New Year’s Eve Leftovers for Lunch

Well 2013 shot by like a rocket. My great aunt once told me the older you get the faster time goes. As I near 70 I can testify she was spot on with that observation.

I thought I’d try again at keeping Anniespickns going. One would think that a retired person would have tons of time to write and take pictures but I haven’t found that to be true. It’s more like I have found sooooooo many things that peak my interest and take my time that Anniespickns has suffered.  Sometimes the interest has been there but it gets replaced with something even more interesting. So, it’s a new year, a time, they say, for new beginnings.

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New Years Eve I cooked a rack of lamb, garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach for myself. The rack had about eight bones so I naturally had leftovers. After a beautiful bike ride along the river, in sunny upper sixty degree weather today, I came home hungry and ready to eat some leftovers.  I knew I had a few brussels sprouts in the fridge so I decided to saute some in olive with a few shitake mushrooms, sweet Maui onions, and a clove roasted garlic as an accompaniment to the leftover lamb. I also treated myself to a glass of Pinot Nior, also a leftover. Hard to drink a whole bottle of wine by one’s self even on New Year’s Eve.DSCN6544I really love brussels sprouts prepared this way they are quick and delicious. Just cut off the end stem, remove the outside leaves, cut them in half and slice thinly. Don’t overcook them, just saute them lightly. Sometimes I thinly slice bacon, saute it until almost crisp, then saute some onion in the bacon fat, add the slivered brussels sprouts and quickly saute them. In my book there isn’t much that doesn’t taste good with a little bacon.

Other ideas for brussels sprouts can be found at:

How I Learned to Love Brussels Sprouts

Monday’s Two-fer

Soy and Corriander Marinaded Grilled Eggplant

Fall is definitely in the air here in California’s central valley. Already I am seeing winter squash at the Farmers Market and pumpkins being harvested in several fields adjacent to the river. Day and night time temps have cooled by at least ten degrees and my garden’s production has cooled down too. I’m getting a squash, a cucumber and a few eggplant every now and then.

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Recently a friend shared an eggplant marinade with me that used coriander, aka cilantro leaves, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. It sounded pretty good there were a couple of eggplants in the garden that would be ripe soon so I printed out the recipe, picked up some fresh coriander at the farmers market and waited for the eggplants to get eat’n size.

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The eggplants finally being big enough to pick, it was time to give the new recipe a try. It’s a pretty simple recipe, although there is a 45 minute marinade time so it’s not something you can throw together last minute. You put all the marinade ingredients in to a blender jar, hit the switch until its well mixed then rub marinade into the eggplant’s cut side, place them in pan with remaining marinade and wait.  The recipe recommends microwaving the marinaded eggplants but I’m not much for microwaving veggies so I grilled them. The link to the recipe can be found here.

All in all I thought the dish turned out pretty tasty. I was worried that I might have put in too much ginger but it seemed to be just the right amount and for those of you who who don’t especially like the strong flavor of coriander/cilantro I didn’t feel it was overpowering in any way.  I think that a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds would be a nice way to finish the dish. I not sure If I like this marinade better than my favorite green onion marinade but it’s a nice alternative I’ll use again. You can find my recipe for Sesame Eggplant with Green Onion here if you want to try a nice eggplant marinade but really don’t like coriander/cilantro.

As I started writing this I got curious about coriander/cilantro. I found out it is not only an herb it is also considered a spice, it has been cultivated and used as a medicinal and culinary herb for at least 3,000 years tracking back to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. It’s Asian use goes back several thousand years. Its also unusual as all parts of the plant; root, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds can be used. I found the site The World’s Healthiest Foods to have good information for those of you, who like me always, want who want to learn more.

Inspiration – A True Seedless Sugar Baby Watermelon

Dave's signNot only am I lucky enough to live within cycling distance of what I consider to be one of California’s best Certified Farmers’ Markets, the Sunday Downtown Sacramento Market, there is a wonderful farm stand about 5 miles down river from me for those times when I need to replenish either fresh fruit or veggies during the week.  From May until the end of October, Dave’s Produce becomes my mid-week “go to spot” for fresh produce shopping.

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Dave’s Produce belongs to Sacramento River Delta Grown an Agri-tourism Association of businesses adjacent to the lower Sacramento River. The group’s mission is to promote: Agricultural sustainability and profitability through Agri-tourism, and Agri-education, by providing public accessibility to local farms, while enhancing the public’s awareness of production agriculture, and enjoyment of the rural farming experience. The businesses are varied and include many of the wineries from the Clarksburg region, which I might add make some very nice wine. It’s a beautiful area and one I love exploring in all seasons.

