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…

San Diego Livin’

San Diego Livin'Traveling the World…Series…Kinda
Ahhh, vacation. Nothing like getting away to unwind and relax, right? As you read this, I am enjoying all that is beautiful on the shores San Diego…sort of.

In actuality, I am probably sitting in a chair or in a bleacher seat with a cooler full of water watching my dudes play baseball in the World Series. This is what our family vacations have become. The funny part is that this is the second leg of our World Series tour. Our daughter had hers last week and I have to be honest, I prefer this week’s venue by the sea to the hot dusty fields of the Central Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the kids play—and certainly playing at this level. But, you have to have a sense of humor about the fact that you’ve traded a vacation week on the sand in Cabo for vacation sitting in the stands on the diamond.

The upside is that we get to explore San Diego which is a place where I have not spent much time (outside of a few random food shows over the years). Needless to say, I have researched where we want to go, what we want to see and, most importantly, where we or should I say I want to eat. That is really the first thing I look for when heading to a new destination. Where do you find the good eats? Where do the locals go, etc.?

Of course, it goes without saying that I will be on the hunt for the best Mexican food I can find. And let’s not forget the seafood. We will be on the ocean after all.

I plan to squeeze as much fun and relaxation out of the time we have down there as I can because the minute we get back? School is back in session.

For those of you who are also squeezing as much out of the summer as you can, here is a list of San Diego inspired recipes to help you out. 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…

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…

Moroccan Caramelized Carrots

Moroccan Caramelized CarrotsSpring Break
This week is spring break. So, I have kind of taken the week off. The plans we had to go out of town fell through for a number of reasons so now we are enjoying a stay-cation at home. The problem with that is there is no lounging poolside in the sun while some wonderful individual continuously brings you beverages with umbrellas in them. Alas, what really happens is you catch up on the laundry you’ve been ignoring for weeks and you find little projects around the house to keep you busy.

One such project for me was reorganizing my cookbook library. I have to do this every few years for two main reasons. First, I am not always great about putting the books back in the same spot when I am finished with them. And, second, and most importantly, because I am constantly adding and subtracting from my collection. Eventually, I need to reorganize to make room. After I had pulled the 250+ books out of the shelves I took a picture of my collection and posted it on Facebook just to see what the reaction would be.

The people who know me well weren’t surprised at all by the giant piles but what I found most interesting were the friends who suggested I just use the internet to find recipes and other inspiration. While I do use websites to look for ideas as well as ingredients, there is no way that the internet would ever be a decent replacement for my cookbooks because it’s not just about convenience and millions of options at my fingertips. My cookbooks are more than just the recipes they contain. There are masterpieces from the giants of culinary tradition like Escoffier, Child, Rombauer, and Beard. Some of them are family heirlooms that hold the family’s history and traditions on dog-eared pages. Still, others tell the story of a new skill or technique learned between food stained chapters. And then there are the books that recount the journeys and exotic foods of far off lands and encourage the dreams of flavors yet to be experienced firsthand.

Nope. You will never convince me to get rid of my cookbooks. And, if the price I pay for that is the need to do a little spring cleaning from time to time, so be it. It also means I revisit some of my old favorites that haven’t been in my dinner circulation recently like this recipe for Caramelized Carrots.

I haven’t pulled my Moroccan cookbooks off the shelf in a while but my project gave me a craving. I made grilled halibut with fresh chermoula and these carrots on the side. Everyone cleared their plate…

Moroccan Caramelized Carrots
Adapted from Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse
Yields 4 Servings Read more…