Tag Archives: comfort food

Fleet Week Airshow Picnic

October is a special time for San Francisco as Fleet Week is finally here and we get a respite from the summer fog and cold in what we call our “native summer”. This weekend was one of the prettiest weekends I have ever seen for Fleet Week, the sky was so blue and clear, and the air was warm, like San Diego warm.

My view #picnic #lazysunday
(perfect blue skies)

Besides the parade of ships, ship tours, safety and disaster recovery demonstrations, the Naval band, and the North Beach parade, Fleet Week features a thrilling airshow by a variety of amazing precision flying teams, culminating in the Blue Angels. I have always loved watching the blue and gold planes streak through the skies of San Francisco, flying right over my apartment building, over the Bay, through Downtown, they’re screaming loud but it is so thrilling.

I have watched the airshow from a variety of places over the years, from the Marina Green, the retaining wall at the entrance of the Marina, Aquatic Park, on the Hyde Street hill, and of course, from the water on friends’ boats. A few years back my dearest sisterfriend and I found the perfect spot to watch the airshow from a local park on top of Pacific Heights. Our annual picnic there has become a happy tradition, despite the Parks and Rec Department heavily watering the grass each year the night before.

This year, I brought one of my giant blue camping tarps, which held away the soggy field from our backsides for a little while but it was not impermeable. We were far better off than everyone else who were unprepared for the squish factor!

I was able to try out my new picnic basket, and it performed like a champ.  People back in the day really knew how to build a picnic basket and this one is amazing.  The hard wood top folds back completely flat, perfect to hold the glasses for our Aperol spritzes.  Inside the basket is a suspended divider, which is where I perched the tray of warm crispy oven baked chicken pieces, while the rest of the basket held my chill bag, which kept the zucchini and cucumber tiger salad  and grapes nice and cool.  The removable divider flips over to become a little tray table for the picnic blanket, how perfect is that?  It held everything:  the cutlery, plates, my mini cutting board kit from the SF Opera in the Park days, serviettes,  champagne glasses, the works.  I am so over the moon happy with this basket.

What a beauty! A gift from a nice man. Time to plan a picnic!!
(my new vintage picnic basket, a gift from a nice man)

Our menu:

  • Crispy oven baked chicken
  • Roasted sausages with sourdough bread and all the fixings
  • Zucchini and cucumber tiger salad with shiso dressing
  • Fresh green salad with yuzu dressing
  • Bunches of chilled red grapes
  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Sharp cheddar for snacking
  • Assorted chips
  • Juice boxes for the kids
  • Aperol spritzes for the adults

The chicken I made for the picnic is from a recipe from my dearest friend L’s mom.  Since I was a baby, her mom and my mom would take turns making lunches for our families when we got together for sailing trips, Christmas tree hunting, pumpkin patch forays, or various camping trips.  L’s mom used to make this amazing baked chicken with an unusual breading of wheat germ and sesame seeds and it was always my favorite.  It has been years since I have made it for myself, or anyone else and it is the perfect picnic food.  It fit in perfectly with the non-specific Asian zucchini tiger salad recipe I wrote about previously.  This year, I added cucumber to the tiger salad in lieu of the fennel and it was fantastic.  We ate so much that we didn’t even miss dessert other than the grapes, we completely forgot to make something.  Next year, however, we will have brownies or some other evil treat.

Aperol spritz
(Aperol spritz time!)

We lazed about on our vast blue tarp, which we covered in colorful fabrics and sarongs, and over the course of the next four hours we enjoyed our lunch and the warm air, people watching, and fending off tickle attacks from the boys and various dogs who were highly intent upon sampling our chicken and sausages.  The ladies played around with our new nail art stamping plates and nail vinyls, and looked at gorgeous photos from the Homecoming dance the night before.  We also did watch the amazing planes and their pilots zoom around, there were lots of time between the various displays to enjoy our lunch and each other.  The Breitling team and the Blue Angels were especially thrilling this year!

I hope the “native summer” returns for another weekend as I would like to use my beautiful picnic basket again. It being California, odds are that it will.

Recipes:      Crispy Oven Baked Chicken

Zucchini Tiger Salad with Shiso Dressing

Aperol Spritz

Orange Scented Memories

My office offers fresh fruit every week and this week the fruit bowl is loaded with mini seedless tangelos, and fat, heavy naval oranges, both deeply orange and tangy.

