Pork Rillettes

Pork RillettesBeach Bites
Hitting the beach in the summer is awesome…the sun…the surf. There is nothing better than kicking back at the beach and relaxing. And, you’ll need it because as great as a day at the beach can be, the schlepping of all of the stuff you need is not.

I admire those people who can throw everything they need for a day at the beach into a cinch-sac and head out the door. I am not one of those people. I would like to be—but I am not. I require a chair and an umbrella at a minimum. And, of course, a cooler full of tasty food and refreshing drinks.

Of all the things you need for a day at the beach, I think the food it the hardest because it actually takes some preplanning. Because we head to the beach every summer when we go to Tahoe, my sister and I are now a well-oiled machine when it comes to packing lunch for 10 of us. But, you better be okay with a sandwich and some chips for lunch. That is just our routine at Tahoe.

Before we got married and even for some time after, my husband and I used to spend our weekends sailing the bay either on our own or with friends. Our favorite place to stop for lunch was on Angel Island and I always tried to pack something good to eat. Sometimes we hiked around to the south side and ate on the beach there. (We did that once for Fleet Week. The Blue Angels flew right over our heads. It was fantastic.) More often than not though we would find an empty picnic table or sometimes just eat on the boat. It goes without saying that whatever we brought had to be compact. The sailboat wasn’t that big. And, if you had to haul your lunch around an island, you didn’t want to bring a big heavy cooler. So I got good at making what I call snacky lunches.

Snacky lunches are basically picnics made up of a bunch different things that when you choose a little of this and a little of that make up a rather lovely lunch. They usually consisted of a fresh baguette, a variety of cheeses, assorted charcuterie, cut veggies, some dips or spreads, fruit, and something bite-size and decadent for dessert. Sometimes, if we had a bigger group I would add on an orzo or tomato salad.

Occasionally I would make Rillettes because it is the perfect picnic food. You can spread it on a fresh baguette or crackers and you store it in a mason jar for easy transport. If you are planning on hitting the beach in the near future, give this a try…

Pork Rillettes
Yields about 5 cups Read more…

Summer Watermelon Salad

Summer Watermelon SaladBits and Pieces
Fun fact: I will not bite directly into fruit.

And yes, I realize how strange that sounds…but let me explain. I have always had sensitive teeth so biting into, say, an apple is not a fun experience. I always cut my apples up. Same goes for other large pieces of fruit. Peaches, nectarines, plums, and especially melons.

Next week is the 4th of July. (I know. It snuck up on me, too.) For those who have been paying attention, I am sure you have seen all of the ads both digital and in print that show the bucolic standard picnic table set up with all of the usual fixin’s—burgers, hot dogs, corn, potato salad, flag cake, and, without fail, a giant watermelon.

There is nothing that screams summer as much as a huge watermelon. There something kind of nostalgic about it. It’s not difficult to picture a Norman Rockwell-esque scene in your mind of a young kid with an American flag in one hand and a slice of watermelon in the other. And without question, cut into more manageable slices, a cold watermelon is a great way to cool off from the summer heat. For me though, I have to find other ways to cool off.

I don’t care how fun it is to spit the seeds at your siblings, the thought of biting into a thick slice of watermelon makes me cringe. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy watermelon for the 4th. I just get more creative. There are a number of ways to incorporate watermelon into your 4th of July menu. Personally, I like it in a salad as an alternative or a compliment to the usual potato or macaroni salads.

There are any number of watermelon salads out there. Some you make with feta and mint others have grilled corn and cucumbers. I like the simpler ones like the recipe below because it seems more like a salad to me and you get the best of summer produce plus it looks pretty on the platter. Not to mention you can feed a lot of people…

Summer Watermelon Salad
Yields 4 to 8 servings Read more…

Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil

Sichuan Wontons in Chili OilMy Little Dumpling
Most people when they are learning to cook start off simple. Scrambled eggs. Roast chicken. Pancakes. The first things my daughter taught herself to make were pork dumplings.

