Ally
Man, this has been the year of changes! New job in May. A brand-spankin' new car this month--I get to pick it up this weekend. Woo-hoo, I'm sooooo excited! And now a new home next month. Yep, you heard right...I'm moving! Out of my beloved little cottage in the Grid but not too far away...just in with Mr.S., the kidlets (or should I be calling them teenlets these days?) and Pepper. I guess after 5 years, it's about time we shack up, right? What's funny is the reaction I get when I tell people- half of my friends already thought I lived with Mr.S because I'm there so much and the other half are like, "About time!"

Anyhow, I was over there the other day visiting Mr. S and discussing how in the heck we're going to fit my stuff in his closet (that boy has a LOT of shoes!) when I noticed that my baby Roma tomatoes were finally ready to be picked. Look at how gorgeous they are! They're almost too pretty to eat...almost.




To celebrate these red beauties, I decided to transform my garden bounty into a savory tomato bread pudding. Yum! I threw in a bowlful of ripe baby Romas and sprinkled in a few leftover yellow cherry tomatoes for spots of contrasting color. To give the bread pudding some zing I also used a spicy jalapeno-cheddar focaccia from Raley's (but you can use whatever kind of bread you like). Pretty much any type of hearty, thick bread will work in this recipe.  No wimpy bread, please!



Savory Tomato Bread Pudding (based on a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis)

Ingredients

Filling:

Butter, for greasing the baking dish
8 ounces Jalapeno-Cheddar focaccia, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
12 ounces (about a cup and a half) small, flavorful tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 (packed) cup fresh, chopped basil leaves
5 oz. Parmesan-Reggiano

Custard:

6 large eggs, room temp
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Put oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 375 F.

2. Butter a 9x13x2 glass casserole dish. Spread the bread cubes evenly in the dish. Set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat up your oil over med-high heat. Add in your onion, cook until slightly translucent. Add in garlic, cook until fragrant. Add in your tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Let it cook for about 2-3 minutes. Tomatoes will soften. Turn off the heat and add in the chopped basil. Stir. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread crumbs.

4. Sprinkle with the Parmesan-Reggiano. Combine well.

5. In a bowl, whisk together your eggs, milk, salt and pepper together. Get the custard really smooth then pour it over the bread mixture. Let it sit for 15 minutes, tossing it frequently. You really want the bread to get saturated with the custard.

6. Place in the oven and cook for about 25-30 mutes. Stick a knife in the center and when it comes out clean, you can take the dish out.

7. Let the bread pudding cool for 5-10 minutes then slice and serve.


Ally
This weekend, I ended up doing an insane amount of cooking. I was throwing Mr.S a poker party and doing all the food for that, as well as attending a Japanese sweets get together at my buddy, Misa's. I wanted to make a Japanese cotton cheesecake for Misa's party but didn't have time to try out recipes before Saturday. My cotton cheesecake was an epic fail. It didn't rise at all, it was flat as a pancake and hard as a hockey puck. There was no way I was bringing it to the party. Luckily there was enough treats (and then some) to go around. Misa made some delicious anmitsu. Anmitsu is a Japanese dessert consisting of small cubes of agar agar jelly (kanten), sweet azuki bean paste (anko), soft mochi (gyūhi), a variety of fruits, ice cream, and sometimes boiled peas. It’s usually served with a black sugar syrup called "kuromitsu" that you pour over the jelly. It's very refreshing and not overly sweet. Miki made my favorite childhood dessert, Japanese strawberry shortcake. It's a moist and airy, layered sponge cake with a fresh strawberry and whipped cream filling, plus whipped cream frosting. I'm not big on sweets but I love this cake!




For Mr. S' poker party, I made:

Korean Ground Beef tacos with fixin's
Frijoles Borrachos
Cilantro-Lime Rice
Sweet and Sour Mini-Meatballs
Corn-Jalapeno Casserole
Apricot Torte

Mr. S insisted also on having a giant, industrial-size, bubbling vat of Que Bueno. Gross! 



