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The Hungry Cat, Santa Barbara

 

 

When we were in Santa Barbara last weekend, I ate at The Hungry Cat…twice.  I lunch at the Cat on Friday for a bridal lingerie shower, and my husband was so sad he missed out on the deliciousness, he made me promise I would eat there again with him.  It wasn’t much of a sacrifice to make that promise.  We discovered The Hungry Cat last August when we travelled to Santa Barbara for vacation.  A friend recommended the restaurant and we made reservations, not really knowing what to expect (and more than a little worried about eating at a place with the word “cat” in the name). We have yet to be disappointed in something we’ve ordered at The Hungry Cat.

Like everything in Santa Barbara, the restaurant is casual and looks like a corner bistro you would see in Paris.  It has probably 40 seats and the specials are written on a chalkboard on the wall.

 They always have several different kinds of oysters and several different kinds of cheese, as if they invented this restaurant just to satisfy my wishes!  I shared a dozen assorted oysters with my friend Annie,  I love Kumamoto oysters so I assumed those would be my favorites, but the Pacific Gold oysters from good ole’ Cali stole the show.  They were briny, not too big and very meaty.  The Hungry Cat also had Mignionette instead of plain old cocktail sauce so I was incredibly happy.I also had the fish tacos.  They were amazing.  I’m not typically a huge fish taco person because I feel like putting fish on tacos is like putting bacon on a salad: it overpowers the other flavors and makes everything taste like fish (or in the latter comparison, bacon).

 

But these fish tacos had homemade tortillas AND queso fresco so I decided, worst case scenario, I could eat the fish separately and enjoy the tacos sans fish.  I shouldn’t have given it a second thought because the tacos were amazing just as they were.

They put pickled carrot on top of the tacos which at first seemed decidedly un-Mexican.  But then I remembered that some of the Mexican joints around town serve relish alongside the chips and salsa.  This mexican relish is pickled veggies, including carrot so I retract my original statement.

The homemade tortillas really made the dish complete.  They were the PERFECT texture.  Slightly doughy and warm, but not as thick as pita.

This fish was mild and sauteed, and the whole dish was fresh and light!

After I ahnialated the fish tacos, we ordered dessert. We ordered 5 cheeses and a meyer lemon parfait.  They were both SO good.  The parfait was sweet, tart and creamy.  The lemon curd was perfectly gelled and the whipped cream separated the curd like a cloudy little barrier.  The sugar cookies on the side were also amazing.

 

And oh Jesus, the cheeses!  They were served with marcona olives and a fresh honeycomb alongside grilled bread that had a very delicious, smoky texture.  There were five cheeses, and I wish I could remember all of them.  Unfortunately, the only one I remember is Humboldt Fog.  It was so amazing, especially with the honey.

 

On Sunday, I had oysters again.  Then I had something VERY uncharacteristic for me.  It was called the pug burger, and I’d been dreaming about it since we ate at The Hungry Cat last August.  It’s a hamburger topped with bacon, bleu cheese and a FRIED EGG, and served with french fries.  It is seriously messy and really difficult to eat in any kind of polite and ladylike way which makes it pretty much the perfect burger!  It was so freaking good, I ate it, made a mess of myself, and ate it some more.  It was amazing.

My mom had the crab cake benedict.  It was made with black kale and

bacon and hollandaise, of course.  It was a really interesting twist on a traditional eggs benedict.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Ysidro Ranch, a little slice of heaven

Last Thursday we flew to Santa Barbara for a friend’s wedding.  Foodie Baby came along for the trip, complete with navy sport coat and suede bucks to wear to the wedding.  The wedding was at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito so that’s where we stayed.   And let me tell you, people, this place has earned every bit of its moniker as the number  four hotel in the world (Travel and Leisure T+L 500: World’s Best 2011). 

John and Jackie Kennedy spent their honeymoon at  “The Ranch” and Vivien Leigh and Sir Lawrence Olivier got hitched in the gardens (as did my friends Kate and Seth!) so it’s obviously kind of a big deal.  If I had to describe “Orange”, my two-bedroom cottage overlooking the garden and Montecito hills in three words, I would say: “heaven on earth”. 

Seriously, this place was AH-MAZING!  If Orange had a washer and dryer and kitchen, I might have nailed my feet to the ground and refused to leave!  Wait, maybe part of the reason I loved it was because it DIDN’T have a washer and dryer or kitchen.

Let me set the scene for you:  After winding through the hills of Montecito, we pulled into the “Hacienda” in our Mercedes convertible with our hair tied back in beautiful scarves and huge Tom Ford celeb shades on just like the celebrities we are.  Actually, that’s a complete lie.   That’s how I imagined our arrival, but what really happened was way grosser.  We rented a Ford Flex (if you aren’t familiar, a Ford Flex looks like an old school Wagoneer except instead of wood, the siding is silver, and instead of being cool and retro, it’s ugly and nerdy) and could barely fit all the luggage/car seat/stroller/toys I packed inside of it.  Then we barreled into 5:00 traffic on the 101 and crept along the highway for 30 minutes while Foodie Baby cried and we all sang Itsy Bitsy Spider to try to calm him…badly…and unsuccessfully because it turned out FB was crying in exasperation due to the impending end of a wicked bout of constipation.  I think we are all seeing where this is going, aren’t we?

We pulled into The Ranch in our stuffed like a sausage, ugly as sin Ford Flex just as my mom discovered that FB had dropped the world’s biggest bomb over Baghdad ever, and it was all over him and his car seat.  (In the Foodie family, we refer to dirty diapers as bombs…leaky dirty diapers are Bombs Over Baghdad…and if you don’t have kids, this is where you decide you are NEVER reading my blog again…sorry.  Kids are gross sometimes and the code names were invented to prevent other restaurant goers from being totally grossed out when we had to make emergency diaper changes, so you’re welcome!)   Point being, instead of coolly pulling into the #4 hotel in the world with Tom Fords and a Mercedes, we apologetically parked and said a quick hello to the parents of the bride (all the while warning them to keep their distance) and then began the process of wiping down FB and his car seat much to the dismay of our fellow guests and Ranch employees.  Smooooooooth.

Once we made it to the Orange cottage, however, all of those embarrassments were just minor bumps in the road.  The weather in Montecito was simply perfect, and the Orange Cottage was magnificent!  We walked up a small stairway to Orange’s front patio with a breakfast table and lounge chairs situated outside that overlooked the grove of orange trees that surrounded the garden. 

And if I wasn’t already committed to staying in Orange forever, there was a wooden sign to the left of the door that had our last name on it.   Inside, the staff had set up a crib for FB, complete with a beanie baby (The Ranch is owned by infamous beanie baby founder, Ty Warner) and a sweet barefoot dreams hoodie that matched the amazingly soft robes that were in the bathroom.  Orange is a two-bedroom cottage with a living room in between, and both bedrooms had private back patios with…wait for it…OUTDOOR SHOWERS!  I didn’t take a shower inside all weekend!  I enjoyed the wonderful weather and showered outside, just like God intended.  Our half of the patio also had a hot tub that FB enjoyed thoroughly.  The Ranch also has a pool (with a baby pool) just up the road from Orange.  The pool area has a small indoor/outdoor fitness facility that looked nice (but I didn’t use) and a cooler with Evian water.  I LOVE it when hotels give you free bottles of water.  There was also a sunscreen and pool toy area, which I also appreciate.

Oh!  I almost forgot!  They also spelled out FB’s name with sponges next to the bathtub and included a travel pack of Johnson’s products.  I love it when hotels think to include baby toiletries!

We got ready for dinner at the Stone House, which is by the Hacienda.  We sat outside and brought FB even though it was about 2 hours past his bedtime with the time zone change.  He was his usual, vocal self but the staff and patrons didn’t seem to mind at all.  They brought FB a high chair and he happily ate ciabatta and some kind of delicious Parmesan cracker until my mom decided to take him upstairs so that the rest of us could talk and drink wine without FB’s intervention!  (I know, best Grandma EVER!)  Before we left, a stranger at another table held FB and told my mom he was sorry he didn’t do more to entertain FB while he was at the table.  Could a restaurant get any MORE kid friendly?  Wow!

I had an amazing dinner that I took exactly ZERO pictures of before I scarfed it down.  Oops.  I started with crispy artichoke (which was a roasted artichoke literally cut in half) with aioli and arugula salad.  For a main course I had salmon and stole almost all of the crack-like mashed potatoes that came with my husband’s braised short ribs.  This was after I ate a few baby back ribs, coleslaw, roasted brussel sprouts and a few baskets of bread.  Because I’m super health conscious (meaning my skinny jeans were about to rip at the seams) I passed on dessert.

The next morning, I went on a 5 mile “waterfall” hike with my friend Annie.  I put waterfall in quotes because it was more of a trickle of water than a fall of water, but the hike was really nice, and right next to our hotel.  I heard rumors that the hiking trails had really bad poison oak, but I never saw any myself.  I did, unfortunately, see a dead mouse.  I almost bolted off the trail in a very un-outdoorswoman way, but I recovered and walked (sprinted and screamed) past the deceased rodent.

All in all, the San Ysidro Ranch was amazing.  I think it was probably the nicest place I’ve ever stayed.  There was plenty to do (we really didn’t need to leave the property) and it appealed to people of all ages.  They were welcoming to FB and he loved his barefoot dreams hoodie and beanie baby.  I’m already ready to go back…

 

 

Spice is the…..Spice of Life!

How does your (herb) garden grow?  My herb garden always outgrows my needs so last year I roasted the bushel basket of peppers (very hot peppers) and dried the rosemary and oregano. I had plenty to share with the entire foodie family and a use for those glass herb jars I have been saving for years!

The spice of summer kept the spice of life in our food during the cold winter.

Tip on pepper roasting- keep the oven fan on and use gloves to handle the peppers. 

Make your own Pizza Party!

 

Wednesday seems like a L-O-N-G time ago.  Probably because I’ve been in a little slice of paradise called the San Ysidro Ranch  since Thursday and coming back last night was sort of like walking into the full-on midday sun the morning after your 21st birthday…with no sunglasses.  Okay, maybe not that bad.  But I didn’t want to leave.  More about that in my next post.  This post is dedicated to the good time I had before I left!

We had our neighbors over for dinner on Wednesday night.  Basically, I generically invited them over the week before for dinner and swimming, and then I forgot to actually follow up with a date.  Once I remembered, I was already booked for dinner the rest of the week.  I invited them to come over on Wednesday the following week (which was last week…are you lost yet?) and then began brainstorming what kind of dinner I could make that had little (no) cleanup and would satisfy both kids and adults.

About that time, I opened June’s Cooking Light to the “Fresh Summer Pizzas” section and decided we would bring back an old party we used to throw all the time in Law School: Make Your Own Pizza Night!  We have an amazing pizza stone that’s designed for our grill, and if you buy the dough, making your pizza is a snap.  I think Cooking Light said it best: “Invite friends over, scoop up some fresh ingredients, and throw and easy pie party…start with the dough.  Fast and simple means store-bought, not homemade.”  Exactly, CL, you’re speaking my language.  We called a local pizza joint, Pie Hole and ordered 5 large doughs.  Tuesday night, I roasted eggplant, squash, zucchini and onion.  I also bought mushrooms (which I sauteed Wednesday), kalamata olives, pepperonis, canadian bacon, shredded and whole mozzerella*, parmasean, romano, ricotta, tomatoes**, spinach (also sauteed), garlic, tomato sauce and pesto.  

I left the pizza dough out when my husband brought it home and that made it easy to stretch into pizza form.  Then, I put it on a cookie sheet covered with corn meal (to prevent it from sticking) and let my guests team up to make their pizzas.  They could add whatever toppings they wanted, and then we baked the pizzas for about 10-15 minutes!  I made the Three Cheese Pizza with Spinach and thought it was pretty good.  My husband and another guy made a “man pizza” which came to be called the “POTN” (pizza of the night).  The kids had fun making “patterns” with the pepperoni and tomato.

 

One of our neighbors brought Sangria.  I will ask her for the recipe to post it, but I know the primary ingredient was Carlo Rossi jug wine.  It was dangerously delicious.

 

I also made a three berry pie for dessert.  My husband said it wasn’t “real” pie because it had a crumble on top instead of a lattice top, but I thought it was delicious.  I got the recipe from Nepenthe in Big Sur, and I’m calling it Hippie Pie because the instead of a cook time, the recipe advised to bake until “the top is golden and bubbles rage”. HA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Mozzerella is so squashy it’s really difficult to cut without it completely losing its composition.  I found that freezing the mozzarella in the package and then taking it out when it’s hard (that’s what she said) makes it way easier to slice.

**Put the sliced tomatoes on a jelly roll pan lined with paper towels for 20 minutes before you put them on the pizza.  It makes the pizza less soggy.

Three-Cheese White Pizza with Spinach and Tomatoes

Hippie Pie

 

Taco Tuesday!

Esta noche comimos los tacos!

And in my expert opinion, they were…eh.  I invented the recipe on the fly and HB added ingredients with every walk by.  We make street tacos all the time, but this time we were trying to replicate some tacos we ate at a hole in the wall a few miles away called Tacos El-Rinconcito.

Last time we went to this particular taco tienda, we ended up asking for our food to go because on Saturday, Tacos El-Rinconcito has a strict “we only serve people with neck tattoos” policy and we had Foodie Baby with us.  We love the tacos at El-Rinconcito (we usually eat there during the week) because they shred the chicken instead of chopping it, and it seems like they must add it back into the pan with onions and garlic just before putting it on the tortilla because it is always very juicy and a bit crispy.

When I was putting together the ingredients for this dish, I realized that the El-Rinconcito secret isn’t in the shredding method, it’s actually in the TYPE (or more specifically, part) of the chicken they use.  Instead of using the healthy chicken breast like the other tacos places, El-Rinconcito uses chicken thighs!  That’s why they’re so juicy! AHA!

In order to keep it authentic (wink) I also decided to use chicken thighs.  I started with onions, garlic, poblano pepper and jalapeno and sauteed it with olive oil for about 2 minutes.  Then I added the chicken.  At which point HB entered the kitchen and added: salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and sriracha.

I let the chicken thighs simmer for about 5 minutes on each side, covering the pan after I flipped the chicken.  While the chicken was cooking, we steamed corn tortillas using our super sophisticated steaming method* and chopped the cilantro.

The meal was easy and flavorful.  We ate it with lime rice and a salad with avacado, feta and mixed greens.  I thought it was just ok, but HB really enjoyed it.  Maybe I just needed some wine to enjoy it properly…or a few neck tattoos.

*Super sophisticated tortilla steaming: Place a veggie steaming basket inside a pot.  Fill the pot with about 1/4 inch of water and bring it to a boil.  Balance the tortilla atop the steamer basket for about 20 seconds.  Repeat.

Hip-E’s Street Tacos El-Rinconcito 

  • 2 lbs. chicken thighs
  • 1 sliced poblano pepper, divided
  • 1 sliced jalapeno, divided
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped purple onion, divided
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomato, chopped
  • a few shakes of cayenne pepper
  • a squirt of sriracha
  • salt and pepper
  • corn tortilla
  • 2 T olive oil

1.  Sautee the 1/2 of the jalapeno and poblano peppers, 1/4 cup of onion, and garlic in 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, about 2 minutes.

2.  Add chicken in a single layer.  Meanwhile, chop the cilantro and begin the super sophisticated tortilla steaming (see method above).

3.  After about 5 minutes, flip the chicken.  Cover the pan with a lid.

4.  Chop the chicken into small pieces, place atop the tortilla and top with raw onion, tomato and cilantro.  Muy bueno!