To be fair, dim sum and all other Chinese dumplings are basically her favorite food. So, it makes sense that this is what she would want to know how to make. And, this is pretty much her M.O. She finds something that she is interested in, become obsessive about it, and then sets off to master it. And, once she has, she moves on to the next thing. Her current obsession? French Macarons. And there is now almond flour on every surface of my home…

As luck would have it, our cookbook club was cooking through a Chinese cookbook at the time she wanted to learn about dumpling—and there happened to be a wonton recipe that we decided to try. So I figured it would be a fun day of bonding with my daughter and teaching her a new skill. Little did I know I was about to be schooled…

Making the filling for the dumplings is fairly uncomplicated. All you are doing is just mixing the ingredients together. The difficult part of making dumplings is in the folding of the wrapper. They can be tricky and it takes some practice to get it right. The first few that I produced were misshapen and scary and the filling kept squishing out. My (at that time) ten-year-old daughter’s? Perfect. So perfect, in fact, she had to show me and my many years of cooking experience where I was going wrong. I have no idea where she learned to do it, but apparently, my daughter is a dumpling prodigy. And I, a mere mortal, bow to her greatness.

We did end up having a great time working together and the dumplings were so good. The best part was sitting down after it was all done to devour them with spicy chili sauce…

Sichuan Wontons in Chili Oil 
Adapted from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking
by Fuchsia Dunlop
Yields 4 servings, about 15 to 20 wontons

Read more…

Stir Fry with Baby Boy Choy, Snow Peas, and Shrimp

Stir Fry with Baby Boy Choy, Snow Peas, and ShrimpBaby, I have a cold
For this first normal day of the new year, I had intended to write about my plan for better eating habits for 2019 and I DO plan on eating better. My biggest problem right now though is that I cannot shake this cold! To make things worse, I know I am not alone in my quest. The number of friends, family, and coworkers who are fighting this same battle is astounding. So instead of outlining my plan to be healthier in 2019, I’m trying to figure out just how to get healthy.

We sell a Jasmine Green Iced Tea here at the store from Teas Tea that I love. The best thing about it, other than the taste, is the fact that it is loaded with vitamin C. Plus, it’s a great way to stay hydrated. This is why I have been having it every day since I got sick. Of course, you can always drink the hot version too. The heat will help with your sinuses.

Soups are a no-brainer when you are sick, especially this Chicken Soup with Dill or my favorite, depending on my energy level, Mexican Matzo Ball Soup. Choosing any one of these options is a good way to go as well: Thai Hot and Sour Chicken Soup, Minestrone, and Spicy Chicken and Rice Flu Chaser Soup.

Because anytime you have a cold and have stuffed sinuses it can be hard to taste anything, I tend to eat spicy foods when I am under the weather. A spicy stir-fry is my go-to for a few reasons. The first is if it’s spicy, I am able to taste it. Second, ingredients like ginger, garlic, and chilies, which are most often found in stir-fry, are great natural remedies for illness. Lastly, it’s fast and filling and not boring so the rest of the family will eat it too.

For those of you out there fighting this battle along with me, carry your tissue packs with pride and know that we shall eventually persevere. We will get through this!

Stir-Fry with Baby Boy Choy, Snow Peas, and Shrimp
Adapted from Food 52
Yields 6 servings with rice or noodles  Read more…

Baked Brie

Baked BrieHot Stuff
If a party is happening at my place you can bet there are going to be snacks. I say snacks because the phrase hors d’oeuvres can be a bit high brow for what the function actually is. You do not have hors-d’oeuvres at a football party. You have snacks. Munchies. Grubs…You get the idea.

For the rare party that I throw at my place, I almost always have a cheese plate with various cheeses and fresh fruits. It’s easy and elegant and you can set it out and let people serve themselves. Same goes for a dip platter with veggies—or depending on the dip, some interesting crackers. These are easy go-to pre-dinner nibbles that allow you to interact with your guests but they’re not hot, and for parties on a cold night, I like to have at least something that is warm.

The difficult thing about serving hot hors-d’oeuvres is that it requires you to be in the kitchen and not mingling. Instead, you are in a constant stage of putting stuff in the oven or taking it out. One of my favorites is my Hot Cheesy Things which are a family favorite as well as a definite crowd pleaser. But again, there’s that oven thing.

This year I think I have found a solution to the dilemma. Baked Brie.

Obviously, this is not a new concept but you can modernize it a bit by choosing a different type of jam than the traditional raspberry or another sweet version. I’m making mine with a Maple Bacon Onion jam that we sell here at the store but it would also be good with a Balsamic Onion Jam or even a Fig Jam. Of course, anything spicy would work well too—like a little Thai Sweet Chili sauce…Yum!

Because I am using the onion jam I am going to sprinkle a little fresh thyme for a little more flavor.

Baked Brie
Yields about 16 servings Read more…