How to Channel California Cool Cuisine, No Matter Where You Are

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Imagine you're invited to a dinner party in Malibu, CA. When you arrive, your hostess hands you a "treasure map" and invites you to explore the property, a lush farm overlooking the Pacific Ocean—before she feeds you (outdoors, of course!) a series of simple, delicious dishes.

Sound like a dream you had recently? (Same.) Well, today that dinner party has become a proper restaurant: Malibu Farm, a cult favorite known for its jaw-dropping views as well as its dedication to fresh ingredients (AKA grown on the farm itself)—as well as the playful panache of its chef-owner, Helene Henderson. There are no more treasure maps, but Henderson maintains her dedication to the "perfectly imperfectly inspiring" moment—and she's sharing her no-fuss, wildly popular approach to entertaining in Malibu Farm Cookbook: Recipes from the California Coast.

With chapter headings like "From the Hive," "From the Vineyard," and "From the Coop," Henderson says, "This cookbook is not your usual collection of breakfast, sides, and all that. I arranged these recipes just how I would a treasure map for a dinner guest at my home. You'll move around the grounds, with each chapter highlighting something special that you might find around the next corner."

Her Horseradich Crème Fraîche is as simple and elegant as a recipe gets (not to mention easy)—and the combination of the two flavors, plus a bit of lemon and sea salt, adds an elegant twist to anything you top it with. And the Goat Cheese with Fresh Figs—unfussy yet gorgeous—is the ultimate in Cali cool, a luscious dish that would be at home with a barefoot, sunkissed crowd as well as a buttoned-up group of foodies. All are welcome at the Malibu Farm.

Read on for some effortlessly chic recipes that will give your table a dose of Helene Henderson's Malibu charm.


Orzo with Peppers, Tomatoes, and Olives

Makes 4 servings

For basil butter:
1 stick butter
3 Tbsp fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, grated
Zest from one lemon
1/2 tsp red hot chili flakes

For orzo:
2 cups orzo, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup red bell peppers, cut into strips
1/2 cup black olives, pitted
1/2 cup chopped parsley

For garnish:
Arugula or radicchio

In a food processor, combine all basil butter ingredients and pulse until blended.

Toss the hot cooked orzo with about half the basil butter, depending how buttery you like it, and season to taste with salt. Add the remaining ingredients, and garnish with arugula or sliced radicchio. Serve hot or room temperature.

Tip: You’ll have leftover basil butter, which you can freeze and use again later. It’s delicious on toast, all kinds of veggies, and pretty much anything else.

Photo: Malibu Farm Cookbook
Photo: Malibu Farm Cookbook

Goat Cheese with Fresh Figs

What is better than a cheese platter with fresh fruit and a glass of wine? You can warm any cheese ever so slightly, giving it that bit of melty warm goodness that really makes a difference.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

For salad:
8-ounce log of goat cheese
1/4 cup honey or agave
8 ripe figs, halved
Wasa brand Swedish-style cracker bread or your own favorite cracker or toast

For garnish:
Toasted seeds
Sesame seed candy (recipe below)
Toasted nuts

Warm the goat cheese in a preheated 375 degree oven for 5 minutes. Drizzle with honey or agave. Serve with fresh figs and crackers or toast. Garnish with toasted seeds, sesame seed candy, or toasted nuts.

Sesame seed candy:
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

To make sesame seed candy, you just need more seeds than sugar. In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, add 1/3 cup sugar. No need to stir or do anything. Just sit back and wait for it to melt. If it is starting to burn, turn down the heat. Just when the sugar begins to melt, stir in 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds.

Once the sugar is fully melted and the sesame seeds are incorporated into it, pour the mixture onto a lightly greased sheet pan and set aside to cool.

Once cool, break or cut into little candy pieces. If you have a hard-as-rock mass of sugar and seeds, you used too much sugar. Toss it out and start again.

Photo: Malibu Farm Cookbook
Photo: Malibu Farm Cookbook

Horseradish Crème Fraîche

Makes 3/4 cup

2 Tbsp horseradish
1/2 cup crème fraîche
Squeeze of lemon
Pinch of salt

Start by adding a little prepared horseradish to the crème fraîche. Keep adding more, tasting as you go along, until the sauce is just the way you like it. (The measurement of 2 tablespoons of horseradish is just a suggestion—it makes for a fairly hot sauce. You might like it milder or even hotter.) Add lemon juice and salt. Stir. Top with black sesame seeds and chopped dill.

Photo: Malibu Farm Cookbook
Photo: Malibu Farm Cookbook

Roasted Mustard Brussels Sprouts

Makes 8 servings

3 cups Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise through root
1/4 cup olive oil
4 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
3 Tbsp mayonnaise

Optional garnish: Chopped herbs

Drizzle the sprouts with olive oil, place them cut side down on a sheet pan, and then bake them in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until browned and soft.

Meanwhile, whisk together mustard and mayonnaise. When the sprouts are done, toss with the mustard-mayo mix, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish with any chopped herbs if desired.

For more recipes, check out Malibu Farm Cookbook: Recipes from the California Coast.

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