I cracked a tangelo open and peeled it, trying to peel it in one long peel, and the aroma wafted up.

orange

Suddenly I was taken back to my first home where we had a navel orange tree. I spent many fond years on the teak bench my father built on the edge of the patio under the shade of the orange tree.  I would perch there to eat the bright juicy fruit still warm from the sun.  We almost lost the tree one year because the baby rabbit my sister found on the edge of the high school’s wilderness area (a space with examples of each California ecosystem, built by my sister and other students) developed a taste for the orange tree bark and almost girdled it.  We weaned him off his destructive habits by feeding him regular handfuls of orange and lemon leaves as a treat.

My mom used to make fancy cakes decorated with chocolate leaves using the orange tree leaves as a mold.  I would be sent out to the yard to pluck young, perfectly sized and smooth orange leaves, and would be tasked with carefully washing and drying them. Once they were perfectly dry we would paint them with tempered dark chocolate and chill them, and later, slowly, peel off the leaf to reveal a perfect chocolate form.

When my mom remarried, we picked orange blossoms and created fancy rings of ice adorned with the blooms to float in the punch bowl for the wedding reception.  Grandmother sadly needed to be moved to the East Coast to live with my aunt, so we stripped the tree of oranges to ship back with them, a last taste of California and nostalgia.

These days, living in my current apartment high above the streets, I keep a copy of Cross Creek by the bathtub for languorous bubble bath reading, and recall the scent of orange blossoms floating in the night.  I long for that orange tree, as I buy outrageously priced organic citrus from various places and slice long curls of the peel to drape over the rim of my Negroni at home, and then eat fat wedges of the cut orange the next morning. They never seem to taste quite as heavenly as the one in that childhood home though, the memory of oranges is stronger.

 

Why Pay $11 for Avocado Toast?

San Francisco is the land of outrageously expensive toast.

Last year the internet trended with articles about $4 toast or $6 toast but the fervor over avocado toasts has reached hysterical heights.

I visited the Ferry Building, as I often do, and tried out one of the most outrageously expensive avocado toasts in the city at Frog Hollow.  Admittedly, it was divine.  The avocado was perfectly ripe, the bread had the perfect chewiness and toasted not too hard to become too difficult to bite through, causing a cascade of luscious avocado slices to slide off onto your black pants.  A hint of garlic overlays the bread, and the entire toast is dappled with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

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This beauty comes in at $10.99.

While it is awesome to be like one of the cool kids and fork out two fins and a buck for someone else to make me lunch, I would rather reduce my wallet at the market and shop for the ingredients and make avocado toast myself.

Let’s do the math.

 Grocery Store cost ingredient outlay  At home per toast cost
Acme Herb Slab loaf = 4 servings                       4.99  1 serving           1.25
Avocado each                       1.50  1 avocado           1.50
Stonehouse olive oil, house blend liter = 67 Tbl.                     14.00  1 Tbl.           0.21
Garlic head = 10 cloves                       0.96  1 clove           0.10
Maldon salt box = 8.5 oz                       5.99  1/2 tsp.           0.06
McCormick’s black pepper in grinder grinder = .85 oz                       4.29  1/4 tsp.           0.02
 Total                      31.73             3.13

I used Instacart to price out the ingredients at Whole Foods, while knowing that if I shopped at the farmer’s market or at the Ferry Building I would have received a discount for paying cash for the bread, and the other ingredients can be found cheaply depending upon which farm you source the avocados and garlic.

Last Saturday at the Ferry building I bought a loaf of Marla Bakery’s molasses oatmeal bread ($5), a head of garlic ($.25), and two avocados ($3), and made avocado toast at work on Monday. This delay was necessitated by the ripeness of the avocados.

If you haven’t tried Marla’s molasses oatmeal bread as toast you need to rectify this immediately.  I do feel slightly ashamed for not baking my own oatmeal molasses bread, as I often do, but I had a busy weekend.  I used salt, pepper, and a small bottle of olive oil from the office kitchen and the toaster and made this:
Fast avocado toast

I was in a hurry and didn’t take the beautiful care to arrange the avocado like the staff at Frog Hollow, and my slice of bread got a little trashed during my morning commute on MUNI, but nonetheless, it tasted fantastic and I was the envy of my boss and coworkers.  And I saved $7.86.

