Last night we had one of our always fantastic meetings of my cookbook club. To call it a “meeting” is actually quite funny-it’s tons of food, many cooks, and plenty of wine. We’ve been getting together for a few years and our goal each time is to cook from a book, new or old, taste all the recipes, and talk about what worked and what didn’t. Some nights have been incredible-The French Laundry Cookbook was epic. Rice, Pasta, Couscous was a blast. A Platter of Figs-check that one out here. Other nights were no where near as overwhelming but completely entertaining none the less.
Insalata’s in a restaurant in San Anselmo, CA (or “Marin” for you SF folks). A neighborhood mainstay for over 13 years, owner and chef Heidi Insalata Krahling (yes, that’s really her name) has created a destination spot that reflects her love for all things Mediterranean. Last year Heidi published a cookbook with many of the restaurants dishes that I’ve loved over the years. Several members of my cookbook club actually worked at Insalata’s over the years so it made our dinner all the better. The book is amazing. If you live in the area, get over to Insalata’s, have a wonderful meal, and buy it! If not, you can buy it here too. The recipes range from simple to spectacular but you can be sure each one is “luscious”, Heidi’s favorite adjective. This is restaurant food adapted for the home cook so you’ll find some dishes built upon other smaller recipes-sauces, spreads, etc. Many can be made in advance so don’t let the steps scare you off. The layers of flavor are what make Heidi’s food so damn good.
Being Cinco de Mayo we kicked off our night with yummy margaritas…here’s Lynda showing Tori the perfect shaking technique.
Two appetizers from the book followed. The first, Tirosalata, was the perfect mezze-creamy feta whipped with roasted poblanos and goat’s milk yogurt. We ate it with pita chips but I’d slather it on pretty much anything. The second was Warm Goat Cheese Bruschetta, a simple but incredibly fresh mixture of goat cheese, fresh herbs, and Meyer lemon zest slathered on toasted Ciabatta bread.
The dinner spread that followed was stunning. We put it out family style and ate way too much.
It would not be an Insalata’s dinner without Heidi’s signature Fattoush Salad and thankfully our guest Lynda brought a huge bowl of it. Crunchy romaine is tossed with tomatoes, feta, pita chips, kalamatas, and cucumber and drizzled with a spiced lemon vinaigrette. Kelly and Bibby tried to count how many of these they made each day at the restaurant-we stopped when the number got too high. One bite of it and you can see why it’s such a hot seller.
Next was Asparagus with Manchego Cheese and Prosciutto Gremolata. Tori roasted the asparagus instead of steaming it, as the recipe called for. Worked great-this is a fun new way to try the veggie of the season.
Bibby made two halibut recipes, that overachiever! First was Halibut with Yellow Tomato Vinaigrette and Picholine Olive Salsa Verde-the vinaigrette was a simple puree of tomato, vinegar, sugar, and olive oil but the balance of ingredients worked so well. We were dragging everything through it! The second preparation was the Halibut with Turkish Tarator. Tarator is a Middle Eastern nut sauce, this version used pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, and sesame seeds (in the form of tahini) along with herbs, spices, and lemon juice. It was spread over the fish before roasting so it formed a dense crust that had wonderful texture and flavor (in fact, I’m eating the leftovers for lunch right now so I can tell you its even good cold). The Tarator fish is pictured a few paragraphs down-this is the tomato vinaigrette.
CC went vegetarian and it paid off. Her dish, known as the “veg plate” in the kitchen of the restaurant and the Middle Eastern Couscous Platter in the book, blew me away. It’s dishes like this that make me realize I should be eating vegetarian a lot more often. The bowl was full of perfect spiced couscous. On top were lemony lentils and curried onions with spinach. Over that was Turkish yogurt, yellowed with a hint of turmeric and spiced with garlic and curry powder. We served it room temp. It went so well with everything else but would be a fantastic meal on its own too.
Below is the entire spread before we dove in. The Tarator fish is in the back and the couscous dish to its right:
Just when we thought we’d hit the wall we remembered dessert. As the girls know, I always pick dessert if I have a chance. I was thrilled to make two things from Heidi’s book: Chocolate Pecan Toffee and Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. The toffee is outrageous, decadent, and actually really easy as long as you have a candy thermometer. Only change I’d recommend is to put the finely chopped chocolate right on the hot toffee once its poured onto the baking sheet, and letting the residual heat melt it. The book has you cool the toffee, melt the chocolate, and spread it over-I found it separated from the candy when I cut the pieces (don’t get me wrong, it still tasted amazing). The crisps were baked in individual ramekins and topped with an almond crumble. The recipe looks like a high crumble:fruit ratio but its just perfect (resist the urge to eat the raw crumble mixture like cookie dough-it is so good!). Here they are:
The net? Buy this book! We’re already thinking about a cookbook club redux in the fall so we can try the recipes that will be seasonal then. Kudos to Heidi-everything truly was luscious.