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Lover’s Point Beach in Monterey, CA

Summer is in full swing and we’ve been exploring the beautiful sites around the northern California coast. We made it out to Monterey to meet up with some friends from back home and took a long walk up Lover’s Point Beach. It was breathtaking. I love the weather on the northern coasts, not too hot and the breeze smells amazing. We sampled chowder on the wharf, ate soft-shelled crab sandwiches, and marveled at the gigantic sea lions piled up on each other on the beach. How do the ones on the bottom breath???

We’ve also been going to Chico, CA about once a month for my husband’s work. I really love that town. It’s surrounded by farm country and the produce out there is gorgeous. For such a small town, they have amazing eats. I haven’t had a bad meal out there and a lot of that has to do with access to fresh, seasonal, local produce.

Another great thing about summer? Strawberries. I love strawberries. They are such beautiful red gems of deliciousness and we’re right in the middle of the season. A sea of strawberry cartons cover most tables at the farmer’s market and you can smell them as  you walk by. They all look so perfect and enticing. And apparently there are lots of different kinds of strawberries. I remember buying some strawberries at a market in Paris and they were so different. They were very delicate and almost foamy when you bit into them. Despite the lacey texture, they were very flavorful.

Strawberries in Chico

Strawberries in Chico

Strawberries at the Farmer’s Market in Chico, CA

During the summer, foodgawker and my blog reader are clogged with strawberry desserts, cakes, ice creams and even salads. A big trend I’ve noticed lately is the combination of strawberries and balsamic. I haven’t tried that combo yet but I’m super curious. My absolute favorite way to eat strawberries is Strawberries Romanoff, I have no idea what the history of this dish is but it’s very unique and delicious. You take fresh strawberries, dip them in sour cream then in brown sugar……. I am drooling right now!

I attempted a Japanese spongecake recipe and it turned out pretty good. Although, I had to tinker with it because I didn’t have the right size cake pan and I had to make enough for a group of up to 10. As many of you more experienced bakers know, tinkering with baking recipes is to be done at your own peril. I ended up with a huge sponge cake but it was pretty delicious. And I learned what stabilized whipped cream is. Stabilized whipped cream is a must for any cake served in the summer! It doesn’t melt in the heat! If you’d like to tackle the recipe for Japanese sponge cake, it can be found on a blog called lafujimama.com. It’s a pretty simple recipe but make sure you have an 8″ cake pan for the perfect thickness!

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Japanese style spongecake with stabilized whipped cream

I have also run across a recipe for the best dessert so far this summer. Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry sauce. It’s an Ina Garten recipe but in the original recipe, she uses that popular combo of strawberries and balsamic vinegar. I was going to make this for dinner with a guest and wasn’t sure how that adventurous combination would go over so I just made a simple strawberry sauce instead. The panna cotta was delicious and got raves from my hubs and our guest but I wasn’t satisfied with the texture. It was too soft for me. I made it again and added more gelatin. I like the results better.

The great thing about this recipe is that it can be prepared the day before and is better the longer you let it sit. It’s also a very pretty dessert. I really wanted to find pretty glass brandy snifters to serve it in but ran out of time.

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Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry sauce. See? Isn’t it gorgeous?

I still have some strawberries and cream left. I may just make this again. If you make Ina’s recipe with the balsamic strawberries, please report back with your results! I’d love to know. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Strawberry Sauce

Panna Cotta adapted from Ina Garten

You will need 4 small bowls or juice glasses. Makes  4 6 oz. servings

For the panna cotta:

1 1/2 teaspoons of unflavored granulated gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

1 1/2 cups heavy cream divided in half

1 cup plain yogurt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped into a bowl

1/3 cup sugar

For the strawberry sauce:

1 cup strawberries, hulled and finely chopped by hand or in a food processor

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons water

Extra thinly sliced strawberries and mint sprigs for garnish.

 

Place 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle in gelatin. Stir and let the gelatin dissolve for 10 mins.

In the meantime, whisk together 3/4 of a cup heavy cream, yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. Put the other 3/4 of cup heavy cream in a saucepan with 1/3 cup sugar over medium-low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer. Don’t let it boil or the cream will begin to cook and get lumpy. Remove the heated cream from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir to fully dissolve.