Dave's farm standDave’s Produce is part of Vierra Farms which is where the farm stand is located. Here’s how they describe their location on their website: “Vierra Farms is influenced by the Sacramento Delta Region by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Situated at the edge of the Sacramento River, Vierra Farms takes advantage of the coastal gap as the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the Sacramento Delta. As temperatures rise in the central valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly across the Sacramento region creating a distinctive climate that helped create Vierra Farms’ premium mouth-watering watermelon and bountiful hard squash​ that has been provided to the greater Sacramento area wholesale, retail and food service customers for over the past 10 years.”

I have to say they are right on when they talk about premium mouth-watering watermelon, the squash too, but I want to talk about one of the varieties of watermelon they grow, Inspiration.

Inspiration watermelonInspiration is what is called a black watermelon, the name referring to the outside color of the melon. It is a true Sugar Baby seedless, early maturing watermelon with a brix of 9.5, Brix being a measure of sweetness , where 7.8 – 8.2 is somewhat sweet, 8.3 – 9.0 is sweet, and >9.0 is very sweet. The melon I bought was definitely sweet, seedless and juicy, a perfect summer melon. 

I think this particular watermelon is grown in other regions of the US and would love to hear from you if you have tried it or other black watermelon varieties this summer. I’ll be looking for it again out at Dave’s next season.

chopped watermelon

Camp Toast With Maple Syrup Poached Fruit

Mt Lassen reflection

Mt. Lassen reflected in Summit Lake

Recently friends asked me to join them at Lassen Volcanic NP for a few days of camping. How could I say no. Lassen is one of my favorite places to camp and this time we would be at Summit Lake.

toast & fruit on camp stoveWe shared cooking meals so on one of my turns I made one of my favorite summer breakfast recipes, french toast with fresh fruit poached in Maple syrup.

nectarines & blueberries in syrup

The fruit, this time, was white nectarines and blueberries sauteed in a little butter then poached for just a little while in maple syrup.

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The french toast was made by soaking a piece of whole grain, seeded bread in a mixture of one egg beaten with one-half egg shell of milk until the mixture is absorbed into the toast, then cooking it in a little olive oil and butter until it browns on each side. To test for doneness touch it with your finger, if it springs back, its done.

fruit and french toast

To serve pour the fruit and syrup mixture over the toast. Another tasty addition is to add a dollop of Greek yogurt and light sprinkling of cinnamon to the top of the fruit.

Another idea I have tried when cooking french toast at home is to use a Belgian style waffle maker. The toast cooks quicker and the holes contain the syrup. Actually I have grown to prefer french toast cooked this way. But, when camping a cook stove and a frying pan works just fine. Throw in some gorgeous scenery and you have the perfect camp breakfast.

The Power of Procrastination

Play-DohI’ve always said that a tight deadline can bring on some pretty creative ideas and for me procrastination is usually what creates the deadline. I’ve known I was going to a 4th of July potluck party today for about a week now but didn’t press myself to decided what to take until that tight deadline started showing it’s ugly head. OK, the deadline is here. “What are you going to take?” I ask myself. Well, I have lots of fruit that could be used in something. So I start thinking about the fruit, that leads to cobblers and then it hits me. What about the Berry and Peach Cobbler I make each year when I’m with my family at Packer Lake? “Perfect idea”, if I do say so myself. But instead of putting heart shaped pie crust pieces on top I’ll use stars. The problem is I don’t have a star cookie cutter. Or do I?

After fretting about the star cutter and wondering who I could borrow one from or where I could buy one on very short notice I remember where I might have one. So its off to my closet where some toys my grand children play with are stored to find the Play-Doh stuff and sure enough, there was a star cutter. Love it when it works out that way.

Berry and Peach Cobbler

Cookie cutter in hand. I’m back in the kitchen peeling peaches, mixing berries, sugar, lemon juice and tapioca. Now the fun part cutting stars from the pie dough (store bought this time but works just fine) and placing them on the fruit. A nice brushing of melted butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon and turbinado cane sugar and it’s into the oven and wait.

Here’s the final results and judging how incredible the house smelled this morning I can tell this is going to be a hit.

You can find the recipe for the Berry and Peach Cobbler here.

HAPPY 4TH EVERYONE!

Clear Lake Road Trip – Kelseyville and Vigilance

After a short drive off the main highway I arrived in downtown Kelseyville. It’s a small (pop. around 3000) town and I found the people to be very  friendly. After a nice walk around the block long main business area I popped into Studebaker’s, a cute little deli,  for a lemonade, then sat outside enjoying its refreshing taste and the local sights.

