The Breakfast Ride

I love breakfast. No, I really, really LOVE breakfast. I'll eat it any time of day or night, and sometimes prefer it to meals of the lunch and dinner variety. My breakfast cravings are always the same: scrambled eggs, griddle cakes, potato pancakes, bacon, sausage, ham, and fresh salsa. The reality is that I rarely ever eat all those things together, except for once a year. And that one time a year is at the ranch on a thrice-weekly event called "The Breakfast Ride." This so-called Breakfast Ride to an Adobe in the woods is an extravaganza that sparked my love for breakfast almost 30 years ago.

The hard-core Breakfast Riders get up at 7am and ride horses to the Adobe. God bless 'em, I wizened up at the tender ago of 14 and opted out. The rest of us laymen – myself included – wake up at 8:30 and arrive to a 300+ horse-powered drawn wagon. We sit on bales of hay and let the cold morning air slap us awake as we're driven to breakfast.

Once arriving at the Adobe, an abandoned home discovered over a century ago in the hills of Santa Ynez Valley, the Breakfast Riders are greeted by a breakfast spread almost as historic as the venue itself.

Pancakes, perfectly poured.

Flip those flapjacks!

Bacon, sausage, ham, oh my!

Fluffiest scrambled eggs ever.

Life-changing potato pancakes.

Fruit spreads of all fruit spreads.

And this hour-long event is what began my love affair with breakfast. I was ruined forever, as no breakfast will ever match The Breakfast Ride, no matter how many Michelin stars it has. Simply put, you can't beat eating flapjacks (my husband refuses to call them pancakes, as we're "out on the range"), potato pancakes, bacon, sausage, ham, scrambled eggs, biscuits, gravy, a load of fresh fruit, baked goods and even handmade salsa. It's impossible, not to mention there is no other time of year that my parents, brother, myself, my husband and 50 of our closest "Ranchers" all get together at 8am and crawl onto a hay wagon for an outdoorsy breakfast. No showers, no makeup, no pretense. Just us and some really friggin' great food served next to a raging fire and to the tune of cowboy songs. That just doesn't happen in L.A.

But truth be told, the sentiment makes it taste even better. :)


The Big Mac: A Fast Food Icon Deconstructed the Slow Food Way

I just stumbled across
Local Lemons, a fantastic food blog by Allison Arevalo, Brooklyn-native-turned-Berkeley-produce-lover. She recently started a column called Fast Food Slow, which I find so fascinating, it's almost embarrassing. Essentially, she takes fast food icons – think Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets and Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Pizza – deconstructs the ingredients and then reconstructs them in her own fabulous gourmet, organic way. Hence, Fast Food Slow. Here's her post about making Big Macs. The photos themselves are enough to make you drool, then sprint into your kitchen to make them yourself. At least that's what I'm going to do when we get back home. Seriously. I.CANNOT.WAIT.

Big Mac: Make Your Own, Have a Party

Big Mac Recipe

Has it been that long?

Twelve years ago. The last time I stepped foot into a McDonald’s. At least I think – it’s not like it was momentous enough to recall dates and times. But surely my oreo/ramen/milkshake regimen of freshman year included a nugget or two from Mickey D’s. Probably some fries too slopped in gooey ketchup.

I’m kind of scared of fast food now. I think I have a right to be. I mean, they put beef in french fries. Seriously.Beef, in French fries. But Big Macs at home, with fresh, local organic ingredients – that’s a cow of a different color. And what could be better than having a party and sharing them with friends?

This is not a light bulb that suddenly turned on in my head. I would love to take credit for the ingenious Big Mac Attack party, but it came from friends Shawn and Jeremy, while we shared a big pot of my slow-cooked Bolognese.

big mac photo

The allure of the infamous Big Mac lies in the special sauce. That creamy, tangy, oddly hued sauce slathered between two hunks of meat, with lettuce, pickles and American cheese.