Slowly and carefully pour the warm cream mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture. Stir to combine. I try to stir the mixture as I’m pouring it in to help it temper. Pour the final mixture into 4 small bowls, ramekins or juice glasses. Chill in the refrigerator, uncovered until cold through. Once they are completely chilled, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Make strawberry sauce ahead of serving it. Let it cool to at least room temperature before putting it on the panna cotta. Put strawberries, sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and let simmer for 15 mins. Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve, top panna cotta with fresh, sliced strawberries, and spoon strawberry sauce over berries. Garnish with a little mint, if you like.

 

 

 

 

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Half Moon Bay

I admit, I’m the worst blogger ever. Food blogging is something I aspire to, I just don’t have the follow through. But lately I’ve been cooking up a storm and have been eating some ridiculously amazing food. I’ve taken photos and I’ve researched recipes so, I’m setting myself up for success, right? Yes! I have a post to make! I want to share some recipes! I want you to cook them! Here we go!

First, let me explain some of the new developments that have allowed me more time to cook and put amazing food in my face. Earlier this year my husband and I relocated to sunny California. My hubby moved out here several months before I did and it’s been a challenging time getting out here and finally getting settled! I’m finding my groove out here and I’m doing this mainly through the food because, duh. There are sooooo many more kinds of ethnic foods to try, lots of ethnic markets – including separate Asian markets! Back in Salt Lake there were Asian markets that leaned Chinese or Japanese but here there are huge markets that offer almost all Korean items, Japanese items and Chinese items. I went to a Korean market that had 4! huge cold tables with a dizzying array of kimchi and pickled vegetables! WAT?! The Latino markets have been fun to explore too. The pastries get me everytime. EVERYTIME!

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Just one of four tables of kimchi and pickled vegetables and seafood at Hankook Supermarket

I think Farmer’s markets are required for every 5 mile block and not just on the weekends. The amount of local produce available in just a commercial grocery store is impressive and then there’s the food trucks. Good God. At our apartment community they have Food Truck Sundays. It’s the best way to build a community, I tell ya. They block off a section of the street, have 4-5 food trucks pull in, provided a DJ, picnic blankets and buckets to sit on and it’s just too much fun.

One big trend in food trucks out here are all the Asian fusion dishes. Some people really hate fusion, they’d prefer to be purists about their food. I totally get it but you will quickly eat your words once you try a Korean-style short rib burrito. Oh man. Or Vietnamese grilled pork tacos or a curried chicken rice bowl. The food these mighty, tiny, mobile kitchens are turning out is outstanding.

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Food Truck Sunday!!!

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Beef Koja (bulgogi beef on a bun made of pressed, cooked rice) with Kamikaze fries (waffle fries smothered in Korean BBQ, kimchi, onions, and Japanese mayo

I’ve cooked some pretty amazing stuff out here as well. I mean, who could resist? With all the awesome produce and products all around and the inspiration from all the restaurants and food trucks, it’s easy to start experimenting. While we’ve been out here, I’ve tried more new recipes that I can remember. Maybe it’s the excitement of living on a coast that’s got me feeling more adventurous. Maybe it’s the fact I have more time on my hands because I’m not working yet. That’s probably the more likely culprit but either way, I’m putting it here!

I’m hoping this will be the kick I need to really get into the habit of blogging. I’m also trying out flickr for the first time. I need a better way to organize and store my food photos separate from the photos on our home computer. Any suggestions on online photo management would be greatly appreciated. Okay, folks! Stay tuned. I have cooking posts on the way!

Origin date: December 30, 2009

Continuing on the Mexico City journey, I bring you the vat of lovely things:

vat of beautiful things

You might not think the lovely things come in vat-like containers, but I offer proof right here. Right next door to the site of the mouth-watering tortas is a little cafe that offers “Argentine style meats”. The restaurant was open and airy and right next the sidewalk was a huge vat of golden brothy goodness, boiling away happily, taunting me with its alluring aromas. We walked up to the side of the vat and marveled in silence. One of the cooks came up to offer an explanation to the amazing sight before us.

He told us that they roasted beef and beef ‘parts’ (Warning was given in the last post about the possible exoticness of the food!). The meat was slowly roasted and then placed in this flavored broth to finish cooking. Along with the traditional (boring) cuts of beef, there was also tongue, foot, tail and ears. *Shutter*. I can smell the loveliness now….

all the good stuff

We chose what meat we wanted and they pointed us toward a stock of sauces, garnishes, and dressings. They chopped up the meat on a big wooden disk of a cutting board and placed the meat on fresh made flour tortillas and voila! We were in taco heaven.

little disc from heaven
I chose pickled onions, salsa fresca and a deeply smoky pepper sauce that caused my eyes to roll back with the first bite. The tortilla was soft and warm, the meat was fall-apart tender, the onions had a bite that caught me at the back of my jaw and made my mouth water. It was a good meal. To say the least.

