides of a 14 by 10-inch baking pan with butter and flour. 

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  

Separate the egg yolks and egg whites.  In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer on medium-low speed beat the butter with the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract for about 2-3 minutes until all the ingredients are well incorporated and the color is light yellow.  In batches, add the flour and baking powder mixture and beat until incorporated.    

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until they hold medium-firm peaks.  In batches, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.   

Pour the obtained batter into the prepared pan.  Arrange the fruits on top alternating the peaches and plums to create a colorful stripelike display.  Sprinkle about ¼ teaspoon of granulated sugar over each slice of peach and plum.  Bake for 50 minutes or until golden brown, a tester comes out clean and the fruits have submerged into the dough.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack.  Slice the cake into squares and carefully take the squares out of the pan and arrange them on a serving platter.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and indulge! 

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

July 20, 2012

Time to detox

After a week in Las Vegas, and after the sensational savory dishes and luscious desserts we had at SW Steakhouse alone, it’s definitely time to detox.  I can’t say that it’s time to go on a diet because that’s too depressing just as it’s going on a scale after a week of intense binge eating.  (To be brutally honest, just hearing the words diet or scale makes me cringe).  If only we had eaten until we were satisfied; or maybe until we were full; but no, we had to go the extra mile and stuff ourselves to the point of bursting.  The history repeats itself every time we’re in Las Vegas.  We never learn…  

Have I ever mentioned that I went on a diet only once in my life?  Yes, it was a long time ago and it involved eating a limpid onion soup with black olives and carrots.  It didn’t sound too bad except for the fact that you were supposed to eat the same tasteless soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 10 days.  So, on day one, I was ecstatic at breakfast, I survived through lunch, but my soup was down the drain by dinner.  I ended my first and last diet the day I started it.  I should have realized that something was dubious about it since you were supposed to lose 10 kilograms in 10 days – that’s 22 pounds in 10 days!  I know, I know – what was I thinking, right?  Well, apparently I wasn’t… Anyway, enough about diets! 

Now, we do have to detox our bodies and turn to greeneries.  The bright side about that is that it’s summer, a time to eat… lighter.  For me that means going for a nice summery Warm Goat Cheese Salad.

I love this salad!  It’s leafy, light, bright and fully satisfying.  The best part about it is that the warm pan fried goat cheese is crispy, creamy and tangy, and acts as the meaty element of this dish.  You don’t even need meat.  You can savor this salad as it is, simple, just the mixed greens, goat cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic, for a lighter version; or, what I like to do is dress it up and make it extra special, heartier, and more colorful by adding sliced crunchy cucumbers, plump cherry tomatoes, briny kalamata olives, dried chewy cranberries, and toasted sliced almonds.  This way, you’re not only enhancing the colors of the salad, but you’re also enhancing the carnival of flavors and textures.  This may be just a salad, but it can also be a substantial meal!   

Warm Goat Cheese Salad
Adapted from Salad with Warm Goat Cheese by Barefoot Contessa

Serves: 6 servings


·         1 (11-ounce) log plain Montrachet goat cheese
·         2 large egg whites, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
·         Plain bread crumbs
·         Extra virgin olive oil
·         Balsamic vinegar
·         Pinch of salt and black pepper
·         Mixed greens, Romaine lettuce, arugula, spinach or any other salad greens that you prefer
·         Optional: a few cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, sliced red pepper, dried cranberries, and toasted almonds
·         1 Tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil and 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, for frying


Slice the Montrachet into 12 (1/2-inch-thick) slices using a length of sewing thread or dental floss.  This is the easiest way to slice goat cheese.  Dip each slice into the beaten egg whites, then the bread crumbs, being sure the cheese is thoroughly coated.  Place each slice on a rack or plate and chill them for at least 15-20 minutes. 

Divide the salad greens and the rest of the vegetables and nuts if using among 6 plates.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Melt 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and 1 Tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Cook the goat cheese rounds quickly on both sides until browned on the outside but not melted inside.  Top each salad with 2 warm rounds of goat cheese, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and serve.     

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

July 14, 2012

SW: The Wynning Steak

Adrian and I have recently returned from a fantastic 4th of July week in Las Vegas.  Unfortunately, we didn’t become millionaires from gambling.  And that would actually be extremely difficult to do since we don’t gamble.  (The most I ever bet was $5 at a slot machine, when I first traveled to Las Vegas a few years ago, and that was only because I always wanted to pull the handle of a slot machine like I had seen in the movies; I gambled $5 and got out $10; since I had doubled my investment I didn’t want to push my luck, so I happily took my money and never bet again.)  We didn’t gamble but we did bake in consistently excruciating 110°F+ temperatures and we did give in to our gluttonous nature and stuffed ourselves with some spectacular food.  As a result of the intense eating binge, my weight has climbed into a whole new zone…  Quite depressing but nothing unusual after a week in Vegas; hopefully, it will descend back to sea level in no time. 

So, let’s talk about food, which, by the way, is the surest bet in Vegas.  More importantly, the Las Vegas food scene has been booming over the past few years.  Numerous celebrity chefs, such as Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Scott Conant to name just a few, have opened restaurants here, and now tourists not only fritter away their money at casinos and shows, but they also explore Sin City’s food selections.  Will the gambling industry in Las Vegas eventually succumb to the food industry?  We’ll have to wait and see.

There is a plethora of superb restaurants in Vegas for every budget, culture, and appetite.  But today, I want to focus on steakhouses.  Specifically, I want to tell you about the SW Steakhouse at Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  Contrary to the famous saying that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, the wonderful time and meal, which we have always had at SW Steakhouse, are tattooed on my brain and taste buds until we go back again.  We have been to Steve Wynn’s steakhouse (SW comes from Steve Wynn’s initials; apparently he couldn’t think of a better name) about half dozen times, and the experience and food never disappoint.  So, last week on 4th of July, when Las Vegas was finally savoring the first drops of rain in 68 days, we decided that it was time to savor again the terrific food at SW and celebrate Independence Day in style.

Every time we go to SW I can barely contain my excitement on my way to the restaurant; and when we arrive at the beautiful rotating parasols, descend on the spiraling escalators, and land right in front of the grand entrance at SW I have butterflies in my stomach.  I know that I’ve been there before and I’m familiar with the modern and sleek décor, elegant and welcoming ambiance, and the staff’s impeccable professionalism, but I can’t control myself.  And let’s not omit that the terrace at SW overlooks the whimsical Lake of Dreams, an environment that changes and morphs every half hour, and which transports you to a whole different world while offering an unforgettable experience.  

Here are some of our favorite dishes that we’ve ordered during our several visits to SW Steakhouse
-          Heirloom Tomato Salad
-          Steve’s Chopped Salad with Avocado
-          Bigeye Tuna Ceviche
-          Corn Soup
-          Chile Rubbed Double Rib Eye
-          Black Truffle Creamed Corn
-          Au Gratin Potatoes
-          Funnel Cakes and Strawberries with Chocolate, Crème Anglaise and Salty Caramel dipping sauces
-          SW Pomegranate Martini

I should first start with the decadent bread basket.  A delightful warm selection of crusty French baguette, soft salty pretzel, and dangerously addictive oven baked bacon and cheddar muffins, which can’t go unnoticed.  Of course this lovely assortment of breads does not come alone, but is accompanied by a delicate square of herbed butter.  To be quite honest, you could easily devour this sophisticated bread basket and leave fully satisfied.  So, when you go to SW make sure you don’t gobble up the entire basket and you do leave some room for the sumptuous courses.  

The vividly colorful Heirloom Tomato Salad is a nice and light way to start your meal.  The red and yellow tomatoes are so fresh and crisp, while the round bite size mozzarella globes are mild and soft.  The sweet and acidic balsamic glaze sharpens and highlights the flavors of the ingredients and brings the entire dish together.  This dainty starter is like a modern version of the traditional caprese salad.

Steve’s Chopped Salad with Avocado is a more generous portion, big enough for two to share as an appetizer.  Besides being a substantial serving, the salad abounds in fresh vegetables, which are harmoniously bound together by the smooth and buttery avocado.  The mustardy vinaigrette adds a kick and magnifies the nuances of the dish, while the messy hair made of crispy potatoes adds great texture and takes the presentation to a new level. 