To mimic the sauce, I made an olive oil aioli and combined it with homemade French dressing and organic shallots from La Tercera Farms. My thinly sliced pickles were fromHappy Girl Farms, and the ground chuck was Niman Ranch. The cheese was a difficult match, but mild cheddar proved to be a shoo-in for American, and Clover’s organic was a perfect match. I admit, I did not make the buns, though they were locally baked and I painted on the sesame seeds with an egg wash.

homemade aioli

Hosting a Big Mac party is substantially easier than a traditional dinner party. Set out the shredded lettuce, sliced pickles, special sauce, buns and ketchup, and let your guests build their own Big Macs. Use a mandolin to slice up some fries, and roast them at 500F instead of frying. Put out a salad too for some balance (try spinach, apples, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, homemade vinaigrette). Serve with cold Belgian beer.

hamburger buns

The best part? You are 100% sure there is no beef in your fries. At least you should be…

Homemade Big Macs
Serves 8

  • 2 pounds Niman Ranch ground chuck or other high-quality beef. (Or, go all the way and grind your own meat. Try using Brisket.)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 3 fresh pickles, sliced thin
  • 8 hamburger buns
  • 5 ounces organic mild cheddar, sliced thin

big mac

Special Sauce:

  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/2 cup portions
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar, separated
  • 1/2 cup organic ketchup (Happy Girl, if you can find it)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Seat salt
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika

Homemade Aioli
In a large bowl, beat together egg yolk, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Take a kitchen towel roll it into the shape of an “O.” Place your bowl on top of the towel – this will prevent it from moving around when whisking the aioli. While whisking, add a few drops of olive oil. Keep whisking, and add a few more drops. And a few more. When your sauce begins to thicken, add olive oil in a very slow stream, whisking constantly. Your arm should hurt at this point. When all of the olive oil is incorporated, taste for salt, and add last teaspoon of lemon juice.

French Dressing
In a separate bowl, whisk together ketchup, sugar, minced shallots, 1 tablespoon sweet relish, 1 tablespoon vinegar, paprika and a pinch of salt. Whisk in ½ cup of olive oil in a slow stream.

French Dressing

Slowly add the French dressing to the aioli. Stir to combine, and taste as you add the dressing – you may need not all of it. I had about 2 tablespoons of the French dressing left over. Garnish with a pinch of paprika on top.

Season your chopped meat with salt, pepper and olive oil and separate into 8 patties. Cook them on the grill for a few minutes per side, adding the cheese at the last minute so it melts.
(disclaimer: I did not cook the burgers on the grill. Why? I turned the gas on, switched the on the ignitor, and my grill caught on fire. I screamed like the girl that I am while Alejandro sprayed it down with the extinguisher. Time for a new grill. I cooked them in a cast iron skillet on the stove.)

Assemble the burger

lettuce on bun

Start with the bottom bun, add special sauce, shredded romaine, a cheesy burger and a couple of pickles. Stop here or add the second layer… Take the bottom of a second bun and slice it down the middle. This thin piece will be your middle section. Add it to the burger, and again top with special sauce, lettuce and pickles.

double burger

Another note, I did not eat the double patty Big Mac, nor did I serve it like that at the party. It’s just too big. Though it looked nice in pictures.

Our Cheesy Holiday Vacation

Bryan and I are out of town this week at several destinations: First, at a ranch with my family north of Santa Barbara, then San Francisco for a friend's wedding, and finally back in his hometown of San Carlos for a belated Christmas with his family. We're driving through more than our fair share of the "San" and "Santa" towns the great of California has to offer. It's a whirlwind to say the least, but I'm still cooking up lots of recipe ideas and taking photo after photo of the fun and delicious meals we're having. However, in the midst of packing, I forgot my camera cord...so I'll have to wait until we're back home to post them.

One particular snack we're really enjoying at the ranch is a full "Wine Country Basket" we made for my family. You see, Bryan started coming with my family to this ranch three years ago, and on his first trip he brought a basket full of goodies from Napa and the Bay area for my parents. He's such a great guy, as this was all without any of my input or knowledge whatsoever. It was the perfect gift as my parents, brother and I usually have a small spread of cheeses, crackers and wine before heading to dinner, but nothing to the extent Bryan brought. He put together a basket full of gourmet cheeses, fresh Sourdough bread, Woodhouse chocolates, Trefethen wine, Molinari salami, etc. Amazing doesn't properly describe it.

