Monday, October 31, 2011

Trader Joe's: Drink This Not That With Your Roasted Garbanzos

Here the other night I was cooking up some spaghetti squash and roasted garbanzo beans, so I swung by Trader Joe's for inexpensive wine to drink. Anyone following this blog closely knows of my love for central coast red wines. Trader Joe's always has a few in stock, so I grabbed two bottles of red (syrah and a petite sirah) at the same price point. Fun!

Drink this:


2009 St. Somewhere Syrah. $9.99 worth of delicious. A fuller bodied syrah, with hints of jam but on the dry side for a syrah. I would definitely not only buy this again, but buy several bottles to keep in the house for whatevs.

Don't drink that:


Trader Joe's label 2010 Petite Sirah. Candy in a bottle. I will be saving this opened and unfinished bottle of pancake syrup for use in cooking, or even more likely to make hot mulled wine when/if it ever cools off in Los Angeles for the winter. 

Make some roasted garbanzo beans to munch with your wine. This is the easiest thing to make on the planet. You can literally use whatever herbs and spices suit your fancy or you happen to have on hand. Roast in the oven until they reach desired crispness for a sophisticated bar snack.


Rinse garbanzos in a colander until the starchy thick canning fluid is rinsed down the drain.


Toss on cookie sheet.


By hand, I mix the beans with about a tablespoon of olive oil per can. On the night in question, officer, I tossed also with cumin, smoked paprika, and Lawry's season salt. Taste the uncooked beans as you season, add a little at a time, you can always add more.


Spread one bean deep across a cookie sheet. Bake at 350f for about an hour. I like mine to retain a little moisture so they're not too crunchy. Dryer than a little al dente, but not much.


Serve up in little ramekins, drink and crunch at will.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Jolly Oyster on the Beach

San Buenaventura Park
911 San Pedro Street
Ventura, CA 93001


When life (work) gives you travel and lots of it, life (work) also gives you the opportunity to eat stuff and things in places far and wide. Taking advantage of this has become one of the joys of my job...if I have to be away from husband, dog and hearth I better be enjoying an array of new dining experiences. This last Sunday it was The Jolly Oyster on the beach in Ventura. The wonderful D was kind enough to follow me the 60 odd miles in his own car to suck down some shellfish before heading back south to LA.


Beachside, between the parking lot and the sand, lies The Jolly Oyster selling their wares farmer's market style. Kumamotos and Pacific oysters, and raw clams by the pound.  By farmer's market style, I mean they simply sell the bivalves, not bread, nor fixings  nor beverages beyond water. They'll sell you a shucker and they are located next to a picnic area with BBQs. So bring a pan, some butter and wine for steaming some clams, a loaf of crusty bread for dipping and whatever your oyster accompaniment poison.


We purchased a couple dozen kumamotos. The generous and knowledgeable proprietrix threw in a few Pacific oysters and a juicy lemon. Granted, we came a little underprepared.


Medium Pacific oyster. A larger, flatter oyster, tougher to shuck but so delicious. Oysters are truly a strange creature. If you think about it.


Quartet of kumamotos.


We had a giant plate of oysters in front of us, one tennis towel and one shucker. I shucked and we ate, shucked and ate, shucked and ate and repeated a few more times. Please note the little plastic ramekin of lips were en fuego for the rest of my drive north.


They offer gift certificates, which is a cool little stocking stuffer for the gastronomically adventurous on your Christmas list.


D mentioned over and over and over that these were the freshest oysters he had ever eaten.  The oysters are harvested from farms in Laguna Manuela and San Quntin in Baja California. The Ventura County Star reports, both farms are located in unpopulated areas far from any agricultural runoff.  


Things to remember for next time: the park is booze friendly, tote in your own. Next time, I am bringing a bottle of cava. There are BBQ grills. I will bring briquettes, a pan, a little white wine and butter to steam some clams and La Brea Bakery ciabatta for dipping. BBQ sauce with which to grill the Pacific oysters, and a few lemons from my own tree for squirting on a kumamoto, the world's most perfect oyster.

