Jenna started asking for Lunchables last year after seeing some of her classmates bring them for lunch. Not wanting to give her pre-packaged, highly-processed foods, I never gave in to the request. This year, she spotted the Revolution Foods brand of pre-made lunch kits at the grocery store and asked if we could try them. After reading the ingredients, which admittedly are better than Lunchables, I decided to buy a couple of kits even though I still wasn’t entirely comfortable with the pre-package food concept.
My daughter tried the first one at home over the weekend, mostly because I was curious about the contents of the box and how easily she would be able to assemble the pizza on her own. (more…)
We recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley and, while we certainly enjoyed the wine, the highlight of our trip was definitely the food. Here are a few ideas for tastings in Napa Valley of the non-wine variety:
Gourmet Food Tour
I learned about the Gourmet Food Tour (1) of downtown Napa through a website called Peek, a travel tour site featuring off-the-beaten path tours and activities in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, including Napa. We didn’t take the tour, but now that I’ve discovered I love the food as much as the wine in Napa, it’s definitely on my list for next time.
Wine and Cheese Pairings
Many of the wineries feature food and wine pairings as part of their tastings. Two of my favorites are the St. Supery Cheese and Wine Pairing Class (5) (great if you want to understand how different food flavors influence the taste of wine) and Domaine Carneros (2) (perfect if you want a light snack while sampling the sparkling wine and enjoying the amazing views from their patio).
Napa Valley Distillery
If you enjoy hand-crafted cocktails as much as wine, Napa Valley Distillery (3) is a must-see destination on your itinerary. I like to go just for the display of tiny bottles. It’s located inside of the Oxbow Public Market, which is worth the stop just for the selection of gourmet food, drinks and home decor accessories all under one roof. The distillery features an extensive collection of bitters, spirits and syrups, all of which can be sampled in their shop for free or you can attend a Craft Spirit Tastings.
Gourmet Grocery Stores
There is no shortage of places to stock up on gourmet foods in Napa Valley. In addition to assembling your picnic fare, many of these offer samples of locally produced culinary treats, including oils, vinegars, cheeses and tapenades. We visited Oakville Market (4) and Dean and Deluca (6).
The Napa region is filled with olive oil shops and at one point my husband and I joked that we had purchased more olive oil than wine during our trip. In addition to oils, many of these shops also feature flavored balsamic vinegars and tapenades, all of which can be sampled for free. We visited Olivier (7) and St. Helena Olive Oil Co (8), but there is also Lucero Olive Oil and several others.
Culinary Institute of America
One of our favorite stops during our trip was the CIA (9). For food enthusiasts, the school offers a variety of tours, tastings and demonstrations, mostly during the weekend. If your visit falls during the week as ours did, you can still visit the large gift shop, Ghiradelhi Chocolate tasting center or one of the school’s restaurants. We stopped at the cafe and enjoyed a basket of organic cherry tomatoes direct from their garden.
Cooking with Jason and Jenna is something I wish I did more often. They’re getting older, but I don’t always recognize how much they can handle these days - especially Jenna who loves to help out in the kitchen. This weekend was a serious reminder of just how much that little girl can do.
On Friday night, I made a batch of pasta and saved some dough so that Jenna could make her own noodles the next day. I thought it would mostly be for fun and didn’t really think we’d end up with an edible batch. But the fettuccine noodles for lunch, shown above, were almost entirely Jenna’s creation.
The dough was already prepared, a step I’ll likely do in advance next time too since I used a semolina pasta recipe, which is a little hard to knead. Once I showed her how to flatten a piece of the dough and guide it through the KitchenAid attachment, she worked through the entire batch. My only role was adjusting the levels during the flattening step and turning off the power between each piece.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve made fresh pasta, but now that I have a helper, I’ll be making it more often!
Jenna has requested a “Cinderella Camping” themed birthday party this year. That one loves to challenge her mama with theme mash-ups. Last year’s Hello Kitty Rainbow Flower party seems easy in comparison to this year’s combo. Luckily, I enjoy a good challenge.
In preparation for the upcoming festivities, I decided to experiment with natural food dyes to see if I could achieve a good ‘Cinderella blue.’ And while I clearly need more practice working with fondant, I was pretty happy with the colors resulting from my experimentation this weekend.
I used this recipe for marshmallow fondant. Dye-free marshmallows are surprisingly hard to come by, but I’ve discovered that Walmart brand marshmallows don’t contain the artificial blue dye found in most other brands. For the coloring, I used this all-natural blue food dye. The results are more muted than artificial dyes, but work well for the Cinderella palette I was going for.
After a week of vacation followed by a week of sickness, we’re almost back to normal around here. We spent the weekend removing the last traces of Christmas from our home, and it’s wonderful to have the house back to a (somewhat) clean slate. Removing decorations, however, makes the house seem a bit empty, so I added a few new plants yesterday – something I do at the start of nearly every year (thanks to my blog, I can now identify trends in my behavior). Another January trend I’ve noticed is a focus on food and healthy eating. I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions, but last year I set a bit of a resolution to cook more and eat better. I don’t think I can claim success on my 2013 efforts, so I’m giving myself a do-over this year.
For our recent home tour, I set up a Christmas-themed s’mores and hot chocolate bar in our backyard. The set-up was just for display – we didn’t make any s’mores as part of the tour. The idea of candy cane s’mores, however, stayed with me well after the weekend was over. Yesterday, I decided to test out my theory that s’mores, combined with a bit of peppermint, would yield a pretty awesome treat. My recipe included graham crackers and marshmallows (broiled in the oven for a couple of minutes) topped with a small piece of peppermint bark. It was pretty amazing.
We had A TON of candy leftover from Halloween. This was our first Halloween in our new house, and we had no idea that only one group of kids would ring our doorbell for candy. Two weeks later and we still have bags of candy in our cupboards. So when I was assembling a s’mores bar for a party we had this weekend, an idea hit me: candybar s’mores! The mini Hershey’s bars are obviously perfect for this, but I also added peanut butter cups, Crunch bars and Kit Kats.
I completely failed to take any pictures at our party, but here are a few pre-party shots of the set-up. I think the Reese’s peanut butter cups were the party favorite. We’ll definitely be trying this again … especially since we still haven’t eaten all of our candy.
In addition to the farm-to-table style dinner with Outstanding in the Field, our recent trip to the west coast included a meal at The French Laundry, one of three restaurants owned by Thomas Keller in Yountville, CA. Just across the street from the restaurant is a large organic garden, which supplies many of the vegetables featured on the menu.
Last night I returned from my ‘culinary adventure’ with my close friend Tara. Over the course of 5 days, we visited Napa, San Francisco and the Santa Cruz area, eating and drinking quite a bit along the way. My favorite meal was a farm-to-table style dinner at the Everett Family Farm organized by Outstanding in the Field.
Here are a few scenes from our evening touring the farm and enjoying an amazing dinner prepared by local chef, Santos Majano.
I tried my Kitchenaid ice cream maker for the first time last week, and I have a feeling we’re going to be enjoying lots of ice cream this summer. My first batch was vanilla ice cream and then I moved on to sorbet. My favorite was definitely the sorbet, which I made with a mix of watermelon and peach. Here’s the recipe:
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
juice from 1/2 lime
1/2 small watermelon, cubed
2 large peaches, chopped
I started by mixing the sugar, water and lime over medium heat until the sugar was completely dissolved. I pureed the watermelon and peaches together in a blender. I removed the water mixture from the heat and let it cool slightly, then I added the fruit mixture. I placed this in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Next, I blended and froze the mixture using a Kitchenaid ice cream attachment and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours before eating.