The Bigeye Tuna Ceviche is another memorable appetizer and great for sharing.  The tuna is so fresh, plump and delicate and just melts in your mouth.  The bits of mango and grapefruit are beautifully dispersed throughout adding color and zing.  And those crackly sesame crackers bring in that much needed crunchy element.  Swirl the crispy sesame crackers in the ceviche and the avocado cream and take a bite.  You’ll instantly want more.  Simply delicious!  

We were blown away the first time we tried the Corn Soup.  Being listed under the vegan menu, we were a tiny bit skeptical, but we decided to give it a try.  Even now, I’m drooling just thinking about it.  This soup is so smooth, rich, sweet, piquant, and has a great depth of flavor.  The pepperiness of the cilantro brings an unexpected elegant aroma; the pickled peppers add a kick of astringency to lighten up the soup; and the porcini mushrooms add meatiness.  This dish can be described in just two simple words – vegan perfection!  If this is what vegan tastes like, sign me up.

Now, let’s get down to business and talk about the 42 ounces Chile Rubbed Double Rib Eye.  Where should I begin?  I’ll begin by telling you that this is the most tender and succulent piece of meat my palate has ever been graced with.  The knife cuts the medium rare rib eye steak like butter.  Needless to say, this one melts in your mouth.  In addition, this ginormous portion of steak (big enough for at least three people to devour) comes already sliced floating in a lake of oozing flavorful juices, and surrounded by colorful and dangerously spicy chile peppers and grilled sweet onions.  It’s a gorgeous sight.  The chile rub gives the meat smokiness and a subtle kick of heat without being overwhelming but enough to wake up your taste buds.  Best steak ever, period!

The Black Truffle Creamed Corn.  I can’t rave enough about this side dish.  We always order two, because you know me, I worship corn, and this one I’m not willing to share, not even with my beloved husband.  Sorry, dear!  This scrumptious creamed corn is a perfect balance of sweetness and creaminess, while the truffles bring elegance and earthiness without being overpowering.  This decadent dish simply adds a new texture to the entire meal and elevates the whole experience.  Even if you don’t like corn, you have to try this!  You’ll be seduced at first bite. 

The glossy golden brown top of the Au Gratin Potatoes predicts a hot cheesy velvety middle.  These potatoes are so unctuous, fancy and the perfect starch for the steak.  When we first ordered them, I didn’t even dare to poke them with the spoon; that crust is flawless and they look so beautiful in their little ramekin.  But our appetite and curiosity triumphed and made us give in. These potatoes are a godsend!

Finally, I have to mention the outstanding Funnel Cakes dessert.  You shouldn’t leave SW without having ordered this spectacular sweet treat.  So, as a heads up, leave room for dessert, you won’t regret it!  First of all, the presentation will knock your socks off.  The six or so doughnuts lightly dusted with powdered sugar are hanging on the branches of a metal tree; at the bottom of the tree you have five or so perfectly ripe and amazingly sweet strawberries, and a trio of dipping sauces: Chocolate, Crème Anglaise and Salty Caramel.  The whole presentation is imposing and simply stunning, a very Las Vegas visual.  While eating this dessert I feel like I’m apple picking; but it’s even better since I’m picking doughnuts!  Thank God for doughnuts! There’s a bit of heaven in every bite.  Without the sauces these airy doughnuts are stellar; with the sauces they are orgasmic.  The strawberries top it all off by adding that touch of freshness and lightness to this decadent dessert.  Bottom line, this dessert is in a league of its own!   

The perfect accompaniment (in case you haven’t decided to go with a full-bodied red wine) – a frosty, sweet and tart SW Pomegranate Martini.  It’s refreshing and a great palate cleanser.  Not to mention that it’s beautiful looking.  Cheers!    

The best part of SW Steakhouse is that it provides you with an out of this world dining experience with high quality food and service, and entertaining shows on the Lake of Dreams, all so very Las Vegas.  You’re definitely in for a treat!  Oh, and don’t forget to make reservations well in advance!  This restaurant is always packed! 

Restaurant Information:
SW Steakhouse
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone: (702) 770-3463