Tag Archives: California

BLUE APRON WELCOME

After an experience that could only be described as “The Move from Hell’ we are settled into our condo in sunny Southern California – well, actually it has been rainy and overcast since we got here, and actually, much of our furniture and clothing has not yet arrived. Still, it is comfortable to be settled once again after six months of preparing our house for sale, decluttering  (but not enough), dickering with the buyers, removing a hot tub, worrying about an unexpected radon inspection, working through a harried packing day, and rushing through a hurried cross-country drive with a midway stay in Lordsburg, New Mexico.

To top that off, the alarm was ringing when we entered the front door of our new home. In our efforts to disarm the alarm, I unknowingly sent a medical alert to the local fire department. We wondered why the flashing red lights outside, and then in full firefighting regalia the rescue team knocked on our front door. Everyone agreed that there was no emergency, and the team went back to their station, only to reappear about fifteen minutes later. The alarm company insisted that the team had not done their duty, and we still had a medical emergency. We got the matter resolved, and the leader of the team said we should get the alarm company to disarm the system. My call to do so was unsuccessful as I did not know the password. Several calls later, and after the revelation that neither the current nor past owners of the condo were recognized as the responsible person for the service, the alarm company refused to do anything. Finally, with pathetic pleadings from me, a supervisor’s supervisor intervened without my ever knowing the password.

All of this would have finally done the trick in contributing to a mental decompensation from either or both my wife and me. Our daughter was at the rescue. She had arranged for gift cards to local restaurants, subscriptions to the LA Times, and – best of all – a trial of Blue Apron.

If you don’t know about Blue Apron, you should get acquainted. It is a nation-wide service that is computer-based and geared to the busy home cook. Our daughter has two teenagers, a full-time job, and lots of volunteer activities so it is perfect for her. Once a week the subscriber chooses from two to four or more menus for the week. You can choose 2 or 4 portions for each meal. The menu selection is large. Then, once a week Blue Apron delivers a box filled with the ingredients, illustrated instructions, and recipes for preparing the meals in 30 minutes or less. No fighting the crowds and long lines at the grocery store!

Our trial meal was salmon with orange & soy glaze, sautéed book choy and mushrooms, with rice. It turned out to be fun, easy, and delicious. And there were leftovers enough for lunch the next day. Our daughter has made us believers in Blue Apron. The service is more expensive than buying your own ingredients but cheaper than a restaurant, and you compensate with convenience and professional portion control and recipes.

I’m happy to be in Southern California. And I wish you a Happy New Year.

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CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ AND SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE

Our daughter in Los Angeles invited us to join her family for Easter. The visit would include holiday activities along with birthday celebrations, real estate adventures, and lots of cooking. On Saturday, the ritual dying of Easter eggs was completed. At dawn, the traditional Easter egg hunt was finished in record time.

Easter breakfast was an event that we could never have experienced in Santa Fe. The meal included something that could only be enjoyed in a few places across the country – most notably California and Florida. Our daughter’s husband and son went out into the backyard to harvest oranges for freshly squeezed juice. Meanwhile, she stirred up a delicious coffee cake and fried some link sausages.  She served it all with a fresh berry and kiwi fruit compote. Here’s the recipe for the coffee cake, copied from her hand-written recipe card.

RECIPE

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Ingredients

  • ¾  cup flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  •  1 cup pecans, chopped
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons for greasing pan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ cups sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2¼ cups flour
  • 1¼ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoons salt

