What I Miss & Perfect Pairs

Afghanistan

Yesterday was William’s 29th birthday. Cheers to my boy. His birth was truly one of the best days of my life. Missing him more than I can express I celebrate him in the best way I can. In the garden planting seeds and in the kitchen creating a few recipes inspired by him he continues to be a bright light in my heart. I’m thankful for my hobbies and my passion to want to learn and try new things. Getting through tough times? It’s all about the distraction. Cooking, baking and gardening do it for me. How do you do it?

346992318110

I have been practicing my food photography with a new camera and have already received some very exciting feedback from some recipe/food sponsors. Can’t reveal what that is right now, but it sure made me feel good about trying something new and difficult. These days’ recipe contests require quite a bit of work. I miss the old days when all I had to do was create a recipe, write it down and mail it in. Now, in addition to preparing an original recipe, I am required to be a food stylist, food photographer and a creative writer. My poor husband. He knows he is not allowed to eat anything in the house until I have photographed it…on many a day we eat the food cold.

Probably one of the more wonderful things that have been on my plate lately is teaching two really smart and joyful young ladies, ages 11 & 9 how to cook. Sharing what I know about cooking and baking with the younger generation is quite fun and exciting. We are cooking our way around the globe and just finishing up Mexico with a Mango Tres Leches Cake. I think I was channeling my favorite teachers of Mexican cuisine Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Too Hot Tamales. I miss those cooking shows that really taught me and helped build my knowledge in the kitchen.

IMG_9719

Mango Tres Leches “Celebration” Cake is perfect for a birthday or Cinco de Mayo

Are there any famous chefs that you have learned from and would like to meet? Wouldn’t it be great fun to travel  to the 2017 Vegas Uncork’d Expo food & wine event happening next week? Take a look at that celebrity chef schedule. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Giada de Laurentiis will be preparing their dishes alongside perfectly paired cocktails. There are a few I would love to learn from, but if I could only pick one my heart still belongs to Mary Sue & Susan as they opened up a whole new world of Mexican cuisine and especially cheeses to me.

IMG_5744

queso fresco on scrambled eggs makes a perfect pair

Speaking of cheese and back in my own kitchen I have been working on some new recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. After a hard day in the garden cooking up something like a grilled cheese and dining out al fresco on the deck is an easy and delicious way to end the day. Heading into the warmer weather we often enjoy a cool glass of rosé wine with a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a rustic perfect pairing, but who says wine has to be fancy? Rosé matches quite well with just about any cheese and bread. It’s not as elaborate as some famous celebrity chef dishes, but it works.

Cheers!

2014_Finalist_Burrata

Here is one of my winning cheese sandwiches from yesteryear. The salty bacon and olives with the sweetness of fruit, peppery arugula and luscious burrata pairs perfectly with a glass of Rosé.

Burrata & Bacon Ciabatta, Oh My

3 slices thick cut bacon

¼ cup apricot jam

1 (4-inch) ciabatta roll, toasted

2 tablespoons Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade Style Basil Pesto

¼ cup arugula leaves

2 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, seeded, diced

1-ounce burrata cheese (1/2 of a 2 ounce ball)

1 ripe apricot, sliced

4 pieces Mezzetta Sliced Greek Kalamata Olives, chopped

1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar syrup

Heat oven 400F. Line bottom of broiler pan with foil. Coat both sides of bacon with jam; place on broiler pan rack set over foil-lined bottom. Bake 30 minutes; transfer bacon to a plate. Spread bottom half of roll with pesto. Layer with arugula, cherry peppers, bacon, burrata, apricots and olives. Drizzle with balsamic. Cover with remaining bread slice.

 

 

A Day In the Life of a Cook-Off Contestant

IMG_2072

She rises early for a cross-country trip that takes 13 hours. The hours of preparation to get to this point are even greater. A creative thought process, grocery shopping, recipe development, more shopping, testing, food styling, photography, writing it all down and submitting to the sponsor of the recipe contest; it takes a lot of time. She is passionate about what she does and has a positive outlook. As the airline agent checks her overweight bag filled with all the necessary cooking utensils she prays her bag arrives safely. There is no question that her recipe is darn delicious. She hopes the professional judges at the garlic cook-off love it, too.

IMG_2112

Welcome to the 38th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and The Great Garlic Cook-Off. The ultimate summer food fair is truly one of the greatest shows on earth. Run by over 4000 generous volunteers, this event has raised over 11 million dollars for local charities since its inception. Celebrating the love and appreciation of garlic it has everything you’d expect from a top-notch festival including family fun entertainment, arts & crafts, food and cooking contests. There’s even a scholarship pageant featuring a stunning and accomplished garlic queen and her court waiting to crown a garlic cook-off winner. It won’t be me. Happily, I’m in attendance as a food blogger following one of the finalists and reporting on her experience.