The only vaguely tricky part is getting a ripe avocado, so I recommend visiting a farmer’s market and asking the farm to help you pick an avocado out.  They can advise you when it will be ripe to eat, and usually they are spot on.

Enjoy your avocado toast!

Recipe: Not Insanely Priced Avocado Toast

 

 

My Favorite Breakfast

biscuits-gravy

Weekends are when I have time for a leisurely morning at home. I like to putter through my apartment sipping espresso, doing random tidying and half listening to my morning playlist of Tame Impala and Parisian bistro music. At some point I realize I truly am hungry and enter the kitchen in earnest looking for something delicious yet soothing.

I truly do miss having poached eggs at times, except for the unfortunate side effect of, you know, death, should I ingest an egg.  However, I still crave that creamy, soft comfort food kind of dish that appeals on a lazy morning. And the answer to that craving now for me is biscuits and gravy.

My first experience with biscuits and gravy was a truck stop at the base of the Grapevine on I-5.  I was with my mom and we were heading to LA to visit grandma.  In our family, a road trip meant that we had to pack the car and depart usually before 5:30 am. I have no idea why this insanity was inflicted upon us poor kids and my poor mom, but there you are, up at at ’em, bleary eyed well before the break of dawn, and completely ravenous by the time the Grapevine rose up ahead of us at the end of the San Joaquin Valley.

At the truck stop, an actual trucker in a John Deer hat (or something like it) was chowing down on a massive plate of a fried ham steak, eggs, and something I didn’t recognize but needed to know more about, and it turned out to be biscuits and gravy.  I have been hooked ever since.

Mom’s sausage gravy is a winner, with an entire pound of good breakfast sausage skinned of their casings and browned in a skillet, flour added to the scant amount of fat left in the pan after draining, and whole or skim milk stirred in vigorously.  This was all taking place while buttermilk biscuits were rising in the oven.  My job was to make mom her coffee, a pour over in a Melita cone, and to set the table and to fend off the cat from eating the slices of cantaloupe set out on a small bowl on each placemat.

These days, I have perfected an egg-free biscuit recipe, and during this time of year when morels are popping up all over the place, I have made morel gravy instead of sausage gravy.  Add a glass of prosecco and some espresso topped with bourbon whipped cream, a couple of biscuits and gravy are the perfect prelude to an epic post-breakfast nap, preferably with a James Bond movie on TV.

Whether you have access to morels or another mushroom, or prefer sausage, I hope you try this comforting breakfast dish, with or without a John Deere hat.

Recipe:  Sour Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy (with Morel Gravy option)

 

 

Saving the Last of Summer: Slow Roasted Tomatoes

The tomato crop this year was simply glorious!  It was such a relief because last year the tomatoes were almost nonexistent and it was a mournful summer as a result.  Despite not being able to personally attend the farmer’s markets this summer I was happily able to order from a few nice farms using Good Eggs.  I have indulged myself completely and filled my orders with heirloom tomatoes of every color.

One week Good Eggs was offering Monsanto-free Early Girl tomatoes at a pretty cheap price per pound so I bought 4 pounds, plus 3 pints of cherry tomatoes in various hues. I planned to make a fresh salsa-like tomato sauce but got tired, so I decided to slow roast them.

It feels like everyone on social media and my recipe swap has been slow roasting tomatoes, so despite being very late to the party I began roasting them and was so pleased with how well they came out.

Slow roasted tomatoes, done!

After a quick rinse I quartered the tomatoes and left the cherry tomatoes whole, dumped them into my favorite jelly roll pan, slivered in a clove of garlic and scattered handfuls of basil leaves and a light scattering of oregano. I used a light hand with olive oil, salt and pepper and then at the last minute added a good hunk of butter over everything. The oven was on at 250 F, I set the timer for three hours and promptly took a long nap.

After three hours, voila, the perfectly roasted tomatoes and my nap were complete. It was far beyond dinner time by then, so I slid them into a plastic container, scraping every last bit of juice and butter into the container, and bung it into the fridge.