Method

  1. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar, and cinnamon. Process for 15 seconds. Transfer 1¼ cups of the mixture to small bowl, and stir in the remaining brown sugar. Set aside for filling.
  2. Add butter and chopped pecans to the mixture remaining in the food processor. Pulse to a coarse pebbly consistency. Set aside for topping.
  3. Grease a 10 inch tube pan. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, one cup of sour cream, and vanilla.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter and remaining ½  cup of sour cream. Beat on low until the mixture resembles wet sand, about 1½ minutes. Increase speed to medium and beat for 10 seconds. Scrape down.
  6. Lower the mixer speed to medium low and add the egg and sour cream mixture in three additions. Increase speed to medium high and beat for about 1 minute, until light and fluffy.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, spread 2 cups of batter on the bottom of the pan, smoothing the surface. Sprinkle evenly with ¾ cup filling. Repeat and then spread remaining batter over top. Sprinkle with topping.
  8. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake is firm to touch and a skewer comes out clean. Cool in pan on cooling rack for 30 minutes. Then invert onto plate, removing the baking pan. Invert again onto the cooling rack, and cool to room temperature. Serves 12-16

 

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CALIFORNIA CHILI COOK-OFF CHAMPIONSHIP, 2014

The 2014 California Chili Cook-off Championship has come and gone, and I didn’t win a thing. But I had a lot of fun and learned about chili cook-offs. (This was my second, the first one being in New Mexico over ten years ago.)

The event was held at the Woodbridge Winery near Lodi, California. I had never been to that part of California, and was pleasantly surprised by Lodi. It is not Napa or Sonoma and sits on the edge of the Central Valley. It reminded my wife of Lubbock, Texas “with hills”. That said, the downtown turned out to be charming with lots of wine-tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops. The fields surrounding the town are almost completely taken up by vineyards.

The Woodbridge Winery is the elephant in the room. It has 300 acres of vineyards, and a large bottling operation that bottles 27 different brands of wine. It ships millions of cases of wine each year (One source says over 6 million compared with 500 cases or fewer by local family operations.)

Woodbridge was established by Robert Mondavi, but is now owned by a huge conglomerate that bought out Robert Mondavi a number of years ago. Still, it feels committed to the local community and makes a point of sponsoring a number of community-oriented activities throughout the year at its park-like headquarters space.

For 12 years it has put on a combined chili cook-off and car show. The cook-off serves as the California state championship with the winner entitled to go to the CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) World Championship  in Terlingua, Texas. That’s sort of the chili equivalent of the Burning Man in Nevada. This year the contest attracted entrants from all over California as well as from as far away as Illinois and Kansas. The reigning world champion along with two former world champions were cooking.

The car show was huge. There were hundreds of cars of all ages, makes, and models. They were all in mint condition.

There were other things to do as well, so that the crowd was in the thousands, most of whom were anxious to taste chili, guacamole, and salsa that were prepared for respective contests.

I tagged along with my friend,, Reggie Graves, who is himself a champion chili cook who has won many contests throughout Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. We decided to enter all three contests. Reggie was in the Top Ten chili cooks. I was not. And we also didn’t win in the guacamole or salsa contests. That’s just the way it goes.

Here’s an image of some of the winners:

 

some of the winners

some of the winners

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BLT+ARO

One of our family traditions – probably a tradition in your family, too – is that for birthdays, the honoree gets to select the menu for the whole day. While we were in Los Angeles, my grand-daughter celebrated her thirteenth birthday. That was a momentous occasion not only for her, but also for her younger brother and her parents. Officially, she became a teenager, but these days that is only semantics. Fortunately, she is not driving yet, but the birthday was a stark reminder that the day for that is not far away.

Included in my grand-daughter’s food selections for the day was bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for breakfast. Of course, she got to sleep late on a weekend so it was closer to brunch than breakfast. Still, a little odd for my elderly clock, but I freely admit that they were delicious.

These were not your usual BLTs. Challah was the preferred bread. That seemed to be an odd companion to bacon, but nobody blinked.

No one in the family likes mayonnaise, so there was none. How can you have a BLT without mayonnaise?  They allowed me my own. The bacon was crisped in the oven, and the lettuce was the tender butter kind. The tomatoes were beautiful heirlooms, almost purple in color.

Everyone in the family is averse to onion as well, but they accommodated me with thick slices of red onion. They don’t like avocados, either, so they sliced a perfectly ripe avocado just for me.

We gathered around a buffet to assemble our personal creations. Mine was an elaborate BLT+ARO. Then we enjoyed a beautiful Southern California morning on the back patio.  Gifts  were opened, including a new iPhone – every California teenager needs one, I was told.

All in all a great way to start a day of celebration.

BLT+ARO

Ingredients

  • 2 slices challah
  • mayonnaise
  • 3 strips bacon, fried crisp
  • 2 large slices, heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 leaves butter lettuce
  • ½ ripe avocado, sliced
  • 1 slice red onion
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Spread the slices of challah with mayonnaise
  2. Arrange the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, and red onion on one slice of bread. You may need extra mayonnaise between layers.
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Top with the remaining slice of bread for a thick sandwich.
  5. Eat with plenty of napkins handy or over the kitchen sink.

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CITRUS SALAD WITH POPPY SEED DRESSING

It is high season for citrus crops. During our recent visit to the San Francisco area, we saw many citrus trees planted in front yards as ornamentals that were drooped to the ground with big crops of oranges, lemons, limes, and tangerines. Driving through the Central Valley we saw miles of citrus groves with ripening fruit. In spite of cold weather, I believe that most of the farmers were able to avoid serious frost damage. In our local grocery store, the bins are full of oranges and tangerines, and the prices are good. No better time for a fresh citrus salad.

Of course, there are other places beside California with big crops of citrus fruits, so there is no point in restricting your sources. Florida and Arizona are producers in this country while Spain, Israel, and other Mediterranean countries also have famous crops.

Ruby red grapefruit from Texas are sweet and juicy.  Pomelos can substitute for grapefruits, and there may be other choices you might wish to try.

Avocados don’t count as citrus, but they just seem to be a perfect match for fresh oranges and grapefruit, so consider including them in your salad.

Poppy seed dressing, a sweet vinaigrette, seems to have been invented by the well-known Texas cook and cookbook writer, Helen Corbitt. She was wooed away from academic nutrition science and Cornell University to take charge of a series of fancy dining establishments in Texas, ending at the Neiman-Marcus dining rooms in Texas. In the 1950’s, her food was famous throughout Texas, and nearly every housewife had a copy of her cookbook reserved for parties and special events. It was the era of Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens, so Corbitt’s recipes provided something unique and decidedly “Texas”.

Perhaps Helen Corbitt’s most famous recipe was for poppy seed dressing. For many years, especially in Texas, it was extremely popular. Like so many foods of the ’50s, though, it fell out of favor. That’s too bad because it is the perfect foil for fruits salads, especially of the citrus variety. As with so many foods out of favor, it is hard to find a current recipe, so here is one adapted from the original in the 1957 classic, “Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook” (Houghton Mifflin, Cambridge, MA, p.47).

 

RECIPES

Poppy Seed Dressing (about 1½ cups)

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoons white onion pulp
  • 1 cup salad oil (your choice: vegetable, canola, walnut, other but NOT olive oil)
  • 1½ tablespoons poppy seeds

Method

  • Place the sugar, mustard, salt, and vinegar in the jar of a blender
  • Prepare the onion pulp by grating a white onion with a micro-plane. Add to the other ingredients
  • Cover the blender jar, turn on the blender, and pour in the oil slowly to blend
  • Blend in the poppy seeds, transfer to a storage container, and refrigerate until ready for use

Citrus Salad (serves two)

Ingredients

  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 large navel oranges
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • spring mix salad greens
  • poppy seed dressing

Method

  • With a very sharp knife, remove the skin and any white membrane from the grapefruit and oranges
  • Cut between the sections of the citrus to make membrane-free pieces of fruit
  • Halve and slice the avocado
  • Arrange the grapefruit, orange, and avocado slices on a mound of salad greens
  • Dress with the poppy seed dressing and serve immediately

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