Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cheese Club Med

Last weekend we attended Cheese Club Med at the Palo Alto Cheese School. This was an opportunity to try a variety of Mediterranean cheeses with various wines and accompaniments. As we gathered, we enjoyed a refreshing cocktail made with Prosecco, chili, mint, lime and French vermouth. It had a kick, but was still light and perfect for a warm afternoon. It was served with warm pita bread and Saganaki, made from broiled Kefalograviera cheese.

Chef Jaimie Casey gathered the following cheeses for our afternoon adventure. 
We each had plates of :

Greek Sheep’s Milk Feta
Mahon, a cow’s milk cheese from Spain
Perla Grigia with Truffle, a cow’s milk cheese from Italy
Pecorino Romano Pepato, sheep’s milk cheese from Italy
Pata Cabra Mitica, goat's milk from Spain
Montbriac, cow’s milk blue cheese from France

Accompaniments included olives, toasted almonds and pecans, quince paste, muscat grapes, French bread, cranberry walnut bread and a spoon of a Spanish chorizo and chick pea compote.

Our drinks for pairing included:
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde
Mas Que Vino Cercavio Tempranillo ‘07
Sandeman Sherry Cream Armada

We spent two lovely hours discussing the cheeses and trying the various pairings. My favorite cheese was the Perla Grigia with Truffle (about 4 o'clock on the plate). It has cinnamon and nutmeg as well as the black truffle and was absolutely divine with the cranberry bread and Tempranillo. Perfect for a winter holiday party. I'll keep it in mind for that purpose, but I liked it so much, I’ve already bought some to enjoy just for myself! No special occasion required.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Lunch

Happy Easter to everyone who celebrates it! April 24 is the latest date for Easter since 1943, but you wouldn’t know it from our weather here in Northern California. It is cloudy and chilly with a chance of rain. It would normally be in the 80’s by now. But with no egg hunt this year, the weather doesn’t matter. We’ll be comfy and cozy inside with friends.

We settled on a very simple menu for Easter lunch. So simple, I keep thinking I must be forgetting something. Our main course is inspired by an appetizer Chef Jaimie Casey served at a recent pairing seminar we attended at J Lohr Winery. We’re having pork loin in Cheddar Scallion Biscuits served with a choice of Jaimie’s homemade jams that she’s given us in recent months - pluot, pomegranate or Satsuma tangerine. We served this to my son and his wife recently and Matt said these were the best biscuits he’s ever eaten. The biscuit recipe came from Kim at Liv Life.

I wanted to make the salad from yesterday's dream Easter dinner, but Larry was in the mood for something “crunchy.” There’s a recipe in Seriously Simple Holidays by Diane Rossen Worthington that I was eyeing at Christmas but never made. It’s a main course chopped salad, but I easily adapted it as a side dish and made it a little less “wintery.” It is perfect to accompany pork.

Winter (Spring with my changes) Chopped Salad

1Tbsp Trader Joe's whole grain Dijon mustard  
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 c olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 head radicchio, cored and chopped
2 heads romaine, light green and white only, chopped
1 Fuji apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 c dried cranberries
1 c pecans, chopped and toasted
1 c Greek Isle sheep's milk feta cheese

Whisk together the first four ingredients to make the dressing. Salt and pepper to taste.
Put the other ingredients into a large bowl. Pour dressing over greens mixture and toss to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. 

By request, Paul is bringing the scalloped potatoes he made for Christmas Eve dinner. And for dessert Larry made a brown sugar and cinnamon coffee cake that has been a standard on our brunch menus for over 20 years. The cake is accompanied by Black Pepper Balsamic Strawberries and Bananas.

For an added treat, last night I made the Peanut Butter Buttons by The Curvy Carrot from my dream menu. Except I followed the original recipe and used peanut M&Ms, not peanut butter Reese's pieces and added green sprinkles to look a little like Easter grass. We had to buy a gigantic bag of M&Ms that cost a fortune to get the Easter colors. I’m sure somebody around here will eat them.

On a final Easter note, if you haven’t seen this, you MUST go check out the Bacon and Egg Easter Basket at Elise's Kitchen. This is so awesome. She should get an award for this amazing creation. And I hope the Easter bunny was good to you if you were expecting a visit.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Tag

Freeze tag, refrigerator tag, cigarette tag and…who knew there was such a thing as Easter tag? And did anybody who didn’t grow up in tobacco country play cigarette tag? My husband and I grew up in different tobacco growing states, but we both played cigarette tag as children. And now there's Easter tag. Kate at Kate’s Kitchen tagged me in a game where you are supposed to create your Easter dinner menu from your previous blog posts and then tag 10 more people to do the same.