The basket was such a hit that we've made it a tradition over the past few years. Well, this year we decided to make a basket and give it to my parents as part of their Christmas gift. We packed it chalk full of deliciousness: Berkeley-based salami, Olivier house blend olive oil, a French cow's milk cheese, Rogue River blue cheese, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, Woodhouse chocolates, spiced pecans and even some mini crispy rice and peanut butter chocolate bars. Couple that with my mom's homemade loaf of banana bread and you've got yourself an incredible appetizer spread.

Random sidebar, but speaking of cheeses, you know you're a gourmet food lover when you go into a gourmet shop and start asking for cheeses based on their origin. Forget asking, "I'm looking for a good blue cheese." Instead it's become, "Point Reyes Blue Cheese is my favorite, but I don't see it in your selection. Can you point me to a similar handcrafted, organic blue cheese from coastal California?" That's insane, but it makes me so incredibly happy to be able to have educated conversations with other people – in this case, cheese experts – about some of my favorite foods.

But back to the basket. I've got photos of the cheeses that I'll post in a few days, and I hope there are others out there who can appreciate the gorgeous line of ash running through Humboldt Fog goat cheese just as much as I do. In the meantime, we'll wait until 5:00pm to break into the basket and crack open a bottle of wine with my family. Since we're driving to San Francisco tomorrow, we've got to enjoy as much of the basket's goodies as we can. And then my parents get to enjoy the rest of it after we leave. We're jealous already. :)


Veal Bolognese

Bryan and I had our first "married" Christmas this year. For Christmas Eve, I wanted to make a special dinner for us, one that would pair well with a fantastic red wine and would fill our house with a delicious, wintry dinner aroma.

Since Bryan is half-Italian and he was spending his first Christmas with me down in L.A., I looked through my favorite Italian cookbook: Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian. I found her recipe for Bolognese, which I had made before to my husband's great delight. While her recipe calls for ground beef, I find the flavor too heavy and instead decided to make it with veal. So our Christmas Eve dinner was settled: Veal Bolognese with Pappardelle Noodles. It was an absolutely wonderful dinner, and even better on Christmas night when I re-purposed the sauce for chicken sausage ravioli. Seriously delicious.

Veal Bolognese

Here's how you make the Veal Bolognese:
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 celery stalks, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 8 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 package Pappardelle (flat+wide) noodles
In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame. When almost smoking, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is very tender, about 8 minutes. I actually set my oven timer to help keep my timing on track. Add the celery and carrot and saute for 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the ground veal, and saute until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up any large lumps, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley, basil and 1/2 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper, and cook over medium-low until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cheese, then season with more salt and pepper to taste. (The sauce can be made 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over a medium flame before using.

In a separate pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt and drizzle of olive oil to the water (the salt will help season the pasta and the oil will prevent it from sticking together). Drop in the Pappardelle noodles and stir consistently to keep the noodles from sticking to one another. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 6-8 minutes. Drain the noodles, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid. Add the liquid to the Bolognese and bring to a simmer, helping to thicken the sauce even more.

Place the noodles in a serving bowl. Top with your desired amount of Bolognese and gently toss until the noodles are coated. Top with freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Cheater's Egg Nog

This a total cheat, but Bryan really wanted Egg Nog the other day. I had too much to do and didn't have the time – or a recipe – to make it from scratch, so instead I stopped by Trader Joe's and picked up a carton of light Egg Nog. It was actually delicious and did the trick, at 11o calories per cup.

Bryan got really excited, dug out the Brandy from the back of our bar cabinet and asked me if we had any Nutmeg. I gave him a look that spoke volumes. Specifically, it said, "I've been baking for weeks. Are you seriously asking me if we have a certain holiday spice?"

