We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Visiting California's Central Coast (Morro Bay, the Santa Ynez Valley and Cayucos) and Mark's Steamed Clams

My Traveling Tales by Linda

Home, let me come home, 
Home is wherever I'm with you
Our home, yes, let me come home, 
Home is when I'm alone with you
      ~Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

   The venerable National Geographic Magazine once described California's Central Coast as the "Middle Kingdom".  And, in this intermediary zone, where the south coast chaparral starts to give way to a greener lusher landscape, and Giant fans begin to outnumber Dodger-backers, lies one of California's regional treasures. It's a land of volcanic cones and wild, wind-blown beaches, of strawberry fields and eucalyptus groves...
     ~ Richard Pollock, for The Coffee Press in 1992

   No matter how far and wide I may roam, I will always call California's Central Coast my home. Say! That makes a rhyme. And, I may as well add, since you're thinking it already… not a great one. But having lived the majority of my life in this beautiful place, it is always the spot on the planet that entirely resonates with my heart. When returning for a visit, like I did this past July to celebrate my birthday, when my friends ask where I am headed, I simply tell them that I am going home. I pause to savor the feel of stretching that "o" out as I say it with relish. "Yes, I am going hōme".

Morro Rock... mysterious in the fog...
… and so sexy at sunset.
   Last month, Mark and I set off to celebrate our birthdays (which happen to be just three days apart) by heading for the Central Coast for a few days of rest and relaxation. Included in our plans were to go wine tasting in the Paso Robles area, visit my former home... the Santa Ynez Valley, bird watch at Montaña de Oro State Beach, eat delicious fresh seafood, and soak up cool ocean breezes. All of which are easily accessible from our base in Morro Bay which was just two blocks off of the Embarcadero.

A famous Morro Bay landmark… however creepy. This power plant was built in
the 1950s and is eerily out of place with the rest of the natural beauty of the coast.
Downtown Solvang... my home for 13 years.

   Our first morning after arriving in Morro Bay, we set off to spend the day in the Santa Ynez Valley which is an hour's drive to the south on Highway 101. We stopped for for huevos rancheros and Bloody Marys at my favorite breakfast spot on the outskirts of Solvang... the River Course at the Alisal. This golf course has a beautiful patio that is built with river rock fixtures, and it also has views of rolling hills and the gorgeous oaks that this part of California is known for.

I adore the views of the oaks and rolling hills from the patio at the River Course. I also lust to have that grill set up in my own backyard for serving up Santa Maria style barbecue.
The Bloody Marys at the River Course at the Alisal are always a great way to 
start a weekend morning or a vacation.
   We spent the rest of the day wine tasting, shopping in Los Olivos and taking in the beautiful sights in the Santa Ynez Valley. Since this is home to me, I enjoy visiting friends and driving the back roads of my old hood. In all truth, I avoid downtown Solvang since it is so very touristy and usually crowded, but if you haven't ever been on a walk down Copenhagen Drive, it is certainly worth a stop. Especially if you happen to enjoy Danish pastries, aebelskivers and fudge.

J Woeste in Los Olivos is a favorite stop of mine.
I always see something that inspires me for my garden. 
The Santa Ynez Valley provides breathtaking views anywhere that you look. 
   The next day of vacation was devoted to visiting the sleepy beach town of Cayucos which is a short 10 minute drive North from Morro Bay along Highway 1. After that we planned to head just over the coastal range of mountains to do some wine tasting on Highway 46 West. There are so many great family-owned wineries in this area that I will share where we stopped in another post.
   I lived in Cayucos for about three years in my recent past. My friend Richard was renting a great beach apartment with a panoramic view of the ocean, and I would leave my weekday home in San Jose at the time, and head for the beach every weekend. On Friday mornings I would have my coffee on the pier and then buy vegetables at the farmer's market for dinners for the weekend. For old time's sake, and because Mark had never been, we had coffee on the pier and then, since it happened to be Friday, we stopped by the farmer's market to ogle all the produce that the local farmers were unloading onto their tables. Cayucos is still unspoiled in my view. It is mostly devoid of ostentatious beach palaces, and it still has the flavor of a small and slightly shabby beach town, which makes it a favorite of mine.

My morning coffee on the pier with the fog just beginning to lift... what could be better?
The farmers setting up in the beach parking lot on Friday morning.

