Chilled Melon Soup with Thai Chile Oil

I hear this California Indian Summer has every intention of sticking around for a little while longer, and while I'm mighty grateful for a slight dip in the temperature over the last couple of days, the fact of the matter is that I'm still lugging the fan around from room to room at home, sticking my head in the freezer in the kitchen and maxing out the A/C in the car.

But surely there must be other ways to stay cool besides sticking your face in a blast of cold air? Ah, yes. With food of course! Duh. While there are any number of lovely foods you could eat to help you chill out, I for one can't think of a better way to beat the heat than with a refreshing, cold soup. Heaven forbid we turn on the oven when it's pushing 90 (or even 80) outside!

This chilled melon soup comes together with minimal effort- just whiz all the ingredients in a blender, stick it in the fridge to chill and that's that. Well, that could be that if that's all you want, but why not double down on the cooling effects of this dish by whipping up a hot, spicy chile oil to drizzle into your soup?

What's that? You didn't know that eating spicy food can actually help to cool you down? Let me break it down for you real simple like: Eating spicy foods raises your internal temperature which causes you to sweat, and as the moisture evaporates, you are effectively cooled down. So there you go. Plus, it's super tasty and makes your melon soup way more badass.

serves 4
for the soup:
1 cantaloupe or Tuscan melon, seeded and chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
Thai basil leaves, for garnish
Thai chiles, thinly sliced, for garnish

for the chile oil:
1/2 oz. dried Thai chiles
1/2 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 cup olive oil or peanut oil
pinch of salt

1. Place melon, cucumber, shallot, water and olive oil in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chilled.
2. To make chile oil, place chiles and peppercorns in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.
3. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and add chile and peppercorn mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat for an additional 5 minutes. Add salt, remove from heat and allow to cool completely before using.
4. To serve, ladle chilled soup into bowls and garnish with chile oil, chile slices and Thai basil.


Lemon Pudding Parfaits

Ok, so I know it's September and a big part of me is getting so excited for Fall in all of it's comfy, cozy, pumpkin- flavored-everything glory, but it still feels like the dog days of summer around these parts.

SB is notorious for its long indian summers with clear and sunny 80 degree weather that can stretch on until practically November (with a handful of spectacular December/January beach days sprinkled in for good measure). In fact, sometimes it seems like summer hasn't even really begun until it's almost over! Crazy I know, but things just kind of show up whenever they feel like it in this sleepy little beach town. I'm ok with it.

So today I'm celebrating the end slash beginning of summer with this refreshing Lemon Pudding Parfait. Nothing says summer like a smooth, chilled, citrusy treat, but the gingersnap crumble gives a little hint that Fall is just around the corner...even if you won't be able to put on a sweater for another two months.

serves 6

for the lemon pudding:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

for the ginger streusel:
4-5 gingersnap cookies, crushed
2/3 cup flour
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. chilled butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup lemon curd
Fresh whipped cream

1.Whisk the sugar and the cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Gradually add milk and whisk until smooth.
2. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest and salt to saucepan. Stir over medium heat until pudding thickens, then remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter. Pass through a strainer into a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Chill, loosely covered, for at least 2 hours or until set.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine gingersnap cookies, flour, ginger and sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined. Pour contents into a mixing bowl and add chilled butter cubes. Gently work the mixture with your fingers to combine crumbs with butter until clumps form.
4. Spread the streusel mixture in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes or until crisp. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
5. To serve parfaits, divide lemon curd evenly among the bottom of six small mason jars or glasses. Layer lemon pudding and ginger streusel any way you'd like. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with more streusel.


Mango Meringue Tarts

OMG you guys. My heart is positively aflutter over these cute little mango tartlets. If they had cheeks, I would pinch them, that's how adorable they are. And it's not just because I'm a complete sucker for anything mini, although if I'm being completely honest that probably has a teeny tiny bit to do with it. 