It’s Saturday afternoon, so I think I’ll have to change the rules of the game. I’m not going to tag anyone else since it's so late, but I thought it would be fun to play. I went through my last year’s posts and realized I don’t have many recipes. My blog is more about what and where I eat and drink – events, travels, restaurants, classes, and certainly what we cook as well, but not so much about recipes.

So I’m changing the rules again. I’ve saved quite a collection of recipes from other bloggers that I want to try someday. My dream menu is going to be created from their recipes. The disadvantage is you won’t see their photos here; you’ll need to go to their pages to see their exquisite creations.

Often we do a brunch for up to 30 people for Easter. But this year, I’m not feeling up to that so we will be cooking for our friends next door. My precious grandson is spending his first Easter with his other California grandparents and their annual celebration. We were invited to join them, but the three hour drive each way with a party in between was too daunting for me. I need to conserve energy since I’m only at the half way point of immunotherapy.

So I’ve designed this menu, not for a brunch of 30, but for the six of us who will be enjoying lunch together tomorrow. 

Thai Basil Spritzer from An Opera Singer in the Kitchen – This is the only item on the dream menu I’ve actually made before. Mine didn’t turn out as green as hers and I didn’t think it needed the sweetner. Our guests tomorrow don’t drink alcohol, so it’s a perfect choice.

Easy Baked Crab and Artichoke Dip from Jason at Ancient Fire Wines. Sarah loves artichoke dip!

Spring Quiche from The Cilantropist. This has one of my favorite cheeses, Humboldt Fog, and I can't wait to try it.

Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms from Brian at A Food For Thought

Citrus and Mixed Greens Salad by Gina - her blog used to be What's for Dinner Across States Lines, but now is renamed SPCookie Queen 

Peanut Butter Buttons from The Curvy Carrot

Since I’m still working on our real menu, maybe some of these will show up. But Larry is doing most of the cooking this year, so he gets the final vote. This will probably remain a dream menu for now. I'll let you know what we settle on for the real meal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bark for Easter

Sarah at 5

Back in 2000, when my friend Sarah was just 5 years old, she invited me over to dye Easter eggs with them. She felt sorry for me that I hadn't dyed eggs in 20 years. My son Matt was grown and away at college and Sarah heard me say that he wouldn’t dye eggs even when he was little. I’ve always thought his aversion to holiday activities was a form of rebellion since they are so important to me. I guess he could have chosen worse ways to rebel!

So dyeing eggs with Sarah and her mom, Cali, has become a tradition over the years. We dye eggs the week before Easter, making a huge mess and creating both beauties and some really ugly specimens as we try out new techniques and experiment.

I recently sent Cali and Sarah links with recipes to consider for Sarah’s upcoming Sweet Sixteen birthday party. They loved the Easter Candy Bark by Lindsey at Gingerbread Bagels. The beautiful pastel colors in the photos proved to be very enticing. And being chocolate lovers, Cali and Sarah proposed that this year we break with tradition and make bark instead of dyeing eggs.

Sarah at almost 16
 So earlier this week we gathered  our Easter candies and convened  to make our first-ever Easter Bark.  It is so easy to make. All you do is  chop up the decorative candies,  melt the chocolate chips, and  marble the pink candy melts into  the chocolate. 

 Then you press in all those  beautiful colored candies and voila!  You have a beautiful collage of  candy. For detailed directions you  can go to Lindsey’s link above.

We put far more candy and cookie pieces into our bark than Lindsey’s photos in the original recipe. Ours was really packed with crunch - over the top and decadent. We had so much fun, we’ve decided this could become a new tradition; bark for every holiday of the year! Bark! Bark! Bark!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Last Blast of Winter

The trees are bursting into flower and pollen is swirling everywhere. The daylight hours are longer and to look out the window, you might think spring has arrived. But last weekend, we were hit with a cold arctic chill that erased all thoughts of warm weather. Record low temperatures prompted me to bring my Uggs back down from the attic and rethink putting away all my winter clothes just yet.

Between the cold and windy weather and that my first week of treatment was much more difficult than I expected, I needed comfort food. I found it in this risotto dish adapted from Bon Appetit magazine. Along with the risotto, we enjoyed one of our favorite chardonnays, 2006 Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountains. It is a mildly oaked and buttery chardonnay that goes perfectly with the richness of the browned squash and sage.

