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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

ROAD FOOD

There are people who have written whole books about delightful food finds off the beaten path. We are not them and that has not been our experience for the most part. We recently took a car trip to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival. Ashland has a season that runs from April to October each year with various Shakespeare plays and also others, some new. It was a long trip and we drove via interstate 5 which takes us through a whole lot of nothing. It bypasses citties and has a lot of roadside stopping places with fast food as well as gas stations and in some places, chain hotels. Since we occasionally drive that highway when we go to the Bay area to see Bonnie, we have become somewhat familiar with the food offerings along the way. Big name fast food places like McDonalds show up regularly. I have never been a fan of fast food but one of the things I have come to appreciate about places like that is the very thing that is tiresome about them:standardization. You always know what you will get at a place like that; and it will be the same anywhere. And, besides, they generally have clean bathrooms, no small thing when you’re driving long distances. The last time we took that highway the timing was such that we had to have a breakfast of some sort. So, for the first time ever I had an egg mcmuffin. I have to admit it was pretty good. Of course I customized it by having the cheese and bacon left off so what I had was a toasted english muffin with some scrambled egg. It cost just over a dollar and was prepared in minutes. When you’re trying to get somewhere in a timely fashion that can be important. This time we decided to try another fast food place that claims they have “home style” biscuits for their breakfast sandwiches. Again, I had mine slightly customized as did Steve. We both had to admit that the biscuit was almost as good as advertised and much better than many. Our fallback position with road food has been Starbucks. We usually make them a regular stop because we know they always have clean bathrooms. Incidentally they have coffee, which sometimes is handy. But the food is very convenient. They have tidy sandwiches that are ideal for splitting and eating on the road. Steve prefers not to spend time eating at the roadside since there is seldom anywhere that’s worthy of spending any time. This trip took us further north and once past Sacramento we only encountered stops in the larger cities like Redding and Red Bluff. We blew right past those places this time and looked for a place that Steve had in his mind as a place to stop for lunch, a town named Dunsmuir. Well, if you’ve never hear of it there’s a reason why. There is not much there there. We had no high expectations. I have learned that a simple sandwich is usually obtainable and keep my focus there. We got off the highway and went down the main street looking for a coffee place figuring that they might have something to eat. There was in fact a little coffee place but no food. They steered us to the local pizza parlor they said had really good sandwiches. So we went there. They actually did have a few sandwiches that looked okay and we split a tuna melt which was okay. Nothing I would ordinarily eat but this one was made with a nice homestyle bread that made the difference. And, surprisingly, they had a little salad bar which looked fresh and acceptable. It was as good as one I had seen at Carl’s Jr. which is I know damning with faint praise but it was Dunsmuir, after all. After Dunsmuir a couple of hours later we reached Ashland. Other than the fact that it was bloody hot, it is a lovely town. small, lots of trees and pretty houses, and good food! I guess if you go somewhere in August it's fair to assume it will be hot. During our stay we had an excellent meal at a place called Larks, which was housed at an historic hotel in the downtown, and another at Amuse, where Steve says he had the best halibut he has ever had. (it was very good) We (Steve’s find) also discovered the “locals” coffee place in our neighborhood,Noble Coffee, a place that had really amazing coffee of the regular type, not necessarily whipped drinks. They also had pastries among which was a marionberry scone that was fabulous! Steve had one every morning. Since we were staying at a B&B it really wasn’t necessary but it became part of his routine. On our last day there we discovered a close by bakery named Deux Chats which had so many amazing pastries that we had to stock up for the journey home. The absolute best thing was a personal sized roasted vegetable galette. We got two and had them for lunch on the road on the way back. They were so good that I have been thinking about how to recreate them. Let’s see. A galette pastry is something I can do and am quite familiar with. Just a matter of splitting the dough apart and making small ones. The filling appeared to be leeks, yellow peppers, zucchini and summer squash, cheese of some sort, maybe kalmata olives or capers or mushrooms or carrots. I imagine it’s what appeals. I think I can do that. If this run-on Blog piece makes you crazy I apologize. Somehow the paragraph breaks aren't showing and alas, I am not the most proficient techie so haven't quite figured out what Google has done to this that created the situation.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Beginnings

Blogging always seems like a good idea when you start doing it. Yet. eventually the reality of having to keep it up hits and then it becomes a sort of chore, like having a job. For those of you who actually have real jobs that probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. But for me, who left the daily grind by the wayside a while back, it’s a little more than I bargained for.

