Thursday, June 28, 2012

To the Market.

I woke up today feeling like a million bucks, thanks to a decent amount of sleep and some great exercise yesterday. I had some errands to run in the early A.M. but found myself free by noon, so I decided to check out the Rockridge area of Oakland. I know it's been there for a while and I know that locals already favor it, but I was excited to visit the Rockridge Market Hall (located at 5655 College Avenue in Oakland) for the very first time while it was mellow and not swamped with visitors. Boy did I luck out...

I first hit up the Market Hall produce shop. I was happy to see that most of their produce is sourced locally, from neighbooring farms. I wandered around happily, taking in all of the fresh veggies and fruit, ecstatic to find items that I can't find normally at my in town farmers' markets.

Right away I found some little gems from Ocean Mist Farms. I've personally never seen artichokes so small, so of course I had to buy them because I am an artichoke nut! Apparently they can be steamed, broiled or sauteed whole and served sliced- the perfect pairing for the halibut I bought today. "Since 1924, Ocean Mist Farms has provided multiple generations of customers with the freshest artichokes and vegetables, and is still family owned." They are straight out of Castroville, of course.

I also picked out some lucsious rasberries to top off my ice cream desserts from Driscoll's. Driscoll's has been in the berry business for over 100 years, they hail from Castroville and are family owned and run.  Honestly, these berries didn't make it very far- the hubbs and I ate all of them well before dessert.  It's been a hot day, so I rinsed them in super cold water and next thing you know, they had disappeared.  Yum.

The hubbs was thrilled when I told him I was able to find Padron peppers from Capay Organic.  Capay Organic grows more than 150 varieties of fruits and vegetables on 700 acres of certified organic land in Capay, CA off of highway 16.  We ate these tasty little morsels literally everyday on our trip to Spain and were sad to leave them behind.  For some reason it is significantly difficult to find them in these parts, I've searched far and wide and have been unsuccessful.  Even the cashier clerk proclaimed, "oh my goodness, when did we get Padron in?"  Needless to say I was thrilled and bought 3 pints- I ended up cooking them as they do in Spain, in a hot skillet mixed with extra virgin olive oil and flake salt.  We gobbled them up immediatly, while still warm.  I will be hunting down Capay Organic at farmers' markets for sure.

After milling about the produce area for a while I moved onto Hapuku Fish Shop.  Again, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many locally raised fish and such a wide selection.  Their oysters looked amazing, along with their scallops, fresh shrimp and clams.  The meaty fish all looked healthy and smelled wonderful as well.  An delightful rainbow of seafood to choose from- I selected the locally raised halibut.  I haven't been able to cook it yet, I'm planning on a halibut dinner this Friday, so I will keep you posted!

Wandering through The Pasta Shop area of the Market Hall is mind boggling.  There are so many products stacked practically ceiling high to survey- sauces, jams, dips, crackers, cookbooks, chocolate bars, cookies, cheeses and olives galore.  In fact, it's almost difficult to decide what to purchase amongst all those glittering foodie finds...

I'm not going to lie, I've purchased the Le Saison olive oil roasted almonds with smoked salt and herbs de provence before.  Several times.  These almonds are absolutely, postively addictive and divine.  They seem to have done a great job marketing their product because the almonds can be found in every nook and cranny of food-lover haunts.  I think we first discovered them up in Napa at small dry goods shop.  Husband and wife team Jonathan & Natalie Niksa run Le Saison with rather impressive credentials including the Culinary Institue of America and apprenticing at The French Laundry in Yountville.  You can find the nuts at Whole Foods and fine grocers around the bay.

One of the many nice things about Maket Hall is that they clearly lable "local" items for customers like myself.  The product is clearly labeled in a bright yellow sign that reads "local item" for those interested in good old fashioned home grown type product.  This is how I found the Double Dutch Sweets 'Ramona Bar'.  "Inspired by the classic Snickers candy bar, their Ramona bar has layers of buttery caramel and honey nougat with roasted peanuts that are hand dipped in single source Venezuelan dark chocolate. These nostalgic treats are lightly finished with Maldon sea salt flakes before they are carefully tucked in bright pink foil. Both sweet and salty – a perfect bite!"  I don't even know what to say about this candybar.  It's... It's... Insanely delicious.  Thank goodness you can order them online, I highly advise you do. 

Speaking of Maldon salt, I purchased a box of my very own.  Maldon Sea Salt is loved by chefs all over the world.  "Its soft white flaky crystals are free from artificial additives, giving Maldon Sea Salt a distinctive texture and salty flavour, which means less is required. Free from the bitter after-taste often associated with other salts, its characteristic clean fresh taste enhances the flavour of all natural and fine foods."  I love salt.  I love salt so much I have an area in my cupboard devoted completely to it.  Everything from Hawaiian Red to authentic pretzel salt chunks- it's perhaps my favorite seasoning.  Finding this box of authentic Malden Sea Salt made my day.  I had always expected it to be incredibly expensives, when in reality it's completely affordable.  It's distinctive "pyramid' shape is the company trademark of their proud Essex salt makers.  I used it on our Padron peppers and it is incomparable to any salt I've tried.

I was happy enough to discover the Market Hall, although I'm sure it has been well known for years, but I am even happier to know that I can return whenever I'd like.  It's a refreshing foodie haven full of wonder and delectable discoveries.  Take a drive, enjoy the scenery and explore this fabulous indoor market with friends or on you own.  I assure you, you won't leave empty handed and a smile will be on your face. 

Happy shopping!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Here's the recipe for the cannelloni I made last night.  I think both the hubbs and I decided that it turned out great, but it also ended up being very large.  He had two and I could only consume one- should make awesome leftovers though, I know we're both looking forward to that.  Overall, the filling was rich and savory thanks to the wacky and wonderful black garlic.  Along with the added finely chopped tree oyster mushrooms, ricotta and finely shredded italian cheeses, they created the perfect plump little pillows of goodness.  The marinara sauce came out amazing!  San Marzano tomatoes are considered the best tomatoes in the world to make sauces with by chefs near and far. I could almost eat it alone it was so hearty and flavorful.  We ended up with a lot of the marinara leftover, so I'm going to freeze to some to use at a later date, maybe in a stew or a chicken casserole. 

I ended up serving the cannelloni with lightly buttered (Plugra!!) garlic bread and some steamed farmers' market asparagus on the side.  Again, the cannelloni are giant and can probably be served standing alone, but I always like to include some green veggies as well.

