Monday, November 2, 2009

Central Coast Sunday

Fresh farm foods, good wine, beautiful scenery. There are plenty of reasons to get in the car and head north on the 101 on the weekend. The Santa Barbara Farmers Market is held every Saturday, just off State Street. Many of the farmers whose stands I visit are there every weekend. If you like a one-stop location for your shopping, then certainly put this FM on your list. I prefer to meander, happening upon stands or searching out ones I've researched.

Sunday morning we passed a small, beat-up pick-up truck making its way to a farmers market, its bed jammed with fresh pineapples. Made me think about making pineapple rum cake, which I will bake later this week.

We passed McGrath Family Farm in Oxnard. For over 100 years, the McGrath Family has been farming in the Oxnard region. Shoppers who visit the farmers markets in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica know the produce from this farm very well. It's a great stop, just off the 101. You can buy organic produce at their Farm Center and even pick your own produce from their fields. Great stop if you have children with animal tours available.

We stopped in Goleta briefly, in search of the farmers market. Our hope was to track down the pineapple truck. Never found them. Not the farmers market. Not the pineapples. I blame Google Maps....

Just north of the Gaviota Pass is one of my favorite farm stands in the country, Classic Organic. You can see it, just off the 101, on Old Coast Highway. Just follow the road to the first barn with a peace sign painted on the side, for some of the tastiest produce in the state. Bins spill over with seasonal foods, while a black cat sleeps soundly near the chest holding fresh eggs. On Sunday, the outside bins were piled high with all types of squash, including pumpkins and gourds. We ran into owner Helmut, which was lovely, as we've never met him before. Told him we've been following the farm's Facebook page.

We bought butternut squash, a pumpkin, spaghetti squash, carrots, red chili peppers, a massive bunch of cilantro (for a dollar!), and some candy onions. Made the spaghetti squash today. Such a fun and silly food. Kids should absolutely love eating this wonderfully stringy squash. You'll find my simple recipe at the end of this article.

We get back on the 101 and head north, passing Restoration Oaks Ranch and recall all the tasty dishes we made last spring from the blueberries we purchased there. Shuttered until 2010. We'll be there opening weekend.

Exciting news! The Family Ranch apple stand on the 101 in Buellton is open for business! We pulled in and bought 5 pounds of Granny Smith apples, a jar of homemade apple butter, and a jar of wild blueberry preserves. The owner picks the blueberries down by a stream near their home. We tasted both this morning and they are so delicious. Nothing beats homemade preserves and spreads.

We decided to check out a new wine tasting and dining spot in Buellton, Avant Tapas and Wine. This is also a wine crush facility and quite a few winemakers are making their wine at Terravant Wine Company now. Check out Randy Fuller's piece on Avant at and

We grabbed a two-top table in the expansive Avant tasting and dining room, with a view of the Santa Rita Hills. From this vantage point, you're looking at the beginning of the Santa Rita AVA. The colors of the leaves were so varied and vibrant including chartreuse, marigold, faded lime, apricot, ochre, burnt umber, and cotton-topped scrub. The Santa Ynez River is hidden within these trees, as well.

We ordered five dishes from Avant's tapas menu including a pizza, duck confit, olives and almonds, and a couple cheese dishes. The pizza was a real standout, with thin crust that had just the right salty snap. As our server said, "The wood-fired oven makes all the difference." Wish we had one in our home! Duck Confit with Kombucha Squash, and Currants is really a perfect autumn dish. Nice menu, which I feel is still evolving and I am really looking forward to following its growth. Randy Fuller talks about wine pairings for these dishes in his article about this trip.

Our last stop is the farm stand on Alamo Pintada Road, just across from Buttonwood Farms and Winery in Solvang. This is our strawberry stop. These folks sell some of the biggest and juiciest strawberries in the region. We always pick up other produce including their corn in season. I bought 3 beautiful poblano chilies, which I am going to stuff with rice, some other goodies and lace with a cream sauce. You'll find that recipe on my blog later this week.

A one day trip. Home sated and happy. Looking forward to making all these incredibly fresh and tasty dishes.

