Happy Birthday USA ~ Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell with a Watermelon, Champagne and Cucumber Mignonette


Happy birthday USA!

Today is all about celebrating our country, and this year I decided to do that by celebrating our little corner of the country with some of the best treats that the Northwest has to offer.

We started with a plate of Penn Cove Select oysters on the half shell with a watermelon, champagne and cucumber mignonette. I think of sparkling wine when I think of the Fourth, since the sparkles remind me of fireworks :). The watermelon and cucumber also added a summery sweet freshness to the oysters’ salty brininess. I must admit, oysters are something I am just now beginning to enjoy. I’ve tried them in the past, but they were never my favorite choices. I liked this mignonette so much, that I had three of them! The most important thing is to get live oysters from a fishmonger that you trust. The recipe is based on one from Oprah.com, and I’d like to pass it along to you.

Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell with a Watermelon, Champagne and Cucumber Mignonette

12 shucked fresh oysters

1/4 cup watermelon juice

1/4 cup champagne vinegar

1/2 cup champagne

1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish

2 tablespoons minced English cucumber

2 tablespoons minced shallots

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon for garnish

To make the watermelon juice, place 1 inch pieces of melon into a food processor, and process until pureed. Place a coffee filter in a strainer, and place the strainer over a large cup. Pour the melon puree into the strainer, and let it drain into the cup. Discard the pulp.

Combine the watermelon juice, champagne vinegar, champagne, horseradish, cucumber, shallots and black pepper in a bowl. Mix well.

Serve about a teaspoon of the mignonette on top of each oyster. Garnish with the chopped tarragon. Serve immediately.

For the main course, we had a Dungeness crab boil…A classic American summer celebration dish with a Northwest twist. It was super easy and delicious. I always ask my fishmonger to dispatch and clean the crabs when I buy them. They are much sweeter if they are cleaned before they are cooked. For two crabs (about 2 lbs each), steam for about 17 minutes until they are cooked through. At the same time, in a separate pot, boil the potatoes and corn. That’s it! 🙂 It couldn’t be easier.

Dessert was even easier and equally as delicious. We had a big bowl of Rainier cherries. They have a very short season, so they always feel like a special treat. They don’t need any help from a recipe :).

We paired dinner with a Chandon Liberty Sparkle cocktail from DomaineChandon.com. The recipe is basically the same as the Pomegranate Fizzes that I wrote about earlier this year, but with an added patriotic name for a red sparkling cocktail! It’s just a splash of pomegranate juice and a splash of Grand Marnier topped with sparkling wine.

I hope you have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Working my way through the delicious Domaine Chandon Cookbook ~ Deviled Quail Eggs with Caviar and Chives

This January, I have been working my way through the Domaine Chandon Cookbook: Recipes from Étoile Restaurant. I associate sparkling wine with the beginning of the year, so it seemed like the perfect cookbook for this month. (In case you aren’t familiar with the winery, Domaine Chandon is best known for its bubbly since it is the American little sister to Moët & Chandon.) Rob and I also had a very memorable visit to that winery a couple of years ago, so it’s a special place for us. We joined their wine club for a time, had a fabulous dinner at the restaurant and enjoyed their beautiful grounds on a warm September evening. So many recipes from the cookbook sounded delicious and inspired me to try them. Cooking fine recipes makes an ordinary meal feel a little special to me. As Rob said, it’s my art. It isn’t just the necessary fare, but something higher. So it makes me feel like we are living life well, even when it’s cold and dark outside. I ended up trying a healthier twist on quite a few of the cookbook’s recipes…deviled quail eggs with caviar and chives, pomegranate fizz cocktails, green vegetable gazpacho with shrimp, truffled popcorn, brandy spiced shrimp, coconut lime mussels, Parmesan soufflés with a leek purée, salmon and tuna tartare and chicken breasts with toasted orzo and a thyme infusion. Out of all of those very good recipes, we really enjoyed the quail eggs. They were absolutely adorable! Plus, I always enjoy cooking with something I’ve never tried before, and quail eggs were new to my kitchen. They are a little bit time consuming because they are so tiny, but if you are in the mood to spend some quality time making a gourmet creation, they are a lot of fun! It wouldn’t be like me to completely follow a recipe, so I did lighten them a little by omitting the crème fraiche and using Neufchâtel instead. The filling was a little firmer with this substitution, but we thought it was very delicious. I also used whole grain bread for the base instead of brioche.

Deviled Quail Eggs with Caviar and Chives

1 loaf sliced whole grain bread

2 tablespoons minced shallot

1 teaspoon lemon juice

20 quail eggs

2 tablespoons Neufchâtel cheese

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1 ounce caviar

5 fresh chives, cut into 1 centimeter long pieces

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

With the rim of a sparkling wine glass flute, cut rounds of bread from your bread slices. (Take care to avoid the crusts). Pinch a small indentation into the center of each round with your index finger and thumb to hold the quail eggs. Place the bread rounds on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool.