2 28 oz cans of whole, peeled San Marnzano tomatoes crushed well in their own juices
4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 white italian onion, diced
1 bunch of fresh basil chopped into ribbons
1 medium carrot, finely shredded

In a medium saucepan pour your olive oil and add your chopped garlic and onions.  Saute on medium until translucent, not browned, about 8 minutes.  Add your carrots, crushed tomatoes and basil ribbons- simmer on medium for about 30 mins.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

*Crepe pasta*
3 eggs
1 cup of water
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
olive oil

Mix eggs and water in blender.  Add flour and blend batter until smooth.  Let stand for 30 minutes.  Heat crepe pan or small skillet over medium high heat.  Brush pan lightly with olive oil.  Remove pan from heat.  Stir batter and ladle 2 tablespoons in corner of pan, tilting so batter just coats the bottom.  Return excess batter to bowl.  Cook crepe "pasta" until bottom is set (do not brown), about 5 seconds.  Repeat with remaining batter until gone.  Layer crepe "pasta" between sheets of was paper to cool or until you are ready to fill and roll.

15 oz. ricotta cheese
15 oz mozerella cheese, shredded
5 oz. pecorino romana cheese, shredded
5 oz. parmesano reggiano, shredded
1 full bulb of black garlic, peeled and whipped with fork
2 eggs
salt and pepper

This part is easy and fun.  Basically, just pour all of your ingredients into a rather large mixing bowl and whip until creamy and smooth with a large wooden spoon.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

Once you've got your whole kitchen bubbling and smelling wonderful, you will need to grab a large baking dish and grease it with either olive oil or a vegetable non-stick spray and set your oven to 400 degrees.  Next, you will gently lay the crepe "pasta" one by one on a sheet of tin foil and fill it.  By dropping several generous dollops at one end and rolling it over itself, you should be creating perfectly formed tubes that you will now place in the baking dish side by side.  Once your baking dish is full, place in oven for 25 minutes. 

When the cannelloni has finished baking, remove from oven and immedietly serve onto plates, being careful not to tear the tubes.  Now take your prepared sauce and pour just enough to cover it completely.  Add a dash of parmesan on top and voila. 

Molto Bene!



Monday, June 25, 2012


It's been a beautiful long weekend away filled with friends, family and great food.  Seeing as though we were out by the sea for three days, an ample amount of fish was involved on our dining agendas naturally- Bodega Bay is a prime summer seafood location which I was happy to take advantage of.  Along with several meals of local fish, we also dined on some wonderful brisket, hearty steaks and plenty of Sonoma Coast snack foods that can only be found out along that particular stretch of the great highway 1.  Saltwater taffy anybody?  Fresh crab, oysters and cheese?

After such an incredibly indulgent getaway, I found myself coming home to a dark, cool house, feeling cozy and comfortable and just a little bit in need of... Pasta!

Homemade pasta dishes are a favorite, especially during this summer season when you can find so many different types of tomatoes, basil bunches, garlic and onions in the markets.  Spending the afternoon preparing pasta sauces and soups has become a favorite activity for me when I am able to devote the time to do so.  All of the ingredients are super fresh and easy to find and the recipes are uncomplicated, traditional & delicious.  I took extra care today to try and gather only local providers to make the hubbs' special dish:  Homestyle canneloni.

First off, Black garlic.  Has anyone heard of this yet?  I was intrigued by the unusual looking garlic sealed in it's stylish black glossy bag.  Produced only in Hayward, CA the company Black Garlic, Inc. describes it as "sweet meets savory, a perfect mix of molasses-like richness and tangy garlic undertones. It has a tender, almost jelly-like texture with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency similar to a soft dried fruit. Hard to believe, but true. It’s as delicious as it is unique."  This garlic is normal garlic that is literally fermented under high heat for three weeks, aged for one week and then immedietly shipped off for consumption.  It has no odor, gets better with age and is packed with twice as many antioxidents as regular garlic.  I found it at Whole Foods and can't wait to try it in my marinara sauce tonight!

I picked up some tree oyster mushrooms from the lovely Far West Fungi as well.  They are located in Moss Landing, just 95 miles south of San Francisco 1/2 mile away from the beach, which means that a "steady ocean breeze and northern coastal fog makes it ideal for a consistent outside temperature throughout the year and a perfect location to grow mushrooms."   The Garrone Family sells their mushrooms at the San Francisco Ferry Building as well as various local farmers' market.  You can even purchase their mushrooms and other fungi oriented products online, so check out their website.  These will be chopped up finely and used inside of our cannelloni along with the next great cheeses...

Marin Cheese Company distributes high quality cheese and fine grocery items around the entire bay area.  I frequently purchase their pre-shredded cheeses to save myself time and elbow grease when cooking pasta dishes-  I find that the standard quality of their cheese is very high and am always happy with the results.  Today it's shaved parmesan cheese and shredded pecorino romano blends that will be giving the cannelloni it's bite, along with fresh ricotta. 

Last but not least, of course, pasta.  I will not claim to be any sort of pasta afficienado, nor am I brilliant pasta craftsperson.  I can make gnocchi by hand but still have not mastered the noodle.  That's why I depend on The Pasta Shop in Oakland for their egg pasta sheets.  They are hand crafted, incredibly fresh sheets of egg noodle that you transform into lasagne, cannelloni or you can cut your own noodles.  Very simple to prepare and absolutely tastes homemade with Durum, eggs and semolina.  You can visit the Rockridge Market Hall to pick up their great pasta products, but if you are able, handmade is always best.

Ok, I think I'm all ready to start cooking- just typing all of this is making me hungry so I better get started.  I'll post my recipe for cannelloni, as well as a recipe for handmade pasta and some photos of the completed dish as my next entry.  Check back later for sure.

Time to get into the kitchen!


Thursday, June 21, 2012


I wanted to leave you all with a short but sweet little review before I pack up and leave for a weekend away exploring.  After my olive oil review I realized that I had forgotten one tiny tidbit of foodie fun from the hubbs visit to Italy...

Behold!  This decadent jar of homespun honey comes to me from the lovely city of Greve in ChiantiPodere Il Castagneto honey is insanely delicious, dark and spicy.  I've been collecting honey for a while now- a friend turned me on to using it in my morning espresso instead of sugar, and I love the taste.  While I usually prefer a lighter honey for most cooking, eating and such, this honey hits a home run in the "i'm gonna use you in a marinade any day now" market.  It would also be very tasty on a dark, nutty bread, perhaps with a pat of warm butter.  The label is adorable, with what looks to be a family of bees, all aptly named things like "Regina", "Nutrice" and "Fuco", smiling at the consumer.  Unfortunately the website is in Italian or I'd be able to give you more information on this particular product.  I wanted to highlight it though as a delectable treat that I've become enamoured with.  I believe the hubbs picked this one up at an outdoor market as well, which is fitting with it's hand drawn label and honeycomb impressed jar.  Almost too cute to eat.  I said almost. 

Off to Bodega Bay for three days to enjoy the ocean, eats, family and friends!  I hope to discover some new delights while I am away, can't wait to come home and write about them.

Happy weekending,

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Olive You.

My husband recently returned from an extraordinary trip the Tuscan region of Italy- he was there to sip, savor and soak in the beautiful Italian vineyards that make up the majority of their countryside.  I wish I was able to join him on his journey, but alas, it was all business (the business of wine) and this little chicky had to watch from afar and only enjoy the photos once he returned.  That's ok, my time will come.  I keep teasing that one day *I* will be the one going on a faraway adventure without him to some magnificent place that only serves meat on a stick and sparkling wine by the buckets.  Oh wait, Spain.  Been there, dying to go back.  Anyways, the hubbs is always a darling when he travels.  He spends a significant amount of time searching for the perfect gift to bring home to me and every single time these treasures have blown my mind.  He very specifically tries to find something local, regional, hand crafted and unusual from whichever country he happens to be visiting.  From Bordeaux, France I received an incredibly gorgeous and apparently rare satchel made of buttery sand colored leather.  From Navarra, Spain he brought me a dress coat, made of wool with slick, modern leather cuffs and belt.  From Italy, his most recent trip, he brought back two pairs of my favorite Italian designer sandals, some handmade venetian glass jewels and olive oil.  A LOT of olive oil.  Bless his heart, I adore the shoes and necklaces, but the oil!  The oil is pure joy. 

I use olive oil in practically everything I cook, in copious amounts.  Sometimes, before a incredibly rich meal, I will shoot 2 tablespoons of olive oil to keep my stomach happy for the duration.  I can't recall where I learned to do that- oh yes, it was Peter Mayle who described such practices.  As nasty as it sounds, the hubbs and I have made a regular "spoon full of sugar" habit out of it.  It's really quite tasty and effective.  In fact, I'd say olive oil is probably one of the most versatile, useful fats in existence.  Homer called it "liquid gold."

Quick Fact: Olive oil is produced by grinding whole olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means. It is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. And the entire world uses some form of this wonder liquid, even though 75% of olive oil is produced in Spain, Italy and Greece.

Here's just a few favorite oils I have in my kitchen at the moment, although I am always discovering and buying in excess...

This collection was brought back for me from Italy, compliments of Felsina.  From left to right- Moraiolo: "A dense, limpid hue between golden yellow and rich green. Very complex in character, it releases its richness only over time. It displays notes of tomato and green apple, with a note of artichoke on the finish. Perfect when drizzled on soups, beans and minestrone, and when cooking or grilling any red meat."  Next, Pendolino:  "A dense, limpid straw yellow in appearance. It releases hints of tomato leaf and fragrant green olive, and at times of apple and hazelnut, concluding with an intriguing touch of black pepper. Its delicacy makes it ideal with light dishes, poached fish, breads and lightly-sauced pastas."  And then we have Raggiolo: "A very dense, limpid hue between golden yellow and a vivacious, shimmering green. The nose conveys banana, hazelnut, and tomato, along with spicy notes of black pepper. An oil of great finesse and depth that is wonderful with traditional Mediterranean cuisine, and with salads and legumes, as well as drizzled over meat and fish."  And lastly, the Leccino: "Dense and limpid, with golden highlights. Emanates lovely hints of fresh-mown grass, with hints of fruit and of crisp, slightly bitter tomato and basil. Very well balanced, with a rich finish, it is the perfect partner to delicate dishes, mushroom salads, raw or boiled fish and lighter meats."  All four are amazing and came delivered to me in a beautiful gold embellished case.  So lovely.   

This olive oil has to be one of my favorites.  From Three Hoots Wines.  The  oil "is grown 65 miles east of Napa Valley (in Lodi) where conditions are perfectly suited to olives. The tree-to-bottle process averages 6 hours, preserving the fresh and lively flavors given by nature."  It is a rich, smooth, buttery yellow with very little spice on the aftertaste- which I prefer.  I love pouring it in a little bowl and using a nice crusty bread to sop it up.  A premier oil, if you can get your hands on a bottle of it.  At the moment, Three Hoots has sold out of this bottle of bliss.
Another giftie from the hubbs, brought back from Italy.  Petrolo estate, located in Tuscany, on the Chianti hills, "is producing organic extra virgin olive oil from the sole 4500 olive trees growing on their estate. The harvest is carried manually and the lives milled daily with the traditional method. Olio Petrolo is made with 70% Frantoio olives and 30% Moraiolo olives and is bottled without filtering."  This is the mother of all olive oils and the folks at Petrolo were nice enough to present us a bottle as a kind gesture.  A favorite of celebrity chefs as well, I can't even explain the taste and texture of this olive oil.  It is amazing.  It is exquisite.  You have to search far and wide and be willing to pay a very (VERY) pretty penny for this gem, but believe me, it's worth every drop.     
I use this olive oil on a daily basis, in most of my cooking- it is a compliment to any food.  It's also local favorite, easy to find at farmers' markets (try the Sunday downtown Walnut Creek farmers' market) and fine grocery stores.  Bariani Olive Oil "is committed to producing an authentic extra virgin olive oil.  Produced in a limited quantity, the olive oil is a registered organic product and with the particular and discriminatory taste of the family, the quality is always guaranteed."  And it's made right here in California! 
The hubbs found this olive oil at outdoor market in the center of the town of Greve in Chianti.  Santa Christina a Pancole extra virgin olive, hand pressed, bottled and labeled with care.  This is a dark, spicy olive oil, best used for sauce, marinades and the like.  When I first tasted it I was quite taken aback by how different it was from other oils I've sampled.  This is one bold example of how regional differences can change the flavor in oils.  A very different but delightful style.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to locate any information on the makers of this particular batch.  Perhaps a trip is required to track down more info *wink*.

 A few more helpful tips for all of you soon-to-be olive oil connoisseurs:

- Extra-virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in the Mediterranean countries (Greece: 80%, Italy: 45%, Spain 30%). It is used on salads, added at the table to soups and stews and for dipping.

-Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 1.5%, and is judged to have a good taste.

- Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.

- Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 2% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.

Remember friends, there are thousands upon thousands of different oils out there to try, just go to your local fine grocery store, get out to those farmers' markets and sample away.  Most wineries tend to produce olive oil as well because the vineyard environment is perfect for olive trees.  You can find some pretty amazing varieties out there if you try.  The one thing I've learned and am still learning is that no two olive oils are alike-  they vary as much as a fine wine, complicated and unique.  The range of tastes and flavors is unlimited and unusually broad.  Go out there, grab a loaf of sourdough, tear it to pieces and get dipping!

Eat well,


Hello Summer.

I am very proud to announce that it is *officially* summertime!  I'm sure you all well aware that today marks the first day of summer.  Yay!  The heat is on and so are the sprinklers in everyone's front yards.  Bust out the BBQ's, dust off that patio furniture, get those flip-flops out of the closet and for heaven's sake, go swimming!  Although summer is not my favorite season of the year (it comes in a close second to spring), I enjoy it immensely and to the fullest extent.  I always think that as an adult summer seems to fly by so quickly, blink and you miss it.  But when you are little, the days linger on and on- riding bicycles until the street lamps blink hello, floating around in the neighborhood public pool, rollerskating every single day around the park.  At least that's what my summers felt like as kid.  I loved them dearly.

Now that I am grown, I take pleasure in the finer points of summer- like cooking sirloin on the grill and pouring a nice bottle of wine to share with friends, or laying out on my favorite lawn chair in a big straw hat with latest copy of a Bon Apetit.  A much more mellow version of relaxation, although I will admit to sitting in plastic baby pool full of cold water with an astropop in my hand.  No, I do not have kids.  We had purchased the little blue pool for our pug when we first moved here to Concord, to help him acclimate to intense east bay heat.  The two of us will often just stick our feet in and daydream together (pug and I). 

Summer in this house means we are B-U-S-Y.  The hubbs and I manage to jam pack the season with food events, wine events, parties, backyard fun, weekend trips galore.  I personally have a lot coming up pertaining to this blog that I'm really excited to share with everyone. My summer is going to be full of book reviews, dinner cruises, luncheons, day trips, restaurant write-ups, wine tastings and a novel's worth of recipes/cooking ideas to get on the page, all in the name of good eats. 

As a way to kick off the season, I visited my friend at her grandfather's house this morning- we call him "Gramps".  Gramps is a bona fide farmer.  He grew up on a farm but now lives in a quaint little house with a very large backyard, the entirety of it covered in crops.  All spring he has been taunting me with his absolutely insane backyard garden, and today, of all days, the garden was ready for a reaping.  Gramps was generous enough to share the wealth, knowing that I'm obsessed with farm fresh produce (and I think a little promo for him *wink*)  He was kind enough to give me red onions, Walla Walla sweet onions, garlic, radishes, cherry tomatoes, basil and squash.  Happy summer solstice to me!  Check out the first crop...


More on upcoming good stuff soon, I'm trying to play catch up with my articles- I have so much great content to share!!!

Happy first day of summer everyone,

Sunday, June 17, 2012

20 Minutes and Done.

In a 90 year old craftsmen home without air conditioning, at temperatures upwards of 100 degrees, you learn to cook without actually "cooking" too much during the summer months- creativity and quick, easy recipes abound.  As much as I enjoy cooking every evening, I find it terribly difficult to turn the knob on that stove to 425 when I can barely muster the energy to wear anything but a cotton sundress sans fuss.  It is simply just too warm.  I think our kitchen alone got up to about 89 degrees today, leaving me wilted and confused about what to make for dinner. 

I surveyed the fridge.  Not much left in there on a Sunday night, but standing in it's cool, misty glow felt great.  I came across some fava beans, porcini mushrooms, various cheeses and a sourdough loaf.  Not wanting to spend more than a few minutes cooking, I figured out a speedy solution....

*Baby Grilled Cheese Sammies*
Fresh Sourdough loaf (preferably the domed type)
Pepperjack cheese
Sharp cheddar cheese
Garlic jack cheese
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, very finely minced
Pepper flakes

Simple is key.  Slice your bread into 1/2 inch thick pieces and lightly coat each slice with olive oil on the "outer" sides.  Pull out a large saute pan or griddle, place temperature on high.  Slice your cheese very thin- that way you are able to layer the different flavors.  Place your two pieces of bread oil side down in the pan, sprinkle minced garlic and pepper flakes and quickly place layers of cheese on bread.  Close your sandwich and cook on both sides until melty and crispy, about 5 minutes total.  The garlic and pepper flakes pack this little bite with a flavorful, spicy punch.  And who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich?

Once our sandwiches were done, I tossed the shelled fava beans and clean mushrooms into the pan.  I was sitting in a diner and overheard a biker talking about this snappy recipe, which made me laugh.  He was discussing the farmers' market with the bartender and how eating seasonally was great.  No joke, this guy was wearing full leathers and a bandanna.  He would continuously check on his bike, alternating between beers and appetizers.  He explained that "if you could get your hands on some giant favas, toss them in with some good quality mushrooms and olive oil for an awesome side dish."  I heard him saying this, so after my lunch I marched over and bought the fava and mushrooms.  He wasn't kidding!  What a great new find!  The combo creates a rich, savory flavor that goes well with just about any entree.  Add salt and pepper to taste and you are good to go.  The hubbs was puzzled but really enjoyed this new favorite, as did I.

Voila.  An easy meal on a hot day, taking up no more than 20 mins in the kitchen.  Plenty of time for  a cool glass of sparkling wine, a popsicle and an early evening out on the porch, enjoying the sunshine.

Happy Sunday to all,




Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Easy Tuesday

I spent the morning running errands but stopped by the Concord Farmers' Market on my way home in the early afternoon.  It was a lovely day in the park, very hot, so people were hiding amidst the shade trees and trying to keep cool in any way possible.  Still, a great day at the market- I came home with some new seasonal finds that I can't wait to sample...

Rhodes Farms grape tomatoes.  Man, these are some seriously sweet, tiny morsels.  I purchased a basketful so the hubbs and I can munch on them like candy.  I'm thinking of adding them to a sauce I will be making for salmon later this week as well.  They are only about the size of a small marble, but their tangy explosive character make them perfect for snacking.  I also considered sun-drying a few to see how that works out- use them in a salad perhaps?  Has anyone tried sun-drying small tomatoes?

Again, Swank Farms coming to us from Hollister, California this week with their farm fresh produce.  I bought some huge fava beans from them after hearing a biker dude explain that if you take some giant fava, throw in a little olive oil and mushrooms, it creates a great dish that can be served on the side of just about anything. 

Fontana Farms apricots are insanely sweet and delicious.  I can't seem to keep them stocked at our house, who knew?  I was never a big fan of apricots until I started going to farmers' markets.  I find that the flavor and quality of the market apricots far outweigh those you can purchase at your local grocery store.  They are less mealy, more juicy and just taste better overall.  Since it's been so hot out I may crush a few of them up to top off my vanilla ice cream!

J&M Ibarra Organic Farms are still my favorite vendor for mushrooms.  I eat a lot of mushrooms, and I'm always picking up their shitake, button and white mushrooms on a regular basis.  This time I grabbed some porcini to use this week. 

And who can resist Achidinha cheese?  Fresh goat cheese straight out of Petaluma.  The hubby and I really enjoyed the Broncha last time, so I grabbed a hunk of that this time around.  I like slicing to serve with a nice crusty bread and honey.

Speaking of honey, Alvarado Apiary produces some really well made light varieties-  these shiny little bears are full of ooey, gooey goodness.  I've started using it in my espresso everyday, as a substitute for sugar.  Rich, smooth and delicious. 

Along with those tasty tidbits I was able to get some really great tomatoes, a purple broccoli flower head, golden creamer potatoes and a couple bulbs of fresh garlic- something I can never get enough of.  It was good to see so many people out and about yesterday, it's really starting to feel like summer in Concord.  Hot, but beautiful. 

That's all I have for today, just a short little note to keep people up to date with what's available out there...

Enjoy the warm evenings!

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Smokin' Good Burger.

This recipe is from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods.  Chef Ted Reader made this comment regarding his burger...

"If there was ever a burger to stop people dead in their tracks, this is it.  The beef demi-glace center is just part of what makes this burger so juicy; the prime rib helps, too.  Have plenty of napkins on hand because this is a chin-dripping burger, and then get ready for lots of pats on the back."

I stopped in my tracks when I saw this recipe in the book.  I stared at it for a few moments, grabbed my wallet and left for the grocery store.  A prime rib burger?  Yes please!  Reader does mention how difficult it can be to get butchers to do this for you, and he was right.  I had to go to three different meat counters before finding out the fellas at Lunardi's would be happy to send a $19.99 per pound steak through a meat grinder.  Hey, there's a price to be paid for fabulous food, especially fabulous burgers.

*Smoked Prime Rib Demi-Glace Burgers with Smoked Garlic and Onions* (yields 8)
2 large sweet onions
24 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 lb prime rib, chilled
1 cup crispy fried onions
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dijon mustard
kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 demi-glace cubes
15 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp hot horseradish
1 tsp chopped fresh chives
8 toasted burger buns
1 cup herbed goat cheese
4 cups arugula

Preheat the smoker to 200 degrees F, using oak, mesquite, pecan, hickory or apple wood.

Arrange sweet onions and garlic on seperate racks and place in smoker.  Smoke for 3 hours or until onions are tender (garlic will still be firm); cool completely.  Reserve onions to garnish smoked burgers.  Set garlic aside.  (Onions and garlic can be smoked up to two days in advance.)

Preheat smoker to 250 degrees F using mesquite, oak, hickory, or try a blend of mesquite, pecan, and oak woods. 

Mince garlic cloves into a fine paste.  Place in a large bowl with the ground prime rib, crispy fried onions, Worcestershire sauce, and dijon mustard.  Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.  Mix gently until well combined.

Divide meat mixture into 8 equal portions and form into baseball shaped burgers.  Using your finger, poke a hole into the center of each burger.  Place a demi-glace cube into the center and mold the meat around to enclose the cube.  Chill for one hour to allow meat to rest.

Line the wire rack of the smoker with fresh rosemary sprigs.  Arrange burgers, evenly spaced, on top of rosemary and place in smoker.  Close the lid and smoke for 1.5 to 2 hours or until the internal temperature is at about 145 degrees. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, blend whipped cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, horseradish, and chives.  Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.  Transfer to small serving dish and chill until ready to serve.

Remove burgers from smoker.  Spread bottom of each toasted bun with horseradish cream and top each with burger, smoked onion, Boursin cheese and arugula. 

The resulting burger is indescribable.  It's rich, juicy, tender center explodes .  The horseradish cream compliments the flavor of the beef perfectly and with addition of melty Boursin and crunchy arugula, this burger is like a steak dinner on a bun.  It's such a sophisticated bite, you may even want to serve it with a fine red wine... The hubby was so happy he couldn't speak.  He gestured to me that if he had three thumbs, they'd all be up.  I have no words.  This is possibly the best burger I have ever tasted.  Good grief, it's so good I had two and that's saying a lot.  Make this burger, you will thank me.  Go do it now.




Smoking Foods

Let me start by saying I love cookbooks.  I will sit and leaf through cookbooks for hours, especially if there are pictures involved- plotting, planning meals and generally getting stoked on food.  I have no qualms about taking on complex recipes, they are a fantastically fun challenge to me.  That is the lure of cooking in my eyes, the discovery of new and different flavors and combinations.  I relish in the creativity, ingredients and process of meals that consume my afternoons.  One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday is with my husband, chopping vegetables, sipping champagne, cooking something tasty and chatting.  It's relaxing to me.  In fact, I become quite an anxious girl if I'm NOT doing something in the kitchen.  Even more fun is when we find the time to fire up the barbecue and have a few friends over to enjoy the sunny weather, great conversation and, of course, some darn good food.    

Speaking of all things BBQ, charcoal, wood chip and grill...

I was recently sent a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods to read, review and enjoy.  It is written by Chef Ted Reader, a man GQ Magazine describes as such:

"His pyrotechnic charm and fearless culinary spirit makes Ted Reader the Crazy Canuck Barbecue Kingpin" 

Wowza.  Now that's got to mean this guy knows what he's talking about right?  Right!

I'll admit, I was a little taken aback by the thought of actually attempting to smoke something myself, but I finally mustered up the lady courage to give it a fighting try.  This book is a great introduction to smoking foods, both on a small and grand scale.  The recipes are easy to follow, clearly described and ridiculously mouth watering- LITERALLY.  As I was reading through it I started to salivate at the thought of "Prime Rib with Whiskey Mist & Hot Horseradish Mustard" and "Georgia Peach-Dunked Smoked Chicken Thighs with Potato Chip Crust."  Or how about the "Smoked Lamb Ribs with Garlic Ginger Lemon Soy Baste" that is slowly, seductively cooked for 5 hours?  This cookbook/users manual/encyclopedia of knowledge is chalk full of great tips, techniques and food ideas, all based around the Art of Smoking.

Ok, first off...  Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials- most commonly wood.  Sounds easy enough.  As Reader puts it, "Many people out there are under the impression that smoking is a lot harder than it actually is."  This is true.  At first I thought to myself, good gracious, how am I going to do this?  But after reading chapter 2, Smokers and How They Work, I felt a little more at ease with my capabilities.  The act of smoking food is almost as old as time, why shouldn't I be able to figure it out?

After learning about the different types of smokers that are on the market, Reader's information made it clear that I am a "Novice".  A backyard enthusiast, a weekend warrior, a damsel of indirect heat.  For my type, someone just beginning to explore the radical realm of smoke, Reader recommends the charcoal kettle grill technique.  I roll the Weber out onto the patio enthusiastically and get my tongs ready. 

"Smoking in one of these units is accomplished by using indirect heat; charcoal is placed on one side and food on the other side...  A water pan needs to be placed to one side of the lower grate (charcoal tray); disposable aluminum pans from the supermarket work well.  The water pan serves two purposes: it catches meat drippings and adds humidity to the cooking chamber.  Hot charcoal is placed in the kettle next to the water pan and the temperature is controlled using the air vents on the kettle's base and lid... Smoke production is achieved by using good-quality hardwood lump or briquette."

It's actually really quite simple.  Reader's descriptions, directions and tips make smoking a snap.  He thoughtfully explains each step of the process, often with a sense of humor that everyone can appreciate.  He shares very useful information on all different styles of smoker units, opinions on what type of woods and charcoal to use, safety advice, problem-solving and some really great food preparation tidbits that come in handy.  I really enjoyed chapter 7- Brines, Marinades and Cures for it's incredibly useful info on the do's and don'ts of marinating.  Especially learning that "keeping meat in a marinade longer isn't going to help-- it's actually going to make it worse."  Who knew?  I always thought the more the better, but that is not the case because at a certain point the marinade draws out the moisture from the meat, creating a tough and grainy texture.  It's little educational gems like this one that make The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods such a great investment for anyone that's interested in becoming a smoking pro.

Some of the additional topics included in the contents of this BBQ master's book: A Brief History of Smoking, The Current Smoking Craze, Smokers and How They Work, Fuel + Wood = Smoky Deliciousness, Ted's 10 Commandments for Smoking Foods and Layering the Flavor.  Also, there are pages and pages of recipes for everything from BBQ sauces to Smoked Macaroni-n-Cheese.

As a highlight, I'd like to point out that the last chapter, Weird and Wonderful, made me a very happy lil' smoker.  Reader includes some his wackiest and wild smoker recipes that are, indeed, wonderful.  The "Pulled Pork and Cheese ABT's" (Atomic Buffalo Turd) may sound a bit odd, but it's a scrumptious jalapeno stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon- yum!!  My husband would love the "Smoked Fois Gras Terrine" which is cold-smoked over oak, a rich buttery delight.  And then there's the "Smoked Ice Martini", a concoction that contains smoked frozen ice cubes and a bacon garnish.  Yes, you heard me, smoked ice.  Last but not least we have the "PB&J Plank-Smoked Twinkies with Chocolate-Marshmallow Topping, a surefire hit for every lil' smoker at heart.  As Reader states, "Be sure to make extra-- most people can't stop after just one!"

Overall I've learned a lot by reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Smoking Foods.  Ted Reader has done a great job of blending his passion with fun and useful information, opening the door to backyard enthusiasts everywhere to try smoking something, anything!   At this moment, I find myself prepping for tonight's meal, a recipe from Reader: "Smoked Prime Rib Demi-Glace Burgers with Smoked Garlic and Onions."  As a surprise to the hubby I've gathered all of my ingredients, got the charcoal kettle going and will soon enough (patience, Reader says, patience...) be munching on this outstanding smoked smile inducer.

Thank you, Chef Ted Reader, for teaching this gal how to get Smokin'.


(photos and recipe to follow in next post- this burger needs an entire article to itself!)          


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Farm Fresh

Another day jaunt to the Napa Valley!

I'm writing this entry to mostly highlight our lunch experience at Long Meadow Ranch and their Farmstead Restaurant. One of my favorite places to eat and hang out in Northern California, no doubt about it, the hubby and I discovered this place about two years ago in St. Helena when they opened and have been coming back ever since.

*Long Meadow Ranch*
"To be a family-owned producer and purveyor of world-class wine and food in the Napa Valley that is economically successful and socially responsible using diversified, sustainable, and organic farming methods. Excellence through Responsible Farming"
"To produce and purvey world-class wine and food employing entirely sustainable, organic farming methods and to create the highest quality wine & food experiences that are richly flavorful, healthy, safe, and enjoyable."

Long Meadow Ranch is a 650-acre historic ranch nestled high atop the Mayacamas Mountains above the Napa Valley. Here they produce award-winning wines and handcrafted extra virgin olive oils - as well as grass-fed beef, eggs, and heirloom fruits and vegetables. They have a store front located next door to Farmstead where you can purchase their fine wines and olive oils- their Prato Lungo olive oil is to die for. Prato Lungo was named "Best California Olive Oil" and "Top Recommendation" for the USA in The Buyer's Guide to Olive Oil by renowned expert, Anne Dolamore. The 2011 vintage presents with a wonderfully fresh nose of green grass, green apple, and a touch of citrus. The entry into the mouth is silky smooth and the peppery after tastes reinforce the oil's role as the perfect condiment, also great for cooking.

Farmstead Restaurant ingredients are sourced from local purveyors, featuring Long Meadow Ranch's all-natural grass-fed beef, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and honey. Housed in a former nursery barn, their 110-seat restaurant is a casual, social culinary hub revolving around a central open kitchen with booth and central seating, community dining, and a full bar. Chef Stephen Barber possesses a substantial background in Southern cooking styles, he emphasizes a wood-burning element for select dishes, including wood roasted grass fed marrow bones with beet and parsley salad; wood grilled Pacific Cod with house made sausage, clams and potatoes; and brick-roasted Petaluma chicken with flageolet beans, greens and lemon.

One of our favorite parts of Farmstead- outdoors in season, guests can enjoy a meal among the espalier apple trees, drinks at the bar, or relax with friends and family by the cozy wood-fired authentic forge. The outdoor seating is tremendous! Comfy, cozy, warm in the winter, shaded in summer. We look forward to visiting as much as possible throughout the season. This time around we sat at the bar because the weather was enchanting. Here are some pics & details from my meal...

Started out with the wood grilled Castroville jumbo artichoke with sauce gribiche and lemon.

Potted” pig with homemade mustard and toast: a glass mason jar of fresh pulled pork with a lard cap that you mix in, creating a creamy delicacy that spreads easily.

Carpaccio of LMR beef with arugula, citrus, San Joaquin gold and toasted almonds. Divine!

Skillet Mac n Cheese... White cheddar and creamy Gruyere. Broiled golden on top.

Last but not least- The cookie platter! Double chocolate chunk, peanut butter and butterscotch chip cookies, powdered with sugar. The peanut butter were my absolute favorite.

The hubby and I left so darn fat and happy we could barely walk. The restaurant was beginning to get crowded as they were having a special summer concert later that evening that we weren't able to stay for. Once again, Farmstead, you rocked my world. The staff, ambience and foodie fare make it so hard to walk away from the counter. I could sit there all day, sipping wine and sampling the menu. It's restaurants like this one that keep me absolutely fascinated with food. Well prepared, simple and well presented, this place is successful in the sense that food should look good. But food should TASTE even better, and at Farmstead, they've got that part covered!

Realistically, the point of our trip up valley was to visit the beautiful Schramsberg Vineyards. I'm a huge fan of champagne, and having never been to see the estate itself, so I was very much looking forward to it. The home, winery and vineyards of Shcramsberg are spectacularly beautiful- a mile long driveway surrounded by dense woods and wildflowers, a restored turn of the century Victorian style manor along with classic, earthy timber built wine production facilities- and last but not least, the caves. Over 1.5 miles of sparkling caves dug under the earth, home to the thousands of resting bubbly bottles. The tour and visit were lovely, and Kelly, our guide was a fun addition to our learning experience. I finally convinced the hubby to let me join a bubbly wine club (Hooray!!!) as well. We left with three bottles of incredibly fancy bubbles, me with a huge grin on my face and the hubbs happy that he got to geek out on some serious sparkling wine. Here are a few pics from that visit:

The Frog Pond.

All for me. Heh. Bubbles!!!

Well, that's all I have for today- I'm off to finish making my hand-rolled chicken tamales for dinner. Hope everyone has had a lovely weekend!


Friday, June 8, 2012

Mid-Week Adventure.

This past Wednesday I took a little excursion up into the Napa Valley, along with my good friend Mel, with the intention of checking out the newly re-opened Oakville Grocery.  That didn't quite happen, as we got a little side tracked visiting a few wineries and having lunch instead.  The weather was so beautiful, the sky was clear and the whole valley was pretty much unoccupied by tourists, strangely enough.  It's a magical thing when you visit Napa, Yountville or St. Helena and the roads aren't jammed with rental cars, tour buses and large crowds, so we had to take advantage.

Our first stop was Artesa Vineyards & Winery, located in the gorgeous Carneros region, on the southwestern side of the valley.  I brought Mel here because it's one of my favorite wineries to visit when the weather is spectacular, and on this day, it was.  Perched high on hill, overlooking the vast surrounding grape filled miles, Artesa sits like a modern grass covered beacon amongst the vines.  The architecture of the winery itself is something to behold- a tranquil, almost science fiction-esque feeling to it... 

"Artesa Winery is a study in the harmony of natural and man made spaces. Designed by renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay and built in the early 1990's, the avant-garde structure was conceived to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.  The naturally insulated winery is set into the highest hill of its 350-acre estate, with a protective covering of reserved earth and native grasses. A sweeping staircase set between twin cascades of water and fountains leads to the winery entrance. An expansive terrace offers 360 degree vistas of the surrounding countryside, and on clear days, a view of the San Francisco skyline.  With architecture that captures a series of Mediterranean themes, including water flowing along narrow channels, audible and silent fountains and the interplay of light and shade, Artesa is a reflection of the proud Spanish heritage upon which it was founded.  One step over Artesa's threshold and the visitor is enveloped in a light-filled, gallery-like interior. Modern and sophisticated with soaring columns, wide glass expanses and contemporary furniture groupings, the Visitor's Center provides a dramatic backdrop for the original works of sculpture, painting and mixed-media by our Artist in Residence, Gordon Huether that are exhibited throughout the building.  The interplay of art and wine reaches its zenith in this setting as reflected light plays off the jewel-like tones of the elegant, hand-crafted wines that are served here."

The Visitor Center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The last tasting is performed daily at 4:30 p.m. The crowds definitely arrive in the afternoon, so if you can manage to get there early enough, purchase a bottle and grab yourself a seat on the outdoor patio, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

We continued our day of leisure by heading up to Yountville, stopping at the well known V Marketplace.  This normally bustling little indoor shopping area was relatively quiet and calm the day we were there, giving us plenty of time to explore and then relax at the V Wine Cellar on their outdoor patio.  The cellar is great place to try an extensive list of wines- they have over 3,000!  The staff is great, offering recommendations according to your own personal tastes and preferences.  The best part is that you can sample practically any wine by the glass, or if you feel inclined, ask for a bottle and seat yourself in their lush lounge area to sip and chat with friends.

Onto lunch... At the famous Bouchon Bistro.  What can I say about Bouchon that hasn't already been said?  Thomas Keller's casual, elegant answer to traditional French bistro fare- a neighborhood place with a home-like feel, where you can dine on bibb lettuce & garden herb salad or, like myself, the Truite Amandine, a delightful pan roasted trout served with haricot vert and toasted almonds.  Mel opted for the Gnocchi a la Parisienne, a mixture of sauteed hand-rolled gnocchi with garden vegetables.  Both dishes were superb, true to Keller form. Bouchon is a special place, it leaves you feeling a just a little bit more fancy than when you arrived.  Two girls having lunch at at an adorable bistro, bathed in sunshine.  We were lucky enough to be able to walk right in and get seated immediately, which is unusual- a perk of a mid-week excursion.  Reservations are always recommended for this highly sought after foodie paradise.  And while you are at it, make sure to stop by the world famous Bouchon Bakery for one of their macarons or chocolate confections.  You won't be disappointed.

Our last stop that day was at another favorite- Regusci Winery, located in the heart of the Stags Leap District.  I love this winery and the people who work in their tasting room.  The hubbs and I make a point of visiting as often as we are in town.  We both love the old world feel of the winery itself (est.1878), along with their recently expanded visitors grounds which are absolutely worth a visit- not to mention the wines!  Their 2010 "Mary's Cuvee" Chardonnay makes me giddy with happiness, with flavors of white peach and nectarine that tickle the tongue.  I do not pretend to be a wine writer (I'll leave that to the hubbs), so I won't go into detail about their vineyards or grapes.  What I do know is that Jim Regusci makes some fantastic wine that always forces an "Oooooh" out of me when I see their bottle.  Mel and I shared some of the chard that day and sat out in the gardens, taking in the last of the warm weather and summer scenery.  It was the perfect ending to our little trip.

On the drive home I couldn't help but feel incredibly happy.  Although we didn't visit Oakville Grocery like I had originally planned, I thought our trip was a huge success.  A day of exploring, spending time with a pal, seeing the sights and generally... Well, generally doing not much of anything except enjoying the day.  And to me, that is all that really matters.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Walnut Creek Art & Wine Festival Recap

Like I said, this weekend was jam packed full of outings for us and we certainly weren't about to miss the 31st Annual Walnut Creek Art & Wine Festival at Heather FarmsDistinguished by its spacious park setting and family-friendly activities, the popular Walnut Creek Chamber Art & Wine Festival is recognized by the Contra Costa Times as the East Bay's Best Outdoor Festival.  We took a trip over this past Sunday after the market and spent the day enjoying the sunshine, friendly crowds, great food and fantastic wine selection that the festival had to offer.

We always make the effort to arrive early, sidestepping most of the crowds and heat that the two day event brings.  It gives us a chance to wander freely, check out the vendors and decide whether or not it's a beer or wine year.  This time around we chose to go the wine route, as there were 36 + vendors pouring from the vine and only 8 beer taps representing.  A good decision overall, we found some great new wineries and enjoyed a lot of old favorites.  It's certainly a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, walking around covered in sunblock, wine glass in tow.

One winery in particular stood out, called Laujor Estate.  Run by David and Cheryl Lucido of Kelseyville, CA,  Laujor Estate Vineyard was planted in 2006 to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah Noir, and Cabernet Franc. Their growing region is in the Red Hills AVA which is well known for it's well draining soils due to the obsidian resulting from the volcanic eruption of Mt. Konocti over 350,000 years ago.  David and Cheryl believe in the utilization of a sustainable vineyard system by implementing preventative solutions; healthy soils which produce plants of good vigor and the reduction of disease and pest incidence with proper water and nutrient management resulting in improved yield and quality. With these ongoing practices they strongly believe that they will not compromise the future while meeting the needs of the present.  We sampled several of their wines including their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon- both lovely.  While both of the Lucido's were in attendance, I only had the pleasure of meeting David.  He was there pouring, a delightful man, full of spirit and intelligence behind the counter- we chatted for quite some time and he invited us up for a visit which we will surely be doing in the future. 

Next, we came across an intriguing booth called Global Grub.  Global Grub's mission is simple: "With their ethnic cooking kits, there's no need to search around for recipes and ingredients.  Just enjoy the best parts- cooking and eating!"  Go on a fun cooking adventure in your very own kitchen in just a few steps: 1: Choose an ethnic cooking kit. Each one features a tasty recipe, non-perishable ingredients that are pre-measured, and detailed instructions.  2: Pick up a few basic ingredients from our shopping list, and begin your adventures in cooking.  3: Enjoy tastes of the world with your loved ones.  Sounds so easy right?  I had to try it out, so I purchased the Red Chili Tamales kit.  I plan on making those later this week, so I'll keep you posted.  They look delicious, and the best part about Global Grub is that they are local, Walnut Creek to be exact, and for every meal kit you purchase they'll donate a meal to a person in need through the Alameda Community Foodbank.  What a fabulous idea!!

My husband fell deeply in love with Aunt Betty's Gourmet Corn Dogs that day as well.  As of right now I cannot locate a website for these folks, but man, do they need one.  I believe they are based out of Sonoma and they specialize in the world's biggest, meanest, most tasty corn dog I've ever seen.  The hubbs chose the Louisiana hot link option- a firecracker red hot sausage absolutely buried in cornmeal, as big as a shoe.  Filling, even for him, he says he's never tasted anything so good on a stick.  I hope we can find them around at other events so I can get more info on them.  It seemed like everyone that day was walking around with one in their hand.  Yum!  Pile on the hot mustard and you're good to go!

Outside of all the eating and drinking happening that day, I managed to find some "real" shopping to do, which is unusual.  I'm ordinarily busy indulging my stomach on most occasions but there were a couple finds that I couldn't resist.  I found a beautiful tie-dye skirt (yes, you heard me) from Green Dragon.  Based out of LA and produced completely in California, their pieces are made with organic, sustainable, and/or recycled fabrics.  I chose the skirt made of bamboo fibers and a similar slip dress- both at affordable prices. 

The hubby recently returned from a trip to Italy and was still fiending for some intermezzo tunes...  Turns out, he found some at the festival, thanks to Mr. Al Fabrizio & Hugo Wainzinger.  Between their Italian Mandolin and classical guitar, you too can feel like you are lounging about, sipping vino and enjoying the view in the Italian countryside.  We have one very old Italian Intermezzo CD we found about 15 years ago that has practically melted in the CD player over recent years, so it will be nice to add some new music to the rotation.  Plus, it's just fun to listen to.  You can find their albums through Heartstrings Music, based out of Mountain View, CA.

There is no way I'd be able to sum up all the fun we had at the WC Art & Wine Festival this year without leaving plenty of things out.  I'm not able to name all of the wineries, vendors or musicians that were in attendance, nor would I want to spoil the fun of you discovering them all on your own.  All I can say is that yet again, the festival proved itself to be a beautiful, entertaining way to spend a Sunday surrounded by friends and perfect weather.  I can't recommend attending this annual event enough, and I will certainly be back again next year.  It's both family and pet friendly, and Heather Farms is the perfect outdoor location to host such an occasion. 

Looking forward to 2013,

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Little New Market Newsflash.

Market Opens June 3rd thru September. Every Sunday at the Concord High School parking lot 4200 Concord Boulevard, Concord 94521 from 10:00am -2pm

This info comes to us straight from the CCCFM website... Visit the Contra Costa Certified Farmers' Markets at

"Make your community Farmers’ Market part of your Sunday routine and taste the difference of locally grown produce.  CCCFM festivities include live music, kids’ activities, student participation, California farmers & artisan vendors! CCCFM is extending a hand of welcome to local community groups and non-profits to participate at the markets.  There is plenty of on site parking….but it is encouraged you to be kind to the environment- walk, ride your bike or carpool. Bike racks are available making it simple to ride and park!  Their Veggie Valet service makes it easy for you to shop till your hearts content-leave your market purchases at the Valet stand while you get your car and market staff will help you load your vehicle when you return.  Help the environment one bag at a time by purchasing reusable, washable cloth produce bags at the information table.  Enter the monthly raffle for a free box of produce!"

Of course the hubbs and I wandered over to check out the new market this past Sunday- it's practically right down the street from our house!  I foresee many a bike rides throughout the summer to this new venue.  Located in the parking lot of Concord High, sheltered by the brand new solar panels, you'll find a nice little array of vendors ready to sell their finest produce, flowers, ready-to-eat yummies and other goods.  This market is run by the same folks in charge of the hugely successful downtown Walnut Creek Farmers' Market and the Orinda Farmers' Market so we know it will do well once the word gets out.  For it's first day it seemed to be bustling, with people milling about and shopping, even right at the 10am start of the market.

Hubby and I picked out some fresh radishes, leafy greens, cauliflower, heirloom tomatoes, rainier cherries and strawberries from several different vendors.  The selection is smaller amongst vendors but the quality remains high.  I also chose some of the most divine blueberries on earth from Rhythm & Blueberries- a family based farm out of Galt.  Available are Jewel, Spring High and Star varieties of berries.  They are committed to farming in a sustainable manner to ensure that the land they farm will be available for generations to come and they are also a CCOF company.  These blueberries are huge, round, sweet and juicy, I can't stop eating them and will definitely be going back for more.

Also a huge congratulations is in order for Tasty Zombies!  That's right people, bringing back the good ol' zombies from high school.  You know what I'm talking about- those soft, buttery breads filled with gooey, cheesy goodness from your high school years?  Yep, they are back and better than ever thanks to the folks at Tasty Zombies.  From regular cheese, to pepperoni pizza and Hawaiian style, these treats will surely satisfy your snack cravings with their insane flavor combos and warm, melty insides.  This is their first year at Farmers' Markets, actually it's only their 2nd farmers' market ever- I'm positive that the Zombies will become a sought after hot commodity though, so give one a try, you'll love them.

Ok... That's all for today folks, time to start cooking!