Still I do enjoy sharing something when there is something to share. It’s now January, a time for new beginnings. We just got past the ultimate new beginning, New Years Day. Habit, or ingrained work ethic makes me want to start something new and satisfying. The great thing about new recipes is that you not only get a new challenge, but also something to eat! Win Win.

This is not actually my recipe. Steve spotted it first and mentioned it as something he wanted to do. Well, if he wants to cook, who am I to stop him? A new type of recipe usually means that I will participate in some way, even if it is only shopping, making suggestions, or hanging around the kitchen with a glass of wine while he cooks.

So it’s January, cool weather even in California, and soup seems appropriate. Cioppino is a fish stew which Wikipedia says originated in San Francisco. Usually made with catch of the day which can include any number and types of fish like crab, shrimp, mussels, squid and fish. It is related to fish stews from countries like Italy and Portugal and, I suspect from practically any fishing area locale. The local name comes from “to chop” as in chopping up various leftover of the days catch. In any case Steve spotted the recipe in the LA Times and the article about it claimed it was easy, calling it “no work” cioppino which helped sell it. It apparently is a dish from a restaurant in San Luis Obispo.

With the holidays over we are settling back into normal routines, which we dearly love. That includes cooking and eating a little different than we do over the holidays. Lighter, hopefully because we are acutely aware of all that holiday overeating because of being faced with so many choices.

Steve made this last Saturday for us and we invited his mom and sister to enjoy the food. I added a small salad comprised mainly of Point Reyes blue cheese, a few greens dressed in a light vinaigrette and with some slices of pear. We served the cioppino with a hearty bread to help mop up the sauce. We all voted a thumbs up on the recipe- It was wonderful! Delicious flavors, satisfying and beautiful.

My impression was that the most tiresome part of prep was the cutting up of the vegetable and herbs. We believe that you can prepare the sauce a day or two ahead and keep in the refrigerator and then heat up when ready to add the fish and use. The fish don’t take long to cook so it really can be a last minute preparation as far as that part goes.


Ciopinot's 'no work' cioppino

Servings: 4
Note: Adapted from Ciopinot in San Luis Obispo.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pound (about 1½) leeks, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced diagonally ½-inch thick
1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 dried bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced tomatoes, cut into ¾-inch dice
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 cup dry white or red wine
1/2 to 1 cup clam juice
Salt
Hot sauce
4 to 6 ounces large shrimp (16 to 20 count per pound), shelled and deveined
1/2 pound large scallops
6 ounces firm, light-flesh fish steaks (such as swordfish), cut into 1½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons cold butter, chopped
Freshly chopped basil and oregano, for garnish

1. In a medium, heavy-bottom pot heated over medium-high heat, add the oil, then stir in the onions, leeks, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, pepper and saffron. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and the herbs are fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce and wine. Cover and simmer gently to develop the flavors, 30 to 45 minutes. Thin if desired with 1/2 cup to 1 cup clam juice. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon hot sauce, or to taste. The cioppino base can be made ahead of time to this point; remove from heat, cover and refrigerate up to one day (reheat before continuing).
3. To the pot, add the shrimp, scallops and fish. Cover and simmer gently just until the fish and shellfish are firm and opaque, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pot and remove from heat. Stir in the chopped cold butter, stirring just until the butter melts to add a little richness to the broth. This makes about 5 cups cioppino. Ladle the cioppino into wide bowls, garnishing each serving with freshly chopped basil and oregano. Serve immediately.


Happy 2012! Bon Apetit
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