For better or worse, here I am—trapped in paradise. As long as I continue to live in this vital, inimitable spot on the globe,

I will continue to seek out the unique…the delicious…the innovative products, services and traditions of San Luis Obispo County.

Stay posted for a few of my favorite things.

About Me...

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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

SLO Medley

My culinary plan of action for an upcoming family meal, thwarted by a lack of green tomatoes at the local farmer’s market, left me wandering aimlessly in desperate search of a new recipe idea. After the organic basil vendor commented, “You look so serious today,” I realized I needed to get it together. I turned to the rows of fresh, shiny fruits and veggies for inspiration. What looked especially good?

My eye caught some earthy golden beets, fresh out of the ground, attached to long, leafy stems. Maybe a sweet roasted beet salad drenched in a tangy vinaigrette would be a flavorful, healthy choice. Next stop: I found some bright, vibrant green limes, and then meandered a bit more. Pausing at a fruit stand to admire the lovely nectarines and peaches, the farmer offered me a slice of a delicious crisp piece of green Briar plum. Tasting this light-green stone fruit for the first time, its slightly tart, light, plummy flavor inspired me further, and I conjured up images of a sweet and piquant plum salad. I continued strolling along, picking up other interesting, fresh San Luis Obispo County produce, including a nice, fat bunch of garlic chives and a few ears of beautiful corn. Then I made yet another new SLO discovery!

Noticing a bottle filled with a light reddish-pink liquid labeled “Verjus” at Mill Road Orchard’s stand, I incorrectly assumed I’d stumbled upon some apple juice or cider. The vendor enlightened me by revealing that verjus is juice made from the runoff of unripe wine grapes. Picked when the grapes begin to soften and change color, this lightly fruity yet tart, unfermented grape juice can be used in place of vinegar or lemon in recipes. This novel SLO find was exactly what I needed for my vinaigrette and salad…reminding me that sometimes we need to have faith that with a little improvisation and imagination, we will inadvertently stumble upon what we need, steering our taste buds in the right direction.

As a result of my spontaneous meanderings, below are several recipes that my family and I enjoyed together at our meal (including my six-year-old nephew who has very discerning tastes!). Each one of us contributed to this lunch, resulting in a pleasing medley of sweet and tangy flavors ending up on our plates, tied together by a few common ingredients.


SLO ROASTED SWEET BEET SALAD

8 – 9 beets (mix of red & yellow)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

TANGY LIME VINAIGRETTE

1 medium lime, juiced & zested
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
(I went local from Templeton: Carriage Vineyards mission varietal)
3 tablespoons verjus
(Paso Robles: Mill Road by Monahan Family Farm)
1 tablespoon Italian parsley
Dash of red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon garlic chives, chopped

Heat oven to 350º and scrub beets. Cut off tops, place in roasting pan filled with 1 – 2 inches of water, drizzle with olive oil and salt & pepper. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until just tender, about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make vinaigrette, add all ingredients to blender—except garlic chives—and purée. Transfer to bowl and add chives.

When beets are tender, cool until able to handle and peel skins by rubbing with a paper towel (wear gloves if you don’t enjoy beet-stained fingers). Slice beets into wedges and saturate with vinaigrette while still warm. Sprinkle with garlic chives. Marinate for at least 4 hours.

PLUM SALAD

6 green Briar plums (or the standard purple varietal)
1 tablespoon purple basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons verjus
Salt & pepper to taste

Wash and cut fruit into bite-sized pieces. In a medium-sized glass bowl, whisk remaining ingredients and add plums to dressing. Marinate in fridge for best results.

These crisp plums, just shy of ripening, paired exceptionally well with the light, refreshing, sweet...yet tart nuances of the verjus.

MOM'S FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Even though I had no luck finding green tomatoes at the farmer’s market, my mom managed to pick up a gigantic green heirloom tomato at a local grocery store. My sister baked some cornbread cakes (utilizing the fresh corn I picked up), and the combination of the tangy fried green tomatoes served over the sweet cornbread was a perfect match.

2 large green tomatoes
¼ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon chopped purple basil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Heat cast iron skillet over medium-high heat with oil. Slice tomatoes into 1-inch sized round slabs. Mix cornmeal with basil, salt & pepper, and coat tomato slices on both sides. Fry tomatoes on each side for 4 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towel before serving.