Look aside, I got out the nutmeg and he went to work.
  • 1 cup Light Egg Nog (the taste is similar to full-fat Egg Nog)
  • 1 - 1 1/2 ounces (~1 shot) of Brandy
  • 1-2 sprinkles of fresh nutmeg
Fill a low ball glass with about 6 ounces of Egg Nog. Pour in the shot of Brandy. Give a quick stir to combine. Top with a sprinkle or two of nutmeg.

There you go! Cheater's Egg Nog. It's delicious and definitely satisfies cravings for some good old-fashioned 'Nog. Just ask my husband. One day later, the carton is empty.


I've never really understood the big deal about Snickerdoodles. Everyone seems to love them. I mean, when you think about it, Snickerdoodles are just sugar cookies coated with cinnamon+sugar. But then I had a flashback to when I was young, coming home after school and making cinnamon sugar toast. There was something amazing about the warm, buttery crunch of the cinnamon sugar on the toasted bread, so much so that I actually made my own blend of cinnamon sugar and kept it in a special container. I was about eight years old at the time, so I guess you could say that my culinary experiments started at a really young age. The cinnamon toast memory made me think that I should give Snickerdoodles another shot, so I did. And they turned out great. I guess I'm on the Snickerdoodle bandwagon now.

Here's what you need to make the Snickerdoodles:

  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  • 1/3 cup (66 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until smooth, light and fluffy (about two to three minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture (in batches works best, so the flour doesn't get all over you and your kitchen) and beat until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is too soft, cover and refrigerate until firm enough to roll into balls (one to two hours).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Shape the dough into 1-inch round balls.

To make the cinnamon-sugar coating, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Roll the balls of dough in the cinnamon sugar and place on the baking sheet, spacing about two inches apart. Then, using the bottom of a glass, gently flatten each cookie to about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake the cookies for about 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Not ready to eat them right away? I'll refrain from calling you crazy, but you can store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for about 10 - 14 days. But if you're like the rest of us and can't resist the warm, buttery crunch of cinnamon sugar cookies, eat your heart out!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

A few days ago I was watching a Christmas cookie show on the Food Network – shocking, I know – and the host was making a recipe for chocolate cookies. It occurred to me that I hadn't made chocolate cookies before, despite the fact that I had a container of incredible cocoa in my pantry just waiting to be used.

I immediately felt guilty; how could I have not thought of this before? I'd been neglecting the cocoa, a gift from a friend who clearly knew what she was buying. I immediately went to the kitchen, dug out the container of cocoa and my Kitchen Aid mixer and never looked back. Here's how my experiment turned out.

To make the cookies, I used:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (30 seconds in the microwave usually does the trick)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup high-quality cocoa powder (I used Cacao di Pernigotti)
  • 1 cup mini peanut butter cups (I get them at Trader Joe's)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the softened butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until creamy and all lumps are broken up. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, a small bit at a time. Once both mixtures are combined and the batter is smooth, fold in the mini peanut butter cups.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or non-stick Silpat sheet. Using your hands, roll the batter into 1 1/2 inch rounds and place on the baking sheet. Keep about 3" between rounds. You should be able to fit about 8 rounds of batter on each baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 9 minutes. Keep an eye on them as the cocoa color makes it impossible to see "golden brown" color around the edges. So if this is your first time making the cookies, try baking for 9 minutes and see how they do. Remove the cookies from the oven and wait about five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

These cookies are fantastic as is, but for an added kick melt 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter and use a spoon to drizzle on top of the cookies. Melt 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and drizzle on top of the peanut butter mixture. Finally, drizzle a small pinch of coarse sea salt while the peanut butter/chocolate drizzle is still warm. Cool the cookies either on a cooling rack or in the refrigerator until the drizzle sets. Enjoy!


