Big Sur, California

Big Sur. CA |A Brown Table

I've been meaning to share photos from my trip to Big Sur for a while but never got to it until now. With groundhog day done, it seems this is the best time to talk about spring and summer travel. Big Sur is a magnificent natural treasures that you must try to visit at least once if you can. In an ideal situation, you have one person to drive while you stare through the car seat window across the massive and spectacular stretch of land that meets the ocean. Big Sur is dramatic and colorful. From the plants that cover the landscapes, to the whales that you might see far into the deep blue ocean or the condors soaring in the sky, Big Sur is every bit a jewel of the west coast. 

Though, we didn't spend the entire weekend at Big Sur, there are plenty of places you can rent and stay the entire weekend. We did however, make a mandatory stop at the famous Big Sur Bakery and we were glad we did! We had a small snack at the bakery and later ate dinner at the restaurant. We ordered the steak with shaved wasabi root, the shishito peppers and sea bass with risotto. You know your fish is cooked to perfect when it falls off like a soft buttery flake. For dessert, I got the lemon ice cream pie, it's very lemony and citrusy with a delicious pistachio crust. 

Just a little tip, even though we made reservations online at the Big Sur Bakery's website, their kitchen was closed when arrived for lunch. I highly recommend trying to call them up to make sure they actually have their kitchen open for the hours you want to visit . We did call in advance but couldn't seem to catch a hold of them but they were very apologetic and nice. We ended up staying there for dinner which as I said before was well worth it! I'm going to stop talking and let you take a look at Big Sur.

Big Sur. CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur. CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur. CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur Bakery, CA |A Brown Table
Big Sur, CA |A Brown Table

peach and vanilla cake with spiced almond milk

peach and vanilla cake with spiced almond milk| A Brown Table

A few things I've picked up on, now that I spend all my time in San Francisco;

  • You can never predict whether it will be warm, hot or chilly. Windy days aren't too bad but they happen often.
  • When it comes to food options, it's rare that you can go wrong. The city has so many tasty options for different price points and for different diets. 
  • It's a dog-friendly city. 
  • My life involves food, a lot of it. But I find it interesting that this city and the people here, are hugely, food centric. It comes up in a lot of conversations and rightly so.
  • Food trends are innovative from both a culinary perspective and a technological one.

Since, I've been traveling a bit for the past few weeks (house hunting, work stuff, etc) and also avoiding the heat wave that's hitting this side of the world, I've been focussing on easier and less time consuming items to cook at home. This desserts falls right into that category of easy-to-make, less time consuming and incorporates seasonal goodness in the form of ripe and sweet yellow peaches. I start by infusing Califia's unsweetened almond milk with two types of cardamom, black and green along with crystallized ginger and a few threads of saffron. Once the infused almond milk is completely cooled and chilled, you can either drink it directly or you could make this super easy peach and cake trifle type dessert.

Peaches are one of the best gifts of summer and with a light vanilla flavored cake such as angel food cake or a pound cake, you will have the easiest and fruitiest dessert to serve your friends and family and one that requires very little effort!

peach and vanilla cake with spiced almond milk| A Brown Table
peach and vanilla cake with spiced almond milk| A Brown Table
peach and vanilla cake with spiced almond milk| A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips when preparing this trifle that you might find useful,

  • If you use the sweetened almond milk from Califia make sure you adjust your sweetener levels accordingly when preparing the milk. I suggest using sugar or honey but feel free to use your favorite sweetener.
  • The amount of saffron I use to flavor the milk is a very tiny pinch and you will get a very tiny tinge of yellow color. Adding too much saffron can make this milk taste unpleasant. 
  • I love yellow peaches because they are sweet and when ripe their texture is soft. You could use something firm like a white peach but I find that doesn’t play well with the texture against the cake.
  • The cake: Here you can play around a little. I like angel food cake and vanilla pound cake to keep it simple. This way the spiced milk and peach flavors don’t get mellowed out by whatever might be in the cake. To kick things up a notch, you can also grill the pound cake or toast it a little before adding it to the dessert. 
  • I like to leave the ginger behind in the milk when I serve the dessert but if that’s too intense then you can remove it.
peach and vanilla cake with spiced almond milk| A Brown Table