PEACH BARBEQUE SAUCE

My dad’s contribution to our Sunday meal was one of his specialties—barbequed chicken. Inspired by a recipe from a recent edition of Sunset Magazine, we sautéed, boiled, and blended the following ingredients, resulting in a pungent, syrupy sauce that was a big hit with everyone.

1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (this oil stands up to the high temperatures of a barbeque)
2 medium peaches (or apricots), peeled and chopped
¼ cup apple cider vinegar (Paso Robles: Mill Road by Monahan Family Farm)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
15 oz. can of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon allspice
Pinch or two of red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sautée onions and garlic with salt & pepper until tender. Add chopped peaches and continue stirring over heat until peaches soften and mixture thickens. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer to blender, purée, and baste chicken during last 10 minutes of grilling.

SLO CRISP WINE

I searched for a SLO County wine that could hold up to this medley of tangy and sweet flavors. After a visit to Taste of SLO in downtown San Luis Obispo, my choice of Salisbury Vineyards 2006 Pinot Grigio ($24), with its almost opaque, golden-tinged hue and enticing nose of orange citrus, proved just right. This clean, crisp wine left an interesting musky, almost peppery finish, and the nice balance of fruit and acid held its own against the assortment of flavors in the food. By the end of the meal the soft flavors of orange, lemon, and vanilla in this wine left a smooth finish to our end-of-summer gathering. This meal was a success in itself...not to mention the new SLO discoveries!



All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SLO Showdown

Gummy bears, raisins, fortune cookies…and frog legs?! These secret ingredients (revealed only moments before two top San Luis Obispo County chefs took center stage to vie for the winning title of Paso Robles Olive Festival’s Head-to-Head Chef Competition) captivated the audience, evoking laughter and surprise. But this seemingly incongruous combination of fodder didn’t faze Chefs Giancarlo Cucumo or Neil Smith, a long-time family friend. They jumped into action, each armed with their knives and cooking utensils; full kitchen stations and pantry of supplies; an array of fresh and interesting ingredients—including olives and a selection of SLO County's Olea Farm olive oils; and maybe most importantly, their sous chefs.

With the clock ticking and only one hour for each team to devise three unique dishes—a salad or appetizer, an entrée showcasing the star ingredient (frog legs), and a dessert—my sister and I along with our friend, Chef Paul Gorton, eagerly watched and wondered what culinary masterpieces would result from this friendly, but intense competition. Chef Paul mused, “You can’t do anything with frog legs.” But the knives started flying. The vegetables got sliced and diced at alarming speeds. The skillets and ovens heated up and fragrant scents began to waft in the blustery wind. These culinary teams, although cooking on a gazebo in the middle of Paso Robles’ Downtown City Park amidst 120 olive oil, winery, and other vendors (with hundreds of visitors milling about), looked right at home and up for any challenge.

Passionate about the art of crafting food into delicious meals, these two professional chefs are no strangers to pressure. Night after night they immerse themselves in the intense kitchen-life that goes hand-in-hand with working in successful, well-respected restaurants. Chef Giancarlo, the owner of Giancarlo's Ristorante Mediterraneo in Morro Bay, and Chef Neil, the Executive Chef at Windows on the Water, also in Morro Bay, kept their cool over the next hour. While they worked their magic in the makeshift kitchen, the Culinary Arts Program Director for Cuesta College, Chef Phillip Riccomini, entertained the captive audience, throwing out food jokes, fun culinary facts, and surmising what these tight-lipped, focused chefs were creating for the panel of four judges. As the hour drew to a close and the teams scrambled to plate their dishes, the seated panel readied themselves to judge the flavors, textures, creativity, appearance, and use of the secret ingredients (as well as the olives and Olea Farm olive oil) in their upcoming feast of the senses.

Chef Giancarlo charmed everyone with his Italian accent and wowed the judges and onlookers by beginning his ad hoc meal with a beautiful salad tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, mixed with a medley of caramelized raisins, fruit-stuffed olives, and poached pears. He followed with a simple pasta puttanesca, the linguine flavored with garlic olive oil, Kalamata olives, and tomatoes; topped off with a fried mixture of parmesan cheese, raisins, and fortune cookies. His main dish—frog leg casserole—started off pan-fried with olive oil, raisins, and white wine, then finished baking in the oven. Served with olive crepes stuffed with jelly and sundried tomatoes, this dish was a hit. His caudled Italian dessert of zabaglione pudding (made with fruit jelly, a touch of olive oil, sherry wine, sugar, and egg yolks) gently spooned over gummy bears in wine glasses, made clever use of this chewy hodgepodge ingredient.