With the beach and a skate park nearby, Cayucos offers many 
activities that will keep kids entertained.

   Morro Bay is more of a tourist destination than Cayucos, and there is also more lodging available than in Cayucos, so it makes a good centrally located base camp for traveling around the Central Coast. Be warned, the Central Coast gets plenty of foggy days during the summer. I enjoy this because the generally cool temps make it a good choice for coming back to after being out and about in the often hot temps of the Santa Ynez Valley or Paso Robles area. Morro Bay has lots of restaurants to chose from and there are many small local shops with offerings of clothing, jewelry, art and tourist trinkets.

The Shell Shop is one of my favorite gift shops. They have been in Morro Bay since 1955.

My personal favorite restaurant in Morro Bay is Windows on the Water where we 
celebrated my birthday. Featured above is the Ocean Rose Abalone appetizer. 
The abalone is raised locally in Cayucos.
A young hipster cruises the Embarcadero in Morro Bay. There is lots of fun people watching
to be had... a favorite pastime of this photographer.
Sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and whale watching are popular activities in Morro Bay.
Mark has a sip of birthday wine while gazing at the sun setting just behind Morro Rock.
The sun sets behind Morro Rock on the last day of our birthday vacation... beautiful and bittersweet.
The delicious steamed clams served at Off The Hook on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay.
   I always enjoy my time on the Central Coast and this visit was no exception. The days passed far too quickly, as they always seem to do. Luckily, I can make the steamed clams from our visit anytime we have a hankering. They can be made in a snap, and they are so very delicious.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The World's Best Coffee Cake (Traditional and Gluten-Free Versions)

by Michelle

To quote Austin Powers, "Yeah, baby, yeah!"
   This cake is not limited to breakfast or as an accompaniment to afternoon coffee. It is so good that my daughter requested it as the crowning glory to celebrate her thirteenth birthday when we lived in Guerneville with Linda for a year. In fact, the gluten-free version is so delicious that if you don't disclose to people it is gluten-free, I don't think they will ever guess without being tipped off. Do not hesitate to serve the gluten-free version to a mixed crowd. The gluten eaters will be none the wiser, I assure you.

"I am so happy, it's my birthday and I love my new hat and scarf and mittens! 
Can't wait to eat my cake..."
"Yes, my wish is coming true! I blew every candle out..."
"Seriously Mom and Auntie Linda... trick candles are just not as funny 
as you both seem to think they are!"
   Sometimes I am tempted to drizzle the baked cake with a rum or amaretto glaze for a more dramatic presentation, but this "humble" coffee cake is always a thing of beauty whether plain or gussied up. For Father's Day brunch my husband seems to alternate between choosing coffee cake or Linda's famous cinnamon rolls. Honestly, you can't go wrong with either choice.
   Back in my Silicon Valley days, Hobee's was (and probably still is) the industry's breakfast spot of choice. The restaurant's pièce de résistance was Cinnamon-Streusel-Topped Blueberry Coffee Cake, made in a sheet pan and cut into perfect high-domed squares with a big ball of butter melting on each serving. Should you not have a Bundt pan handy, you can always use a couple of square cake pans to get the job done. Knowing me, because I always seem to be picking up specialty equipment along the way, if I were to go the sheet pan route, I would buy a rectangular springform cake pan for easier slicing and serving.

The World's Best Coffee Cake
(Traditional and Gluten-Free Versions)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chicken Roulade with Sweet and Spicy Orange Sauce and Camellia Luncheon Recipes

The Memory Keepers by Linda

   For we Salvation Sisters, the origin of this recipe can be traced directly back to our maternal grandmother, Maxine, and the Camellia Luncheons that she used to attend in Redlands, California. Nana would save the recipe cards for me after each luncheon, because I was showing an early interest in cooking, particularly in my teen years. I hung on to these luncheon menus for years, and when I began cooking professionally some time later, I began trying some of the recipes for my catering clients. I remember serving this entrée for our family for the first time during the Christmas holidays of 1983. We sisters loved this dish way back then, and we love it now. Over the years it has undergone an update, but it still has the same delicious flavor that it had way back then, when my idea of elegance was to garnish the dish by spearing a canned mandarin orange slice to the top of each whole roulade with a toothpick.

