Author Archives: Maria Colette Hunt

A Scented Soirée: Jo Malone & The Bubbly Girl Launch Wild Bluebell Sept. 22-30, 2011

I'm joining Jo Malone to make fragrant cocktails for the launch of their new fragrance Wild Bluebell.

Whenever I create a new cocktail, my inspiration usually starts with an amazing piece of seasonal fruit, a fun sparkling wine or a unique spirit that captures my imagination. Then I start adding other flavors to create a cocktail that’s harmonious and complex.

That’s the same way the perfumers at the British fragrance brand Jo Malone blend fruit, floral and spice aromas to create a beguiling scent. I love the way Jo Malone fragrances like White Jasmine and Mint, Nectarine Blossom and Honey and Lime Blossom perfectly capture those natural aromas. Their latest creation is Wild Bluebell, a dewy and slightly mysterious floral scent.

This month I’ll be working with Jo Malone to present a series of interactive cocktail and fragrance parties to explore the elements in the new fragrance Wild Bluebell.

Our heroine Wild Bluebell grew up in a grand English country manor. When she was a young woman, she left home to go traveling the world on different adventures. When she returned home years later, she discovered that her childhood home had fallen into neglect; overrun with namesake wild bluebell flowers. The scent was so intoxicating, she couldn’t resist falling into the fragrant carpet of flowers – just like in the picture above.

Wild Bluebell starts with top notes of wild bluebell and orange flower water, heart notes of persimmon and eglantine rose and finishes base notes of white musk. It’s made to be layered with other scents in the Jo Malone range, the same way spirits like gin and brandy pair with a range of other spirits, liqueurs and fruits.

Call the stores directly to reserve a place at one of these scented soirées:

Sept. 22 – Nordstrom Walnut Creek, 4 p.m.
RSVP: 925-930-7959 ext. 1042.

Sept. 23 – Neiman Marcus San Francisco, 1, 2:30 and 4 p.m.
RSVP: 415-362-3900 ext 211.

Sept. 24 – Neiman Marcus Palo Alto, 1 and 2:30 p.m.
RSVP: 650-329-3300.

Sept. 30 – Saks Fifth Avenue San Francisco, 3 p.m.
RSVP: 415-438-5243.

Girly Bling Rings Cupcakes

These Bling Ring cupcakes - decorated with Ring Pops and Sugar Pearls - would be perfect for a girly tea or princess party.

Just like fashions in sunglasses, automobiles and handbags, there are definite trends in desserts.

The first dessert era I remember was age of tiramisu, followed by the crème brûlée epoque. Next came chocolate lava cakes, which oozed their way onto dessert menus everywhere and took their sweet time leaving.

The latter half of the 2000s has been the Era of the Cupcake, when the homemade treat made by moms everywhere was re-imagined as a designer sweet with a 3-inch beehive of frosting and a $3 price tag. As a dessert trend, I think cupcakes are pretty 2008 (read over), but creative homemade cupcakes will never go out of style. I like borrowing some inspiration from designer cupcakes and adding them to the homemade ones.

I remember being fascinated with Ring Pops as a kid and wanted to find a way to incorporate them in a girly cupcake. I baked white cupcakes in fluted petal baking cups and then frosted them with a lemon glaze. Then while they were still soft, I embedded the shank of a ring pop in each one and finished with a sprinkle of silver and white sugar pearls, plus pink and green sugar sprinkles to match the cups.

I have to admit, the cupcake making part was super-easy, as I used boxed cake mix and frosting mix from Trader Joe’s. I turned their white frosting into lemon glaze by substituting the juice of two lemons for the hot water called for on the box.

These Bling Ring Cupcakes are a bit over the top, but they’d be perfect for a tea or a princess party. And they were appreciated by girls of all ages.

Croque Monsieur With Cheese Bechamel for #letslunch

Open-faced croque monsieur is delicious hot, cold or in-between.

Just like revenge, sometimes dinner is best served cold – or at least at room temperature. It’s pretty comfortable here in California, but for the rest of the country, the idea of heating up the kitchen with the oven sounds pretty unappealing.

So the bloggers in the #letslunch group decided to share our favorite cold dinners this month. Whipping up a salad makes for a cool and easy meal, but I decided that that makes it too easy.