peach and cake spiced almond milk trifle

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

3 cups Califia unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup honey

12 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed

2 black cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped

a pinch of saffron threads

4 yellow peaches, ripe

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

3 cups vanilla pound cake/angel food cake, torn into bits or cubed

  1. Place all the ingredients from the almond milk to the saffron in a thick bottomed saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from stove, transfer the milk with the spices into a container, cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 6 hours or until chilled.
  2. Peel the peaches and slice in half to remove the pit in the center of the fruit. Quarter the peach and then cut each quarter into half. Drizzle the lemon juice over the peach segments and allow to sit for 2 minutes at room temperature. 
  3. When ready to serve, toss the peaches with the cake pieces carefully in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Divide this equally between 4 glasses or serving bowls. 
  4. Remove the cardamom pods from the chilled almond milk and discard the pods. Shake the milk and pour over the cake and peach mixture in each glass. Add the leftover ginger bits from the milk on top of the cake. Serve chilled and immediately. 

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Califia and all opinions stated here are purely my own.

cherry labneh/creme kefir ice cream

cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table

I stare into the empty vacuum, it's a soulless void, a black hole that holds nothing. Happiness is non-existent and it looks sad. Yes, that's what's inside an empty cone, when I look into it. While cleaning out one of the cupboards in the kitchen and I found a few cones sitting sadly, all forgotten. They needed a soul in the form of something sweet and frozen. To fill this empty cone, I made ice cream over the weekend. A thick and creamy ice cream with streaks of sweet and tart red cherry sauce embedded in a white, creamy soft frozen bed of labneh ice cream. 

On it's own, creme kefir/labneh (labne) is very tasty. Smooth, creamy with the tanginess of yogurt and a velvet texture to go along with every loaded spoon, that's the best way I think I can describe it! Combine this with the sweet and tart flavor profile of cherries and it's an ice cream that I want to eat all summer long. Cones or no cones! With cherry season in full swing, you might want to take advantage of all the fresh fruit that's available for the next few weeks (I really hate that it's a short season) but for those times when you can't find fresh cherries this recipe can be still be made if you can find the frozen ones at the store. 

I have some exciting news to share with you, I'm a contributor at Team Yogurt and if you like yogurt and are looking for fun and new interesting ways to incorporate it into your diet, head over to my friend Cheryl's site for a whole collection of recipes from some very amazing and talented people. You'll be pleasantly happy to see recipes from all over the world that you can try out at home that are easy to prepare and tasty to eat!

cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table
cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table
cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table
cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table
cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table
cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table

Here are some of kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this ice cream;

  • It is critical to have everything chilled when adding the acidic labneh kefir to the ice cream base. Otherwise things can curdle. Move quickly once it is added and pour it into the prepared frozen canister of your ice cream maker.
  • After you add the cornstarch slurry to the ice cream base you can pass the ice cream base through a strainer to remove any clumps. 
  • Frozen cherries will save you a lot of extra time and hassle. But you can use fresh seasonal cherries too, just remember to chill the sauce before folding it into the ice cream base.
  • Kirsch helps to amplify the cherry flavor in the ice cream but it also helps prevent ice crystal formation during freezing. 
  • The sauce I use in this ice cream is very simple to make and doesn't require any cooking. 

Some other desserts you might be interested in;

cherry labneh kefir ice cream | A Brown Table

cherry labneh kefir ice cream

yields: around 2.5 pints 

ingredients

3 cups whole milk + 3 tablespoons

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup fine grain sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons kirsch 

12 ounces cherries frozen or fresh, pits and stems removed

4 tablespoons honey

8 ounces creme kefir (labneh/labne)

1/2 cup semi-sweet dark chocolate chips (I used 54%)

1. Place the 3 cups milk, heavy cream and sugar in a thick-bottomed deep saucepan. Heat the contents of the saucepan on medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Stir occasionally with a silicone spatula to dissolve the sugar. 