You can actually get tacos similar to this here in my neck of the woods. BUT you can’t be a wuss about it. The only place to get tacos even remotely like the slices of heaven you see above is to visit your local taco stand. I can hear the groans now. “But they aren’t sanitary.” “People get sick off those.” Let me clear this up for you: this is all crap. These are hard working folks that make a living producing delicious foods for their customers. They are not about to ruin their source of income by being unsanitary. AND they have to abide by the same health codes as regular restaurants that create mediocre excuses for Mexican food. So, let go of the blanky and set up to order. Believe me, you will kick yourself for not doing it sooner.

bite from the disc from heaven

Aww yeah… I remember that bite.

Mmmmmmm......

 

 

Origin date: December 20, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to travel to the gigantic metropolis of Mexico City for a beautiful wedding. The couple getting married are beautiful as well and I wish them the best on their new adventure together. But this trip also afforded me a unique opportunity to have some of the most amazing food I have ever experienced – ever. This trip was taken some months ago and because I was so apathetic about starting this blog, the pictures sat on my hard drive for months. So, for the next few entries I will show you what I shoved in my face. And yes, some of it will be a little…. well, exotic to some. Hey, if you know me you’ll know that if something looks good to me I’ll eat it. Even if I know what it is.

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This is the Zocalo or the main square in the center of Mexico City, it is the second largest square after Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But enough about the square – this is a food blog darn it!

What’s great about Mexico City is that there is food everywhere. And its really good food. And its cheap. And did I mention its is really good? I ate delicious, diverse, authentic food every single day and didn’t spend more than $3 per meal. With the exception of some touristy destinations that I kinda got roped into.

One of my favorite discoveries were tortas. They are sandwiches that were stuffed with all sorts of tasty grilled and roasted meats, piled high with tomatoes, avocados and onions. The specialty of Mexico City was Al Pastor. Its usually pork that has been roasted with pineapple juices, its savory and sweet and oh so delectable. Here are some sexy photos of my tortas:

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Ohhhhh they were so good. Warm crusty bread, melted cheese, savory pork, ripe tomatoes and avocados…let me just wipe the drool off my chin.

We stayed at the grooms apartment which was in a really trendy neighborhood with tree lined streets and little cafes everywhere. This torta place was around the corner and the sandwiches were about $1.50 a piece. I was in heaven. I ate tortas for breakfast 2 days in a row. I also got a photo of the mastermind at the local torta stand.

Master of the tortaduck in for some delicious

Along with my morning torta I also discovered Jugos. There was a Jugos stand directly outside of the torta stand – very smart business arrangement. Jugos are freshly made juices from ALL different kinds of fruits and being in Mexico, there were an amazing selection of fruits. The Jugos stand had your typical fruits that you would find at your local grocery store but it also had fresh papaya, guava, passion fruit and one little round fruit that won my heart forever. A woman in front of me ordered a drink that had orange juice, a generous dollop of honey and 3 to 4 little, golden, round fruits.

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Masters of the Jugos
With the assistance of a translator, I found out that these little fruits were called guayaba. The fruit is citrusy and with a sugary touch. Mixed with the orange and honey, it’s like gold in a cup.

ambrosia

I had two of these beautifully delicious drinks the first day in Mexico City and when I got back to Salt Lake I searched high and low at several Latino markets before I found the precious little fruits. I bought a jar of honey and oranges from the same Latino market and took it home to try to recreate the liquid gold. But alas, it just was not the same…. tear.

So on my first day in Mexico City I was already in love with the food. And one HUGE point of clarification.There is nearly no such thing as authentic Mexican food here in my city. That’s right folks, not that crap hole in the wall La Puente or its equally evil twin La Frontera, absolutely not Cafe Rio, nothing with ‘Taco’ in its name and even my beloved Mi Ranchito became suspect. The food in Mexico was so beyond anything I had ever had back home. I have found a few little Latino run restaurants that offer very similar faire but its just not the same. Its almost like you need to be in the city to get the flavors right.

This is my first installment of my eating adventures in Mexico and I will continue to post more. It pains me a bit to do this because I miss the food so dearly…. so dearly. Until next time, I leave you with one of the best breakfasts of my life:

Breakfast of champions