It’s history says, Kelseyville was established in 1882 and is named after Andrew Kelsey, the first American settler in Lake County. A quirky trivia bit about Lake County I found while researching is that it is the only one of California’s 58 counties that has never been served by a railroad. Evidently it was too hilly to build one.

The area surrounding the town has long been known for its farming. Vineyards and wine making were established as early as 1870 but prohibition in 1920 ended that era of farming and the vineyards were torn out and replaced with walnut and pear orchards, which remain as prominent crops today. In the early 1960’s vineyards were again reintroduced with around around 100 acres being cultivated in 1965, to a total of over 8800 acres today. Many of the vineyards in Lake County today support sustainable farming practices.

The last Saturday in September, the town hosts the Kelseyville Pear Festival. It features craft booths, entertainment, a quilt show, art and antique tractor shows and begins the day with a great street parade. Sounds like that might be another good reason for a road trip. Pears raised in this area are delicious. Yum, I’m thinking pear pie, but then that’s another story.

From Kelseyville I begin the drive towards Anderson Marsh my next destination before I meet my sister, Gwen, for the birding-by-boat trip. As I’m driving I get a glimpse of Anderson Marsh off down the hill to my left. I turn off on the next road looking for a spot to stop and take in the view and find a parking area beside an old barn. The barn I learn from a farmhand who is just leaving the parking area is part of the Vigilance Winery, and that just down the hill a little is the tasting room and they are open. Well, I have snap peas, chèvre and the bread with me, they have wine and a picnic area with an incredible view. Easy decision. I head down the hill to do a little tasting

They are indeed open and since it’s still before noon, early for most wine tasters, I have the place to myself. The staff is very friendly and knowledgeable. The winery is owned by Clay & Margarita Shannon who believe in and practice the art of farming using sustainable practices helping to preserve the land for future generations.  The name, Vigilance, (alert, watchful, keenly aware, careful, observant) reflects their spirit and commitment to winemaking.  The tasting starts with their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a very nice white that is light and fresh tasting. Definitely a good start. I taste six wines and decide to buy a couple of bottles; the Savignon Blanc I tasted first and a 2010 Cimmaron, a delicious blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, all grown sustainably in Lake County.

I take a glass of Cimmaron to the picnic table and enjoy it with the peas, chèvre, bread and the view. It was all as tasty as I had imagined. I hated to leave but Anderson Ranch was calling and if I wanted to walk some of the trails there before I met Gwen I would need to get on down the road.

Next up: Anderson Ranch

Clear Lake Road Trip

I set out early, with Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake entirely in California, as my destination. I have several things in mind as I travel up through the Capay Valley; enjoy a leisurely two hour drive through some outstanding scenery, check out yet another Farmers Market, explore the south side of the lake around Kelseyville, and do a little birding.

Late spring is the perfect time to visit Clear Lake if like me, you like watching birds. The marshes surrounding this part of the lake attract large quantities of waterfowl many of whom like the Western grebe are exhibiting courting behaviors. There are also several large egret and heron rookeries in some of the tall trees that line the shore. I’ve also heard there might be a Golden eagle nest that is visible if you approach by boat and have binoculars. Hopefully I’ll be lucky on both counts as I have reservations to go out into the marsh area by boat in the afternoon and I brought binoculars.

But before I go birding, I head to the Lake County’s Farmers’ Finest Saturday Morning Market at Steele Wines to take a look around and hopefully pick up picnic supplies for lunch.

It’s a beautiful morning and the local population has turned out to shop and catch up on the local news. The market is small compared to what I am accustomed to, but with a good variety of very friendly vendors, and music for those of us who are willing to stop for a while and enjoy it.

Keeping in mind I wanted something I could take and have for lunch later, I purchased some lovely snap peas from Sky Hoyt. He says he grows these in a green house because it’s just too cold to grow them outside. The one I tasted was crisp and sweet.

Yerba Santa Goat Dairy had some tasty fresh herb chèvre  and I thought that it would taste pretty nice with the peas so into my basket it went. So peas and cheese, what else?

That’s when I found the most incredible loaf of savory bread I have ever tasted.  It’s called GREAT Bread and is made from organic winter wheat flour, whole wheat flour, sundried tomatoes, eggplant, roasted garlic, fresh rosemary, and asiago and parmesan cheeses. I know now why the named it GREAT,  I’m still dreaming about it weeks later. The leftovers made incredible toast.

Farmers Market exploration complete I headed back down the road to Kelseyville in search of the Main Street Bakery, the vendor I bought the bread from, and to see what the little town of Kelseyville was all about.

Next up: Kelseyville and the marsh.