Our maternal grandmother Maxine as a very young girl in the foreground on the far left standing
in front of our great grandmother Maude. She is standing beside her sister who has the big white
bow in her hair... our Aunt Dodie. Our great grandfather Daniel Rhea Igo stands behind Dodie.
The group is celebrating the wedding of Ben Igo, our great grandfathers's brother.
When preparing this dish for a catering gig, I would serve freshly baked and sliced
Orange Wheat and Nut Bread to go with the meal. The quick bread is also a gem discovered from the Camellia Luncheon recipe cards. It pairs beautifully with the roulade. A few years later, I began baking the bread for the Los Olivos Grand Hotel where I worked as the pastry chef. Guests clamored to buy loaves of the bread after trying it in the baskets that accompanied their meals. In those days the recipe was a carefully guarded secret. In fact, many of our recipes that we share in our posts were once shared just among we sisters. For years we have planned to write a cookbook together, and many of my recipes were professional secrets, helping to keep me gainfully employed until I was able to retire from the restaurant/catering scene. You can read about the creation of Salvation Sisters by clicking here. I like to read our sister's story again from time to time, because it never fails to remind and inspire me. We sisters weather dark times and tragedy by sticking together and supporting one another.

Chicken Roulade with Sweet and Spicy Orange Sauce
Photos and Recipe Introduction by Michelle

  Just after Jay and I became engaged, I invited my future in-laws over to my apartment for dinner. I slaved over the details, wanting the evening to be perfect. After consulting on a prospective menu with Linda, I ultimately chose to serve this recipe because it looks beautiful and tastes great. The dish looks restaurant-worthy when served. There is a wow appeal when the plated food is set in front of each guest. It is true that people taste first with their eyes. Then the taste buds kick in after the first bite. Beyond tasting great, the final deciding factor was that I could make the main course ahead of time whereby keeping my attention focused on my fiancé's parents and not on developments in the kitchen.
   At the end of dinner, Jay's dad gave his smiling mouth one final swoop with a napkin then declared, adopting an authoritative tone, "Son, you're going to get fat." He meant it as a compliment and there was a round of genuine laughter at the table. That declaration became a family joke. When a dinner is particularly good, Jay or I will mimic his dad's booming voice and blurt "the prediction", even though it never came to pass, which I suppose, is what keeps the joke humorous. Jay's as fit now as he has ever been.
   The original recipe calls for make the dressing with saltine crackers and canned mushrooms. Last year for Christmas I decided to make bread crumbs and cook fresh mushrooms to update the recipe. If you want to go retro style, simply blitz together in a food processor: one medium yellow onion, 16-ounces canned mushrooms (drained), 2 cups saltine crackers and 2 teaspoons tarragon (or the thyme and rosemary called for below).
   My favorite starch to serve with the roulade is Risotto Milanese, made with white wine and roasted mushrooms. In the fall, I like to add roasted butternut squash in with the mushrooms. Alternatively, you can sauté and caramelize the mushrooms as a tasty vegetable side dish. When in season, asparagus tastes great and adds beautiful color to the plate. Simply prepared carrots are also a nice addition. Sometimes, like last night, I went crazy and prepared all three to serve with the chicken.
   I made my own bread crumbs from a sourdough loaf weighing 1-3/4 pounds which yielded 5 cups of prepared bread crumbs. Leftover breadcrumbs store well in the freezer and come in handy for all sorts of dishes including Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Crab Cakes.
   My sources in Tucson for both Gruyère cheese and prosciutto are Whole Foods Market or Costco.

Making homemade bread crumbs is easy. (P.S. This is a sourdough 
loaf that I made... so proud of myself!)
Dressing, enough to fill 12 boneless chicken breasts:
4 cups bread crumbs
24-oz button, crimini or baby portabella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 to 2 Tbsps olive oil
5 Tbsps Tamari or soy sauce
3 Tbsps brandy
2 tsps freshly minced rosemary leaves
2 tsps fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sweet and Spicy Orange Sauce, for 12 servings:
1/4 cup minced shallot
1/2 tsp chili flakes
4 Tbsps butter
the zest and juice of 4 navel oranges, plus enough additional orange juice to make 3 cups total
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2-1/2 tsps nutmeg
3/4 tsp sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsps cornstarch combined with 2 Tbsps water
the juice of one freshly squeezed lemon

