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…

Bourbon Peach Cobbler

Bourbon Peach CobblerPeachy-Keen
I know that apple pie is the undisputed champion of 4th of July, but if you have walked through any produce department lately you may have noticed that peaches and nectarines are doing everything they can to get your attention. What is it about that fragrance that makes me stop in my tracks and throw a half dozen in a bag?

Truth is I am a bit mad for peaches and nectarines right now. It is the peak of their season and they are just so good. I think I have used them in every meal this week. Grilled and diced into a salsa to put on the pork chops I grilled them with or sliced up in a cool crisp salad with some Point Reyes blue cheese and some spiced nuts. Or just sliced and eaten by themselves. Then there are the smoothies and baked goods….

I love apple pie but I am having a hard time getting excited about it for the 4th. Instead, my mind is filled with visions of gooey cobbler mixing with cool vanilla bean ice cream and it’s making my mouth water. Even better? This recipe also includes a splash of Bourbon…

Bourbon Peach Cobbler 
Adapted from Tyler Florence and the Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings 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…

On the Fly Blackberry Pie

On the Fly Blackberry PiePie on the Fly
Last Saturday, my sister and I grabbed our buckets and boxes and set out for Brentwood to pick fruit. We picked a lot of fruit. Peaches, pluots, cherries, and blackberries. I personally harvested almost 9 pounds of blackberries. And, I felt the fruits of that labor for an embarrassing two days after. I gathered that much because I had a jam plan for the blackberries and I wanted to make sure I had enough for a double batch.

Turns out I had more than enough to make the jam as well as a fresh blackberry pie.

My grandmother had a huge blackberry bramble in her garden and we used to pick blackberries every year to make in to jam. But, she also had a killer recipe for blackberry pie. And, I have no clue what that recipe was. Maybe she just eyeballed the sugar and cornstarch and threw it and the fruit together in a pie crust. But, for the life of me, I can’t find a copy of her pie recipe, or for that matter her jam recipe, anywhere.

So, while my jars were processing, I went on a hunt for a blackberry pie recipe. You think it would be easy—but you would be wrong. Most of the pies that have blackberries in them also have other fruits and I wanted a straight up blackberry pie. I never found one that was quite right. So, I eventually just combined a bunch of different recipes into one and went with it.

Turns out my Blackberry Pie on the Fly was darn tasty. In fact, the scent of the pie and our impatience prompted us to cut into it before it had finished cooling—which was a mistake. The blackberry goodness inside did not stay inside and oozed out of the crust into the pie plate. Note to self, the pie must be allowed to cool completely. The visual did not affect the flavor though and all traces of pie were gone by morning…

On The Fly Blackberry Pie
Yields 10 servings Read more…

Flan

FlanThat’s the Flan
The older I get the more I notice how time is speeding up. The month of April is gone and I seriously have no idea where it went. It’s crazy to believe that we are now in the Month of May. But if it is early in the month of May you know what that means…

For me, Cinco de Mayo is just another excuse to make Mexican food which, frankly, I make a lot. However, for Cinco de Mayo I like to step up my game. I try to dig a little deeper into Mexican cuisine and get to the good stuff beyond tacos and enchiladas.

One such dish is flan.

True, flan is not exactly unheard of. You can basically get it in any Mexican restaurant but it’s not something that your average home cook just whips up. I will whip up a batch of guacamole at the drop of a hat. Flan? Not so much.

Flan can be sort of polarizing. I have found that people either like it or they hate it. There is not a lot of grey area. For the most part, it’s a texture thing. Not everybody likes that eggy custard mouthfeel. Personally, I love it. Though it may seem daunting, Mexican flan is not difficult to make especially if you do individual servings. I have had more difficulties with the bigger versions coming out clean.

When making flan, ingredients matter because the recipe is so simple. Make sure you use good quality vanilla. You can also use the seeds from a vanilla bean if you want big vanilla flavor. I like to add a little cinnamon to mine. Try to use a true Ceylon cinnamon if you can.

Regardless of what you serve at your fiesta this weekend, enjoy the great weather, good food, and good friends. And, most of all be safe.

Flan 
Adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy
Yields approximately 8 servings Read more…