Anyhow, the Frijoles Borrachos (Drunken Beans) I made came out perfect. Beer, bacon and beans- how can you go wrong? I used a recipe from a blog called Gimme Some Oven but made it in a Crockpot instead. You can find the original recipe here : Gimme Some Oven's Drunken Beans



Frijoles Borrachos

Ingredients

  • 4 pieces (uncooked) thick bacon, diced
  • 1 small white onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeno, (stemmed, seeded and diced )
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle Negra Modelo beer
  • 4 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  •  Queso Fresco as a topping (optional)



  • Instructions

    1. Fry up your bacon pieces in a small pan. Remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside.

    2. Using the leftover bacon grease, sauté your onion and jalapeno until the onion becomes translucent. Add in your garlic and sauté until it becomes fragrant.

    3. Dump everything you just cooked into your Crockpot. Add back in the bacon. Pour in your beer and add in your spices. Cover and cook on high for 30 minutes then on  low for 2-3 hours.

    4. Before serving, toss in 1 tablespoon of lime juice and a handful of chopped cilantro and you're good to go.







    
    Ally
    Lately I've been fiddling around with simple, weeknight recipes. I recently ran across dukkah in the spice aisle and figured I'd give it a try. Dukkah (pronounced DOO-kah)  is an Egyptian blend of ground toasted nuts, seeds and spices. It's quite healthy and nutritious. Dukkah can be sprinkled on meat or veggies but most people enjoy it by combining it with some olive oil and dunking some warm pita or crusty bread in it. It's easy to make at home but you can easily find it at a lot of ethnic or specialty stores these days too. I tried store bought dukkah and it was okay. I've since then made it at home and like it better. The dukkah I make consists of :

    pistachios
    hazelnuts
    almonds
    sesame seeds
    coriander seeds
    cumin seeds
    dried lemon zest
    fennel seeds
    sumac
    coarse sea salt
    dried peppercorns

    My measurements change each time. But I usually chop the nuts then toast them in a dry skillet. I set the nuts aside to cool then toast my spices.

    In my mini food processor, I give the spices a few whirls. Then I add the nuts and do a coarse grind. I move the mixture to a bowl and then mix in my toasted sesame seeds.


    Recently, I made some dukka-crusted scallops. I dredged some beautiful diver scallops from Sunh Fish through dukkah then sautéed them in some clarified butter in a cast iron skillet. Super easy and Mr.S. really liked them! We ate the dukkah-crusted scallops with some carrots seasoned with a touch of Herbes de Provence and a small salad. It was the perfect summertime dinner- nice and light.
    Ally
    16248 Main Street, Guerneville, CA 95446. (707) 869-0780
    http://eatatboon.com/

    During my recent work trip, many of the locals were kind enough to offer restaurant recommendations. One place I kept hearing about repeatedly was Boon Eat + Drink. It was pricier than what my work per diem allowed but one of my coworkers and I decided to go check it out anyway. Yes, I know...I have champagne taste on a beer budget. ☺

    We found this Guerneville hotspot easily enough. It was located in a small row of eateries on Main Street, just a couple doors down from an interesting looking cabaret/wine bar. It was quite small and bistroesque in nature. The whole restaurant consisted of about 10 tables (mostly deuces) along with two tables squeezed outside. We lucked out that there was a 2-top open when we arrived and the hostess was able to seat us immediately. Inside, there wasn't a lot of room to move about and it was a bit loud, but they make the chaos work somehow. I have to say, I loved the whimsical dog-catching-a-Frisbee wallpaper that decorated one wall. So cute! (I wanted to take a photo of it for you but the lighting was pretty dim in the restaurant. Sorry!)