For the chicken:
12 boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin
12-ounces thinly sliced prosciutto or 12 slices honey cured ham
12 slices Gruyère cheese
3 Tbsps melted butter

minced parsley
toasted sliced almonds

Special equipment:
a mallet to flatten the chicken. If you don't have a mallet, use a rolling pin (or ask your butcher)
a food processor - handy, but not absolutely necessary

Crumbled thyme on the left and minced rosemary on the right.
I was out of ground nutmeg, so I quickly grated whole nutmeg on a rasp grater.
1. For the dressing: I prefer to use homemade bread crumbs rendered from a sourdough boule or batard. If sourdough is too strong for your taste, choose an artisan-style country or French loaf. Slice the bread into 1-inch cubes, removing the crust if it is too crusty. If you are using day old bread that has been stored in plastic the crust will be soft and will not need to be removed. In the desert, I let the bread sit out on a cookie sheet until dry. In more humid climates, the bread can be dehydrated in the oven at a low temperature, say 300°F for about 30 to 40 minutes, tossing the cubes every so often. Once the cubes are dry, remove from the oven and let cool. Transfer the cubes in batches to a food processor and whirl until the cubes become crumbs. Any leftover bread crumbs will freeze well in an airtight container.

Peeled shallots can easily be minced in the food processor.
From raw...
...to cooked. (Reminds me of the excellent Fine Young Cannibals album from 1989 
that I listen to time and again.)
2. Place a 12-inch skillet on the stove and preheat over medium heat until warm. Add the olive oil and then the shallots and rosemary. Sauté for one to two minutes and then add the sliced mushrooms. Drizzle the mushrooms with the tamari and brandy. Continue stirring now and then until the mushrooms are cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the heat and stir in the thyme leaves. Let cool.
3. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the mushrooms (and all the liquid) and bread crumbs. Using on-off pulses, combine the mushrooms and the bread crumbs to a stuffing consistency. The dressing should be very moist (add water or chicken broth, if needed, until the stuffing holds together). The stuffing can be made a day in advance (store covered in the refrigerator).

Two medium navel oranges yielded one tablespoon of grated zest.
The prepared Sweet and Spicy Orange Sauce cooling in a bowl. 
I like to make the sauce a day in advance.
4. For the sauce: If you can, make the sauce a day ahead; cool and refrigerate, then gently reheat before serving. In a sauce pan over medium heat, sauté the shallots and chili flakes in a little butter for two minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients except the cornstarch and the lemon juice. Stir well. In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and water; stir until smooth. Add the cornstarch slurry to the saucepan. Simmer over low heat until thick. Just before serving add the lemon juice and stir. If, by chance, the sauce becomes too thick, you can thin with a little water or additional orange juice.

The chicken breasts are ready to roll into cylinders.
Grandma's mallet is still put to good use.
5. For the chicken: Place each chicken breast boned side up. Using a mallet, flatten each chicken breast to a uniform 1/4-inch thickness. On each flattened breast, cover with prosciutto or ham, a slice of cheese, and a 1/4-cup of the dressing. Roll up and place seam side down in a butter coated baking dish. Repeat until all the chicken is added to the pan. Twelve chicken breasts will fit snugly in a 12"x14.5" rectangular pan. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. The chicken can be prepared in the morning, and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
6. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 50 minutes. Half way through baking, baste the tops of the chicken with melted butter. Return to the oven, covered, and continue to bake until done.
7. While the chicken is baking, gently reheat the spicy orange sauce. To serve, place one-half or whole chicken breast on a plate, spoon over spicy orange sauce to cover, sprinkle with parsley and toasted sliced almonds.

P.S. For the featured photos, I sliced cold, leftover chicken roulades into thick slices. Oven-friendly dishes were sprayed with olive oil and coated with leftover spicy orange sauce. The slices of stuffed chicken were layered in each dish and then topped with additional orange sauce. Place the prepared dishes on a cookie sheet, loosely top with aluminum foil, then transfer to a cold oven. Turn on the oven to 350°F and reheat for about 30 minutes. Your nose will begin to recognize when the chicken is heated through because the kitchen will smell like dinner is about to be served!

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