California Wine Country

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Oh Napa Valley, how I fell for you! Your sexy, curving roads thrilled. Your warm October breezes, heady with eucalyptus, rosemary, and grapes intoxicated. Your wine sated and delighted. And your food. Oh, your food! Each ingredient shining but not overpowering, casually lending just-yanked-from-the-garden character. And your insouciant beauty, from vista to vineyard lunch, aroused both inspiration and envy. Don’t tell Chicago, but I’m dying to see you again. Continue reading

Roasted Buttercup Squash and Soba Noodle Salad with Creamy Miso Ginger Dressing

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This hearty autumn salad was inspired by last week’s trip to Napa Valley. On our first day, we drove to Sonoma County and spent a lazy afternoon wandering around Healdsburg. SHED, the foodie paradise market and café, was by far our favorite spot. My friend Domonique, a San Fransisco native, mentioned that it’s probably the most instagrammed place in wine country and after seeing it for myself I understand why. SHED exemplifies Northern California culture – hyper fresh, local, sustainable, organic, simple and thoughtful. The eat-local/organic/farm-to-table movement now prevalent everywhere began in this little corner of the world, and spending time there had a profound impact on me. Continue reading

Delicata Squash with Apple Pecan Quinoa Stuffing

DSC_0688 Delicata is sweet with an edible skin just like acorn squash, but the texture is much smoother and creamier.  I love this dish as a vegetarian main course served with mixed greens or as a side dish to accompany pork tenderloin.  Filled with the flavors of fall, this is comfort food at its healthiest.

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Delicata Squash with Apple Pecan Quinoa Stuffing

serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 delicata squash
  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/2 in dice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 4 slices provolone cheese, each cut in half
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil, maple syrup, cider vinegar and dijon mustard.  Set aside.
  2. Cut both squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to remove all seeds and pulp.  Place two of the four halves flesh side down in an 8×8-in microwave safe dish.  Fill pan with 1/2 inch of water and microwave until squash is tender all the way through, 8-10 minutes.  Repeat with second squash.  Place all four squash halves in a rectangular baking dish flesh side up,  drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Mash lightly with a fork, leaving skin and a 1/2 inch rim of squash completely intact.
  3. While squash is cooking, rinse quinoa well in a fine sieve.  Place rinsed quinoa, salt , and 1 and 3/4 cups of water in a pan with a tight fitting lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cover, cooking for 12-15 minutes or until all water has evaporated.  Remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes.  Fluff with fork.
  4. Toast pecans in a large saute pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes or until nuts are warm and fragrant.  Set aside.
  5. Wipe saute pan clean with a paper towel, removing all nut skins and pieces.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions, apples, and garlic to pan and saute until onions are translucent and apples have softened, about five minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add cooked quinoa, pecans, cranberries, sage, and the maple/cider vinegar/dijon mixture to pan, season with salt and pepper, and stir until ingredients are thoroughly combined and warmed through.
  7. Stuff each squash half with 1/4 of the mixture and cover with 2 provolone halves.
  8. Turn oven to broil.  Place squash pan under broiler for one to two minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbly.

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Bagpipes and Bonfire

DSC_0418Each year when September comes to a close, Lake Forest families gather in celebration of autumn and our community’s dedication to preserving open land.  Set against the serene backdrop of Middlefork Farm Nature Preserve, this year’s Bagpipes and Bonfire included Highland games, fiddling, fly casting, wagon rides and a delicious harvest dinner.  As the sun began to set, a 100 member bagpipe and drum band performed until one piper summited a giant brush mound in the center of the field.  The crowd was still as he played a chill inducing version of Amazing Grace, and after the last notes were played, the band marched off with drums beating in unison as the twilight bonfire was lit.

DSC_0111 DSC_0169DSC_0257 DSC_0197 DSC_0350 DSC_0391 DSC_0437 DSC_0524 DSC_0548_2 DSC_0602 DSC_0639Funds raised from Bagpipes and Bonfire support Lake Forest Open Lands Association, an environmental education and advocacy group that maintains over 800 acres of open space in our community.

The Weekend Kitchen: Apple Dumplings

DSC_0866Apple dumplings hold a special place in my heart.  My Grandmother Porter, of German descent and a product of the Depression Era, could not stand to waste a thing.  Her cooking was simple, hearty, and utterly delicious, and everything she made was from memory, learned no doubt from watching her mother and grandmother.  During her long stays with us she roasted chickens, creamed cabbage, made beef stroganoff, mashed lots of potatoes, and baked.  Baking was what she loved most.DSC_0891DSC_0939DSC_0924When she baked apple pie, bits of dough were often leftover.  Tossing them out would have been wasteful, so she cobbled these bits together, stretched them over a quickly peeled apple, and baked it alongside the pie.  This was a great treat because you didn’t have the unbearably long wait until after dinner to cut into the pie!  Apple dumplings were green lighted for after-school snacks, devoured just out of the oven.

Peeled and coated in lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar, and dark flecks of allspice.
Peeled and coated in lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, sugar, and dark flecks of allspice.

This is my version of apple dumplings, though I add butter to my crust which she never would have done (she used shortening only as shortening makes the most tender crust).  I love the combination because it delivers buttery-flaky goodness but remains tender from the addition of shortening.

Wrapped in dough blankets and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, waiting to go in the oven.
Wrapped in their dough blankets, waiting to go in the oven.

Apple Dumplings

makes 8

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening, chilled and diced into small pieces
  • 11 tablespoons butter, chilled until very cold and diced into small pieces
  • 4-6 tablespoons ice water
  • 8 small apples (I used Cortland, Granny Smiths are great)
  • 1 lemon, zested then juiced
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 tablespoons butter, diced into 8 pieces
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. Butter a rectangular baking dish that generously fits 8 apples.  Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, add flour, sugar, salt, and pulse a few times until combined.  Add cold butter and shortening, pulsing until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Through the feed tube, add one tablespoon of ice water at a time, stopping immediately when dough comes together in a ball.
  3. Turn dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, flatten into a disc and thoroughly wrap in plastic.  Chill for at least one-half hour.
  4. While dough is chilling, add lemon juice to a large bowl.  Peel and core apples, tossing each in the lemon juice as soon as you’ve peeled it.  Sprinkle lemon zest over apples and stir to combine.
  5. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and allspice in a small bowl.  Set aside 2 tablespoons of mixture for sprinkling over pastry.
  6. Pour sugar mixture over apples, coating each one thoroughly including the centers.
  7. When dough is thoroughly chilled, remove from fridge and and roll out on a well floured surface, turning disc every few rolls to prevent sticking.  When dough has been rolled  into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thickness, cut 6-in diameter rounds until you have 8.  I used a 6-in diameter bowl and cut around it with a knife, but you can free form it.  This is rustic at its best!
  8. One at a time, place each apple in the center of a dough round and wrap.  Set in buttered baking dish.
  9. Press a square of diced butter into each hole.
  10. Using a pastry brush, brush each dough covered apple with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with reserved sugar mixture.
  11. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until crust is golden and apples are tender. DSC_0013