    Boon's menu was brief (a smattering of salads, small plates, and entrées) but ranged from dishes like grass-fed burgers with crispy truffle fries (and homemade ketchup and aioli), a decadent sounding mac-and-cheese, to a sublime-sounding polenta lasagna with mixed seasonal veggies and a spicy marinara. My coworker went with the mac and cheese with wild mushrooms topped with truffled bread crumbs; which she said was sinfully rich and oh so creamy. I opted to start with the grilled calamari salad with arugula, citrus segments, shaved fennel, castelvetrano olives and a lemon vinaigrette. The helping of squid was generous and the salad was delicious. The orange segments in my calamari salad really brightened the dish and it was nice to see calamari prepared in such a simple manner. The flavor and texture of the squid was able to shine through (I'm so over deep fried batter smothering my calamari). For my entrée, I went with the seared halibut with grape salsa over spicy black lentils and greens. The fish was cooked perfectly. The lentils, on the other hand, could have been cooked just a tad longer; nevertheless, the spicy kick of the lentils contrasted perfectly with the sweetness of the grapes - and I ate all of them.



    Table service at Boon could be summed as mediocre. Our waiter was zooming around in high gear but it would have been nice had he checked back on us after we got our food to make sure everything was going smoothly. We had to flag him down whenever we needed something and it was a bit like trying to lasso Speedy Gonzalez.

    Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Boon Eat+Drink to friends if they're in the area. I love that they use seasonal produce to enhance their dishes. Everything I tasted during my visit was seasoned well and alive with flavor. (Don't worry about the calories, you can hike them off the next day at nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Preserve.) Next time, I'd love to take the time to sample some of the Russian River wines and beers on their list. My only recommendation to Boon Eat + Drink would be to invest in some air conditioning. Gah! It was incredibly warm inside the restaurant even with the doors open. I could see sweat glistening on surrounding patrons foreheads as well. No bueno.
    Ally
    10439 California 1, Jenner, CA 95450. (707) 865-2251

    So last week, I went on my first work trip with my new job. We got to spend 5 days in the lovely Russian River area. The scenery in that part of California was beautiful (billowy fog, clear blue water and loads and loads of trees, flowers and greenery), not to mention it was about 20 degrees cooler than Sacramento. My coworkers and I stayed at this little hotel in Guerneville (called Fern Grove) made up of little rustic cottages.




    My cottage had a separate living room as well as a kitchenette with a microwave and a fridge. Nothing fancy but cute nonetheless. The bathroom did have this additional, weird red overhead light though. When turned on, it gave the bathroom this weird opium den feel and made me want to belt out the Police's "Roxanne." (Later, I found out this was a heat light.)


    The second day of our trip, my coworkers and I met up with the superintendent for Mendocino-Russian River State Parks District at Café Aquatica for an early morning meeting. Café Aquatica is located in the small, picturesque town of Jenner and looks like a charming beach shack set along the side of the road.

     
     
    The coffee shop itself is quite tiny, but there's ample seating outside and with a spectacular view like this who wouldn't want to sit outside?
     

    The two gals working the shop the day we visited were sweet as pie. When one of my coworkers panicked because they only took cash, they graciously told her that she could pay them back next time she was in the area. (Don't worry, she got covered.) Café Aquatica's coffee, I have to say, is just as good as their view. They get their beans from a small fair-trade farm in Nicaragua and micro roast them on site. There was none of that burnt or acidy taste that a lot of places seem to have. Each cup is done as a pour over, made to order. They also offer a mouthwatering menu of fresh soups, salads, sandwiches and baked treats. Try one of their breakfast sandwiches! (My coworker said it was delicious. Her poached eggs with lox on toasted, homemade focaccia looked amazing and I instantly regretted not ordering one to go.) Also, according to the barista, they only use certified organic and non-GMO products- so that's a big plus. ☺

    If you're in the area and aren't in a rush, I highly recommend stopping by Café Aquatica for a cuppa joe. Take it out onto the raised deck, plop yourself into an Adirondack chair and grab a moment of peace and tranquility before starting your day. It's such a great place to collect your thoughts, inhale some crisp, coastal air and refuel your soul.