In a small bowl, combine the shallot and lemon juice.

In a medium saucepan, place the quail eggs and enough cold water to cover the eggs. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the eggs for 3 minutes until they are hard boiled. Remove from the heat and carefully place the eggs in cold water for 5 minutes.

Peel away the shells, starting at the wide bottom end of each egg. Rinse each egg with cold water to make sure no little pieces of shell remain. Set them on paper towels to dry. Cut each egg in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. Remove the yolks with a very small spoon and place them in the bowl with the shallot and lemon juice mix.

Add the Neufchâtel, mustard, salt and pepper to the yolks. Using a fork, mash the yolk mixture until a thick paste forms and everything is well combined.

Using a very small spoon, fill the cavity of each egg-white half with the yolk mixture. Set each egg half in an indentation on top of the toasted bread rounds.

Place a tiny bit of caviar and one small slice of chive on top of each egg. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

These paired very well with pomegranate fizz cocktails from the cookbook. I made them with just a splash of Grand Marnier and pomegranate juice in a glass of sparkling wine. Garnish with a little bit of orange peel for an added special touch.

Happy Birthday ~ Truffled Asparagus Crostini

Happy birthday to Rob! On this day, I usually make him dinner with his favorite ingredients including beef tenderloin, asparagus and carrot cake. This year he said it might be fun to try a less traditional main course to shake things up :). After searching my favorite markets, I found a rabbit! The menu included recipes that were new as well as a couple of old favorites – Braised rabbit with mustard sauce, truffled asparagus crostini, golden beets in a cider vinaigrette and carrot cupcakes. I have already written about our favorite carrot cupcakes on this blog, and the truffled asparagus crostini are also one of our favorite appetizers. They are simple to make and they have a touch of class for any special occasion.

Truffled Asparagus Crostini

Baguette, sliced into ¾ inch pieces

1 pound asparagus

2 teaspoons truffle oil

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup fontina cheese, grated (or any semi-hard cheese that you like)

Preheat you broiler.

Place the slices of bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil for about 1 minute or until they are lightly browned. Turn them over and do the same on the other side. Cool on the pan.

Steam the asparagus for about 2 minutes or until slightly tender. Place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Chop the asparagus into small pieces. Add oil, salt and pepper, and toss well.

Top each piece of bread with the asparagus mixture. Sprinkle the cheese over each crostini. Broil for about 1 minute or until the cheese melts a little. Serve warm.

We paired the meal with one of Rob’s favorite wines from Columbia Winery called Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I decided on this wine since we held our wedding reception at Columbia Winery, and both Rob’s birthday and our anniversary fall on the 2nd of a month. I almost always try to find some special significance with any bottle of wine I choose for a special occasion :). Cheers!

Happy Halloween ~ Deviled Eggs with Black Olive “Spiders”

Happy Halloween! For one of my favorite holidays, I tried a fun idea this year from Sunset magazine for deviled eggs with little black olive spiders on top.  Super cute! Just choose your favorite deviled egg recipe, or use the one below for a very simple and reduced fat version.

Deviled Spider Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons reduced fat mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Whole pitted black olives

Hard-boil your eggs. The trick I use for this treat (I couldn’t resist! Ha!) is to put the raw eggs in a pot of warm water, and bring the pot to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, shut off the heat, and cover the pot for 20 minutes. This ensures the eggs don’t overcook. Chill in the refrigerator until cool.

Once cooled, cut the eggs in half crosswise and scoop out the yolks into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the yolks (except for the olives) and mash until smooth with a fork. Place the mixture in a zip top bag and squish it to one corner. Cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bag and pipe the mixture into the empty portion of the egg whites so it mounds slightly.

Then for the spider, cut an olive in half lengthwise. Place the half (dome side up) in the middle of the yolk mixture. Then cut the other half into 4 thin strips crosswise, and cut the strips in half to make the legs. Nestle the legs beside the body. (See photo). The yolk mixture should hold them in place.

These cocktail party snacks go well with a Halloween wine like Phantom by Bogle Vineyards or blood orange Champagne cocktails! Cheers to a fun Halloween night!

A little anniversary celebration ~ Fresh Sweet Corn Flan and Affogato

Every August 1st, Rob and I celebrate two little anniversaries. It marks the day I moved to Seattle, as well as the day Rob and I moved into our current house together. We celebrate all kinds of little anniversaries like this one. They give us an excuse to have a nice dinner or to do something special. I figure who can’t use more excuses for little celebrations? 🙂

This year we had dinner in our backyard under our grape trellis with a bunch of candles glowing all around. I chose a summery menu that was a reflection of the best of the Northwest, since we were celebrating our home. Along with that theme, we had local Dungeness crab for the main course. It’s a special meal that we don’t have everyday, and it’s one of our very favorite things.