Any questions? Please contact me at


Serves 2

1 large spaghetti squash
2 tablespoons chestnut honey
2 tablespoon butter
1 healthy pinch cayenne pepper


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the spaghetti squash in two. Easiest way to do this is place a knife at the middle point of the squash and tap with a mallet.

In a small saucepan melt two tablespoons of unsalted butter and two tablespoons of chestnut honey. You can use any type of honey you like, but this is my favorite. You can buy it online from a number of sources including La Tienda and Bella Cucina. Add a decent-size pinch of cayenne pepper and cook over low heat until melted and combined.

Place a cup of water in a small baking dish and add the squash. Pour the honey-butter mixture equally into each piece of squash. Drizzle some over the rim of the squash, too. Place in lowest oven rack and bake for about 50 minutes. Add more water, if it completely evaporates. Remove, let the squash cool, and serve.

You can sprinkle some brown sugar over the rim of the squash when you've finished cooking it, as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apple Rum Raisin

We made our favorite trip on Sunday to Central Coast Wine Country. We stopped at the Classic Organic Farm & Market and bought some wonderful produce: incredibly aromatic parsley, a basket of red, green, and purple heirloom tomatoes, peppers (which I am going to put in our smoker), a gorgeous spaghetti squash and a huge onion. At Apple Lane on Alamo Pintado, we bought four pounds of freshly picked golden apples. I made today's recipe with some of those apples. We also picked up three trays of strawberries and a cantaloupe from the stand just across from Buttonwood Farm Winery.

I do love Farmers' Markets but I love buying my food directly from the farms even more. Weekend travel plans are often built around trips to farms and orchards, near wineries when possible! We keep a cooler on our backseat, always ready to hold bottles of wine and bags of produce.

Local Harvest
is a wonderful site listing farmer's markets, farms, and orchards across the country. Let me know if you visit any of the places listed on the site. Send pix!

I love combining apples and rum. Enjoy!


1 cup of black raisins
1 cup dark rum
8 golden apples
1 tablespoon vanilla (I used Double Vanilla from Penzey's)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Juice from 1 medium orange
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
Sea Salt and pepper to taste (Optional! I used
Maldon Sea Salt)

In a small saucepan, warm the rum. Add the raisins and rum to a small mixing bowl and let this sit for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, clean the apples, remove the stem, core, and slice. This is a rustic dish, so slice the apples in any style you choose. In a large mixing bowl, add the apples, rum raisins, vanilla, cinnamon and orange juice.

In a Dutch Oven or non-aluminum saute pan, melt the two tablespoons of butter. Add the golden brown sugar and stir until it is melted into the butter. Add the apple mixture, stir until coated with the brown sugar butter mixture. Saute for about 15 minutes. Don't let the apples get too soft. You want some texture to them. Place in a serving bowl, add a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Can be served warm or cold.

Serves 6-8


If you'd like, you can mix 1/2 cup of mascarpone with two tablespoons of honey. Mix this well. Add a dollop to the top of each serving of the Apple Raisin Rum. Vary the taste by changing the honey. Try any of these: orange blossom, chestnut or lemon.

Use 1/4 cup of either pineapple juice, coconut juice or cherry juice in place of the orange juice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New Project! New Blog!

Haven't posted to this blog in a while, as I've been developing another project. It's called I Cook the World, which is exactly what I am doing. Going from A to Z, I'll be making dishes from every country in the world. Yes, it will take some time and I'm so excited about this project. You'll find my introduction and recipes from Afghanistan at

Visit my new blog, try the recipes, send suggestions.

I look forward to your participation and feedback.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nail 'em!

Still laughing about the quintessential Julia Child moment I caught on Sunday. Black-and-white French Chef, so one of the very old ones. Julia is attempting to teach us to make an authentic bouillabaisse:

"Now, take the eel, nail its head to the table and skin it."

Just wonder how many cooks on my little Mid-Century street complied!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Goodbye to an old friend.

One of my beloved Howard Holt tomato cups committed suicide today. Literally, jumped off the shelf where it was safely tucked away with its 7 mates and tomato soup tureen. We'll miss you, pal. Gone at 47-years-old. Oh! The times we've had together.