Morning Musings

Some of my morning time, especially when it’s still dark outside and wandering through the garden isn’t an option, I spend time catching up on some of the interesting and entertaining blogs I follow. This morning, while browsing, I opened up one from Smitten Kitchen that had an interesting sounding recipe for Buttery Herb Gruyere Toasts that were served with soft-boiled eggs. This sounded pretty tasty so I made a note to come back to it.

After reading for a while I decided to take another look at the Gruyere Toasts recipe and check to see if I had the ingredients on hand. I did, so I mixed together the ingredients and popped the Buttery Toasts into the oven. As the incredible smell of the toasts filled the kitchen I carefully cooked up a couple of perfect soft-boiled eggs. Now the moment of truth. Would the toasts taste as good as they smelled? Would the eggs be soft, silky and delicious?

I sat down with a cup of coffee and a smile on my face to enjoy my creation. Just as I had hoped the combination of the toasts and eggs lived up to my expectations.

As I enjoyed the perfect combination of eggs and toast  my mind wandered back my freshman year of high school at Antelope Valley High School in Lancaster, CA. Not because I remembered fixing eggs and toast for breakfast then but because this is when I raised laying hens for my Ag class project.

I remember my hens fondly. They were Plymouth Rocks and would come running whenever they got a glimpse of me. I’d like to say it was because they liked me and where happy to see me but the truth be told, they thought I was bringing them something to eat and they were anxious to see what it was. Sometimes I was just bringing mash we bought at the feed store but other times it was scraps from the kitchen. They never discriminated they were just as excited with one as the other. Those girls just loved food.  I have never forgotten those silly hens and how much I enjoyed them even though some parts of their care wasn’t that much fun. Cleaning their coop comes to mind.  Sometimes I think about getting a few hens to keep but my yard is very small and I know the girls and I would not see eye to eye on what was OK to eat from my garden and what was not. Not to mention what was scratched from the earth in their search for tasty morsels.

Thinking on the hens reminded me of the Farmarettes (yes that was really the name), a club girls attending Ag classes could join during those days.  My yearbook  states we were; “a very active organization that held sno-cone sales early in the fall and took many field trips to various places where we viewed many different phases of agriculture and farming”. It also states that the highlight of the year, “something that the girls will long remember, was the Farmerettes initiation”. Really? I don’t remember anything about an initiation or selling sno-cones. Not saying I have a perfect memory but you’d think I’d remember something that was supposed to be so much fun.  I do, however, remember learning how to judge and show pigs, sheep and pigs. I used to remember the names of the breeds we studied but as the years have passed most of them have faded away. I only took the Ag class that year but I remember more from it than from many of the other electives I had during my high school years.

This picture (scanned from my yearbook) was taken of our Farmerette group learning about showing and judging beef cattle. Yes, we still wore dresses in those days, even when we were judging cattle. The girl with very short hair standing to the left of the instructor is me.

Times may have changed but my love of soft-boiled eggs with a crisp piece of toast to dunk in the warm runny yolks hasn’t. That brings me back to the post from Smitten Kitchen that I want to share with you all. These toasts are easy to put together, versatile and delicious. If you love savory, crispy bread, give them a try and while you’re over on Smitten Kitchen’s site browse some of her other posts. I’m sure you’ll agree there’s lots of delicious ideas there.

Other egg breakfast recipes from Annie:

Crab omelette

Martha’s Mom’s Crustless Quiche

Eggs Side by Side

California Rice

Snow geese over harvested rice field

When I drive to work in the morning I cross a three-mile bridge over a floodway. This floodway, or bypass, was created early in California’s history to carry water away from the Sacramento River during high flows and prevent the city of Sacramento from flooding and so far it has done its job. Within this floodway a wildlife area was created in 1997, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It provides habitat to hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that visit each winter as they travel the Pacific Flyway from Alaska and Canada down into California’s central valley. There are also rice fields alongside the wetland habitats within the bypass. They also provide food and shelter for scores of wildlife species. In fact, California ricelands provide habitat to 230 wildlife species, including more than 30 that have been designated as special status. Ricelands provide more than half of the food needed by wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.

Rice production also benefits Californians in a big way, it puts more than a billion dollars into our economy, it supports local communities and premium California rice is found in every piece of sushi made in America. So if you eat sushi, you’re eating rice grown right here in my back yard. So, how did rice get to be such an important crop? It certainly isn’t native to our area.