I pondered a bit on what to do then. One week, I heated up the batch of tomatoes gently and tossed them with pasta and some leftover chicken. Another time I pureed them with my immersion blender and added a slosh of vodka and a dash of leftover cream and warmed this while the pasta cooked. Another time I pureed half of them and left the other half whole and added dollops of ricotta to each bowl of pasta. Another time I made goat cheese stuffed meatballs and seasoned breadcrumbs and poached the meatballs in the pureed sauce. The last time I pureed the whole batch and added more butter. It tasted just like Marcella Hazan’s butter tomato sauce, and no stirring required!   If I made these on the weekend I napped and if it was after work I was done well in time for an early bedtime (being gimpy and healing is very tiring).

Kind of a humble dish, homey. Slow roasted tomatoes, ricotta.
(with ricotta)

Goat cheese stuffed meatballs, in progress
(goat cheese stuffed meatballs)

Goat cheese stuffed meatballs, pappardelle, Crumbs Yo!
(the finished meatballs topped with seasoned breadcrumbs)

Each time I slow roasted a batch of tomatoes I wanted to save some in the freezer for that dreary part of January through March when all of the tomatoes are pasty pink nasty mealy things.  After making a packet of pasta I would use up an entire batch of tomatoes. I kept buying more tomatoes, four pounds, then six, then eight pounds and still had no leftovers for the freezer.

Last night I succumbed to a wild impulse and bought an entire case of San Marzano tomatoes from Good Eggs, I think it will be about 20 pounds. It will take me a while to slow roast them in batches but surely this time I will have some leftover for the freezer.   I will have a bit of summer in my freezer for the rest of the winter, or at least, for the rest of the month.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes (for Sauce)

 

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That’s a lot of tomatoes!!!

Sunday Meals with Framily

I am delighted to find a way to offset the dreaded Sunday blues I have been feeling by having a “framily” dinner – a dinner with friends who are like my family.

This Sunday sadness is an odd phenomenon for me.  For many years I thought it was because on Sunday afternoon I remembered I had to go to work on Monday to a job I hated. As time passed and I changed jobs, then changed jobs again, I was in a series of long-term relationships with men who lived out of the City. Sundays meant either they left to go home, or I did, and there again leaving me feeling lonely at dinner and facing an evening of dread anticipating work.

Osso Bucco dinner

Work got better but I was always seemed to end up alone Sunday night and in my societally-programmed brain Sundays are meant to be spent with family or friends, with a well anticipated family meal capping off the weekend’s adventures with each other, or hopefully, at the minimum, the successful completion of chores that inevitably pile up. But that is not my life, and now that I am single and even without a cat roommate I find the sorrow and loneliness is sometimes overwhelming. Some Sundays I even spent watching Hallmark Channel movies and dabbing at the eyes with tissue, such a deplorable state in which to find oneself.  The Hallmark Channel!!

Last weekend however, I invited friends over for dinner and we had such a nice evening together, full of laughter, silliness and great food, even if it is a challenge to cook in my tiny kitchen astride a scooter. I realized, even after they went home, that I didn’t feel as lonely as I usually do, and this is because my dear friends are my family and that this simple family meal felt right and true and I felt like a member of a family, a family of friends, my “framily”.

I spoke honestly about my feelings over that dinner and found that some of my friends feel the same way.  Either they’re not in a relationship right now, or their partner lives far away like mine used to, or the child custody arrangements mean half of the Sundays they say goodbye to their children and go home alone.  I have proposed a standing Sunday dinner or midday supper going forward where we gather and relax and enjoy.  I know it can’t happen every weekend but I hope it will.

This weekend, despite the 6.1 earthquake that rocked the Bay Area and severely damaged the town of Napa, we in SF were in good shape, a little shaken but not stirred, if you know what I mean.  Saturday, before all of the excitement, I prepared an osso bucco with a large format beef shank from my amazing local butcher, 4505 Meats.  I love making osso bucco and it is very nostalgic for me and I haven’t made it for four years.

Osso Bucco dinner

I made a variation of my usual osso bucco and added shitakes and some local bell peppers, just because I had them, and used a bunch of whole carrots scattered across the top.  Everything cooked away in the oven while I practiced crutching around the apartment.

I was so proud of myself for using crutches almost the entire day, except when I made myself a sandwich for dinner.  It was quite a gourmet sandwich made from leftover smoked beef brisket but once I had made it I couldn’t figure out how to transport it to my dining table.  I tried wrapping it in a paper towel but couldn’t hang onto it while holding onto the crutches and it fell on the floor, happily still wrapped up.  Then I put it in waxed paper and tried sticking inside my tee shirt, but it fell out!  So much for passing the pencil test then, I chuckled to myself.  Then I put it in a ziplock baggie and held it in my teeth, like a dog.  Utterly hilarious.

When my sandwich was done, so was the osso bucco and I let it cool a bit on the stove before packing it up for my friend’s place.

On Sunday, D___  made a gorgeous pot of polenta with lots of butter and cheese, and we reheated the sauce first to thicken it a bit then added the meat and carrots to warm up. While it was heating I chopped up a huge mound of gremolata, the magical mixture of garlic, lemon zest and parsley that is scattered over the top of the osso bucco and livens up the dish.

Osso Bucco dinner
(once you make gremolata you will want to put it on everything)

Another friend made a beautiful salad of avocados and ripe tomatoes and brought some tomato basil bisque to start.

Osso Bucco dinner

Osso Bucco dinner
(from the Unsafeway, delicious!)

We sipped on Prosecco then rose, while the young man in the house enjoyed his milk in a wine glass.

Osso Bucco dinner
Osso Bucco dinner
(there is a huge mound of cheese-laden polenta under that sugo!)

There was a moment during dinner where the conversation just halted and we all felt so replete and blissed out.  Having a luxurious and hearty mid-day meal on Sunday was so pleasant and relaxing, it was the perfect moment.  Afterwards we chatted and played games and I knitted a bit while the sun streamed in the window while the room was chilled by the Pacific breezes.  We all felt really happy!  Mission accomplished!

 

Next weekend, tacos!

Recipe:  Overnight Osso Bucco

A San Francisco Special Breakfast & DOLE’s Peel The Love Banana Cabana Tour

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I have been battling food allergies for a few years now, and was therefore ecstatic to discover that most of the tropical fruits do not set off my intolerances, so I have been indulging in bananas a lot.

Not only are bananas delicious and the ultimate comfort food, they are high in B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and potassium, all of which are really helpful with my efforts to heal.  When DOLE approached me to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador I was delighted!  I do “peel the love”, every day!

People take bananas for granted, and forget how versatile and useful they are, for example, I have been using them as an egg substitute, in addition to eating out of hand for my morning breakfast. This weekend I made a true San Francisco treat, sourdough banana pancakes.

There is something in the air in San Francisco that makes our sourdough special, so my sourdough starter gets used for great bread but also for great pancakes.  They are so light and fluffy and and the addition of bananas offsets the lashings of butter and maple syrup from Quebec that I slather on liberally.

I like to add sliced bananas inside the batter while the pancakes are baking, then cover them with a bit more batter so they do not stick when you’re ready to flip them over.

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Today I used my “status” pan, as Julia Child calls it, a lovely polished aluminum crepe pan with a Bakelite handle, a gorgeous vintage piece I found at an estate sale years ago. It made the pancakes crisp up to the most perfect color of golden brown.

As an extra treat, I cooked the bananas first in a Bananas Foster sauce, and then we used a little of the extra boozy syrup to spread over our pancakes like some sort of fantastical boozy jam.

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Speaking of Peel the Love, I learned recently that I have been opening bananas incorrectly my entire life.  Now I open them like this and it’s so much easier!

I showed my sister this trick over the 4th of July weekend and we we were both astounded that we had never figured this out before. Thank you, internet.

I think it’s interesting to note that most of our bananas in the United States come from DOLE, and the only state where bananas in the US are grown are from the DOLE farms in Hawaii. Hawaii has more than just pineapples!

Peel the Love - Hi-Res

This summer DOLE is holding a national tour called Peel the Love :”Banana Cabana Tour” and they’re coming to the Bay Area next week. They will be featuring unique recipes and ideas for parties and to ideas perk up your every day with bananas. If you’re nearby, go check out the fun, and meet Bobbie, their banana mascot.

Image 05 - Peel the Love Logo

  • Aug. 7 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Grocery Outlet (125 Hickory Blvd., South San Francisco)
  • Aug. 8 – Nob Hill Foods (270 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Redwood City)
  • Aug. 9 – Nob Hill Foods (2531 Blanding Ave., Alameda)

Elsewhere in the nation, the DOLE jeep and Bobbie the Banana will be appearing here.  Yes, there will be bananas, lots of them.

 

Thank you, Dole, for this opportunity to be a Peel the Love Blogger Ambassador!

Recipe:  Sourdough Pancakes (with Bananas)

Recipe: Bananas Foster

Learn more about the Peel the Love “Banana Cabana” Tour here!

Fascinating banana nutrition facts here

Please note this is a sponsored post and I was compensated by DOLE. The opinions herein are my own.  The Banana Cabana Tour is still a lot of fun and the recipe here and my opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy it!

A Foray Out – A Bento Picnic

I was invited to attend a picnic this weekend and I was delighted to accept because the weather during the day has been so un-San Francisco like, warm and sunny, almost like summer!

 

The night before, however, I was beset with anxiety. How would I get there? Where could I sit? Would I be able to access the picnic area? Was there an accessible restroom nearby that I could get to? Would I be able to stay out in the sun the whole time? What could I wear to cover up? Where is my hat? What can I make to bring? Would I be a burden to the other people? Would I have a good time?

 

Oh, anxiety, you are such a demon. I supposed all this comes from feeling helpless and vulnerable during this healing period. It’s only temporary but the lack of sleep the night before and the insurmountable hurdles some of these questions posed felt quite difficult.  Happily, it all worked out beautifully.

 

Fortunately for me, in San Francisco, there are places where a disabled person can picnic and have a good time! We went to Chrissy Field and my friends picked me up in their car. Thanks to my temporary handicap placard we were able to party pretty near to the picnic area. There was a decent dirt path that led to the lawn and we found a nice spot with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the curve of the city to the Bay Bridge.

 

NHK picnic

 

The purpose of this picnic was more than just friends getting together for the afternoon.  My amazing friend Biggie was being interviewed by NHK World television for a program about foreigners making bento.  She is the original bento food blogger and received much acclaim for her website Lunch In a Box.  I personally use her website frequently to find recipes because she’s an amazing cook and when I get home I wonder, how did she make that Thai curry?  Or what is in that sanbaizu sauce?

 

This is such an exciting time for her and so wonderful that the Japanese film crew flew out to watch her make bento and then observe the bento picnic and then (gulp) interview her friends about bento and Biggie.   I grew up eating Japanese food, thanks to my neighbors and living where I did, but I never made or enjoyed a homemade bento before my friendship with Biggie.  It has really expanded my world.

 

NHK picnic

As Biggie says, bento crosses all cultural lines and anything can go into a bento, and it is the best way to use leftovers!

 

With my weird food allergies, I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in the emergency room because something I purchased for lunch was contaminated by egg.   Bringing a bento box not only is an economical way to use leftovers but makes lunch feel special.  This is a direct-from-Biggie-quote.

 

NHK picnic

For her special picnic I wanted to bring something tasty and special and happily I had enough goodies in the fridge for a special bento.  The focus of my blog and locus of my food preferences are items that are local, sustainably sourced and grown.  The harmoniousness of my bento happily reflected this mindset.

NHK picnic
(my bento is in the little metal tin at the bottom!)

 

Happily, everyone enjoyed my humble bento, especially the Japanese film crew who polished off every last bit except for a sprinkling of red onion.  I also brought a container of Costco’s smoked pulled pork doused in bacon hot sauce (my favorite sauce) and some fresh rice, which got polished off.  Cold bing cherries were the perfect finish to my contributions to the picnic.

 

The other bentos were truly fantastic and I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of them.  Because I was sitting up in a camp chair (the current gimp factor did not permit me to join the others on the picnic blankets), my angle of photography was pretty poor.

 

Biggie made her incredible Spam musubi, the best spam musubi on the planet, I might add (see her site for the recipe); little liverwurst and sweet pickle roll up sandwiches, maki style; a bento filled with rolled local sliced salamis, prosciutto and bresola; Tillamouk extra fancy white cheddar; a fancy prepared bento with fruit and vegetables and the maki sandwiches; and a bento of hot rice and mapo dofu, a spicy pork and tofu dish made extra spicy with lots of Sriracha sauce; and a huge Louisana crunch cake.  It isn’t a picnic without cake!  Friends brought a bento made especially for a child with fried fish, vegetables and fruits, a bento with fried polenta squares drizzled with pesto (amazing!), edamame and vegetables.   We washed all of this down with lots of wine, hard cider and beer, and juice boxes and chilled water and juices for the kids.

 

As one parent said, bringing bento to a picnic is a perfect thing, because it can be eaten alone or shared and it’s not like a huge bowl of food that can get tipped over or go off.

 

We hit that wonderful peaceful lull that comes to every picnic when everyone is sated, the sun feels fantastic and one gazes out over the incredible views with perfect contentment.  Like a bento, it was a perfectly encapsulated moment of enjoyment.

 

NHK picnic
(the fog, rolling in a bit)

 

The interviews were handled with great care and consideration and did not feel at all intrusive.  We really enjoyed getting to meet the crew and chat about food cultures, eating habits in California and San Francisco and how we knew Biggie.  It was such a fun day!

 

Soon the program will be aired and I am excited to see my dear friend on television – soon the world will be sharing in her wonderful food!

 

Later, at home, I reflected on how enriched my life is by knowing extraordinary people like Biggie and the parents from her child’s school, our mutual friends and new friends, and the access to scenes and food like today.  Despite being disabled at the moment, I feel like a very lucky lady.

 

NHK picnic

Work in Progress: Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Sweet Peppers

peppers

It seems like at every supermarket they sell miniature sweet bell peppers in red, orange and yellow and they’re so delicious to eat in many different ways.  Usually I just saute them but I was in the mood for something more feisty.   I picked up a bag of them at a farm stand on the way back home from my mom’s house, along with a pound of bacon from a fantastic place in Lockeford. I got to thinking that it might be a pleasant change from the spicy jalapeno stuffed peppers to use these sweet peppers instead.

When I got home I realized I did not have cream cheese but I did have goat cheese, and I found a wedge of Tallegio, a marvelously flavorful and stinky soft rind aged cheese. When I opened the fridge door my erstwhile bottle of Sriracha sauce fell out, again, and the idea for stinky bacon wrapped Sriracha sweet peppers was born!

I used about three ounces of Tallegio cut into small pinky-shaped pieces, and shoved those into the hollowed out peppers first, followed by a topping of goat cheese.

Each little pepper was wrapped in bacon, and then I prepared a cutting mat with a puddle of Sriracha sauce and mound of Demerera sugar.

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Each fat little pepper got rolled in the hot sauce, and then rolled around in the crunchy sugar and placed on a little baking sheet covered with mushed up tinfoil to make an impromptu rack.

Because I’m still using the kneeling walker/scooter thing I can’t use the big oven, but my convection toaster oven is pretty fantastic, despite my not having all of the required equipment, like mini baking racks.

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I baked them at 425 F for 15 minutes until the bacon was a crispy and bubbly and the sugar and Siriracha melded together for a savory sweet spicy coating.

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My apartment smelled mercilessly of Tallegio and bacon and chilies, but I didn’t care, I was just waiting for them to cool down my enough that I could eat them.

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I call this recipe a work in progress because obviously they baked up too dark, but they still tasted amazing.  Next time I will lower the heat and maybe add more bacon.
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While I waited for the peppers to cool I mounded a few of them on a little plate and mixed up a vodka Gibson. I was expecting a dear friend to come over but didn’t know exactly when she would arrive, and wouldn’t you know, the moment I sat down my doorbell rang. Perfect timing!

The heat from the Sriracha was exactly enough to make you want a sip of your cocktail, and the sweet pepper, cheesy baconiness was the perfect snack for a tipple when the sun pasts the yardarm.    We knocked back the Gibsons and then made another batch and chatted about her travels while noshing on the peppers.   Then we made pizza!  It was a perfect Sunday evening.

Work in Progress:  Stinky Bacon Sriracha Wrapped Peppers

Sunday Cooking

Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

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It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
o Broiled tomatoes
o Sautéed chard
o Gratined chard stems and leeks
o Rainbow quinoa
o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

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The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

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I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

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The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

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The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

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The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

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The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

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The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

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Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

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When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

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Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

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When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

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I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

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While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

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The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

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When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems