CSA Ambitions

Back in May, I heard talk about a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) coming to South Lake Tahoe.  I was stoked, as it was something I’d wanted to try, given the reality that I’ll never have my own garden.  So I signed us up for a half-share, figuring that with all the traveling and summer activities, this would be ample for our two person household.

I had grand plans for a CSA blog project, taking photos of the weekly pickup and posting recipes of everything I made.  I was going to be a real foodie, reveling in the quality of locally grown organic produce, and share my Alice Waters-like insights with everyone.

Yeah, well.  Let’s just say there’s a big gaping void between concept and execution, and I fell into it almost immediately.

However, in talking to Stephanie at Sacred Path Farms this week, I was reminded about my earlier ambitions, since she’d asked me about recipes.  So, while my memory may be fading, I’ve tried to document what I’ve made, including the 2 whole photos I’ve taken.  I even included a recipe at the bottom for one of the dishes I’ve made more than once.  But don’t expect much more from me on this, as it’s a long, arduous climb out of the void.

Week One

The highlight was the quinoa with strawberries, fresh salad greens & goat cheese with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.   Other meals included a terrific salad with butter lettuce and a vegan Caesar dressing (minus the nuts) that I topped with roasted radish chips, and a tempeh stir fry with the Chinese cabbage.

Week Two

More salad greens (another sexy butter lettuce) and no Nils meant salads, and finally a veggie saute with millet.  The generous bag of peaches & nectarines were used in a fruit crumble for my family, who’d come up to watch my derby bout.  However, the decadent chocolate ice cream my brother brought up easily trumped the fruit, so it sat untouched until my fruit-dessert loving boyfriend returned.

Week Three

Plums galore, chard, radishes, cabbage, chocolate mint and greens.  I know I did something involving a very easy white miso dressing (equal parts miso & oil, some rice wine vinegar, all blended), but the rest of the week was a blur.  It was hot most of the week, and after derby practice I could only rally for a sandwich a few nights – with some sun tea made with the mint.

Week Four

I used the fresh spinach and blueberries in a salad with goat cheese, bulgur and balsamic vinaigrette (sense a pattern here?), and the chard, radishes and zucchini went into a huge orzo salad.   Which we ate for 3 consecutive nights.

Week Five

The radishes & greens are going into a salad for the picnic at Lake Tahoe’s Shakespeare with the same vegan Caesar dressing.  The chard & dried morels will go great with gnocchi and sausage after whatever big mountain bike adventures we do this weekend. And the blueberries will be savored with the remaining decadent chocolate ice cream gelatogasm.

Quinoa with strawberries, fresh salad greens & goat cheese with a simple balsamic vinaigrette

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water (boiled in a kettle if you can)

1 bunch/bag fresh greens, washed

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled & quartered

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

3 Tbsp. toasted slivered almonds (optional)

3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

Rinse quinoa according to instructions. I like to toast the quinoa for a few minutes before adding the boiling water, then simmer, covered, for approximately 20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

To make the dressing, place vinegar in large bowl, then drizzle oil in slowly, whisking until the dressing is emulsified.  Season to taste.  Toss in greens, strawberries, quinoa and cheese, and serve.  Serve with almonds on top if desired.

The JdV Chronicles, Part III – Marin with Mom

Note: This is an ongoing series of my travels through California thanks to the California Passport I won from the Joie de Vivre hotels in May 2009.

When you’re a busy executive with an unnamed financial company who travels a LOT for business, finding time to travel for fun requires planning.  So a few months ago I convinced said executive, my mom, to reserve a June weekend to go play in the Sonoma region.  Our first choice,  Gaige House , was full, so we opted for the Acqua Hotel in Mill Valley instead.  It was almost a better option, as it gave us proximity to both the Sonoma wine region (Mom’s choice) and Muir Woods (my pick).

Acqua Hotel

Striped walls & groovy furniture

I’ve found when I first get to a JdV hotel I try to figure out which magazine it represents.  Acqua made it really easy, as issues of Dwell were in our room.  I’d read reviews that complained about the noise from the nearby 101, but our double queen room, situated on the far end of the hotel closer to said highway, wasn’t that bad at all, especially compared to the street noise of SF hotels.  I did sleep with the windows shut though.

The hotel looks out on the Richardson Bay, which has a number of trails and paths that contour along the wetlands.   It’s not a hugely commercial area, and besides our hotel, a Ferrari & Maserati dealership, there were a handful of restaurants, some office space, and the rest, homes & condos.  This, I learned, was only part of Mill Valley, with the more central part of town a few miles inland.

We didn’t spend much time in Mill Valley proper, as Sonoma was calling on Saturday, and I wanted us to get there before the NASCAR race began at the nearby track.  Having never explored the old town square, we decided to stop there first, and between the history, shopping and terrific lunch, we didn’t have much time for tasting in the outlying areas.  Mom made the executive recommendation that we visit one very good winery, so St. Francis it was.    Despite horrific allergic reactions to the grasses in the Sonoma countryside that left me unable to smell anything, I was still able to appreciate the fantastic zinfandels this winery produces.  Especially the 2006 vintages, which was a very good year in the region.

Redwoods at Muir Woods

Mom shows just how big the redwoods really are

After experiencing true localvore dining at a little restaurant near San Anselmo on Saturday night, we figured we’d hit the apex of our culinary experiences.  Interestingly enough, we learned that in the Bay Area, even the national monuments have sustainable local cuisine.  We spent Sunday morning hiking around Muir Woods, whose stands of coastal redwoods are pretty amazing given their proximity to such a huge population center.  Looking back on it, the Kents, who donated the land to the federal government over 100 years ago, were probably considered insane by their peers.   I’m probably not the only one grateful for this gift, as evidenced by the sheer mass of humanity we encountered towards the end of our morning hike!

Marin headlands

Looking north from Muir Beach

Before heading out to the Muir Beach overlook for lunch, we stopped by the Muir Woods Café, where we learned how culinarily correct it truly was.  Everything on the menu was organic or sustainable, and had been harvested/grown/baked locally.  The sandwiches sure beat the anemic energy bars I had brought, and getting to enjoy lunch on a picnic bench overlooking the Pacific beat fighting the Father’s Day restaurant crowds.

Overall, it was a perfect weekend getaway, and piqued my interest in a return trip to explore the coast, Mt. Tam, and the many wineries we missed this time around.

Farmers Market Abundance

Swiss Chard & Millet with Grilled Spring OnionsUp here in the mountains, we don’t have year-round farmers markets like our brethren in the lower altitudes (as a friend on Facebook reminded me last week).  Our local purveyors, including the only health food store in South Lake Tahoe, handily located next to my office, and the larger supermarket chains, do have a reasonable selection of organic, seasonal produce.  So we’re not exactly forced to suffer through a winter of cabbage and squash.

However, when June arrives and the hardiest of vendors appear at the first farmers market in South Lake Tahoe, it’s a hopeful sign of good food to come.

Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve tried to keep to seasonal organic produce the past year.  As I have a black thumb and am unable to grow anything other than weeds, I convinced Nils that we sign up for South Shore’s first CSA.  That won’t begin until mid-month, so last week I foraged among the few vendors who showed up, and came away with succulently violet fat spring onions, beautiful Swiss chard and plump sweet peas.  The sweet peas disappeared very quickly on their own, but the onions I grilled until sweet and added them to a millet dish that contained the chard and blue cheese.  Colorful, simple and flavorful.  A perfect beginning to our summer of local eating.

Chocolate Caramel Tart

I have been eyeing this recipe in Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook for the past year, but a decided lack of creme fraiche (a key ingredient, one that I had no desire to make on my own) and trepidation about making the pate sable discouraged me from attempting it.

So when I finally located creme fraiche at the local Grocery Outlet, it became clear that I had to step it up and stop with the excuses. Luckily I had some friends ready to serve as willing and able guinea pigs, and after a full day of skiing powder, both Nils and I had ample appetite for a sinfully rich dessert.

The pastry part was probably the easiest part of the process, as it can be made in a food processor and requires no rolling (a similar recipe for said crust can be found here).  Having made chocolate ganache before, it was less daunting than the caramel layer, which involved a host of ingredients, including brown sugar, honey, creme fraiche and butter.  (Did I mention that this was NOT a low-calorie dessert?)

Overall, the three step process (crust, caramel layer and chocolate) were not difficult – just time consuming.   I didn’t plan far enough in advance and ended up making this mere hours before it was needed, so it didn’t set quite as well as it should have.

But it still tasted divine.

Making Whoopie….

Making Whoopie....

pies, that is (this is a family friendly blog after all!).

With the overabundance of zucchini at the farmer’s market, I decided to experiment with a Gourmet recipe for whoopie pies that had caught my eye.  Since I still had a small vat of chocolate powdered sugar frosting left over from a friend’s birthday cake, I used that instead of cream cheese frosting. Call it the whoopie pie equivalent of zucchini chocolate chip cake.

Despite accidentally overlooking the baking soda, they were really tasty.  The zucchini was noticeable in a good way, as I used the food processor to grate them, thus resulting in larger pieces than I think the recipe originally called for.  I omitted the nuts this time, but would definitely include them in the future, as I think that’ll add to the texture.

Wannabe Locavore

Over vacation I was reminded about the choices I make when I eat in two ways that inspired me to rethink things once I got home.  In addition to seeing the documentary Food Inc. I finally had a chance to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s book on her own family’s attempt to eat locally for a year.  It was a fantastic read, and inspired me to do what little I could to support local food and cook seasonally.  The latter isn’t totally unfamiliar to me, as I did just that when I lived in Paris many moons ago. However, it’s something I’ve become less accustomed to, as the produce specials at the local supermarkets don’t always reflect the seasonality of Northern California, but that of South America (i.e. asparagus for $1.50 a pound in December) and other parts of the world.

Since growing a garden is something I’m not capable of, as I have an ebony thumb, and no patience to deal with the sandy, nutrient-free soil in our backyard, I figured I’d support the local farmer’s market, something I’ve done for the past few summers.  While that’s not such a big step, I did go one further, pulling out my dehydrator so I could start drying a pint of cherry tomatoes each week – something Kingsolver recommends in her book.  The first batch was so easy to make, and turned out well enough that I’m sufficiently inspired to continue this, as I’m not planning on eating tomatoes this winter unless they’re in a sauce or dried.
And while I’ll still buy non-local cheeses and wines from the local Grocery Outlet and have no intention of baking my own bread or raising & slaughtering my own poultry, I’m taking baby steps towards this whole locavore thing.

Excessive Decadence

When a friend asked me to bring dessert to a July 4th BBQ this weekend, I immediately thought of brownies.  They’re a great match for grilled food, and are eminently portable, which was key since we were planning on riding our bikes over.  Pies and fancy cakes couldn’t handle the Tahoe bike paths (and my penchant for hitting potholes).

I have an enormous collection of brownie recipes, but there was one that I’d been wanting to try for awhile, a recipe from Dorie Greenspan for her chipster brownies.  Essentially these are cookie-topped brownies, because chocolate brownies aren’t enough on their own.

I stayed pretty true to the recipe, though I did have to use butterscotch chips in the cookie batter as I ran out of chocolate chips, and omitted the cup of walnuts in deference to a friend’s allergies.  That and there was a smidgen of whole wheat flour in the brownies in lieu of white flour. They still turned out pretty damn well though, if I say so myself

My friends were sufficiently awed by the dessert.  I was too.  They’re definitely a make-again recipe, though I’ll likely cut them into smaller pieces, as they are very rich.

Feting Cinco De Mayo

I’m not one to normally celebrate Cinco de Mayo, as I’ve always seen it as another drinking in the U.S. (a la St. Patrick’s Day).  However, as part of the conversational Spanish class I’m taking at the local community college, we had a mini-celebration last week, and everyone had to bring a relevant dish.  I figured that there would be many bags of chips & jars of salsa, so I wanted to come up with something a bit more original.

Since I had given a presentation on Mexican chocolate the week before, I had two near full containers of Ibarra and Abuelita chocolate.  While the latter, a Nestle product, has a long list of non-organic sounding ingredients, the Ibarra is made of things you can pronounce (and actually tastes a bit nicer on its own).  With all this chocolate, I figured I could make brownies.  Most recipes I have call for cocoa, so I did some online research and found a scaled down version of the Barefoot Contessa’s brownies that didn’t require an enormous sheet pan.

Despite trying to account for baking at elevation and the differences in using Mexican chocolate instead of unsweetened, the brownies came out more fudgelike than brownielike.  The altitude, crappy oven, copious amounts of butter, lack of flour & baking times might have affected the outcome.  So I quickly renamed them ‘Mexican chocolate bites’ and my classmates, none the wiser, devoured them.

Mexican Chocolate Bites (adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
2 sticks butter
6 ounces Ibarra chocolate
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Lindts 85% cocoa version, as I had no bakers chocolate)
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Place rack in center of oven, grease & flour a 9×13 inch pan.

Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water.  Let cool slightly.  In a large bowl whisk eggs, vanilla & sugar.  Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture.

In medium bowl blend flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to chocolate mixture.  Pour into pan and smooth to the edges.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until inserted toothpick comes out clear – do not overbake.  Allow to cool before cutting into squares.


Yogurt Cake

The past few weeks I’ve been on a bit of a yogurt cake kick.  It was a cake recipe I used to rely upon during my chalet days, though back then I used a small french yogurt container as the measuring cup.  Back in the U.S. where yogurt containers are a bit larger, I found another version in the Chocolate & Zucchini cookbook (and a version of it is on Clotilde’s blog).   N likes it because it’s less sweet and dense than a typical cake, almost more like a very moist snack bread.

While I’ve stuck to the basic recipe for the most part (which, by the way, is fabulous topped with fresh raspberries and a bit of plain yogurt), my penchant for tinkering has resulted in a few new variations, including the cocoa cake with chocolate chips and fresh pomegranate seeds pictured above.  Antioxidant cake, as I called it, was an enormous hit, and as soon as I see fresh pomegranates again, I’ll be making it.

After all, it could very well be the cure for my various ailments.

When Living at Elevation Sucks

So the Joy of Cooking is not an infallible resource for me, as I learned this weekend.  The chocolate souffle’s did not turn out, which I am blaming entirely on every one of those 6,200 feet above sea level.  While they were very chocolaty (thanks to my decadent use of a Lindt 85% bar since I had no baking chocolate), the Joy of Cooking recipe ended up being more akin to a well-cooked molten lava cake than anything else.  Tasty, but definitely not the fluffy souffle I was aiming for.

Caramelized onion blue cheese pizza

The meal was not all lost, however, as my attempt at a caramelized onion and Gorgonzola pizza turned out pretty tasty.  Very rich, even with a sparing use of Gorgonzola (Parmesan was also used to keep it cheesy).  That plus chocolate made for a very gourmand type of Hallmark holiday this weekend.