Monthly Archives: October 2014

Best Thing I Ever Ate: Chilled Perfection

A regular on my TiVo circuit is Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Basically, famous chefs and food industry folk – think Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay and Ina Garten – share where they eat when they’re not in their own (professional or home) kitchens. I don’t know about you, but I find it fascinating to hear where some of my favorite foodies love to eat, especially when it’s somewhere I’ve been and even more so when the meal is something I’ve actually HAD.

When this happens, watch out. Leave it to me to yell excitedly at my husband and then at the TV: “Honey, honey, honey! I’ve totally had that, too! S/he’s right, that [appetizer, entree or dessert] is amazing!” Bryan just smiles and nods and goes back to whatever he’s doing, knowing my food freak out is almost over. 🙂
The other night the “Best Thing I Ever Ate” theme was Chilled Perfection (they’re taking a lot of liberties as it’s pretty much anything served cold) and I immediately thought of my childhood-turned-adult favorite: The Balboa bar (and frozen banana!) at Dad’s Donut Shop in Newport Beach, CA.
Dad’s Donut Shop
Photo courtesy of TheSugarMagnolia

The famous Balboa Bar
Photo courtesy of OhHeyGreat
Perhaps I’m biased – I spent every childhood summer at my grandparents’ house on Balboa Island – but this is the most simple yet delicious snack I can remember. Break it down and the individual parts are nothing special: a rectangle of ice cream dipped into a vat of Dad’s version of melted chocolate shell. Oh, and it’s on a stick, upping the fun quotient. Before the chocolate can freeze to the block of ice cream, the Newport teenager working their summer job behind the counter rolls it in your choice of toppings: chopped nuts, crushed Oreos, rainbow and chocolate sprinkles, toffee and an “everything” option.

Balboa Bar Toppings
Photo courtesy of Yelp
You could get all fancy-schmancy about it, noting the ice cream’s creaminess, the crunch of the nuts, etc. But that’s a bunch of crap: this thing is just GREAT. Ice cream, chocolate and toppings on a stick. How can you go wrong??
Especially since it’s the Balboa Island experience that makes it amazing. You order from a small window in the front of the shop and, if you’re like me at age 12, you’ve run straight from the beach. Barefoot, wearing nothing your bathing suit and covered in sand. The sidewalk is hot beneath your feet and as the sun beats down on your prized Balboa Bar, you realize you only have a few moments before your precious starts to melt and fall apart. Sometimes that’s the best part, balancing eating the ice cream off the stick and picking up chunks of chocolate “shell” out of the hot dog-esque cardboard boat.
The “Everything” Balboa Bar
Photo courtesy of Yelp
Then comes the frozen banana: you pick a small, medium, large or extra-large banana that’s been frozen on a wooden stick. They dip it in the chocolate shell and once again, roll it in the topping wonderland. The banana lasts a lot longer than the Balboa Bar, mostly because the frozen banana practically demands a few moments of open-air defrost before it will let you bite into it. But it’s no less delicious, especially if you’re a banana person.

The “Everything” Frozen Banana
Photo courtesy of Yelp

Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop
318 Marine Ave
Newport Beach, CA 92662
(949) 673-8686

Great Idea: Bottle Your Own Olive Oil

Bryan and I have been bottling our own olive oil for over a year now. We obviously don’t go as far as growing and harvesting our own olives – our 4×4′ concrete slab of a patio isn’t exactly a horticulture haven – but we have definitely jumped on the bottle-your-own-olive-oil bandwagon.

I’m happy to say that this previously niche trend is seemingly becoming mainstream. The best way to explain is to compare it to wine tasting. It’s no secret that Bryan and I travel to Napa Valley as often as we can (especially when we’re in the Bay area visiting his family), but instead of only visiting our favorite wineries, we’ve expanded our visits to local olive oil producers.

Making olive oil is very similar to making wine. Acres of olives groves blend into the wine-dominated Napa landscape, where specific strains of olives are harvested, pressed and (sometimes) filtered. They are stored in massive tanks prior to bottling, and here’s where the new trend starts. Rather than simply bottling the olive oil and selling them to the public, olive oil producers have opened shops offering people the opportunity to taste, blend and bottle their preferred olive oils. In addition to being fun, olive oil tasting is an incredibly educational experience.

Now you may say to yourself: “Why would I ever want to taste OIL? That sounds gross!”

