Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day: family, eats, and treats.

Memorial Day was a special weekend for us, filled with family and food.  My dad and step-mom came to visit from Dallas, and we all met up at their vacation home in Clear Lake.  The scenery is absolutely beautiful; Clear Lake is the largest natural lake entirely in California, and it is a wide blue expanse perched up in the mountains of the North Coast Range.  Their house lies in the shadow of a dormant volcano called Mount Konocti.   We love to head out of town for Clear Lake whenever we can to relax, enjoy the stunning views, and eat like kings.  If there's a three day weekend coming up, you can bet that we are angling to spend time up at the lake house.
 We drove up Friday night, wicked dogs in town and car packed to the gills with groceries (including the contents of our box), board games, and clothes (the latter being my own neurotic issue - I can't just pack for three days).  My parents arrived only minutes ahead of us.  And our weekend of wine and food began!  We spent the next two days eating a drinking our way through Lake and Sonoma Counties.
 On Saturday, we slept in and got up to drink coffee, nibble toast and eggs, and mull over our dining decisions.  My dad and I planned to make dinner that night, and I strove to use as many of our CSA veggies as possible.  I brought only one cookbook with me: Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone."  I settled on a spring vegetable stew, similar to the one that I tossed together sans recipe a few weeks ago.  I was able to use the asparagus, sugar snap peas, and carrots from our box.
 My dad made not one, not two, but three dishes!  He is quite the chef.  He made a bruschetta with tomato, fennel, goat cheese, and chives:
Plus a peach-basil-prosciutto appetizer (I didn't get a picture of this sucker, but the peach was dredged in a cumin vinaigrette - very tasty!).  He also lovingly prepared a shaved asparagus, cherry tomato, and goat cheese salad to accompany our stew.  This was absolutely delicious!!  Shaving the asparagus seemed laborious and was time-intensive, but the results were tasty and much appreciated.  The twist to this dish is that the asparagus was served raw.  I think that the raw preparation is all the rage right now; I have never heard of it until recently, and I have seen it in more than one place this spring.
On Sunday, we went to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, for lunch at the wonderful Dry Creek Restaurant (a Charlie Palmer spot - I saw it on Martha Stewart only days before my step-mom told me that this is where we were going!).  I had gnocchi with pickled red cauliflower, cauliflower mousseline, and ricotta salata.  It was delectable.  After lunch, we headed to the Dry Creek Valley for some wine tasting.  My dad took us on a driving tour of some of his favorite wineries, including some quirky stops that were to honor an oddball ambiance or two.
We especially enjoyed the quaint Yoakim Bridge winery.  I made friends with Isabella the bulldog puppy:
 Look at that face!  Their property was lovely, boasting lush rose bushes and foxglove.  Foxglove always reminds me of a nursery rhyme garden, with a hint of the Alice-in-Wonderland subversive.
After our Sonoma tour, we headed back over the winding mountain road to Clear Lake.  My step-mom made a tasty white bean-sundried tomato-roasted garlic dip (again, no picture ...).  We were still full from lunch, so we didn't really eat dinner (though of course I had to eat a bowl of spelt-berry salad, my prepared food obsession from the Sacramento food co-op).

Sunday morning, to celebrate my dad's birthday, I whipped up a couple of frittatas featuring asparagus, onion, feta, herbs, and prosciutto (for the meat-eaters).  I used the basic recipe here, but subbed out the kale and instead sauteed about half a bunch of sliced asparagus, plus added feta.  It was a delicious way to end a weekend chock-full of great food and company.  I am already looking forward to the next occasion that we can sneak away to our beloved lake house!

Spring Vegetable Stew
Adapted from Deborah Madison, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone"

Note: Crumbled goat cheese would also be nice here.  You can add to the top of the stew after it is spooned into serving bowls.

4 to 6 carrots (use fewer if your carrots are larger), scrubbed, peeled, and sliced into medium thick coins
1/2 to 1 cup sugar snap peas (I used almost a cup), washed, strings removed
6 small radishes, scrubbed and cut into l-inch pieces
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 3-inch pieces
6 green onions, white and light green parts sliced into 3-inch pieces
4 small turnips, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup vegetable stock
leaves from about 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
grated parmesan

Cook each vegetable separately.  Bring a stock pot of water to a boil; add one tablespoon of salt.  One type at a time, blanch each type of vegetable by simmering for a couple minutes until tender; remove immediately using a slotted spoon or small strainer and submerge in a bowl of cold water.  When all of the vegetables are blanched, drain the bowl.  Vegetables can be made a few hours ahead of time.

Heat the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, then add the blanched veggies and veggie stock.  Cook until heated through, about four minutes (you can cover the pan to facilitate heating).  Stir in the herbs and salt and pepper to taste, and cook for one minute.
Stir in the lemon juice immediately prior to serving.  Serve over pasta, gnocchi, or a bit of rice, and garnish generously with grated parmesan.

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