Friday, October 21, 2011

J'ai Soif! Soif Wine Bar in Santa Cruz

105 Walnut Avenue
Santa Cruz, Ca 95060

Sometimes I get to go to fun places for work. Truth.  I pulled into Santa Cruz after a day in Redwood City and that long, winding beautiful drive through the Santa Cruz mountains, checked into the hotel, sweated my way through a session in the local 24 Hour weight room amongst the thick neck muscle building crowd, and took my still damp self straight to Soif Wine Bar downtown. Run-on sentences and sweatiness be damned!

I had a few Chowhound recs for Santa Cruz in my pocket via this semi-contentious thread. I stopped posting in Chowhound because I found the contentious/pretentiousness makes it less fun, but I still use it as a resource when I am traveling and want the best advice.


As I settled into a bar stool, I overheard staff mentioning a Nebbiolo flight, my ears perked right up.  I have been LOVING a Nebbiolo this summer from Lone Madrone in Paso Robles. A fun little adventure to taste the stuff from its country of origin, Italy.


Sipping Nebbiolo in order from left to right, like we read a book.


The last was far and away the best. I whole glassed this one after I finished the flight. It wasn't cheap. I found a nibble and sip and Soif can be as inexpensive or as spendy as you make it if you watch your prices. I didn't and I learned my lesson. Eep. I was visiting on Tapas Tuesday; all my plates but one were very inexpensive. Next time I will more closely heed my beverage costs. (Above, my iPad sneaks its way into the shot. She's an attention whore.)

On Tuesdays, not only does Soif have a special tapas menu, they have live jazz in the corner and it was pretty fabulous.


I started healthily with baby lettuces, beets and Pt. Reyes bleu. What's to argue with here?


The man attending to me at the bar (owner?) suggested clams and chorizo from the tapas menu, small but at $3 a bargain. This pairing is perfection.


With my remaining Nebbiolo, he suggested the curried cauliflower. Delicious with a nice char but on the oily side. Salt and oil, to be expected when eating tapas for sure.


Apres le workout, I was wanting more protein, ergo lamb meatballs on a nice little aoili-like sauce. It wasn't aioli, not as creamy. Some kind of puree. I'll be honest here, I found the service extremely efficient but a tad on the chilly side. I was dining solo (with my iPad, but I hardly consider that another person, kind of not really) and asked a few questions here and there, yet still felt a hesitance to engage on the part of the folks behind the bar. Could be the culture of the restaurant, could have been my sweat. So, I do not know what lies beneath the lamb meatballs. I do know the meatballs and either the cauliflower or the salad was enough for a meal. I left about a tapas course beyond satiated.


Despite the aloof bedside manner, I would go back again. I visit Santa Cruz for work a few times this winter (forever alone). I'm completely open to dining suggestions, but Tapas Tuesdays with live jazz is hard to beat, even without conversation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pork Belly Eggs Benedict at Olivia in Austin, Texas

2043 So. Lamar
Austin, Texas 78704

I had fun this weekend in Austin playing with Hipstamatic for iPhone. Initially downloaded years ago around the time I got my first DSLR, Hipstamatic was definitely the ignored step child in terms of what I chose to use for snaps during that time.  This weekend, the Nikon made it out of my bag for a couple shots of the beautiful Greyhounds, but the Hipstamatic app got lots of play. I am going to admit it's not great for food shots in terms of clarity and toothsome looking pics, but it's moody and fun. In these shots, Kamal lens and Kodot xGrizzled film.


We brunched en masse at Olivia in Austin, Kristine's choice. Kristine's choices in restaurants, let me tell you about them. She has a nose for what's just perfect. Not just food wise, she's also interested in atmosphere and a well balanced menu that will perfectly appeal to whatever diverse group is dining. A couple people asked me if I had looked them up online or checked out the menu, I said no. When Kristine is handling something, Kristine handles something. Always. Olivia in southwest Austin was perfect!


Mimosas: pomegranate in the foreground, blood orange in the rear. Olivia is much heralded in the media.   In 2009, Bon Appetit included Olivia in its list of top ten new restaurants in the U.S. This link gives you their recipe for beef with pears and fresh ginger.


Deviled farm eggs with wasabi roe. This is roe that is not roe, roe, roe. Instead they are made using the MG technology for caviar. Here my friend Joe of My Last Bite shows you how it's done. At any rate, the eggs were delicious with just the right wasabi punch! We shared 3 orders for the table.