Kabocha Squash Risotto With Sage and Pine Nuts
6 main course servings

4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 2–3 lb kabocha squash peeled, seeded and cut into ½” cubes
1 Tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1 Tbsp sherry
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
3 ½ c vegetable broth
1 ½ c Arborio rice
¼ c Marsala
½ c pine nuts, toasted, divided
Shaved Parmesan cheese
2 oz thin sliced pancetta, crisply cooked, crumbled
Sea salt and pepper

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add squash; sprinkle with sea salt. Saute until beginning to brown, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add chopped sage. Cook until tender stirring often, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle sherry over squash; toss to incorporate. Transfer squash to plate.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in same skillet. Add chopped onions, sprinkle with sea salt. Saute until onions are soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until onions are soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Set aside. Bring 3 ½ c water and vegetable broth to simmer in large saucepan. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

Add Arborio rice to onions in skillet. Stir until rice is slightly translucent, about 4 minutes. Add Marsala; stir until absorbed. Add 1 cup warm broth mixture; stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Continue adding broth mixture by cupfuls until rice is just tender but still firm to bite and risotto is creamy. Stir almost constantly and add squash after 15 minutes of about 20 minutes total cooking time. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in portion of toasted pine nuts. Transfer squash risotto mixture to serving bowl. Sprinkle with remaining pine nuts. Top risotto with shaved Parmesan cheese and crumbled pancetta.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary

April 11 is the first anniversary of Tastemonials. One year has passed since my very first post and here I am back at the same place I started; the cancer has returned and I'm doing the same treatment again, even though  it apparently didn’t work so well last time. But that’s how all this started. I didn’t even read blogs, but I decided to write one during treatment as a creative outlet when I was home for four months.

But 137 posts later, other things have changed during the year. I started writing to amuse myself and had no idea where it would take me. I never dreamed I would learn a little html programming so I could make my blog look more like I wanted. I don’t like computers, so this is a big deal for me. But a REALLY big deal  is that I’ve had two essays published by Smithsonian’s blog, Food & Think. Someone else thinks I can write! My son pointed out that they only publish the ones written about him. So far he is correct. Not sure what that means!

I’ve also experienced a lot of frustration and more than one meltdown over my blog. I was recently reading a post by Gina at SPCookieQueen and she said it all. Who knew the blogosphere was so competitive and demanding and could suck up every spare moment of your time and then some. I thought this was supposed to be all about fun!

But the rewards far outweigh the negatives. The bonus has been all the great people and their recipes. I’ve “met” so many bloggers whom I admire and respect both personally and for their great blogs. They’ve challenged me to try new food and techniques, keep a regular posting schedule and improve my photography skills. Their stories inspire me, amuse me and challenge me to be a better person. I think the better photography part may be a lost cause. I just don’t have the patience for it now. I have no desire to learn how to use a complicated new camera.

I have also explored new events and restaurants to have something to write about. A great excuse to get out and try new places. Nobody has offered me anything for free yet, but I can always hope.

Another important event in the last year has been the birth of my grandson Isaac. He has changed everything for me. I never knew I had so much patience (unlike with the photography). He can hold my undivided attention indefinitely. Last week when he visited, he tackled climbing stairs and succeeded immediately. Only eight months old, he also stood alone for about 10 seconds while his mother and I watched, holding our breaths. He never even realized what he had accomplished. We clapped and cheered in delight and he was totally oblivious.

I’ve been craving chocolate lately, so to celebrate the anniversary of Tastemonials, Larry made Double Chocolate Pudding, shown above, a recipe from one of my wonderful new blogger friends, Kim at Liv Life. The pudding was doubly divine. Rich and somewhat mouse-like. Guaranteed to satisfy any chocolate craving.

So here's to the next year and I'm hoping when my second anniversary rolls around my health issues will be resolved. I don't need that for inspiration any more.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A New Look

In honor of the upcoming one year anniversary of Tastemonials, I have finally implemented my new design. I've had the creative work completed since the end of last year but was terrified of trying to install it without the assistance of my technical advisor. We've both been busy and haven't been able to connect, so I finally decided to take a chance and see if Larry and I could do it without blowing up the blog.

Success! It may still need a few tweaks and there are some format issues in old posts that I'm not going to tackle, but I'd say we overcame the obstacles and the new look is here. The best part is that it is customizable and now I can change the design seasonally if I feel inclined.