2. While the milk is boiling, quickly make a slurry of the cornstarch with the 3 tablespoons milk. Quickly whisk this slurry into the boiling milk and allow to boil with constant stirring until the mixture thickens for around 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the stove and transfer to a clean gallon ziplock bag and chill completely in an ice-water bath for 35 minutes.

3. While the ice cream base is chilling, place the labneh kefir in a large mixing bowl. Whisk it for 30 seconds and then pour in 1/2 cup of the chilled ice cream base along with the vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of kirsch. Whisk to combine. Then slowly whisk the mixture in the bowl until it is smooth and combined evenly while pouring the chilled ice cream base in a thin steady stream. Pour the entire chilled mixture into the prepare frozen canister of your ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer's instructions to churn the ice cream.

4. In the meantime prepare the cherry sauce. Place the frozen cherries (note if you use fresh cherries, then prepare this sauce and pre-chill for at least 1 hour before folding it into the ice cream base) in a blender. Add the remaining kirsch and honey. Pulse until combined (about 30 seconds, three times). Remove and transfer the sauce. Keep chilled until ready to use. 

5. Transfer half of the ice cream into an airtight freezer safe container. Pour half of the chilled cherry sauce over the ice cream and half of the chocolate chips. Repeat the layers with the remaining ice cream, cherry sauce and chocolate chips. Using a knife or spoon, stir the mixture to create swirls of cherry sauce and ice cream. Don't over-mix or you'll end up with a uniform pinkish ice cream. (the swirls make the texture more interesting, both visually and taste-wise). Keep in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours to firm up before serving.

homemade tandoori chicken

easy homemade tandoori chicken

One of the most popular meats to eat grilled or watch people barbecue in their homes in India, is probably without a doubt, tandoori chicken! It's definitely popular because it is also one of the most requested recipes I've been asked to share and I finally pegged a recipe that I love that tastes good and is easy to make. 

easy homemade tandoori chicken

Tandoori is derived from the word tandoor or the large clay oven where long skewers of marinated meat and poultry are cooked to perfection and where deliciously blistered pieces of naan (Indian flat bread are cooked). We never owned a tandoor at home (they can be pretty huge) and most people in India don't but there are a few tricks to make this popular chicken dish at home. 

Instead of using artificial food colorings to give the chicken its traditional red color, I used a beet which does work very well without affecting the taste though I will admit, I wish it were a deeper shade of red. However, too much beet could also end up sweetening the chicken which is something I wanted to avoid, the marinade gets a deep dark pink color and you will be able to smell the fragrance of the freshly ground spices in it. To cook the chicken in two stages, bake first and then broil to get those characteristic tandoor marks on the chicken. A good piece of tandoori chicken is succulent and juicy with complex spicy flavors mingled with notes of fresh lemon juice, spicy and sour all rolled into one. 

easy homemade tandoori chicken

My version of tandoori chicken calls for a large amount of chicken as you will see below but this way you can prepare the marinate the chicken ahead of time and freeze some for later. Just thaw a batch in the refrigerator before you are ready to cook. Freezing the chicken in batches is also a great way to save some time over the week. Serve your tandoori chicken with flatbreads such as naan, roti or rice, a refreshing salad and some plain yogurt. 

My instructions here are for the oven but you can also toss these on the grill to cook them. 

Good accompaniments to this dish are: Cucumber Mint Raita, Pumpkin Raita, Quick Onion Relish 

Recipes for Naan can be found here: Skillet Naan and Garlic Naan, Spelt Skillet Naan

easy homemade tandoori chicken

homemade tandoori chicken

yields: 6lbs chicken drumsticks

ingredients

6lbs chicken drumsticks

2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 cup red onion, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup beet, peeled and chopped 

4 garlic cloves, peeled

2 inch piece ginger root, peeled and diced

1 teaspoon green cardamom seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons turmeric powder

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

12 black peppercorns

1 tablespoon paprika

12 whole cloves

4 dried red chilies (I used Kashmiri chilies but feel free to use any spicy kind you prefer/you can also substitute with 5-6 fresh red/green thai chili peppers)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon kosher sea salt

extra lemons for serving

1. Remove any skin from the chicken, rinse under cold water and pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Make two deep slits across the flesh of each chicken drumstick and keep aside in a large mixing bowl.