To go with the crab, I made fresh sweet corn flan with tomatoes and basil. This recipe uses very basic summer ingredients and transforms them into something unexpected. I followed the original recipe pretty closely (from Cooking Light magazine, which can be found at MyRecipes.com), so I am passing it along since we enjoyed it so much! I hope you do, too.

Fresh Sweet Corn Flan


Cooking spray

2 1/2  cups fresh corn kernels (about 5 ears)

1 cup skim milk

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs

A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, to taste

A few leaves of sliced basil, to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the corn kernels in a skillet coated with cooking spray for about 5 minutes or until they are tender. Set aside 1 cup of the kernels for garnish.

Place the remaining corn in a food processor, and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the milk, cheese, flour, salt, pepper and eggs to the food processor, and pulse until well combined. (It will never be completely smooth, but the kernels will give the mix a little texture).

Pour about 1/2 cup of the corn mixture into 6 ramekins coated with cooking spray. Place the ramekins in a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Add hot water to the pan to a depth of about an inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 minutes or until set. Remove the ramekins from the pan, and cool for about 5 minutes. Invert each flan onto individual plates. Garnish each with corn kernels, tomato halves and basil.

We ended the meal with another very easy, but very delicious dish called affogato. It is just a scoop of ice cream in a cup of coffee. It doesn’t get much simpler than that! 🙂 (As a side note, it means “drowned” in Italian as the ice cream ends up swimming in the coffee.) Since the Northwest is known for coffee, I thought this was a perfect ending to a dinner celebrating the Northwest. I originally saw this dish on the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. It is so simple, but we think it is a really extraordinary dessert. I hope you do, too!



Vanilla ice cream or frozen custard

Strong decaf coffee or espresso

Scoop as much ice cream or custard as you would like for each individual serving into a coffee cup, and pour the warm coffee over the top immediately before serving or at the table.

Make an ordinary summer night special ~ Steamed Clams

Rob and I have started a new little tradition that makes an ordinary evening feel like a special occasion to us. We light some candles and our tiki torches outside, have a glass of wine and enjoy this steamed clam dish together. We used to go out for a similar dish at a nearby restaurant called BluWater Bistro, but I figured out a comparable recipe that we like even more at home. I don’t use nearly the amount of butter they use, but I think it still needs a tiny bit for flavor. I also think half the fun of clams is watching them pop open as they cook…Something we miss when we go out to eat. Not to mention, it is much less spendy to make at home :). This is not a strict recipe. Just taste as you go to make sure you have the flavors you like.

Steamed Clams

1 or 2 cloves minced garlic (depending on how much garlic you like)

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 cups low sodium free-range chicken stock

Splash of dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

About 2 lbs of farmed clams

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley (optional)

French bread (optional)

Scrub your clams very well and discard any that are cracked or open. (If any clams are just a tiny bit open, tap them on the counter…If they close, they are still alive and good to use. If they don’t, they are not safe to eat, so toss them.) Melt the butter in a large pan (one that has a lid), and sauté the garlic for a minute or until fragrant. Pour the chicken broth and white wine into the pan and bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning once it is hot, and add salt if you desire. When the mixture is boiling, put all of the clams in the pan and cover with the lid. Watch them closely. When all of them have opened, take the lid off and take the pan off the heat. (If any did not open, discard them.) Spoon the clams and broth into two big bowls. If you desire, finish with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley and serve with slices of French bread to soak up the extra broth. Also, be sure to serve with an extra bowl for the shells.

Baked Coconut Shrimp

One of my favorite restaurants in town called Cactus used to have my very favorite coconut shrimp in the city. Actually, I would say they were my favorite coconut shrimp, period. I have tried them in quite a few places and nothing ever beat theirs, in my humble opinion. Their chef decided to change the menu recently, however, and they no longer serve them. Soo…That inspired me to try to figure out the recipe! I learned that baking them works really well, as opposed to frying them. This recipe is based on one I found in Cooking Light magazine (the original can be found at MyRecipes.com) with a few personal touches.

Baked Coconut Shrimp

30 large peeled and deveined shrimp with the tails still attached

1/3 cup cornstarch

Pinch of salt

3 egg whites

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Cooking spray

Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 400°.

Coat a baking sheet with aluminum foil and cooking spray. Rinse and dry shrimp. Combine the cornstarch and salt in a little dish. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl with a hand mixer until they are slightly frothy. Place the coconut in a third dish. Dredge each shrimp in the cornstarch mixture, the egg white and then the coconut. (Press gently to keep the flakes in place). Place the coated shrimp on the baking sheet, and spray the top of the shrimp lightly with cooking spray. Bake for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of your shrimp, turning once. (Watch them closely, so as not to over bake).

I also made a super easy salsa to go with them…Just a mix of crushed pineapple with jalapeno pepper jelly to taste.

A little side note is that I try to find farm raised or wild shrimp from the US or Canada instead of imported shrimp. I like this little seafood selector website (find a fish) since it’s sometimes hard to remember which choices are the healthiest when I’m at the store.