    (PS dog lovers- Fido is welcome here, so bring him to enjoy the view as well.)
     

     
    Ally


    3193 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95818.  (916) 475-1223.
    http://cafevics.com

    Mr. S. and I have a ritual that's been going for awhile now. Every other week after his haircut, we meet up at Vic's and get two coffees to-go, we then either walk around the Land Park neighborhood commenting on yards (we're always trying to get landscaping ideas for his yard) or head over to the WPA Rock Garden to chat and catch each other up on our days. It's a simple date but a nice one, a little downtime during the hectic week.

    Up until recently we would always meet at the Temple Coffee on S Street, but our visits there have been tapering off. Sure, we still go there if we're getting some morning joe to-go but we rarely stay there and hang out anymore. The patio is always too full, the coffee shop is bursting with people camping out with their laptops for HOURS on end and the newer staff members just aren't as friendly. The coffee is still quite delicious though. Vic's, on the other hand, is peaceful, has plenty of seating and the staff always seems glad to see a customer. Best of all, they serve the Temple coffee that I love. By the way, I can attest that their barista, George, makes a mean iced Americano (my current fav summertime drink). In addition to standard coffee drinks, they also serve Italian sodas, loose teas and scrumptious blended drinks with homemade whipped cream.

    If you're looking for some nibbles, this community coffee shop also offers a limited menu of breakfast burritos, salads, sandwiches and Old Soul Co. pastries. And of course- you can always pop into their wonderful, old-fashioned ice cream parlor next door afterwards to satiate your sweet tooth. Vic's is a terrific addition to the neighborhood. There's something for everyone. My only wish is that they would invest in some tables for outside. There's plastic patio chairs lined up in a row out there currently, but it's not a comfortable atmosphere for hanging out in and I love to chat while drinking my coffee. Inside though, they do have chairs, tables, booths, comfy couches...and the ever-essential Wi-Fi.

    Ally
    If you've ever spent any time wandering around the produce section of an Asian supermarket, you've probably run across these:



    The ziziphus jujube goes by many names- but most commonly it's called a red date, Chinese date or jujube. It's part of the Buckthorn botanical family and has been cultivated by the Chinese for over 4,000 years. In ancient times, it was classified as one of the five celebrated fruits of China along with peach, plum, chestnut, and apricot.  



    Jujubes are a smooth, oval-shaped edible drupe with a small stone in the center. The outer layer is a bit of a pale yellow-green color and the Styrofoam-like white flesh tastes like a bland apple. Most cultures put jujubes out in the sun to dry out and as they mature they turn a golden brown and take on a sweeter taste. Eventually they take on a red color and wrinkle up like old man testicles. The fruit is used to make a multitude of items- jams, tea, wine, lozenges, a variety of desserts and even jujube butter. (Also jujubes make a great substitute for dates in recipes.) The fruit and seeds are also used in Korean and Chinese medicine to alleviate stress, help with insomnia, lower blood pressure and to help treat colds, flus and sore throats. Jujubes contain twenty times more Vitamin C than any other citrus fruit. 



    Jujube Tea

    Ingredients

    8 cups water
    15-20 dried jujubes, cut in half and seed removed
    1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
    1/4 cup fresh mint, sliced
    4 tablespoons honey (optional)

    Instructions

    1. Wash your dried jujubes in cold water. Discard the water.
    2. Place 8 cups of water into your pot. Add in jujubes and ginger. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer.
    3. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add honey and mint. Simmer for 5 more minutes.
    4. Remove from heat. Allow to steep for a few more minutes.
    5. Strain. Keep the liquid and discard the solids.
    6. Serve hot or chilled.

    * You can also make this recipe in a slow cooker for a longer steep.
    * If you want to change up the flavor, you can substitute some cinnamon sticks for the fresh mint.