Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: The Eatery Opens in West Sacramento

One nice thing about being in the process of moving is that it gives you a perfect excuse to eat out. We were very excited to try out the much-anticipated new addition to the West Sacramento Southport Town Center Plaza, The Eatery. To locals, this is the spot where Q'doba used to be, but you'll hardly recognize it now.

The interior looks like a chef collaborated with an Anthropologie designer and this is what they came up with - muted colors, floral patterns, re-purposed mirrors and bedroom furniture, and lots of space.

This upscale casual non-chain restaurant is a first in our town, and many people are obviously glad to have it here. Although the Eatery only opened in the last couple of weeks, the place was hopping on a Thursday night around 6pm.

The food features comfort American cuisine and strives to maintain a strain of simplicity. A few things they did well:

Look out, Squeeze Inn! There's a new burger in town. This burger was excellent - perfectly cooked to order, a great bun that didn't get soggy (my pet peeve), crisp butter lettuce, and mildly sweet zucchini pickles on the side. The french fries, sprinkled with salt, pepper and fresh herbs, were formidable as well, actually tasting of potato instead of oil - how refreshing!

My one suggestion: The beef is labeled "natural", which doesn't mean a whole lot these days. If they, like Burgers N Brew, used Niman Ranch beef, this burger would be about perfect in my book.

The chef is keepin' it simple with a dessert titled "Cookies and Milk". Three chocolate-walnut cookies with milk for dipping - how can you go wrong with that?

The restaurant is new and just beginning to get its footing and makes a few missteps. The BBQ chicken salad was utterly devoid of BBQ flavor, and really should have been called Fried Chicken Salad. It contained mixed greens, fried chicken pieces (dabbed with a miniscule amount of BBQ sauce - I think), cubes of white cheddar cheese, biscuit croutons, almonds, a teeny bit of fresh corn (needed more!), and a buttermilk dressing. While it was still a tasty salad, the sweet and tangy BBQ flavor I was looking forward to just wasn't there.

Since it's so new, I fully understand that it may take some time for the Eatery to work out all the kinks. I am nonetheless thrilled to have a place like this in our town. I look forward to seeing how the menu will change (seasonally I hope?) and improve with time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

San Francisco Ferry Pier Farmer's Market

I love Farmer's Markets of all kinds, but my personal "original" market is the one in San Francisco behind the Ferry Building - the one that first introduced me to the whole concept of a farmer's market. We went there this weekend and enjoyed a beautiful day. Here are just a few of the sights we saw:

Heirloom tomatoes - dozens of varieties for our sampling

Prune plums, figs, more cherry tomatoes,
even a peacotum (peach-apricot-plum hybrid), not pictured

English peas and fava beans

Fresh cut flowers including unbelievable colorful hydrangeas

Cute dogs everywhere! Random fact:
There are more dogs in San Francisco than children.

Chilaquiles from the Primavera Mexican Stand. I had to try these scrambled eggs and homemade tortilla chips topped with a delicious spicy sauce. It was delicious!
Nothing captures the best of the season like your local Farmer's Market. What's your favorite thing in season at the moment?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My First Slow Food Book Club Meeting

How do you feel about the idea of doing something that scares you in order to promote personal growth? I kind of hate that concept... But sometimes I'm glad I did the scary thing afterwards. This week, I did something that was scary to me, or at least intimidating. Pushing aside memories of being painfully shy and introverted and inarticulate, I went to a Slow Food Book Club meeting.

This was my first time ever going to a Slow Food event, or participating in a book club. The meeting was held in a 101-year-old home in downtown Sacramento, where our host for the evening lives. She owns 3000+ cookbooks and was incredibly gracious and knowledgeable about all things culinary.

This meeting was a potluck, and the food was something to behold. With all the foodies in attendance, perhaps this was to be expected, but it surpassed my expectations. Quinoa and Caprese salads, pizza with homegrown tomatoes, a fantastic cheese platter with chutney and crackers, and a Smitten Kitchen recipe for blondies were some of the dreamy offerings.

The book we discussed (which is being held up in the picture above) was written by local Davis dweller Spring Warren, who pledges to grow her own food for a year and make her diet 75% homegrown. The title is Quarter Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family For a Year, and it was a highly enjoyable read: funny, entertaining, informative, and never condescending to the rest of us humble folk who only dabble in gardening. There are also plenty of tasty sounding recipes.

Before going to the book club, I was afraid that others might show up with home-cured wild boar sausage and scoff at me for buying my orzo pasta at a grocery store instead of making it from scratch. In truth, all of the Slow Food friends I met were very down to earth, incredibly generous, and delightfully passionate about good food and restoring our connection to the food chain. And that's something I can absolutely get behind.

Here's the recipe for the dish I made, pictured in the bottom left corner of the photo above. It's a unique, easy-to-make alternative to a pasta salad, and perfect for bringing to a potluck or picnic. I used green onions from the garden, cut out the capers (it's plenty salty already with the kalamata olives), and used sun-dried tomato feta. Here's to doing something scary and being pleasantly surprised.