Croque Monsieur, the French grilled ham and cheese sandwich, is one of my favorite meals to eat lukewarm or hot from the oven. It takes a little time to whip up the bechamel, but aside from that, it’s as easy as toasting cheese on bread and so much more satisfying. There are lots of ways to present it, but I like Croque Monsieur open faced and topped with juicy summer tomatoes.

Croque Monsieur

4 slices of crusty levain bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup cheesy bechamel (recipe follows)
12 slices thin smoked black forest ham
4 slices ripe tomato seasoned with salt and pepper
8 tablespoons shredded melting cheese like fontina or swiss
2 teaspoons hard grating cheese like Pecorino Romano or parmesan
2 teaspoons olive oil
Slice bread about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle with olive oil and then flip over. Spread top of each with 1/8 cup cheese bechamel sauce, being sure to take sauce to the edges of the bread. Top each piece of bread with 3 thin slices ham and a slice of ripe tomato seasoned with salt and pepper. Crown each slice with 2 tablespoons shredded melting cheese and then 1/2 teaspoon hard grating cheese. Drizzle each with a little olive oil.

Bake at 400 til brown and bubbly on top and crisp on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature or just warm, and serve. Makes a great lunch with poached or pickled asparagus or green beans.

Makes 4 servings

Cheese Bechamel Sauce

Makes 1-1/2 cups

4 tablespoons butter
4 T flour
3 cups warmed whole milk
salt to taste
a few grates of nutmeg
1/2 cup to 1 cup shredded cheese swiss or gruyere

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over low-medium heat. Whisk in the flour. It will be bubbling. Let the sauce cook for several minutes. Watch it and keep whisking it keep it from browning.

Remove from the heat, pour the milk in all at once and continue to whisk. Now you can add more milk to make it thinner. Let it keep cooking until it doesn’t taste like flour any more. Once it’s nice tasting, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of Swiss or gruyere and stir until it’s melted in.

Lemon Curd – Simple and Delicious

Homemade Meyer lemon curd makes a delicious topping for a toasted scone.

With Easter upon us, it’s natural to think about eggs. Some people may like their eggs scrambled, poached or fried, but I love my eggs whipped into a delicious lemon curd.

Lemon curd – in case you’ve never tried it – is like a light and gooey lemony jam or a simple homey custard that’s flavored with lemon. In England it’s traditionally eaten on scones, but I love it on strawberries and raspberries, on toast, folded into whipped cream to make a topping for shortcake or on a spoon.

Jarred lemon curd is pretty awful stuff; the light and sheer quality of a good lemon curd can’t be captured in a jar. Fortunately, it’s so easy to make lemon curd any time you have the taste for it.

A couple years ago when I had some extra time on my hands, I decided to compare the lemon curd recipes from a couple great pastry cooks: French chef Jacques Torres of Mr. Chocolate and British culinary bombshell Nigella Lawson.

I’ve met both, and it turned out their recipes matched their personalities.Torres, who earned fame for his complex creations at Le Cirque in New York, created a recipe that was careful and detailed in his book “Dessert Circus at Home”.

Nigella’s lime curd recipe in “How to Be A Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking” was breezy and quickly thrown together, the kind of citrus curd a busy mom and writer would whip up.

My ideal lemon curd recipe is a hybrid of the two: taking Nigella’s lime curd recipe and adding the step of passing the finished curd through a strainer, to make it a little more silky, like Jacques’.

Meyer Lemon Curd
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (of approximately 4 lemons)
zest of 1 lemon
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan, add all the other ingredients and whisk to a custard over a gentle heat. Let cool slightly before passing the curd through a wire-mesh strainer over a bowl. Spoon the curd into storage container and keep in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups

Adapted from “How to Be a Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson

April in Paris: A Vacation of the Mind

Scallops in Paris

Coquilles St Jacques in the shell were one of the memorable culinary delights at the Bastille farmer's market.

I’m not sure if it’s the recent rains or the need for a real vacation adventure, but I’ve been longing for Paris. The last time I visited the city of Light was in April 2009 and it was perfect. Rainy and sunny at turns, full of surprises and new discoveries.

Since I don’t have a plane ticket, I thought I’d take a little vacation of the mind by reliving some of my favorite images from the trip. I was groggy from a night spent dozing in coach as a new friend helped me navigate the Metro and dump my overpacked suitcase at the hotel.

Then we went in search of breakfast and spotted the peaks of white canopies off in the distance. We walked towards them and this is what we discovered at the Sunday morning Bastille Farmer’s Market.

Think Pink: Delicious & Easy Valentine’s Day Food & Drinks


Whether you’ve got a big Valentine’s dinner planned or not, I think it’s nice to be able to start your celebration at home. So I put together a gallery with some of my favorite, easy-to-make pink foods and drinks for Valentine’s Day. The post is co-hosted with my cocktails and entertaining website, The Bubbly Girl, where many of these recipes were featured.

Visit the recipes section at The Bubbly Girl for the Kismet Cocktail, Raspberry Royale cocktail, the Chocolate Corks which is fudgy and moist since it starts with a yeast based chocolate dough.

You could pick up ingredients for most of these recipes at Trader Joe’s, along with the super-affordable Blason Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé. The red Italian sparkler Brachetto d’Acqui is usually at BevMo or a larger liquor stores with a decent wine department.

To make the Jack Rose cocktail, add 1 ounce Pama pomegranate liqueur, two ounces applejack (or Calvados if you can’t find it) and the juice of half a lime to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake it until your hands are really cold, then strain it into a smallish martini glass.

Cheers!

Red Walnuts: The Unofficial Sweet-Heart Nut of Valentine’s Day

Livermore red walnuts grown here in California are a striking shade of magenta, as well as being delicious.


I love going to farmer’s markets. Even if my refrigerator is full, I love their energy and the chance discoveries.

My latest revelation is the Red Walnut – a really purplish, magenta colored version of the familiar tan nut. The ones I bought were fresh from Terra Bella Ranch in northern San Diego County, so they had a wonderful light and sweet nutty flavor. But what really sold me was the color.

A little sign explained that the nuts are the Livermore variety and said they hailed from England originally. But I did some research and tracked down the US Patent application that was filed by the University of California at Davis, where the Robert Livermore walnut was developed. The Livermore is a cross between a purple walnut variety and the standard Howard walnut. Robert Livermore was a supporter of the university’s programs and with having the unusual new walnut named for him.

Check out Terra Bella Ranch’s Facebook page to learn where to find them. Or if you live in a climate where walnut trees thrive, you can order your own Livermore red walnut tree from Dave Wilson Nursery.

Since most of the good phenolic acids, tannins and flavonoids in a walnut is in the skin or pellicule, it’s not hard to believe that the red walnut has some unique nutrients that aren’t found in the tan walnut. According to the walnut entry on World’s Healthiest Foods, Walnuts are a great source of gamma-tocopherol, a rather rare form of Vitamin E that has been shown to have very positive role in reducing heart disease risk. With that and other beneficial properties, is why I’m naming walnuts the sweet-heart nut of Valentine’s Day.

In case you’re wondering what to do with walnuts besides eat them, I’ve put together a collection of delicious walnut recipes on Foodily.

Pretty Pictures of Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves
(French lyrics by Jacques Prévert,
English lyrics by Johnny Mercer,
Music by Joseph Kosma)

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

C’est une chanson, qui nous ressemble
Toi tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble
Toi que m’aimais moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable les pas des amants désunis

More lyrics: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/n/nat+king+cole/#share

Scream Sorbet: A Really Good Vegan “Ice Cream” Shop Now Open in Temescal

The purely vegan Sweet Potato Coconut Sorbet is one of the deliciously creamy seasonal flavors at the new shop in Temescal.


To be honest, the word “vegan” appearing next to any food I like usually makes me groan. A vegan take on say liver wouldn’t bother me a bit. But vegan + ice cream? How could one fake the exquisite harmony of cream, eggs and sugar with coconut oil or worse?

But I’m rethinking my bias, now that I’ve tasted a few flavors by Scream Sorbet, which opened in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood about 10 days ago.

Normally, sorbets are a combination of fruit, water and sugar. The creative confections that Scream Sorbet has sold at Bay Area farmers markets for the past few years don’t contain any dairy, but they still manage to take sorbet in a whole new direction. Scream sorbets eat like ice cream, since they have a surprisingly creamy and luscious texture that comes from a careful blend of nut milks and butters. After a bite of Scream sorbet, the palate feels clean instead of coated with fat, as often happens with dairy-based ice creams.

Owner Nathan Kurz explains that most traditional ice creams are 90 percent eggs, cream and sugar with just 10 percent flavoring like strawberries, chocolate or pistachio nuts added. But Scream pastry chef Stephanie Lau – who worked at Cafe Fanny starts with a base ingredient like locally grown sweet potatoes, pomegranates or pecans and adds just enough sugar and fats from nuts or coconut to make the recipe creamy.

Scream Sorbet's shop window at 5030 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland features lids from their many different flavors.

“You get so much more flavor out of the sorbets this way,” says Kurz, who owns Scream along with Noah Goldner. He explains the research that led them to creamy sorbets in this October 2010 New York Times Style Magazine piece.

At their storefront at 5030 Telegraph Ave., shoppers can pick up pints of sorbet for $8 to $10 apiece in a variety of Scream flavors like seasonal Pecan and Bourbon laced with Maker’s Mark, Rose Almond, Satsuma Mandarin, Coconut Thai Basil and Kettle Corn.

They’re still waiting for their final health department permit, so they can’t scoop ice cream – er sorbet – on premises yet. But it’s worth stopping by to sample of one of their ice cream sandwiches like shortbread stuffed with Meyer lemon sorbet or gingersnaps with Blue Bottle Coffee sorbet. They’re so good, I promise you’ll forget all about the v-word.

The Sushification of America & The Best Sauce in the World, According to Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl - the former Gourmet editor - here with Masaharu Morimoto - spoke to the ways Japan has influenced American cuisine. Photo Courtesy NY Daily News

First thing Saturday morning, I drove up to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to catch the last day of the Worlds of Flavor Japan Conference. Ruth Reichl was just one of the bold letter names in food in St. Helena Nov. 4 -6. The foodie glitterati also included Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, David Chang of Momofuku, Doug Keane of Cyrus, Masaharu Morimoto of Iron Chef and newish Morimoto Napa and three of the seven Michelin three-star chefs in Kyoto.

Saturday afternoon, Reichl took the stage to reflect on the ways Japanese flavors have influenced American cuisine. She says that for years, Americans pretty much had no concept of what real Japanese food was about – the devotion to seasonal ingredients and achieving an exquisite balance of flavors and textures.

A rare and accurate early account of a trip to a Japanese restaurant was written in 1914 by Clarence Edgar Edwords in his book called Bohemian San Francisco. He describes eating raw fish and enjoying it and even mastering the use of chopsticks.

Up until the 70s, much of the food writing about Japanese cuisine focused on sukiyaki, a winter dish of beef, vegetables and noodles. And Reichl herself caught hell in 1983 for doing her first New York Times food review on a soba noodle place – and giving it three stars. “Never mind that it was an excellent soba noodle parlor,” Reichl added sotto voce.

While other ethnic cuisines took hold because of immigration, that didn’t happen with Japanese foods. Part of the problem is that there wasn’t a good supply of fresh fish needed to make Japanese cuisine in the U.S. But Reichl says things started to change after the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 that made it profitable for fishermen to invest in boats that could freeze fish at sea and deliver sushi-grade seafood to market. (It also set up many fish populations for over-fishing.)

Sushi restaurants started to open on the West Coast and high-end restaurants of all types started serving raw fish carpaccio, crudo and tartare. Now sushi is found in any supermarket. Reichl thinks the generation who grew up on grab-and-go industrial sushi is now creating the nation’s street food culture. “The sushification of America is now complete,” Reichl said.

We’ve started to get our heads – and mouths – around concepts like umami. But the next frontier in food is texture – and the Japanese know there’s more to it than crunchy. Reichl mused that maybe one day Americans will develop an appreciation for slippery – the texture one finds in natto, okra and yamaimo – the misunderstood mountain potato.

This simple combination of soy butter and lime is a great sauce for seafood or poultry and can be dressed up by adding ginger, garlic or even chipotle chile.

During an interview Reichl did with some years ago with David Bouley, Eric Ripert and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, they all revealed that visiting Japan had the most profound influence on the way they cooked. They gained a greater appreciation for presenting seasonal fare from kaiseki ryori. But they all realized too how sublime simple combinations can be. J-G dubbed soy, butter and lime to be the best sauce in the world and the other chefs agreed.

Here’s how to make it at home: for every tablespoon of butter, mix in 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce over a low-medium flame. When the butter is melted, whisk in one teaspoon of fresh lime juice. The sauce will be a gorgeous caramel color and tastes delicious over seafood or poultry. Once you have the ratio down, it can easily be varied by adding small amounts of fresh ginger root, minced garlic or even chipotle chiles.

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