White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Last week, I got my first cookie order. While I made Kitchen Sink, Chocolate+Sea Salt+Walnut+Fudge Drizzle, and Gingerbread cookies, I also created a brand new cookie recipe: White Chocolate + Crushed Peppermint cookies. These have been a serious HIT among our friends and family, so much so that my husband has banned me from giving any more away to our friends. He wants them all to himself. :)

Before I share the recipe, here's a quick tip. Can't find crushed peppermint? Buy a few candy canes – I prefer the traditional white+red or red+green combos – stick them in a Ziploc bag (make sure to close the bag!) and pound them with a heavy spoon, meat tenderizer or even a rolling pin. Saves you money and time spent searching for crushed peppermint.

Here's how you make the cookies:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened (45-60 seconds in the microwave usually does the trick)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use Bourbon vanilla extract for an added kick)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups white chocolate chips (I use Trader Joe's or Nestle Toll House White Chocolate Morsels)
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed peppermint pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl. You don't have to sift the ingredients, but definitely whisk to combine. Beat the softened butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a bigger bowl until creamy and all lumps are broken up. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, a small bit at a time. Once both mixtures are combined and the batter is smooth, fold in the white chocolate chips and crushed peppermint pieces with a spatula.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat sheet. Drop 1 1/2" spoonfuls of batter onto the baking sheet. Keeping about 3" between spoonfuls, you should be able to fit about 9 spoonfuls of batter on each baking sheet.

Red+Green Peppermint Combo

Red+White Peppermint Combo
Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until barely golden brown around the edges. Remove the cookies from the oven and wait about five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Once the cookies cool, the peppermint pieces will harden and give the cookies a great candy crunch. To give the cookies an additional holiday "glow," melt 1/2 cup white chocolate and drizzle over the cookies. Drop a pinch or two of crushed peppermint pieces onto the warm drizzle. Let the cookies cool either on a cooling rack or in the refrigerator (so the chocolate drizzle will set) and you've got fantastic-looking and delicious-tasting holiday cookies!


The Best Chocolate EVER. Seriously.

I struck gold last night. I was wrapping Christmas presents and going through a bag filled with gifts that we've acquired for friends and family over the past several months. You see, Bryan and I are not last minute Christmas shoppers. Whenever we see something that we know one of our closest friends or family would love – be it during a trip, a football game or at the mall – we grab it.

That's what happened when we were in the Bay area a few months ago. We were in Napa Valley – St. Helena to be exact – and made a stop at Woodhouse Chocolates. This chocolate shop offers chocolates, caramels and other delights that are arguably amongst the best I've ever had. They've even been the inspiration for a lot of the salty & sweet desserts I've made, like my chocolate chips+sea salt+walnuts+hot fudge drizzle cookies.

And last night I came across a small bag filled with Woodhouse chocolates that we had bought as Christmas gifts. Sitting on the floor surrounded by wrapping paper, I immediately found myself in a moral dilemma. Do I eat the chocolates? Or do I stick to the original plan and give them as gifts? I consulted my husband and he made the decision: there were four little boxes, so he suggested that we open one and give the other three as gifts. Done and done. Those Caramel Helenas were polished off in about 10 minutes.

Chewy caramel between two buttery, almond crisps coated in dark (or milk) chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. These are best described as evil, addictive devils. Or edible heaven. Your choice.

Now I know everyone has their favorite chocolate place, but I swear by Woodhouse Chocolates. I've knowingly caused the chocolate addiction of at least 15 unsuspecting individuals to Woodhouse's Chocolate Truffles, Caramel Helenas, S'mores and Fleur de Sel Caramels. Check out some of our favorites below and if you're looking for a great gift for family, friends or even yourself, start shopping.

Flavors range from Fresh Mint, Thai Ginger, Amaretto Almond, Praline Noisette, Raspberry Chambord, Mocha Cream and many more. They're simply amazing and come in white, milk or dark chocolate.

Buttery, rich and creamy caramels dipped in dark (or milk) chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt from the coast of Brittany, France.

Childhood; the outdoors, a campfire and a straightened coat hanger were all you needed, along with a few essential ingredients to create a little gastronomic bliss. The S’more. Now take those memories, add superb handmade graham crackers, perfect pillows of handmade marshmallows and the finest, creamiest chocolates obtainable and you have the Woodhouse S’more.

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