The Amish and Burritos

I bought The Amish Cook at Home cookbook a few months ago and just had the opportunity to sit and read it this morning. I grew up in Pennsylvania and often miss the food from home, including delicious recipes from Amish kitchens. The surprising ingredients included:

Miracle Whip? Hot dogs? Burritos? Bacon-wrapped jalapenos? Cans of cream of mushroom soup? Velveeta?

This is the silliest excuse for a collection of Amish recipes. I get that the authors, both Amish culture experts, may want to lug this style of cooking into the modern, pre-packaged, multi-cultural food bazaar. Since that's their choice, MARKET it that way. Note to authors and publishing company: Nobody needs another recipe for chicken baked in cream of mushroom soup. Ever. Again.

If you'd like this cookbook I'm giving it away to the first one to ask!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I collect cookbooks. I love the old ones I find with someone's notes written on the pages. It feels like such a personal connection to be reading their suggestions, additions and notes on a recipe. I recently bought a church cookbook from a town in New England, originally published in 1964. Tucked inside were nearly thirty pages of notes made by the original owner. From them I learned she was single and keen to find a husband. She marked a number of the recipes with the words MEN LIKE. In caps. I wonder if any of her recipes did the trick. My money's on her recipe for WACKI PORK and not HELENE'S TAHITIAN DELITE.

I cherish the handwritten recipes handed down to me by my family and friends. I simply love looking at the handwriting, some of it scribbled and some transcribed in beautiful longhand. Just seeing my mother's nearly unreadable scribble tugs at my heart.

We recently moved and though I've made some progress unpacking enough cookbooks to fill one bookcase, I still have six or more boxes of cookbooks to unpack.

Here are some images of the recipe collections I've made over the years. I've written out recipes, clipped and pasted many from magazines and adhered recipes written out by family and friends to their pages. I can barely close the covers. They are wild and unruly and contain far too much information. I love them this way. Each book is a history. They connect me to people and memories I love.

Summer Squash and Red Pepper Medley

July 7, 2009

Sing Our Song to the Stars
Summer Squash & Red Pepper Medley

Cooking while watching the Michael Jackson Memorial. Thinking about the power of creative and destructive energy, in all its permutations.

I love the flavor of red peppers in dishes. The juices and the oils released by the peppers during cooking envelope the ingredients in a rich, sweet flavor. This is an ideal pairing with summer squash. This medley is so simple to make and is open to any twist you want to put on it. Add more garlic, other herbs and seasonings, use hotter chilies, add another vegetable.

Goat cheese, flecked with crushed pepper, spread on slices of French bread is nice with this dish. Fresh peaches and cherries are a lovely fruit pairing.

I’m recording what I used to make this dish today. How I make it the next time, could be completely different.

Summer Squash & Red Pepper Medley

Yellow Onion [small – minced]
Anaheim chili [medium – sliced into thin strips]
Olive Oil [5-6 tablespoons]
Fresh Lemon Juice [to taste]
Summer Squash [2 cut in half, then sliced into thin strips]
Red Pepper [1 large, sliced into thin strips]
Maldon Smoked Sea Salt [to taste]
Freshly Ground Pepper [to taste]
Fresh Tarragon [minced – amount to taste]
Fresh Lemon Basil [minced – amount to taste]
Fresh Thyme [minced – amount to taste]
Fresh Parsley [minced – amount to taste]

A note about my ingredients:

I always use the best and freshest ingredients from olive oil to salt. I grow most of my own herbs. I never buy them from the grocery store. Pick up some “fresh” herbs from a grocery store and you’ll know why I leave them in the bin. They smell musty or have no smell, at all. If you can’t grow herbs at home, try to buy from a grower at a farmers market. Curled parsley gets such a hard time from people and I concur when we are talking about mass-produced curled parsley. Grow it at home or buy from a farm stand and you will quickly add this herb back into your repertoire. I absolutely love its flavor.


I use a large sauté pan my mother purchased for me many years ago at a yard sale. My pots and pans are some of my oldest and most faithful friends. I add the olive oil to the pan, heating it gently. Toss the minced onion and garlic into the sauté pan and cook until soft and translucent. Add the squash, pepper, chili, herbs, salt, pepper and lemon juice to the sauté pan. Cook until the vegetables are tender but not limp. Usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes depending upon the amount of heat you use.