So what do you think?

Food Truck Frenzy

Food truck frenzy has hit San Jose. Last Saturday, San Jose's first food truck festival, SJ Eats, was held  downtown. It was either a huge success or a big flop depending on your perspective. Larry and I arrived at 11:30am just as it was scheduled to open. The line for Sam’s Chowdermobile was already a block long. No calamari for me that day!

Once we made our way into the crazy crowded fenced-in parking lot, we could see that there were 10 trucks offering a variety of options including seafood, Cajun, Asian, Korean and Fillipino cuisines, as well as several dessert choices. It was a very small location to contain a LOT of people. We gingerly wove our way through the masses to our friend Kevin’s truck, MoBowl. It was in the back corner, so the line wasn’t quite so long and we got our order pretty quickly.

I’ve reviewed MoBowl before and the food just keeps getting better. I’ve tried almost everything they serve, but I keep coming back to the Five-Spice Pulled Pork bowl. The pork is always melt-in-your-mouth tender with perfectly balanced seasoning. This time was no exception.The portions are large and the bowl won’t leave you hungry. You can't tell in this photo how deep the bowl is - there is a lot of pork in there!

We stood in a not-so-long line to get Kara’s cupcakes to take home to our friend recovering from surgery. It took far longer than waiting for food that needed preparation. How long does it take to hand people a cupcake?! I suspect they were moving more slowly because they were running out of cakes.

Reportedly over 10,000 people showed up for the festival; far more than anyone dreamed. People waited in line for hours to eat and others gave up and left hungry. Most of the vendors ran out of food long before the 3:30 close of the lunch shift. Many people went away disappointed. Who knew so many people would show up when some still think of food trucks as “roach coaches.”

I read they made some crowd management changes for the dinner shift and it was easier to determine which line you were standing in. They are looking for a larger location for the next event. Congratulations SJ Eats on demonstrating that the South Bay supports food trucks and best wishes for even more success on the next event.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Found a New Favorite

My tastebuds are finally back in working order and after several days of doctor ordered REST, I was in the mood for good food. But what? The start of immunotherapy was delayed and I’ve been resting at home all week, so when my doc said I could resume light activity, I was anxious to dine out.

Our favorite Indian restaurant closed last year and we’ve never found a suitable replacement. There’s a place about five minutes from home that has always had a questionable reputation and looked like a dump, so we’ve never been there. But last week, I noticed it had a stylish new sign outside and the building had been painted. Same name, Bombay Oven, but a new look.

So we looked on Yelp and sure enough, just a month ago, it reopened with a new owner, new chef and a remodel. It had several five star reviews on Yelp, mostly for the lunch buffet and the comments said to ignore all reviews prior to last month. We decided to take a chance.

We arrived at 6:30pm to an empty dining room. That always makes me wonder if we’ve made a bad choice when there are no other customers! But at least if it’s bad, we should be able to make it quick if there aren’t any other people to slow down the service.

Our server was very attentive and eager. He wasn’t convinced we’d eaten Indian food before and wanted to explain the menu. He suggested an appetizer, nizza, that he said was a specialty. It didn’t sound very Indian to me, but it did sound good, so we took his advice. We had almost decided not to order our favorite dishes from our old restaurant. We thought that wouldn’t give the new place a fair chance after eating the other version for over 10 years. But when the server arrived, touting the virtues of their chicken tikka masala, we changed our order to our old favorite, along with aloo gobi.

The nizza arrived and was quite delicious. Roasted red pepper relish and mozzarella cheese on garlic naan - Indian style pizza. This would make a great appetizer or quick lunch snack that would be easy to make at home if you have a source of good frozen naan. 

While we were waiting for our main course, the server brought me a sample for their mango lassi and asked if I’d ever tried it before. I just couldn’t tell him I’d been drinking them for 20+ years. He seemed to think he was introducing us to Indian food. The lassi was rich, creamy and excellent.

I really like that you can order your dish mild, medium, spicy or extra spicy. We decided to try spicy since usually we eat these dishes mild and spicy might give them a new twist for the new restaurant.

Aloo gobi
The chicken tikka masala came in a thick, creamy sauce, deeper orange in color than our previous favorite. The chicken was all white meat and exceptionally tender. There were definitely different spices plus the additional kick. I just don’t know enough about the individual Indian flavors to identify what was different. The aloo gobi was different too, but also delicious. There are as many different versions of these dishes as there are chefs. And we’re lucky to have found a new favorite.