Bacon is bacon is bacon except this is amazebacon. Huge strips cooked just barely beyond crisp, house cured.


Cara's (and everyone else's) Taff's southern sticky bun. I don't know who Taff is, but that creamy sugary icing was generous and irresistible.


Smoked grouda grits. I can't even....I couldn't. I didn't try to restrain myself from enjoying these. I pretty much did a face plant into this giant bowl of cheesy goodness.


To my left, John and Karla ordered the chicken fried steak. This shot does not do it justice, partially because of the bright late morning light shining behind us in from underneath the back porch canopy and partially because I was too lazy to move and improve the shot. Food blogger fail. About 8 oz of steak chicken fried in fluffy yet crisp batter, gargantuan mound of mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs. This is some Texas sized food.


I admit to food envy here.  Cara's Lamar MacDaddy Muffin Sandwich with bbq pulled pork, scrambled egg, Swiss cheese, garden greens all on a homemade English muffin with a mound of fries all the babies nommed onto. This is like an advanced Egg McMuffin, bigger, better, more but also made elegant with greens grown in a garden about 50 feet directly behind our table.


About half the table ordered some variation of the Eggs Benedict. Kristine, Brian and I all ordered this version. Pork rillon Benedict with maple hollandaise and an herb salad, rillons made from pork belly. Outstanding pork belly and only slightly sweetened hollandaise made special with maple syrup, the only disappointment at the table was the muffin. It was more cakey than flakey (as Cara said, I think) and I didn't love. Poached eggs? I would eat them on literally anything. Pork belly rillons, slightly crispy and wonderful. Herb salad lended a verdant touch to every bite. But the muffin fell flat. Disappoint. I ate more grits instead of the muffin so the meal was still a win.


This was a lovely Sunday morning group brunch...three beautiful babies at the table and one gorgeous woman with a bun in the oven (my friend Jess). Kristine's cousin Shelley posted more snaps on her photography blog, Shelley Moon Photography. The morning was sunny, the food was plentiful and everyone was of those perfect moments in life.


Thank you, Olivia, for the wonderful food, terrific service and free reign to frolic in your back garden. I better not hear any of you snickering, you know who you are.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Long House Party in Austin

This weekend I took a break from my work related travel and flew south to Texas for a weekend of friendship, food and basic slothfulness.  We had plans for Austin domination: river kayaking, live music, the bat experience, etc and so on. But all 11 of us (more or less at different times) just lounged around the Austin compound eating, talking, laughing and enjoying the pleasure of one anothers' company.


We watched the greyhounds and they watched us. Above is Laika, below Beebs.


I finally managed an early morning Momo sighting, she hid from us all weekend coming out only for an early morning cuddle session on the date of departure.


Watching your friends have children and the ways it profoundly changes their lives is such an interesting experience. I didn't manage to capture a worthy snap of Miles, but Lily isn't quite so camera shy.


I know Austin to be a diverse and musical city, but nothing outside the doors of Elaine and John's house held any more interest for me than the company I kept behind them. Thank you for hosting, E & J. I'll be back again sometime soon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Il Cortile:

Il Cortile
608 12th Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446

This meal was a few weeks back, late summer in Paso Robles all on my lonesome. A few of my clients have raved about Il Cortile as being the best restaurant in town. In a town with as much great food as Paso Robles, this is no small praise.


It was Claudia's fault that I was craving cava that week. (Everything is Claudia's fault). We had spent time at City Sip the previous Saturday and as usual she ordered up a glass of fizz. Being the envious type I decided I needed cava too. I was on a cava bender for weeks afterward. My point? Il Cortile is Italian and they did not have cava, dammit. They had a nice prosecco though, and it just had to do.


I sat at the bar keeping company with owner Carole and a non-local regular who stops in for dinner with Carole and crew every time he drives through central coastal California. Above, grilled asparagus, locally produced balsamic, and burrata sourced at Gioia in El Monte.


The second half of my meal was an olive oil drizzled grilled octopus with a perfect char. Underneath were grilled vegetables with such delicious simplicity I asked for a side plate.

Great conversation, sublime food and a little fizz are the perfect cure for mild loneliness born of too much travel and not enough nights in my own bed. I plan to swing back by Il Cortile later this month, for medicinal purposes, naturally.