2. Using a food processor/blender/immersion blender, pulse all the ingredients from the yogurt to the salt until completely smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken and coat the meat evenly. Cover with cling film and allow to marinade in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (maximum overnight) before cooking. (At this point you can do what I did if you don't want to cook all 6 lbs of chicken, I divided the marinaded chicken after 2 hours and froze half of it in a ziploc bag, the rest I kept to marinate). 

3. Place one wire rack in the middle of the oven and another rack closest to the top and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place about 6 pieces of the chicken drumstick about an inch apart from each other. Pour about 1-2 tablespoons of the left over marinade from the chicken over each piece of meat and cook in the oven on the middle rack for about 30 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over half-way through the cooking. The chicken is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 160F. At this stage, immediately switch the broiler on and transfer the rack with the chicken to the top shelf. Broil for about 3-5 minutes until the chicken pieces get slightly charred. Remove the chicken drumsticks and place in a plate, cover and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes before serving. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the tandoori chicken before serving. Cook the rest of the tandoori chicken drumsticks and serve similarly.

pomegranate chaat salad

pomegranate chaat salad

I entertained a childish fantasy that involved owning a garden that resemble a fancy oasis with trees and plants laden with figs and pomegranates and of course, a water fountain! In DC, I took active steps to achieve this, I planted a few fig trees and one pomegranate plant among others. For four years, the pomegranate tree would grow bigger and shoot out more branches and each spring as soon as the leaves came back, I would tell myself this would be the year where I'd get beautiful bright orange-red flowers that would turn into pomegranates. Nothing, zilch, nada! When we moved, I was happy to part with it and gave it away without any tears. Unfortunately, that bug of envy is back because here in California, it appears that every garden I pass by is lined with pomegranate plants fully loaded with flowers and fruits. Garden envy is a hard one to fight and I have a strong feeing that by next spring, I'll be back to owning a new plant, maybe this time I will have some luck?

pomegranate chaat saladpomegranate chaat salad
pomegranate chaat salad

Pomegranates remind me of fall more than pumpkin spice lattes and all things brown and orange. They stand out with their bold colors and flavors and with their unusual texture. Every aril in that pink fruit is packed with a sweet and delicious tart flavor that is simply waiting to burst. 

Indian street food is amazing and I talk a lot about it, especially chaat. Here in California we are lucky because there are so many chaat restaurants that we can indulge in This salad has a lot of those fun flavors with fewer spices and is one tasty dish. I sometimes make this with fresh cilantro but this time I used parsley so you can use either or even a combination of both, it is great either way. Fresh lime juice, pomegranate arils and a dash of freshly roasted spices along with a few walnuts make this one perfect bowl of color and flavor. 

pomegranate chaat salad

pomegranate chaat salad

yields: 2-4 servings

ingredients

1 bunch parsley leaves, fresh (you can also use cilantro leaves)

1 generous cup pomegranate arils

1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup toasted walnuts (or any other kind of your favorite nut)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 cloves

4 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt 

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

1 teaspoon jaggery or raw brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

1.  Chop the parsley leaves (you can chop them coarse or fine) and place them in a large bowl. Add the pomegranate arils along with the red onion.

2. Chop the toasted walnuts (nuts) and add them to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl.

3. Add the cumin, coriander, and cloves to a small saucepan and toast for about 30-45 seconds on a medium-high flame. The cumin and coriander should become slightly brown and you will immediately notice an aromatic fragrance. Remove from stove and grind with a mortar and pestle or in a spiced grinder to get a fine powder.

4. Squeeze the lime juice into a small mixing bowl, add the salt, pepper, sugar, chili and  1/2 teaspoon of the ground spice mix from step 3 (store the rest of the mixture in an airtight container). Stir the ingredients with a fork until just combined. Pour this dressing over the ingredients in the large mixing bowl and toss to coat completely. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving, this salad can also be served chilled.