Here’s the deal: Similar to wine, each olive oil is made from a specific type, or strain, of olive. As a result, the oils have very different tastes, e.g. grassy, spicy, earthy, sweet, etc. And what if you discover you hate spicy olive oil but prefer a grassy flavor? You’d never know had you not had the chance to taste them. And it’s not like you’re sipping oil out of a glass; there are bite-sized pieces of artisanal, locally-baked breads for you to dip in the oil. It’s like a free appetizer plate, minus the cheese. 🙂

So while we’re in Napa Valley, Bryan and I cruise straight to the town of St. Helena; home of our two favorite olive oil shops. We taste the latest “vintages” and once we find one we love, we grab an empty glass bottle, carefully lift the tank’s lever and let the oil flow. We take the bottle to the counter where it is sealed, bagged and accompanied by a card describing the oils tastes and properties. Upon leaving the store, you feel proud and dare I say it, even a little protective of your purchase. You didn’t just grab a bottle off the shelf; you were part of the process and found an oil you are now invested in. Perhaps even love. So treat it right (How? Details in an upcoming post).

St. Helena Olive Oil Company
St. Helena Olive Oil Company has a variety of extra virgin olive oils, flavored olive oils, Balsamic vinegar and Napa Valley wine vinegar. Not only is their olive oil fantastic, I absolutely adore the rustic packaging. I use their olive oils to make homemade vinaigrettes, drizzle over salads and soups, etc. Our favorite oil is the Buono Volunta variety, although it’s not listed on their website. I don’t cook with it as much, as the flavor is strong. Like I said, perfect as a drizzled finish or accompaniment to a meal.

Photo courtesy of

Olivier Napa Valley
Olivier Napa Valley has a wide variety of oils, vinegars and sauces – from the especially light to cough-inducing spicy – but their House Blend/California Extra Virgin Oil is our favorite. According to the description, “this special blend developed by Olivier is an accompaniment of Sevillano, Manzanillo and Arbequina olive varietals. We have created this blend for the perfect Mediterranean cuisine. Great for sauteing all types of vegetables as well as traditional country-style meat or poultry dishes.”

While I don’t know how many country-style meat or poultry dishes I make, I do know we use Olivier’s House Blend for almost everything. It’s the perfect oil for cooking and finishing our meals. The flavors are a well-balanced combination of some their more polarizing oil tastes – grassy, spicy, etc. – without overwhelming your palate. Best of all, the bottle is big enough that the oil lasts us for a few months. Bottom line: For us, it’s the perfect all-around oil.

Photo courtesy of

So next time you find yourself in need of olive oil, don’t just run to the grocery store. Take a few extra minutes to research your city’s gourmet shops. You may find an olive oil specialty shop where you, too, can taste and bottle your own oil. But let me warn you; once you start bottling, it’s nearly impossible to go back to buying from grocery shelves. 🙂

Heart-Shaped Tart Pops: Retro Meets Romance

Pop Tart Hearts on a stick! (Photo: Kitchen Fun)

Last year I made an incredible pop tart recipe from Bon Appetit. The fact that I could make Pop Tarts — a childhood favorite breakfast item of mine — from scratch in my own kitchen from organic ingredients, no less… well, it blew my mind.

This Valentine’s Day, I’m combining the pop tart with another darling of the dessert world: the Pie Pop. The result? Heart-shaped Tart Pops. They’re part-retro, part-romance and guaranteed to impress your husband, wife, mom, dad, coworker… or whomever is lucky enough to be your Valentine. Don’t have a Valentine? Who cares! These little stunners will grab the attention of just about anyone who like Pop Tarts and/or pie. As for those who don’t… let’s not talk about them.

Here’s how you make the Tart Pops. For a simpler version, use store-bought pie dough or puff pastry sheets.

Homemade Heart-Shaped Tart Pops
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour plus additional for shaping and rolling
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 12 tablespoons strawberry, blackberry or apricot preserves

Photo: Dine & Dish

Directions: Whisk 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, coarse salt, and sugar in large bowl. Add butter. Using fingertips or back of fork, blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water by tablespoonfuls, tossing until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball. Divide in half; shape each half into disk. Wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour.

Photo: Our Best Bites

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough on floured surface to about 13×11 inches. Using a 3-inch heart cookie cutter, cut dough into individual hearts. Arrange hearts on the cooking sheets, spaced at least 2 inches apart.