IMG_2240

 

My friend, Veronica Callaghan, beat out hundreds of others to take one of the 8 highly coveted finalist spots. She is a well-seasoned cook-off winner and after a full day of sourcing a few local ingredients she is ready to go. Just prior to cook-off time she is feeling a little nervous. Apparently, she took a big risk entering her garlic-roasted pizza. “Pizza has never been done before on this cook-off stage!” announces the emcee. Will she and her homemade yeast crust rise to the top? Veronica is worried her oven is not getting up to temperature. A hot oven is crucial in baking the thin, crispy crust she is aiming for.

IMG_2104

Veronica and fellow competitors have two hours to cook in a most professional kitchen stadium. The set-up is one of the best I have ever seen with each contestant having plenty of space in their individual kitchens including stoves and sinks and counters. In addition, each contestant is assigned a volunteer helper and Veronica’s couldn’t have been more wonderful. Chris happily takes direction from Veronica grating fontina cheese, pouring a most refreshing peach sangria (yes, I got to taste) into judges glasses and cleaning up as they go, so Veronica can fully concentrate on the execution of the perfect pizza.

Veronica does not disappoint. She preps and cooks several pizza toppings like a pro. The aroma  of rosemary roasted garlic, wine infused sriracha caramelized onions and perfectly crisp bacon fills the stadium. She is in the cooking zone and cool as a garlic clove (or is that cucumber)?

It’s obvious she is happy with her pizza dough. She rolls it out and tops it with an artistic flair finishing it off with sliced dried figs for sweetness, a sprinkle of  flavorful cheeses and fresh rosemary. It’s oven ready. With a flick of her wrist it slides onto a hot pizza stone.

It’s clear this pizza is not your average take-out, but is the crust crisp and does the garlic shine? Did the oven get hot enough? You betcha! When it comes time to face the judges one of them holds up a slice to the audience and does the ultimate crisp crust test. He snaps it into the classic fold and it holds its shape.

The Italian judge is so impressed with her presentation, balance of fresh ingredient flavors and crust execution that he confides in me that she should go into the pizza making business. In fact, all the judges seem to be over the moon with her pizza, but they have 7 more garlic infused fabulous dishes to taste and score.

IMG_2175

The final results are tabulated and the contestants wait anxiously for the announcement. “By the hair on a frog” (I swear the judge said it) Veronica just misses first place, but is pleased to take second and receive a garlic crown. Her hard work is further rewarded with a generous cash prize and the admiration of all her peers.

IMG_2214

Do give her pizza a try. It just may inspire you to enter the cook-off next year or at least to up your own game on pizza making. Check out this link to find out more about the other contestant entries and if you are interested in purchasing the cookbook you may order by phone: (408) 842-1625.

IMG_2246

Congratulations, Veronica and thanks for letting me tag along. You inspire me.

IMG_2195

Garden Therapy & Digging a new Pizza

butterfly weed

butterfly weed

What makes creating a garden so therapeutic? A day spent in the yard is typically hard work that involves getting sweaty and now (at my age) a little achy. What is so great about clearing weeds or worse picking off icky intrusive insects and dropping them into a glass of soapy water? Why do I choose to dig my hands into the dirt rather than that soothing soak at the salon followed by choosing a trendy shade of nail color?

baby butternut squash..needs more time

baby butternut squash..needs more time

There is something healing about the interaction with nature. Much like cooking and baking, gardening is a bit of science, art and magic that result in a feast for the eyes, nose and taste buds. It is a wonder every single time a seed planted grows into something beautiful to decorate the living room or so delicious it sends me into a creative frenzy in the kitchen. Clearly, the garden is like a private grocery store, only better. More fragrant and fresh what’s just picked is what’s for dinner and totally worth digging dirt out from underneath those unpolished finger nails.

a good place to hide

a good place to hide

The garden also brings me back to simpler times with my kids. The lure of the internet and video games wasn’t there for them. Playing in the dirt or in the woods is where they’d be. Today, as I see my Caitlin designing her own gardens and planting her own seeds I am ever so grateful that she continues to find comfort among the beauty only Mother Nature can give. As we continue to share and grow our spaces together there is nothing better than the joy in her voice or the stars in her eyes as she marvels over fields of sunflowers or the tasty fragrance of fresh picked herbs. Yesterday, we discussed some new shrubs for fall planting. This is what makes gardening therapeutic.

yellow roses are her favorite

yellow roses are her favorite

Here is what I picked today:

fresh picked

fresh picked

And here is what I turned it into for dinner:

Vegetable pizza with caramelized BBQ onion sauce, bacon and basil

Vegetable pizza with caramelized BBQ onion sauce, bacon and basil

Checkout my new favorite pizza crust recipe from Jeff Hertzberg,M.D. and  Zoe Francois. Their story and book, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is inspiring. What seeds are you planting?

catching garden toads

catching garden toads