Chef Neil’s brilliant creations were equally impressive. Sporting his signature dark sunglasses and admitting that, “The gummy bears threw me for a loop,” his first course proved that he closed that loophole. His salad of segmented oranges, white peaches, and Roma tomatoes flavored with basil olive oil touched with a hint of orange and lemon citrus, included the ubiquitous gummy bears. His main entrée of frog legs, stuffed with Kalamata olives served over thyme-infused rice with sun-dried tomatoes and green beans, was lightly covered with a tarragon-herb butter sauce and plated beautifully. His gorgeous dessert served up in martini glasses, with layers of caramelized peaches, lemon blush crème anglaise, fresh berry compote and fortune cookie "dust" sprinkled on top, made us all envious of the judges.

As the panel voted and tallied their scores, the culinary teams toasted one another—Chef Giancarlo sipped on a much-deserved glass of white wine, while Chef Neil and his sous chef went straight for the Corona beers. In the end, the judges’ tough decision edged out Chef Neil by only one point and Chef Giancarlo was narrowly declared the winner. Look for Chef Giancarlo at next year’s Olive Festival when he competes again to defend his reigning title. In the meantime, I foresee visits in my near future to Morro Bay to enjoy the clever creations of these ingeneous chefs (minus the gummy bears). Buon Appetito!

News Flash: Later that afteroon, the event organizers discovered a miscalculation of the winning scores. The innovative cuisine of both teams resulted in a tie, leaving Chefs Giancarlo and Neil both as this year's reigning title-holders. Rumor has it they will share the coveted trophy below during the next year, on display in each of their respective restaurants for six months.

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

SLO Sips

Robust. Grassy. Peppery. Fresh. As I sipped my way down the tasting bar, the varying nuances of each distinctive San Luis Obispo County vintage left a smooth impression. I enjoyed the rich, buttery feel of these olive oils and realized I’d made another wonderful SLO gastronomic discovery. My recipes would never be the same again.

In preparation for the upcoming Paso Robles Olive Festival, my decision to learn the art of olive oil tasting led me to charming downtown Paso Robles, to the quaint, busy storefront of We Olive. This franchise specializes in retailing California extra virgin olive oil (the highest grade) and the Paso location offers the opportunity to taste almost 40 oils at the bar. Tasters may try as many as they like (at no charge!); I sipped and savored a total of seven.

One of We Olive's well-trained staff members led me through the diverse flavors of some of their SLO County oil selections, explaining that like wine, the hue, aroma, and taste of olive oil differs depending on such factors as the olive varietal and time of season when the olives are picked. The yellow-green hues varied as I progressed through my tasting adventure, and the flavors I experienced ranged from light and buttery; bright and grassy; peppery and spicy; bold and robust; and finally, to the smooth citrus-infused oils bursting with the fresh flavors of lemon and lime.

As with wine, our tastes are subjective, and for the light summer meal I had planned for the evening (to counteract the SLO summer heat), I chose Pasolivo’s lemon olive oil ($18, 200 ml.) to add an extra, interesting citrus layer to my recipes. Pasolivo’s family-owned ranch, located in Paso Robles, grows nearly a dozen varietals of olives, predominantly Tuscan. Their popular lemon oil, made from blending their unfiltered extra virgin olive oil with distilled Meyer lemon peels, results in a flavorful oil with endless possibilities in the kitchen, starting with a few below.

SLO Summer Soup

2 pounds very ripe tomatoes (variety of red, orange & yellow will give your soup a vibrant summer color)
1 good-sized cucumber (I bought organic and left the skin on)
1/3 cup Italian parsley (or cilantro)
1 small shallot (or 2 cloves garlic)
1 small lime (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
2 tablespoons Pasolivo lemon olive oil
1 avocado for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste

Dice tomatoes and cucumber and throw in glass mixing bowl. Add finely chopped parsley and shallot and stir. Squeeze juice of lime over veggies and add salt & pepper to taste. Stir and transfer half of ingredients to blender. Add olive oil and puree in blender. Pour pureed soup back into bowl with remaining veggies and stir to blend. Serve chilled and garnish with chopped tomatoes, a sprinkle of parsley, and sliced avocado.