Orzo Salad with Feta, Olives and Bell Peppers
From Epicurious

12 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups crumbled seasoned feta cheese (such as basil and tomato; about 6 ounces)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
4 green onions, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Rinse with cold water; drain well. Transfer to large bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add crumbled feta cheese, chopped bell peppers, Kalamata olives, green onions and capers.

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, mustard and cumin in small bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Add dressing to orzo mixture and toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Garnish salad with pine nuts; serve.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Confession of a Penitent Tomato Hoarder

One of the blessings of growing our own food this year has been sharing. We have been happy to share our surplus with friends, co-workers, people from church, and neighbors. We have given away zucchini, squash, asian pears, apples, homemade jam... Generosity gives meaning to life and sharing is one of the joys of growing a garden.

But I have a confession to make. For a long time, I was hoarding tomatoes.

Our tomatoes have taken their sweet time ripening this season, and once finally they started to ripen I was so exuberant I just couldn't bear to share. I wanted those tomatoes in sandwiches, on bruschetta, I wanted them in tacos and pasta and I wanted to bake them into a tart.

Well, I've had them in all those forms (and more!) and so last night, I gave away several dozen of my prized Black Krims to friends at church. I can't say part of me doesn't miss those little guys. Another part of me felt like giving those just-picked tomatoes away was important, because I fully believe that once you taste a unique, vine-ripened heirloom tomato that has reached its fullest potential, how can you go back to bland grocery store varieties? I know it's dreaming big, but I would love it if someone else decided to grow a garden as a result of a humble homegrown tomato.

In the meantime, I appreciate this summer heat and hope that it hastens the ripening of my next batch of tomatoes in the garden. And I will fantasize about all of my favorite ways to eat this ... vegetable! Did you know that the Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are legally classified as vegetables? Here are just a few ideas to use up your summer bounty:

I love this sandwich idea from Chez Danisse's blog. I use fresh honey wheat bread from the Farmer's Market, and as for cheese, am partial to Kerrygold Irish cheddar or Beecher's Flagship (made in Seattle's Pike Place Market).

For extra tomatoes, I dice and freeze them. In 2 months, tomato soup is going to hit the spot, and frozen ripe tomatoes are the key to the best tomato soup.

My go-to method for eating heirloom tomatoes is to slice them, drizzle with balsamic and EVOO, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and toss in whatever fresh herbs I have on hand. Basil is always a good idea, but chives or thyme can change it up a bit. It's simple and obvious, but it really needs no elaboration.

This summer, I have also enjoyed Ratatouille and Sourdough Panzanella. Happy tomato season to all!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How My Garden Almost Maimed My Husband

Those who think gardening is for old ladies, guess what? It can be a dangerous. Oh yes! My story begins with a tomato plant that fell over. I sent my husband out to the garden to straighten it up. About 10 minutes later, I saw him slowly trudging towards me, and he related the following:

After fixing the tomato plant, my husband stepped back to admire his work, only to have his feet ensnared by a sneaky pumpkin vine. He lost his balance, flipped over the metal rabbit-proof fence, hit his arm, landed on his head and passed out.

I know, totally crazy, right? After several minutes of me asking him obvious questions to find out whether he was concussed, I decided he was fine. Still, he remains reticent to return to the garden again. We decided that two people should go out there together from now on to prevent further mishaps.

Another danger in the garden is that when you let the weeds overtake it, sometimes you will find giant vegetables in wait that you didn't realize were even there. Case in point: Giant cucumber below. Gardeners, beware.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In the Midst of It

Here we are, in the throes of summer, and we have completely let our garden go. With the whole moving process, we just don't have time to weed it at this time, so it's survival of the fittest out there. Here are some honorable mentions for the year to this point:

Black Krim tomatoes have been total champs. They were the first tomatoes to ripen, taste excellent, and have produced consistently week after week. (Unlike several other heirloom varieties that decided it would be a fun joke to flower but never set fruit. Grrrrrr.)
My San Marzano tomatoes are pretty much awesome. I love the way they look, like creamy eggs that slowly turn red.
The zucchini and two types of squash continue to function as the workhorses of the garden, and I'm not even tired of the zucchini yet. The yellow squash on the other hand...

Things may be starting to slow down, but there are still a few things I'm looking forward to from this garden:
Walla Walla Onions

Amish Sugar Pie Pumpkins. There appear to be about 100 of these guys in our garden, all pale yellow and lying in wait. Come fall, we're going to have pumpkins coming out our ears, but that's ok. I'm already imaging making dishes like Pumpkin Doughnuts, below:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sourdough Panzanella with Chicken

While walking through Lowe's for the 29th time this week (shopping for house stuff, of course), my eyes fell upon a magazine called Fine Cooking. I purchased this publication due to the fact that I wanted to eat nearly everything I saw in it. The first recipe I tried did not disappoint - Sourdough Panzanella with Chicken.

This simple summer meal is the perfect excuse to use fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs from the garden, the farmer's market, your CSA box, or wherever you go for the best produce summer has to offer. And it doesn't even require you to turn on an oven. Score!

The only problem now is - what do I do with the rest of the package of anchovies that I opened to make this recipe? I'm new to the anchovy game. I may need to do some research for ideas.

