Big Sur(ely)

DSC_0014This past weekend, my brother, his wife and I flew out to California’s Big Sur to surprise my other brother for a big birthday this month. Big Sur is a spectacular region between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the coastline views are among the most magnificent I’ve ever seen. Big Sur has always enjoyed a following among those with an  artistic sensibility, or basically anyone that has a pair of eyes. The vibe is extremely relaxed and the scenery is, well, totally glorious. Everything was seamlessly planned by my brother’s boyfriend and we had a fantastic time. Before I tantalize with photos from our trip, here’s a list of my particular favorites among the places we ate.DSC_0006Deetjens
DSC_0002Nestled in forests inland from the coast; Deetjens is the quintessential Big Sur locale—quirky, comprised largely out of wood, and with a simple, welcoming atmosphere. The inn has a few rooms available, but we came for breakfast which was held in the most charming room; packed to the brim with old school knicknacks and warmed by a crackling fire. The huevos rancheros were a solid standard with especially good corn tortillas, and my family really enjoyed their various eggs Benedict varieties (they’re known for their Hollandaise, apparently.) A table order of Buttermilk, Blueberry pancakes fortified us for some walking as did some strong coffee. Super low-key, and not to be missed.

Post Ranch InnDSC_0025 DSC_0024Entering Post Ranch Inn, it’s not hard to see why it’s been named one of the top resort destinations domestically and internationally. While it retains a rustic Big Sur-esque charm, it is unequivocally luxurious; with expansive grounds and a number of gorgeous (from the outside—we didn’t venture inside, alas) cottages to rent. The restaurant [name] is breathtaking—stuck into the mountains, with floor to ceiling windows and a glorious deck—all showcasing the Pacific ocean. It’s an utterly unbelievable place; with food that could almost compare with the setting. For lunch, we had a $45 prix fixe menu with a selection of choices. I went for the steak tartare, a mindbendingly delicious cioppino with Spot Prawns, black cod and squid ink toast slathered with Sea urchin butter (I know.) To finish up it was a warm chocolate cake with pumpkin ice cream, and another round of celebratory drinks.photo 2photo 1

Big Sur Bakery
What I had thought to be simply a bakery (having visited on a previous trip) actually serves a wonderful dinner. We were all leaning towards lighter fare, after a three-course, cocktail lunch which may, in fact, have been a dream. The emphasis was truly on fresh, local vegetables here—and many salads were ordered, in addition to a terrific medley of roasted carrots and a dish of farro with stewed kale. It all sounds very health food-y, and while they have a bevy of more substantial options on the menu, it’s just what our somewhat over-indulged crew required. Also of note: they have a heavenly ham and cheese croissant that cannot be missed.

The Roadhouse                                                                                                      Located just across the street from our lovely accommodation (Glen Oakes Motor Lodge) was this unassuming dining room, which served up simple comfort food with a Southern twang. While the meal didn’t make me re-think my existence, it was very tasty—especially a hearty red bean and rice dish. Crunchy kale salad was very good as well, and we set off ready for a hike in the dreamy Point Lobos State Reserve:

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Stilton Walnut Crackers

DSC_0030These crackers are a go-to for me, especially when I’m asked to bring snacks for a party. They’ve got a distinctive taste—buttery and blue-cheesy, with texture and richness from the walnuts which coat the outside—especially if you’re a fan of Stilton. Your kitchen will have a….similarly distinctive quality during the preparation of these goodies (read: strong blue cheese stench), but it’s worth it. I particularly love removing the chilled log of dough from the fridge and slicing them into thick disks before baking. For a slightly different holiday (or anyday) treat, try these out.DSC_0002

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers (courtesy of Ina Garten)
Ingredients1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
8 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 12 ounces with rind), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt [USE 1/2 OF THIS! OTHERWISE FAR TOO SALTY]
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Directions
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and Stilton together for 1 minute, or until smooth. [my mixer broke during this process, so aggressive stirring had to suffice. turned out fine!] With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it’s in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.DSC_0004 DSC_0007
Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days. [i find it sort of hard to roll out, but once inside the plastic wrap, it’s much easier to make it look uniform and evenly distribute the dough into a log]DSC_0028

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the log 3/8ths-inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 minutes until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.

The Turkey Recap

DSC_0125I suppose it’s been a sufficient number of days (4) now that I can look at Thanksgiving photos without the immediate need to hibernate under a blanket…with a plate of snacks and a tumbler of wine. We stuck to basics this year, with quite a few old faithfuls.

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I prepared two pies: salted caramel apple and chocolate-bourbon pecan. I used a basic pie crust from Saveur magazine (also for the lattice topping) and had the customary freakouts about crust consistency and blind baking: [pie-centric post to come]DSC_0050 The apple pie came from the same issue of Saveur, and the Chocolate-Bourbon-Pecan I found in the New York Times:

 DSC_0096 DSC_0103I also made our cranberry sauce—a concoction first found in the 1994 issue of Bon Appetit (as previously mentioned, our Thanksgiving bible). The combination of citrus zest, port wine, sugar and plenty of cranberries never disappoints!DSC_0073My brother prepared herb crusted pumpkin with a dill-sour cream sauceDSC_0114 DSC_0126Vietnamese-inspired brussels sprouts with an herb-fish sauce vinaigrette DSC_0109DSC_0043a super dreamy, parmesan-laced Kale salad (massage the kale before serving—so much more tender and seemingly easier to digest!) excuse the subpar iphone photo on this one!photo(4)

quinoa, snap pea and feta salad with lime zestDSC_0122My dad, as always, handled the classics: herb-butter roasted turkey, mashed potatoes (a group effort, really), gravy, and his unbeatable cornbread-Italian sausage stuffing.DSC_0131

and there you have it! a sneaky peek into the Bhabha Thanksgiving 2013!