Marinated Green Beans with Lemon Vinaigrette

1 ½ pounds fresh green beans
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (I used a local favorite: Mill Road produced by Monahan Family Farm in Paso Robles)
3 tablespoons Pasolivo lemon olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmigiano cheese for garnish (or your favorite specialty cheese)

Trim green beans to bite-sized pieces and lightly steam, covered, over boiling water for about 5–6 minutes. Beans should not be soft, but still slightly firm when pierced with fork.

Meanwhile, whisk remaining ingredients for dressing. When beans finish steaming, transfer to glass bowl, immediately saturate hot beans with dressing, and chill for 2–4 hours before serving. When ready to eat, serve topped with shaved cheese.

Although on hot days I'm not typically in the mood to eat meat for dinner, this meal would be nicely completed by grilling some chicken or your favorite fish, accompanied by toasted whole-grain bread, rubbed with a fresh garlic clove, and drizzled with Pasolivo lemon olive oil. This complete meal will comfortably serve 4.



Note: Salt is personal. With the exception of baked goods, I don't typically give guidelines for salt in my recipes other than "to taste." I prefer to start out by under salting any dressing or dish—perform a taste taste—and then work my way up. You can always add more salt, but you can't take it out.

The same for salad dressings—I rarely make one the same way twice. Sometimes I use lemon juice, other times lime. For some meals I enjoy emphasizing the tartness of vinegar and other times, as in this meal, prefer to allow the flavored oil to showcase its bright, fresh, lemony flavor.




SLO County Wine Discovery

On the way home from olive oil tasting, I stopped off at Monterey Street Wine Company located on the outskirts of downtown San Luis Obispo City. With an impressive selection of artisan cheeses and carefully selected vintages from SLO County and from around the world (as well as a tasting bar where you can sample wines from their daily tasting list), this shop continues to be one of my favorites. I picked up a good-sized sliver of imported Parmigiano to use as a protein base in my salad, and after sharing my evening menu idea, a knowledgeable staff member suggested Vina Robles 2008 Verdelho ($22) as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.

This Portuguese varietal, grown in a cooler block of Vina Robles’ Huerhuero Vineyard in North County, proved the perfect choice. As I poured a glass with dinner and noticed the light, almost clear hue, the sweet, bright fragrance emanating from my glass caught me by surprise and enticed me. My first taste revealed this wine’s slightly effervescent quality, crisp acidity, and lingering hints of sweet pear and bitter grapefruit. The wine cut through the vinegar base of the green bean salad, and left a sweet, but slightly bitter finish. Paired with the tangy soup, I noticed a hint of citrus and pear and enjoyed the smooth buttery flavor and feel of this Verdelho. The wine brought out the lemon quality of the oil in both dishes; this meal and wine proved superb together.

My flavorful, heart-healthy, nutrient-packed dinner left me feeling refreshed, completely full, and looking forward to leftovers tomorrow—as well as to the Paso Robles Olive Festival next weekend!


All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SLO Symbol of Love

I admit it: I’m obsessed with basil. As summer scuttles to a finish and the basil season dwindles to a close, my weekly visits to local farmer’s markets continue to include purchases of the fresh, pungent varietals of this herb—a potent purveyor of anti-oxidants, essential oils, and exquisite flavors. These past few months, the heavenly fragrance of lemon basil, the deep rich color of purple basil, and the familiar bright green leaves of pesto basil have blessed my kitchen and brought me the opportunity to experiment with new recipes.

Recently, in anticipation of another hectic, busy week, I carved out some time for myself and once again found myself devising new culinary concoctions. I created a wonderful Sunday evening meal for myself and reveled in the scent of garlic and red bell peppers roasting in my oven, freshly baked bread cooling on my counter, and of course—the gorgeous, bright essence of basil, brightening my day. I now understand why basil is a symbol of love in modern-day Italy…as it now is in my SLO kitchen.

