Caramelized Butternut Squash

Caramelized Butternut SquashFall Flow
The changing of the seasons is always a weird time food-wise, especially for us here in California. The calendar may tell you that it is fall but the 90 degree weather says differently. And, the thought of a succulent fall roast from a warm oven is off-putting. On top of that, we are blessed to be able to get whatever produce we want year-round unlike other areas of the country where certain produce can only be found seasonally. This means that there is less seasonality to our cooking and the chances of a cooking rut or ingredient boredom are high. Whenever I feel like I am in a rut or need some inspiration I head to the farmer’s market. And, if I can’t get there I camp out in the produce section and try to find something that sparks my interest.

I can’t quite explain it. There’s something about standing in the middle of botanic abundance that makes my inner farmer happy. The same thing happens when I am picking anything from my own garden. It’s the thought process that starts when you have to consider how you are going to use the homegrown wealth in front of you. It is also the same feeling you get when presented with beautiful examples of farmed art piled high in a vast array of colors beneath the tents of people who love working their land.

It’s been a while since I have been able to get to my Sunday farmers market and it is making me kind of itchy. I have also been struggling with the daily “What’s For Dinner?” grind. So, I know I am overdue for a trip. I need the therapy you can only find while loading more fruits than necessary into your market basket. I also need the thrill of the first squash sightings and the hearty greens that go with them. For me, that first taste of an in-season butternut captures more of fall than any pumpkin latte ever could.

As I sit here and write this I am beyond thankful for a responsibility-free weekend. I can already feel my creative culinary juices flow while the anticipation of a “fruitful” Sunday morning buzzes through my body.

Caramelized Butternut Squash
Adapted from Ina Garden and The Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake

Gam’s Cocoa Apple CakeSeason’s Greetings
For most of the country, the Labor Day weekend signals the beginning of cooler temperatures and spiced flavors of fall (regardless of what the calendar says is the actual start of the season). Those of us here in California know that, despite the recent cooler weather, it is not yet time to guzzle pumpkin spice or bring the sweaters out of storage. Because, dear friends, the hottest days of the year are actually ahead of us. For Californians, fall doesn’t really start until around Halloween.

For the record, I had a chai latte this morning. Why should you care? Because chai spices are basically the gateway to pumpkin spice. I’m not quite ready to go there yet! But, I found myself in a bit of a fall mood brought on by the cooler temps this morning as well as the apple picking we did over the weekend. So, I compromised.

The apple picking happened because my brother in law’s apple tree runneth over at the moment and it is just WAY too much for one man no matter how many neighborhood squirrels there are. I think we picked at least 40 pounds of apples…maybe more which means now I have to figure out what to do with all of them. Upon arrival at home, I immediately threw some in my pressure cooker and made applesauce. That was a no-brainer. My daughter made a couple of Dutch Apple pies which the kids have been enjoying for breakfast. Of course, we have been eating the apples straight as snacks. And, the kids have been putting them in their lunches with a little peanut butter. But, I have to figure out what to do with the rest. Thus, I have been going through my cookbooks and re-examining some of my favorite recipes.

One recipe that jumped out at me was my grandmother’s Cocoa Apple Cake. It is one of two that I always loved growing up. The second one was an applesauce cake that she made with her homemade applesauce. (I’m still trying to find it.) The chocolate in this bundt cake recipe makes it popular with the young as well as the old while the apples keep it nice and moist. It’s a delicious addition to a lunch box or as a snack for the PTA meeting.

Gam’s Cocoa Apple Cake
Yields 10 to 12 Servings Read more…

Chewy Chocolate Brownies

Chewy Chocolate BrowniesBrownie Brain
Labor Day weekend is almost here…which is awesome because, Hey!, a three day weekend! Tradition suggests that I am supposed to be thinking about barbecue but truth be told, I’m kind of sick of grilling. With as hot as it has been lately, I haven’t even looked twice at my oven. Everything we’ve eaten in the past two weeks has been hot off the outdoor grill. Needless to say, I am finding it hard to get too excited about a barbecue for Labor Day.

That being said, I will be going to a barbecue on Sunday. The good news is the decision to figure out what to throw on the grill rests entirely on my sister’s shoulders. I have a feeling that I will be in charge of bringing something sweet to the party. And, for some reason lately, I have had brownies on the brain.

I can’t tell you how long it has been since I have made a batch of brownies. I love brownies and because of that love I just can’t have them lying around. I will simply end up eating them. Hence, I have not made them in over a year. As a general rule, I am a brownie purist but I am not above swirling in a little peanut butter before they go in the oven or even mixing some espresso into the batter. There are never any nuts in my brownies. Not because I don’t like nuts—but I just don’t want anything to interfere with my chocolate intake. And, no nuts means there is more room for chocolate in each bite.

Brownies, or chocolate anything really, are a great way to end a barbecue because chocolate just goes well with grilled meats. Even better, you can serve them with the ice cream of your choice on the top for a sundae. Or, take it a step further and use the brownies as the base for an ice cream cake!

Chewy Chocolate Brownies Read more…

Fresh Elote Salad

Fresh Elote SaladCorn Off the Cob
Typically at this time every year, I am going crazy for all of the sweet, local corn that is available. And by crazy I mean eating it 2 to 3 time a week. This year, though, we have been relatively corn-free.
My feelings on fresh, sweet corn haven’t changed. I still love it. My family loves it. When it comes down to it, our lack of corn consumption can be traced to two things: economics and braces. Two of my three kids have braces on their teeth. Those of you who have ever had braces or know anyone who has will agree having braces on your teeth makes biting into an ear of corn a challenge.
The other deterrent to our annual corn-a-palooza would be the cost of having to re-attach a bracket that had been ripped off while biting into an ear of corn. The monthly payments times two are bad enough on their own, thanks. Of course, you can cut the kernels off the cobb to make it easier but then there is the fun of cleaning corn out your braces after. So long story short, we’re not eating a lot of corn this summer.
I am going to have to make an exception for this recipe. It takes one of my favorite street foods and reworks it into a much easier-to-eat form and with enough cheese and other goodness to make the challenge of cleaning out your braces worth it. And, note that doubling the recipe would make it a hit at any large gathering or backyard BBQ.
Fresh Elote Salad 
Adapted from Food 52
Yields 4 to 6 servings
This delicious side can also be served as a dip with tortilla chips.

Read more…

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…