Spoon 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons of preserves in row down center of each heart. Gently press one popsicle sticks into the bottom on each heart, so that at least one inch will bake inside the pie pop. Top preserves and popsicle stick with a second dough heart. Using fingertips, gently press all edges of each tart to seal; press all edges with tines of fork to double-seal. Using toothpick, poke a few holes in center of top dough heart.

Photo: Our Best Bites

Sprinkle clear, red or pink sanding sugar onto each heart for decoration. Cover; freeze tarts on sheets at least 2 hours and up to 1 week.

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake frozen tarts uncovered until golden, reversing sheets after 15 minutes, 25 to 30 minutes total (some preserves may leak out). Immediately transfer tarts to rack.

Photo: Our Best Bites

Optional gift idea: For Valentine’s Day, pipe a white icing border around the heart and fill in your favorite “sweet heart” saying, like “Be Mine,” You’re Hot” or any other personal greeting. Cover each pop with cellophane, secure with a cute ribbon around the base of the popsicle stick and give to your Valentine!

Spicy Pasta Bolognese…Ready in 30 Minutes!

Spicy Veal Bolognese

I’m in New Jersey for work and I’m inspired. I know, inspiration and New Jersey don’t typically go hand-in-hand (relax, I’m mostly kidding), but after spending the day with an Italian colleague who talked about her mother’s amazing homemade pasta, gravy (sauce), meatballs and cannoli, I’m hungry.

If I could make anything right now, it would be my best attempt at spicy bolognese… in other words, pasta shells tossed in a rich veal tomato sauce. It’s made from a mix of ground sirloin and veal, San Marzano tomatoes, a hint of nutmeg, a touch of cream and topped with basil and freshly grated Parmesiano Reggiano. The recipe might not come from my
Italian Nona but it’s still pretty delicious. Even better, it’s ready in 30 minutes. Enjoy!

30-Minute Pasta Bolognese
Adapted from How Easy Is That? by Ina Garten

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
  • 1/2 pound lean ground sirloin
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups dry red wine, divided
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Sea salt, for seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
  • 3/4 pound dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus extra as for serving
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Directions: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and veal and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of olive oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box. Al dente typically takes 8-10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with basil and Parmesan on the side.

Happy One Year Anniversary to Pardon My Crumbs!

It’s Pardon My Crumbs’ one year anniversary! I can barely believe an entire year has gone by. Writing this blog has been such a wonderful experience and I’ve loved every minute of sharing my foodie adventures, baking mishaps, restaurant reviews and cooking exploits with you. Throughout all the past year’s ups and downs, I took great comfort in the fact that I could walk determinedly into my tiny kitchen and whip up something big, something delicious and something that you would look forward to trying. I especially loved taking all the photos, documenting each recipe step-by-step so you would know that you’re on the right track. As Pardon My Crumbs got rolling, I was so excited to receive all the emails and kudos from friends, family and perhaps most importantly, readers new to the blog who can identify with my story and love for food. One year later, I’m just as excited to read and respond to your emails, answer your questions, give tips and advice and let you know that I get confused in the kitchen and have terrible mishaps, too (Tartine’s Morning Buns, anyone?) So I just want to say thanks for reading, trying my recipes, sharing your feedback, sending me inspiration and requests, and for being patient during months when I wasn’t able to post as much as I wanted to. And please continue to do so, so we can continue to build this blog together. 🙂

In honor of Pardon My Crumbs’ one-year anniversary, here are some of my favorite “Greatest Hits” recipes, ranging from savory to sweet, breakfast to dinner, baby shower desserts to poker night bites. Did I miss any? I’d love to know what are some of your favorite Pardon My Crumbs posts? Let me know by commenting below or emailing me at And here’s to another year!
Tartine Mourning Buns

Smoky & Spicy Chipotle Chili

How To Take Care Of Your Olive Oil
Turkey, Mushroom & Spinach Lasagna

Homemade Hostess Cupcakes
A Lifelong Breakfast Favorite: Gourmet Magazine’s 1993 Pancakes

Homemade Shrimp & Pork Wonton Soup

Chicken Picatta

Sunday Morning Waffles
Poker Night Sandwiches

S’mores Pie
Argyle Sugar Cookies

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfaits

Gingerbread Man Mini Cakes
White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies