Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Life in France

Isn't it incredible how a photograph can transport you back in time, to far away places, to memories you didn't know you still had? Old pictures I recently unearthed in old photo albums reveal a life I lived in France, when all I had to do was look out the kitchen window to be inspired. Just a few pictures tell so much:

Here is a typical French dinner, served by my elderly host, consisting of meat and vegetables, freshly baked bread, fresh fruit for dessert, and of course the famous cheese platter.

This was the room in which I awoke to the street of the Bastille below my window. The bed in which I slept, the journal splayed out to record my adventures. I wonder where that journal is now!

There was time to savor life and food in Paris. Time to stop at a market for lunch supplies, at a boulangerie for a baguette, and a patisserie for at least two pastries per day. (What? I only had 6 weeks to try them all! I was on a pastry tasting mission!)
The view from the top of Notre Dam sums up Paris for me. It remains the most aesthetically pleasing city I have ever visited, simultaneously frustrating and intoxicating, like a bad crush - one I never quite got over and wouldn't say no to even now.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Layered Salad

Photo from The Pioneer Woman

In the Midwest, a layered salad like this is a potluck staple, probably because it’s a hearty dish that can feed a crowd. While the ingredients vary from cook to cook, I like the idea that everyone can make it their own. Someone might substitute blue cheese for cheddar, while another might use ham instead of bacon. This is one flexible dish.

Personally, I wanted to make mine a bit lighter than the traditional version, so I used low-fat sour cream and turkey bacon. I added some basil to the dressing because I love the way basil pairs with tomatoes and I had some growing on my patio. I also discovered that my large eggs were not hard cooked all the way through when I cracked one open, so I nixed the hard-boiled eggs this time - and it was still delicious.

The amounts will vary depending on the size of the bowl you use.

Layered Salad
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

1 head ice burg lettuce, shredded
2 c. baby spinach leaves
1 package bacon or turkey bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
6-8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, de-seeded and chopped
1 package frozen green peas, thawed

1/2 c. low-fat sour cream
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 T. Sugar
2 T. Basil, chopped

In a clear glass bowl, layer the salad ingredients in the order given. Mix dressing ingredients together and use a spatula to spread it over the top of the salad. Cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. Toss just before serving.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Around My French Table: A Dinner Party

I recently heard about a new trend called a Cookbook Club. A group of friends picks an interesting cookbook and each person chooses one recipe they want to make from that book. They all get together and have a party and try a sampling of great food that they otherwise probably wouldn’t have had time or money to make at the same time. I thought this sounded SO fun and a great excuse to get to make more friends!

For my first Cookbook Club event, I chose Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table", one of the most popular and acclaimed cookbooks to be published in quite some time. All of the guests were impressed with how simple and approachable her recipes were. It proved to us that not all French food has to be intimidating or complicated in order to be satisfying.

My friend Tiffany made a French version of Shepherd's Pie (Hachis Parmentier), which was to die for, and that spinach bacon quiche behind it was great - even for an anti-quiche guy like my husband.

There was olive-cheese bread that was moist and savory, plus that squash I grew (just because we needed more vegetables), and I also made a citrus berry terrine. Dorie talks about how the French don't turn up their noses at gelatin like Americans are sometimes prone to do, and this recipe certainly is easy to love. Plain gelatin plus orange juice forms the base, and fresh berries and citrus segments are stirred into the mixture. It's pretty stunning when you turn it out onto a platter.

My only regret? That we didn't have a dessert. I guess that's a good excuse to do it again!

Citrus Berry Terrine
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table"

Segments from 1 pink grapefruit, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup cold water
2 packets unflavored gelatin
2 cups orange or grapefruit juice
1/3 cup sugar
About 3 cups mixed blueberries, raspberries and blackberries (if you want to add strawberries, look for small berries or cut larger ones into bite-sized pieces)

Place a double layer of paper towels on a cutting board and spread the citrus pieces out on the paper. Cover with another double layer of towels and set the pieces aside until you're ready for them. If the paper gets very wet, change it.

Pour the cold water in a large bowl, sprinkle over the gelatin, and let it soften.

Meanwhile, bring the juice and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour some of the juice over the gelatin, gently stir to dissolve, and then stir in the rest of the juice. Put the gelatin mixture in the refrigerator and let it chill, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly, about two hours. (Mine was ready after 1.5 hours.) (You're looking for a mixture with the texture of egg whites.)

Moisten a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cold water and shake out the excess. Gently stir the reserved citrus segments and the berries into the lightly thickened gelatin mixture, and scrape everything into the pan. Jiggle the pan a little to settle the gel and chill for at least four hours or up to overnight.

When you're ready to serve the terrine, dip the pan into a bowl or sinkful of hot water for a few seconds, and run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan. Wipe the pan and unmold the terrine onto a platter.

The terrine should be served in thick slices. If you'd like, you can dress each serving with more berries, or pour over a spoonful or two of sweetened pureed raspberries.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sausage and Barley Soup

I rarely expect both a view and good food when I dine. It's almost asking too much, isn't it? We found both at Altitudes restaurant on Grouse Mountain during our recent trip to Vancouver. It's perched at the top of the mountain with a view of the whole city below, plus the gondolas coming and going. Paul and I both ordered a certain soup on the menu, took a bite, looked at each other, and vowed to duplicate it at home.

This weekend we took our first stab at recreating it - and were even brave enough to serve it to company. It came out really well, and our guests even forgave us for serving them soup on a hot summer day.

We added our own twist with Andouille sausage for an extra kick and Swiss chard from our garden, which is doing awesome by the way. We harvested green beans, peas, chard, and 2 kinds of yellow squash this weekend. Woo hoo! Here's the soup recipe!

Sausage Barley Soup

4 cups homemade chicken broth
1 c. pearl barley
3 small links Cajun Andouille sausage, sliced into coins (we used Aidell's - highly recommended)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 c. chiffonaded Swiss chard
1/2 c. diced onion
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Bring the broth to a boil and add barley. Simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Add in the rest of the ingredients and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Serve!

Two kinds of crookneck squash - smooth and lumpy

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shakespeare in the Park

We saw King Lear at Linden Park this weekend. A picnic dinner to share-

A free performance under the shady trees-

And a classic Shakespeare tale of parents and children, dementia, greed, pride, elder care, death, distributing estates... It was actually just like a day at the office.

The same timeless human issues are played out every day now, just as they were in the 1500s.

The thing that most amazed me was how differently I perceived the play now, through the lens of my profession in the estate planning field, as opposed to what I saw when I read it in college. I remember the professors pointing out the paganism, the themes of nature and fate, the existential tragedy of the play. These elements may be present, but mostly I think it's about the same issues every family faces as time goes by.

It made me reflect that it does pay to re-visit the classics because the more you age and mature, the more levels of depth and meaning you will see in them.

P.S. It's events like this that make me fall for summer hard.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Does West Sacramento Need a Food Revolution?

I have been an avid Jamie Oliver fan since I began watching "The Naked Chef" in high school, charmed by this quirky, charismatic chef with an irresistible accent. I admire him now as a person who has not been content with professional success, but has used his fame to promote positive change in child nutrition all over the Westernized world.

After watching the most recent episodes of his "Food Revolution" television show, currently set in my home state (but in LA), I began to wonder how Oliver's cry for change applied to my own neighborhood. I decided to do some investigative work on West Sacramento school lunches, choosing to examine a K-8 school, the local public high school, and a charter school.
Example #1: Southport Elementary (K-8):
The menu I found online is conveniently vague, often citing "veggie" or "fruit", but we all know that not all veggies and fruits are created equal. In some schools, pizza sauce and french fries qualify as veggies! And throwing a scoop of bagged salad and a scoop of canned peaches doesn't exactly make up for a poor quality main dish, in my opinion.

The main dishes being served to the children sound heavily processed, previously frozen as opposed to freshly made, and heavy on fat: chicken alfredo, chili dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and tater tots. This menu was used in all the K-8 schools in the Washington Unified School District from May-June 2011.
Example #2: River City High School:
I found the worst food overall on this incredibly outdated menu from last November, although there does appear to be more variety compared with the K-8 schools, which could be good or bad. Nearly every daily featured main dish appears to be fried, processed, or both. Chicken Fried Steak. Rib B Que Sandwich. Popcorn (read: fried) Chicken. Most mysteriously: Pepperoni Stuffed Sandwich. (?)

Hamburgers and pizza are available every day and a high school student could ostensibly subsist on a daily diet of these two items. I have the sneaking suspicion we're not talking about grass-fed beef or whole wheat buns.

The saving grace is that a salad bar is available daily and the menu proclaims that "all options come with fruit, salad and milk". Again, there is vagueness - is this fresh fruit or processed? Low fat milk or chocolate milk with as much sugar as a candy bar? Are we counting French fries as a veggie? Huge room for improvement here.
Example #3: West Sac Prep Charter School
By far the best of the bunch, which is obviously tied to the fact that they are independent from the universal school district menus. All students receive breakfast and lunch at no charge to their families. While a menu was not available online, the school's website says that school meals include:
- All Natural turkey & beef products are purchased from Niman Ranch
- Meals have no trans fats, reduced sugars and are high in whole grains
- Organic lettuce & vegetables
- Meats purchased from Applegate Farms (even our hot dogs are organic)
- Tillamook Cheddar & All Natural American cheese ( with no dye added)
- Barilla Plus Pasta (a whole grain product)
- Two vegetarian options daily (!!!!)
As a final clincher, their plates are biodegradable & compostable!

Conclusion: Dear Washington Unified School District: We can do better. We must do better. Others have done it, and so can we. We need fresh, healthy meals in our cafeterias and a school garden in every school. This is a challenge to rise to the occasion.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vancouver - In A Word

In a word, Vancouver was:








And of course, delicious!

Italian Panini from La Grotta

Memphis Blues BBQ

Morel pizza - great mushrooms!

Vancouver, British Colombia was beautiful (when it wasn't rioting), with clean air, natural beauty, and a gorgeous city that's been voted "most liveable" many times over by its residents. We had a great time, and it's also good to be back in sunny California. It was a little hard to get used to 9:30pm sunsets and 60 degree rain in June, but we surely enjoyed every minute of our trip!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Vancouver We Go!

It's summer, and for many families, that means vacation time. Can you believe I convinced my family to go to a totally cool place like Vancouver BC?

Well, Vancouver is pretty awesome, so maybe I should rephrase that - can you believe I convinced them that they need to take us with them?!

We'll be busy this weekend packing and traveling. I'll be gone from the blogging world for a week but return with great pictures and stories, I'm sure! I can't wait! See you then!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fat Face Relocates to Midtown

The author with a Fat Face Strawberry-Coconut popsicle

At the Sacramento Mobile Food Festival in April, we waited in forever long lines and the only thing we successfully tasted was a popsicle from Fat Face. I loved the bold, creative flavor combinations, like Kaffir Lime-Avocado, Strawberry Lemonade, and Plum-Basil. It also saved the festival from being a total waste for us, which was a bonus.

Formerly housed in Davis, this purveyor of creative frozen treats and gourmet meals has found a new home in midtown, according to an article in today’s Sacramento Bee. You can now try Fat Face's exciting popsicle flavors (for $3 each) at the new Fat Face cafĂ© inside Bows and Arrows (1815 19th St.), a popular hipster clothing store/art gallery heavy on vintage style.

The menu is still evolving, but currently includes several sandwich plates like smoked Bledsoe pork sandwich with greens or chips and a pickled carrot ($9) and a beer poached fig sandwich with caramelized onion, arugula and goat cheese ($9), plus cheese plates.

So go ahead, indulge your inner hipster, and check out Fat Face!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Goodbye Pyramid - Hello Plate!

So this is the USDA's latest re-created food guide. Gone is the beloved pyramid of my youth. In addition to the divided plate, they have a slogan for each food category.

Grains - Make at least half your grains whole
Fruit - Focus on Fruit
Vegetables - Vary your veggies
Dairy - Get your calcium-rich foods
Protein - Go lean with protein

There is also a website, Choose My Plate, that offers free tools for weight management, including diet and exercise. There are tips for eating out, for pregnancy diet, vegetarian diet, etc.

I think the new website is nice. I like that the new plate method breaks down each meal and offers a more solid visual model than the pyramid. Of course, it has weaknesses, the main one for me being that I don't eat like this, and most of America probably doesn't either. Most ethnic foods like tacos, lasagna, pizza, pasta... heck, even a casserole, combine several elements in various combinations. The new website has a chart for "mixed dishes", but only includes about 2 dozen examples.

What do you think of the new plate method?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Moroccan Dinner Party

A good friend hosted a fabulous Moroccan-themed dinner party this weekend, and while there was no belly dancing, the menu was to die for. The appetizer was a Bastilla, the sweet and savory chicken pie of Morocco, made with phyllo dough, braised chicken, almonds, and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

This is a dish that everyone should try at least once - and if you’re anything like me, you will crave it ever after. Next, a lamb tagine with kalamata olives and apricots, served with roasted veggies over couscous. (Didn't get a picture as we were fully engaged in stuffing our faces at this point.)

Finally, an orange-cardamom custardy flan for dessert, sitting in a pool of caramelized sugar.

Once again, I am in awe of the power food has to transport us far away from our everyday lives. You must try the Bastilla - it's like chicken pot pie on crack, a delightfully exotic dish to make on a weekend and impress your friends and family.

Moroccan Bastilla

1 chicken (about 3 lbs.)
2 med. onions, chopped
1 lg. can (49 oz.) chicken broth
1 c. chopped parsley
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 eggs
8 sheets phyllo dough (keep covered)
4 tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. sliced almonds
Powdered sugar & cinnamon

Cook chicken in broth with onions, parsley, cinnamon stick, ginger, and pepper for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Debone and skin; cut meat into bite size pieces. Bring broth to a boil over medium heat. Lightly beat eggs and pour slowly into broth; cook, stirring until curds form, about 1 to 2 minutes. Strain.

Brush melted butter on bottom and sides of a deep 10" pie pan. Overlap 6 phyllo sheets to cover the bottom and extend 8" to 10" over the edge of the pan. Brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Top with chicken; spread egg mixture over the top and sprinkle with almonds. Fold edges of phyllo dough over filling and brush top with butter. Fold remaining 2 sheets of phyllo over filling and brush top with butter. Fold remaining 2 sheets of phyllo in half cross wise and place on top. Tuck edges inside pan and brush with butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Invert on a cookie sheet and bake until bottom is golden, about 10 minutes. Turn onto a platter and cool 5 minutes. Sift powdered sugar over top. Decorate with criss crossing lines of ground cinnamon. Slice to serve. Makes 8 main dish servings or may be used as an appetizer.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Newest Herb Acquisition: Cuban Oregano

We made our second trip to the West Sacramento Farmer’s Market last night. We bought:

- $8 half flat of super-sweet strawberries

- A bag of crisp snap peas for $2.50

- Flank steaks ($8/lb) from Lucky Dog Ranch, which I realized is the same meat they serve at the wonderful Roxy restaurant. Tonight we’re grilling it and making a stab at our first chimmichurri sauce. Looking forward to it!

- Two kinds of Oregano. I needed something replace the parsley that went to seed in the last month, as it typically does in the second year. I knew I needed to replenish my herb box, so I thought I would take a stab at oregano for the first time. The first plant I saw was familiar enough and looked like a baby version of this:

This is Greek Oregano, the typical kind grown.

The second is new to me : Cuban Oregano!

See how different it looks? The fellow who sold it to me said it was good to slice and put in a green salad. Does anyone have any suggestions for using this unique herb? Maybe I should try my hand at Cuban food.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Super Natural... Every Day?

In 2008, shortly after I started my blog, I discovered 101 Cookbooks, one of the most popular food blogs on the web. Heidi Swanson seemed like the sort of person who ordinary people want to spy on, or live vicariously through, depending on your perspective. After all, would wouldn't be curious about a vegetarian hipster from the Bay area who travels, cooks healthy, exotic food and photographs it all as she goes?

After a while I became disenchanted. Who was this health nut of a character with a pantry full of ingredients like tempeh, millet and wild nori seaweed? I found it all a bit much. However, with Heidi's new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, selling like hotcakes, I decided to give a go at a few of the simpler sounding recipes.

I made:

Green Lentil Soup

And Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries

I really liked the lentil soup, despite the small rock I bit into one particular bite. (They aren't kidding when they tell you to pick through your lentils! There is a reason for that, I've learned.) The soup was simple, dotted with spiced butter and sprinkled with green chives. The flavor was reminiscent of an Indian daal, and it was very tasty with wheat saltine crackers.

The baked oatmeal was rich (even more so because I substituted part leftover coconut milk from the lentil soup for the regular milk) and a hearty yet healthy breakfast. I loved the flavors of the coconut, spices, blueberries and walnuts all layered in one dish.

Heidi, maybe you and I can be friends again after all.