Full Belly Farm Dinner

This past weekend we drove up with our dear friends – 2 hours away to lovely farm dinner on the Full Belly Farm in the lush and bucolic Capay Valley.  My family was prepared for the rather long (but traffic-free) drive, but I am told Uncle Ray whined and complained the whole way. :)  Except when he got there, I think the realized that we had stumbled upon a good thing – a very good thing…

When I heard about these amazing farm dinners earlier this year – I was on a mission to get out there.  Primarily because the farm is well known, but mostly because they allow children.  The hubby and I have been to many farm/winery dinners, but this the first one I have found that welcomes children with open arms.  And of course, our little person loves being on a farm and spent the entire time running around and exploring (with little breaks to enjoy the amazing dinner).  Our hosts, Amon and Jenna – are lovely people and their hard work, commitment and honesty in wanting to grow the best possible stuff and feed people comes through, every moment you spend there.

Next year, we are going to take our camping gear and spend the night in their walnut grove.  I am going to let the photos below do the talking, and hopefully you will get a sense of the magical time with had.  I am still smiling from the experience…..

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Snack Time: Quick Cheese Straws

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Store bought puff pastry is one of those things that makes cooking so many dishes so much easier.  We always have some in the freezer to turn into a variety of dishes like these portable stuffed puffs we love,  the best homemade chicken pot pie, and tarts of all kinds.  Our latest snack time addition, are these quick cheese straws that the little ones can make almost entirely by themselves.  I am loving that as the kiddo gets older, I can give her a simple recipe and she can work on it by herself.  I am not ready to let her handle the oven, but perhaps over the summer we will make that leap as well….

After the kids are in bed these are great with some bubbles or a cocktail.  A friend of mine makes a yummy version of these with prosciutto. Yum.  Who needs dinner?

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Cooking with Grandma: Vegetable Korma

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We have a new way of learning more recipes and techniques – every time someone has a mother/father or mother-in-law/father-in-law in town, we swoop down and have them teach us their family’s favorite recipes.  So far we have cornered my mother and mother-in-law, Stacie’s dad and a good friend’s Malaysian mother.  The recipes are good ol’ home cooking, but they always turn out super delicious.  Who needs Culinary School when you can get free lessons from people you know (and love)?  Plus, generally our teachers like the idea of passing on their family recipes and it also keeps a bunch of elders engaged while they are visiting from out of town.  If you have any family recipes your parents would like to share – send them our way!!

Cooking with these amazing home cooks though, is an interesting process, especially since all of them down play their recipes as “home cooking”, ” very simple food” and all of them are a little amused that we want to learn from them.  The next complication is that these very amazing cooks, never measure anything and everyone knows that the process of recording a recipe requires measurements. :)  Somehow Stacie and I have come up with a technique for recording their mouth-watering recipes.  The vegetable korma below is a classic from my mother-in-law and was recently featured in the San Jose Mercury’s Food Section.

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Coffee Crunch Cake, It’s a San Francisco Thing (Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop)

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When my kids see a certain glint in my eye they know they’re in for a food adventure. This look means that there’s a high likelihood that we’ll be jumping in to car to trek off to some obscure corner of the Bay Area to find some (hopefully) tasty bite. Thank goodness they’re both good sports about it and humor this eccentricity. Our latest quest was happily close to home, in San Francisco’s Japantown as we went in search of the famous coffee crunch cake. I’m not sure if coffee crunch cake is “a thing” elsewhere, but it has a history here in San Francisco. Most old-school SFers will remember Blum’s coffee crunch cake with a special fondness: pillowy whipped cream sandwiched between light layers of chiffon cake, the whole thing  encrusted in crunched up pieces of coffee-flavored honeycomb toffee. This was the signature item at Blum’s (sadly gone) which was in the also now defunct ritzy department store I. Magnin’s. If I could travel back in time, some shoe shopping at Magnin’s followed by a stop at Blum’s for cake would most definitely be on my to do list.

The happy news to report is that while Blum’s is no longer, coffee crunch crunch cake lives on in San Francisco!  Continue reading

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mejadra (Rice and Lentils)

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Where do cravings come from? Sometimes it seems they follow you for a lifetime, other times they come and go quite mysteriously. My little one is in the midst of a massive pickle phase at the moment which came on all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere. He’ll eat dill pickles any time of day (even breakfast) and steals the pickles off our plates when we’re not looking. My favorite junior foodie Ria made her grandparents keep a food diary on their last trip to Singapore, and paging through it reveals a very high frequency of Hainanese Chicken Rice. My older son has always craved the sweet stuff (the particulars change but never the framework), my husband the spicy stuff (or BBQ or chocolate covered bananas). Lately my cravings seem to lead directly to these spiced lentils and rice which are addictively sweet-savory and even more perfect with the tang of yogurt alongside. I’m getting hungry again just thinking about it!

The ease of making this dish is another reason to love it, especially if you plan ahead a bit and cook the lentils the night before. Then it’s really only a matter of a couple of minutes of toasting spices and then plunking everything else to season the rice while it cooks. Admittedly, frying the onions is a huge pain (you’ve got to do it in batches and you have to pay attention so they don’t burn), but it’s definitely worth the effort because they really make the dish. Luckily, like the lentils, you can make them ahead of time.

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Fun to Eat (& Say): Korean Bibimbap

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We love rice bowls in almost any form, but this bowl of goodness from Korea – called BI-BIM-BAP is an extra special favorite of ours.   This recipe idea was recently featured in Bay Area Parent magazine and hopefully folks will try it at home or at least go out and eat some bibimbap!

Our little ones just cannot get enough of these rice bowls.  The runny egg on top, which is the crowning glory of this dish is essential and makes the dish extra special.  Everyone is topping almost everything with an egg these days, but the Koreans have been doing it for quite some time now :).  The traditional bibimbap is served in a hot cast iron bowl and as you eat it, the rice forms a delicious crackly crust.  You’ll often find us devouring traditional bibimbap at Manna in the Sunset neighborhood.

We just taught a class on making bibimbap at 18 Reasons last month and are traveling to Korea for day of our summer camp.

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Tarta de Santiago (Spanish Almond Cake)

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This super traditional Spanish cake first caught my eye because of its short list of ingredients and the fact that it uses no flour, just finely ground almonds, as the base. Another example of how a couple of simple ingredients can transform themselves into something special. This cake is moist, deliciously not-too-sweet, delicate and crumbly which makes it great with a cup of coffee in the afternoon. Simran and I and our friend Rachel happy nibbled away on this during a recent afternoon of recipe testing… and the fact that I wasn’t nice enough to save any for my family to try will give you an idea of how much I liked it.

In addition to being a lovely accompaniment to afternoon coffee this is a cake also has a long history. It dates back to the 16th century where it has been enjoyed by Santiago locals and pilgrims making their way to the Cathedral of Santiago Compostel (the burial place of St. James, the patron saint of Spain.). This recipe also happens to be gluten-free which comes in handy as well. Continue reading