Like so many things in California you could say it all started when Sutter found gold in “them thar hills”. The California gold rush brought thousands of fortune hunters to California. Immigrants from all over the world came, the largest group were Chinese workers hired by the mines and the railroad. Rice was an important part of the Chinese diet and it had to be imported from China or Japan. European and Asian miners who didn’t fair well in their search for gold turned to their previous profession, farming. Some saw rice as a potential crop.

But early attempts to cultivate long grain rice failed time and time again. It wasn’t until 1908 that a USDA soil specialist discovered that a Japanese medium grain variety, Kiushu, was better suited to northern California’s climate and soil. The first successful crop was grown at the Belfour-Guthrie Ranch in the community of Biggs just after the discovery and by 1912 the rice industry was established. Today California’s rice industry flourishes in the Sacramento Valley and a small portion of the San Joaquin Valley. About half of the rice produced in California stays in the US, the rest is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Middle East. Rice is also produced in two other principal areas of the United States: the Grand Prairie and Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri and the Gulf Coast of Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

One of the things I like to make with California short grain rice is risotto. I’ve been using it for years now and prefer it to the more traditional Arborio rice from Italy. To me Risotto is a comfort food, much like mac-n-cheese.

Farmhand Risotto

Tonight I put together a risotto hearty enough to satisfy a hungry farmhand or just a very hungry gal looking for some comfort food. It combines short grain rice, chicken stock and vegetables fresh from this morning’s Farmers’ Market, fresh carrots, crimini mushrooms, onions and tender spring spinach. I also used celery and country sage sausage, a touch of fresh thyme from my garden, a pat of sweet butter, some baked garlic cloves I had on hand, and a sprinkling of grated Asiago cheese just before serving. Served with a simple mixed green salad and a glass of wine it was the perfect dinner on this rainy spring evening.

Additional information and recipes for California rice can be found at California Rice Commission.

3/10/11 – Annie’s article  for step by step information on how to make risotto.

Soup – The Perfect Food

The weather here in sunny Northern California has definitely changed.  Night temperatures have been in the 40’s, with the last couple of days barely hitting 60 with no sun to speak of.  Not exactly my favorite kind of weather. I much prefer the sunshine.  It’s these crisp fall days that remind me it’s time to start making one of my favorite meals again, soup. To my mind there is nothing better on a cold drizzly day than a hot bowl of homemade soup.

Soup was one of the things my mom often made during the late fall and winter months. It was the perfect way to feed eight growing children a healthy nutritious meal on tight budget. Sometimes it was made using beef bones, sometimes she used chicken or turkey and often it was with split peas or beans and veggies, lots of different veggies. Her soups were always delicious, filled you up and made you warm inside.

According to ehow\’s The History of Soup , soup making is considered to be as old as the history of cooking. Soup was and still is inexpensive to make; it’s filling and easy to digest making it the perfect food for young and old and all those in between.

I’m not much on canned soups. For me, they have far too much salt (needed as a preservative). But for many it is the only kind of soup they have ever experienced. I hope if you are one of those who has only experienced canned or processed soup you will try this simple soup recipe. It will provide you with a delicious soup in about a half hour. I know it takes more than opening a can but I promise you the little bit of work you do will be well worth the effort.

Chicken Vegetable Soup

First pour yourself a nice little glass of wine. Take a sip and then pour a little olive oil in a two-quart pot, add about a cup and a half of quartered crimini mushrooms and sauté until they just begin to brown. Remove to a bowl. Next add equal amounts of chopped carrot, onion and celery (this is called mirepoix) I added about a cup of each. Sauté the mixture until the onion softens, the celery and carrot may not be soft but that’s OK. Then add about a quart of chicken or vegetable stock (your preference homemade or canned, but be aware of the salt content if your using canned) a diced potato (firm red or white skinned variety is preferred) and some fresh herbs, I used sage, thyme and parsley and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are just tender when you pierce them with a fork. With a potato masher, mash the mix a little to thicken the soup. Don’t mash too much unless you want a thick soup. At this point if you have mashed the stock and veggies a lot and want a thicker soup like chowder you can add some ½ and ½ and make it a cream stock and then add some diced cooked chicken or turkey. I didn’t go that route, but the more I write about it and think how tasty that would be, I may be trying that soon. Along with the chicken I added some leftover cooked green beans. Once it’s all together give it a good stir, let the chicken and green beans warm up and your soup is ready to serve. For a delicious topper I added some fresh sage leaves that I had sautéed in butter until they were crisp.  Shredded Parmesan cheese is also a nice addition to this soup but I didn’t add it this time.

Remember the mirepoix, it’s a basic for many soups and sauces.  Add some stock, fresh herbs, vegetables, grains, and meat if you wish and in about 30 minutes you’ll have an economical meal that will warm your soul and make you smile.