Sourdough Panzanella with Chicken
From Fine Cooking

1/2 cup olive oil; more for the grill
4 3/4 inch-thick slices sourdough bread
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 anchovy fillet, rinsed
1 small clove garlic
4 medium tomatoes, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (3 cups)
1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 3/4 inch pieces (1-1/2 cups)
1/2 small red onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mixed herbs, such as basil, parsley, cilantro, or mint

Prepare a medium-high charcoal or gas grill fire. Clean and oil the grill grate.

Brush the bread on both sides with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil. Grill the bread until well marked, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cutting board, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the oregano, smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Sprinkle evenly over the chicken breasts. Grill, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of each breast registers 165°F, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a cutting board, let rest for 5 minutes, and then cut into 3/4-inch cubes.

In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 6 Tbs. olive oil and the vinegar. Press the anchovy fillet and garlic clove through a garlic press into the bowl (or mince by hand). Add the bread, chicken, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and herbs, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Total Garden Fail - and Then a Come Back

Front flower bed before: Swampy muck over clay,

topped with moss and funky green growth

This week brought about what felt like a "total gardening fail". Optimistic to finally have a space to plant in the ground, I went to the plant nursery and returned to our future home with armfuls of flowers and herbs that I loved and couldn’t wait to grow in our entry way.

What do we find upon attempting to plant them in the front flower bed? Sandy, mucky, water-logged soil, and deeper down: clay. The drainage was so bad we ended up digging up the whole bed, fearing some kind of leak in underground pipes. We didn’t find a leak, just an unfortunate land gradation that dumps lawn water back into the flower bed, and some old sprinklers that were soaking everything in sight.

After a night of being heartbroken that my Edenic vision wasn’t going to work, I re-grouped. I can’t afford to install a French drain, so I decided to work with what I already have and seek out some hardy plants that would be able to survive my wet, clay, shady area.

We put new tops on the sprinklers for a more controlled aim, and adjusted the sprinkler timing to morning for a shorter time. We built a stone barrier between the lawn and the flower bed to keep some of the water out. We mixed in several bags of compost/potting soil, worm castings, and used mychorrizal fungi to strengthen the roots of each plant we put in the ground.

Here's what our bed looks like now (we will cover the dirt with mulch this weekend):

Will these plants survive their new environment? Only time will tell. But I have been reminded to be ready to adjust my vision of what my garden (or my life) should be or look like, to be flexible and open to new possibilities.

From a gardening perspective, I learned that no matter how much I may love a certain plant, it doesn't necessarily mean that I should try to plant it wherever I think they should go. Instead, I am learning to work WITH nature, rather than exhaust myself trying to twist nature's arm until it bends to my will.

P.S. If you remember our sad neglected orange tree from this post, here's what it looks like after some sprucing up: much more presentable I think!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Oven-Baked Ratatouille

I remember one particular meal when I was living in France. The elderly lady with whom we did our home stay prepared a simple meal of baked fish with a wonderfully flavorful sauce of some kind. I had never tasted it in America and begged her for the recipe. Like many Parisians, my host knew a shortcut or two, and after some coaxing, she revealed the - gasp - jar her sauce had come from. It was nothing more than store-bought ratatouille, which I now know to be a famous Provencal vegetable stew and a great way to use up summer garden produce.

The version I made at home this week in an effort to recreate that moment comes from the popular Chocolate and Zucchini blog, the author of which lives in Montmartre, one of my favorite parts of Paris. It was a great use not only for our homegrown herbs, tomatoes, zucchini and farmer's market eggplant, but a fantastic excuse to use my Le Creuset. We served it over couscous for a light, flavorful dinner.
Ratatouille Confite au Four
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 eggplant (if you want to make the traditional ratatouille from Nice, hold the eggplant)
- 1 zucchini
- 2 green peppers
- 8 small tomatoes
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
-1 T. chopped basil
- olive oil
- salt, pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Peel and slice the onion and garlic. Rinse the remaining vegetables, trim and slice them. Rinse the herbs. Combine everything in an oven-proof dish. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil (about two tablespoons). Toss a little more to ensure even coating.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. At this point the vegetables should be cooked but not colored, and there should be cooking juices at the bottom of the pan.
Remove the foil and bake for another 30 to 45 minutes, keeping an eye on the progress, until the cooking juices have evaporated and the vegetables have taken on a nice roasted aspect.
Remove the sprigs of herb, and serve immediately, or at room temperature, or cold. It gets even better the next day and the day after that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Can You Identify These Apples?

My parents don't pay much attention to plants and trees and flowers. Thus, after their landscaper told them what kinds of fruit trees he had planted in their yard, they promptly forgot what he said. This left me to try to guess what we're growing based on the fruits I pick.

Some were easy, like the unmistakable Asian pears. Others have stumped me, like the firm green apples that ripen every August. At first I assumed they were Granny Smith, but then I read that Granny Smith apples are late-season ripeners. These apples are most definitely early ripeners, looking ripe in early August every year. The flesh is tart and a bit dry... but that could be due to lack of water. :-) Here's a picture of my first harvest - any ideas as to what kind of apples these could be?