They're so bright and sunny and pretty, just looking at them makes me do a little happy dance. And when I eat them I feel like a little girl sitting at tea party in my fancy dress with my fancy cup of tea and even fancier pastries. Pretty much the best feeling ever.

Ok, let me break this down for you so you can get to making them and feeling like a fancy little tea party guest in no time. A flaky, buttery pastry crust is baked into tartlet pans and filled with a homemade mango curd that is just the bee's knees. It's incredibly easy to make, but make sure to do it in advance (the day before even) so that it has plenty of time to set before you fill the tarts. You'll definitely want to keep the leftovers around in the fridge to smear on toast, spread on a crepe, swirl into yogurt and about a thousand other delightful things I can think of...

And let's not forget about those perfectly toasted tufts of meringue, the crowning glory of these magnificent treats. You'll probably wind up with a little leftover fluffy goodness- do not let it go to waste. Wanna know what I did? I added a little lemon zest and made mini lemon pavlovas and meringue cookies! And what do you know, they also pair brilliantly with that leftover mango curd, creating a whole new dessert after the original one is long gone. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

makes about 10 mini tarts
for the mango curd:
1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4-1/2 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the mango and how tart you want your curd to be
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

for the tart shells:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp salt
10 Tbs chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 Tbs cold water

for the meringue:
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. To make the mango curd, puree the mango, sugar, lime juice and salt in a food processor, scraping down the sides as needed, until a smooth consistency is reached. Add yolks and puree for another 10-15 seconds. Strain mixture through a mesh sieve into a metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of a spatula. Discard solids in sieve.
2.  Set metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F, about 10 minutes. Remove from over saucepan and gradually whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
3. To make the tart shells, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse once to mix. Add the butter and pulse until pea-size crumbs form, about 20-30 seconds. Add egg yolks and water and process for another 10-15 seconds or until large, moist crumbs form.
4.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a ball and divide in half. Flatten each half into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
5. Position a rack in the center of an oven and preheat to 400ºF. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured surface. Using a 3.5-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 10 rounds. Transfer each round to a 3.5-inch tartlet pan and press the pastry with your fingertips to fit up the sides. Poke with the tines of a fork and bake until the tart shells are evenly golden and crisp, 15-18 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes, then remove the tart shells from the pan and cool to room temperature.
6. To make the meringue, place egg whites and sugar in a heatproof mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160ºF on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and whisk on high speed until mixture is cool and stiff peaks form, about 6 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
7. To assemble tarts, spoon mango curd into cooled tart shells and pipe meringue around the edge of tarts using a small star tip fitted to a pastry bag. Torch meringue tops lightly with a culinary blowtorch, if desired.


Grilled Peach Bruschetta

Things are still humming along at full speed over here at Le Petit Chef headquarters, and since I'm buzzing around like a good little worker bee...or am I the queen bee of this operation? Yes, I think I quite like the sound of that.

Anyway, my point is that this blossoming little business of mine is still keeping me crazy busy, but I reaallly don't want my blog to suffer and withdraw into oblivion (kinda like it has been recently, dang). So naturally, when faced with such a dilemma I did what any good food blogger slash personal chef with overachieving tendencies would do: I lugged my camera along to one of the dinner parties I catered last week in order to share one of my most favorite summer appetizers with you. 

I don't know where on earth I got the crazy idea that I could somehow sneak in a fully styled photo shoot while preparing a six course dinner for twelve. #ChronicMultiTaskerProblems.

In reality all I had time to do was set the platter down, wipe my hands on my apron, snap a few quick shots and sprint back to the kitchen, so what you see is pretty much what you get today, folks. But what you get is sweet, juicy, smoky, summery goodness in the form of Grilled Peach Bruschetta!

I die. I mean, it is that perfect in all it's simple glory. Crunchy, charred ciabatta spread with a thin layer of rich, creamy burrata (so good with ricotta or goat cheese too, btw) and topped the most wonderfully ripe grilled peaches combined with flecks of tarragon, freshly cracked black pepper, flaky sea salt and a finishing drizzle of honey: it's everything that dreams are made of in one heavenly bite.

*Bonus: if you wind up with leftover grilled peach yumminess, use it up as a topping for your favorite grilled meat- thick, juicy pork chops would be my top choice, but chicken or fish would be just as delicious too!

serves 10-12
1 loaf ciabatta bread, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces burrata cheese, torn
3 medium ripe peaches, halved and cored
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
Flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Honey, for drizzling

1. Preheat and oil a cast iron or gas grill. Brush 2 tablespoons olive oil evenly over ciabatta slices and grill over medium heat until crisp and lightly charred on both sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Brush peach halves with vegetable oil or spray with non-stick spray. Grill, flesh side down, until lightly charred, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly, then chop and place in a medium sized bowl.
3. Chop tarragon and add to bowl along with salt, pepper and remaining tablespoon of olive oil and mix to combine.
4. Spread a layer of burrata over each slice of ciabatta and top with a dollop of grilled peach mixture. Season with additional salt and pepper and drizzle with honey.


Mini Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes

Holy cow. Has it really been almost a month since my last post??? Time flies when you're ridiculously, sometimes overwhelmingly, wish I could clone myself a few times so that everything could get done on time busy, I guess.

Summer is non-stop as a personal chef. Besides the holidays, it's the time of year when people are relaxing, gathering, vacationing and celebrating the most. So in between the regular clients I serve during the week I tend to see a huge bump in the number of parties I cater compared to the rest of the year. From May-September it's not uncommon for you to find me in the kitchen seven days a week.

Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life, right?

Um, yeah, no. While I do love what I do, what I do is hard work and a lot of hustle. Naturally, I feel so fortunate and grateful that the risk I took in starting a business is paying off and that this career I have created is actually thriving, but wow am I tired at the end of the day. I mean, just dead. As John is all too aware, nightly foot rubs are freely accepted and greatly appreciated over here.

And when all that cooking and working and hustling starts to monopolize my time, that leads to other life things piling up- chores, errands, play time, me time, blog posts!

Sometimes I can be really hard on myself for struggling to keep up with this busy life I have consciously designed; for not always being able to do it all. I'm sure we all know how that goes. But sometimes the part of me that is nicer to myself will chime in and say, "Hey. You're doing the best you can, and you're pretty much kicking ass. Chill out. You deserve a cupcake."

That's what these Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes are all about. If you find yourself in the middle of a constant, daily grind with little end in sight, I advise you to stop and bake yourself some cupcakes. Bright, citrusy, sunny, creme-filled cupcakes that will remind you of a simpler time when you would spend your summers running through the sprinklers and chasing after the ice cream truck for a cool, creamy popsicle. I promise they'll do wonders for your soul.

And make them mini, so that you can eat eight of them in one sitting without batting an eyelash. Because that's really only like, two regular cupcakes, right?

makes about 18 mini cupcakes
for the cupcake batter: 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 Tbsp orange zest
1 egg
6 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 tsp orange extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

 for the cream filling: 
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp confectioners' sugar

 for the orange buttercream frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp orange extract
1 Tbsp orange zest
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice, strained

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line mini muffin tins with paper cups. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
2. In a separate mixing bowl use an electric mixer on medium speed to cream the butter, sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add egg and continue to mix until just incorporated.
3. Combine cream, orange juice, orange extract and vanilla extract in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set mixer to low speed and blend in 1/3 of flour mixture followed by 1/3 of cream mixture. Continue to add wet and dry ingredients in alternating batches, mixing at each stage until just combined.
4. Divide batter evenly among paper lined muffin cups, filling each cup about 3/4 full.
5. Bake for about 15-18 minutes rotating muffin tins once halfway through. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To make the cream filling, whip 1/2 cup of heavy cream with 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip.
7. When cupcakes have cooled completely insert a small round pastry tip into each cupcake and push about halfway down, using a twist and scoop motion to remove that portion of cake. Fill the remaining empty well with the whipped cream filling. Repeat for all cupcakes.
8. Prepare the frosting. In a mixing bowl with electric mixer, combine the butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and orange extract until blended. Add the orange zest juice and beat until smooth and creamy. Add more confectioners' sugar or orange juice if necessary until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a pastry tip and pipe a dollop of frosting onto each cupcake.


Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Brûléed Nectarines

I basically made this recipe as an excuse to show off my new Weck jars. Aren't they lovely? I use them mostly to store pantry goods like nuts, dried fruit and shredded coconut- the rubber ring and stainless steel clamps for the lid keep everything fresh as a daisy! Plus, they make my cupboards look like an OCD dream. Naturally, I want them in all shapes and sizes.

No, this isn't an infomercial for Weck, I just have a little crush on them is all, and I especially love the clear glass design because they make such a pretty serving vessel for things like this Buttermilk Panna Cotta!

The buttermilk in this panna cotta is everything- it imparts a lighter, tangier twist that just makes it more intriguing- like if yogurt and creme brûlée had a yummy little baby.

Just about any kind of fruit would be marvelous paired with this dessert, but I couldn't resist these delectable nectarines at the market. Brûlée-ing (is that a word?) the tops was a no brainer. The crunchy texture and slightly burnt flavor is the ultimate compliment to the smooth, creamy panna cotta. Plus, as you start eating it you get these little pools of caramel and nectarine juice that will make your tummy do little somersaults (in a good way).

serves 4
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream, divided
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 nectarine, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar

*Special Equipment: kitchen torch

1. Place cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Set aside until gelatin has softened, about 10 minutes.
2. Combine 1/2 cup of heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved completely.
3. In a separate bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream, buttermilk, vanilla extract and vanilla seeds. Stir in hot cream mixture. Divide mixture between 4 ramekins and refrigerate overnight or until set.
4. Just before serving, place nectarine slices on a foil lined baking sheet and sprinkle with brown sugar. Heat the top of the fruit evenly with the kitchen torch until the sugar has begun to caramelize. Allow sugar to harden and cool, then garnish the top of each panna cotta with brûléed nectarine slices.


Heirloom Tomato Caprese with Nicoise Olives

Welp, it's officially summer, which means that I can officially start keeping track of how many orders I get from clients for my Caprese Salad. I swear, I make so many of these you wouldn't believe it. I offer loads of other bright, colorful, delicious, wonderful salads, but for some reason come summertime the simple, traditional caprese ends up being the front runner every year.

It's not surprising to see why- tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella are a perfect match. Classic, like The Three Stooges even. Since I have prepared this customary combo over and over again, I've had plenty of opportunities to tinker with the standard recipe, altering this and that along the way to come up with my favorite rendition, which I am tickled to share with you today.

For starters, we are in prime tomato season right now, so why not use the cream of the crop? I love to showcase the different shapes, sizes and colors of heirloom tomatoes in my rustic version. While we're at it, let's toss in some of the gooiest, richest cheese around, shall we? Ah, burrata...you make everything taste better, you creamy devil. 

Next, you could do a simple chiffonade of basil, nothing wrong with that. But I'm having kind of a moment with micro basil right now. It's so delicate and pretty, just scatter the leaves whole and you're halfway to summer salad nirvana. 

Ok, now I know what you're thinking, and you're absolutely right: olives are not traditionally part of a caprese salad. But like I said before, I have made caprese salad so. many. times. Like a thousand, probably. I was getting bored with the purists' interpretation, so can you blame me for going rouge and adding a few tasty little olives into the mix?

Go ahead, I dare you.

Any olives will do, but nicoise are my favorite here- they're flavorful but not overpowering. And I bet once you've tried it you won't want to go back. Now all that's left to do is add a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and your caprese salad upgrade is complete!

serves 4
1 1/2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, sliced
6 ounces burrata cheese
1/4 cup nicoise olives, drained
1/4  cup micro basil
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky sea salt

1. Divide tomato slices evenly among plates. Dollop burrata cheese over tomatoes and sprinkle olives and micro basil on top.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt before serving.