SLO Roasted Garlic Pesto

1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced
15 garlic cloves, peeled
½ cup olive oil (I used Corral de Piedra—a rich, earthy tasting estate-grown oil produced in Edna Valley by Rocking MC Ranch)
3 cups basil
½ cup Italian parsley
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat oven to 275º. Add bell pepper and garlic to small glass baking dish, slather with olive oil and salt & pepper. Stir ingredients and roast in oven for 30–40 minutes, or until garlic is tender when pierced with a fork.

Cool on counter. Remove bell pepper and garlic cloves from olive oil and place in food processor with basil, parsley, and salt & pepper to taste. Purée until desired consistency. Do not discard olive oil!

Note: Since my pesto recipes rarely include nuts or cheese, I realize these blends more accurately reflect “pistou.” However, since my experimentation in the kitchen leads me to loosely play around with the recipes I craft, I reserve the right to adapt culinary terminology as I see fit.

Quick Herbed Beer Bread

It’s been years since I’ve baked bread (my bread machine went missing in action), so the following easy, no-hassle recipe that I adapted from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen is a welcome find. Although I prefer the use of lower-glycemic whole-grains as an alternative to refined white flour—the thick slices of this dense, chewy sourdough-like bread slathered in butter...fresh out of my oven, turned out to be quite a treat. Nonetheless, I will continue to search for a whole-grain version of this quick recipe.

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus ¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 (12-ounce) bottle cold beer (I went local: Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Pale Ale)
1/3 cup SLO roasted garlic pesto
2 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil

Preheat oven to 350º. Mix flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Stir in beer slowly, incorporating into flour mixture until thoroughly blended. The dough will be thick and sticky.

Spread half of batter in a non-stick 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Spread pesto evenly on dough and top with remaining bread batter. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and score the top of the bread with long, thin slices. Drizzle garlic-infused olive oil over the top and bake for 15 additional minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When finished, cool for 10 minutes, remove from pan, slice and slather with butter. Or, drizzle with more olive oil.

Feel free to experiment with this bread; different beers and fillings are in my future...carmelized onions or shallots come to mind.

Green Eggs & No Ham

2 eggs
1 tablespoon SLO roasted garlic pesto
1 small shallot
1 cup zucchini and/or yellow squash
½ cup red, yellow, or purple bell pepper
1 tablespoon garlic-infused olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
Seat salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste

Slice shallot, zucchini/squash, and bell pepper. Heat medium-sized frying pan to medium heat and add garlic-infused oil and butter. Sauté diced veggies with salt & pepper to taste. Stir veggies often, until cooked but still slightly firm.

Whisk eggs in mixing bowl with pesto and pour over veggies. Cook on each side 2–3 minutes, flipping once. Transfer to a plate and top with parmesan.

Try adding 1 cup of leftover spaghetti noodles to the eggs for an interesting version of a spaghetti pancake.

The Search for SLO County Wine…

In anticipation of this meal, for the first time ever I visited Taste of SLO, located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo City. Featuring 72 different wines (the majority from SLO South County wineries), I easily navigated their Enomatic Wine Pouring System with the friendly help of a staff member. Upon entering the store, Nick—a Cal Poly English major and self-proclaimed lush—greeted me and impressed me with his quick knowledge of available wines. Upon my request for either a no-oaked Chardonnay or rosé, he led me on my SLO search and offered up four interesting choices. I also appreciated the descriptive "taste notes" made available for each wine; helpful to an amateur wine-taster like me, who often struggles with the vast flavors and nuances of each wine.

Domaine Alfred Winery's 2008 Chardonnay $18

The perfumed floral essence pleasantly caught my attention, and pert apples burst forward with my first sip. The subtle, exotic cardamom flavor and hint of pineapple provided a spicy, yet juicy backdrop. My Taste of SLO adventure was off to a good start!

Tolosa Winery 2007 No Oak Chardonnay $19

I enjoyed this light, balanced creation and paid particular notice to the lime and tangerine layers, touched by the licorice-sweet anise flavor on the finish. Time for the next one!

Ortman Family Vineyards 2007 Syrah Rosé $16

Both the lovely raspberry bouquet and the bright blushed fruity swirl in my glass left me feeling like I'd made a great discovery. The buttery taste and feel of this wine, along with bursts of bright flavors of pomegranate and green apple balanced with a backdrop of nutty spice, made me want more!

Salisbury Vineyards 2007 Pinot Naturale $25

A long-time fan of this light, slightly sweet wine made from Pinot Noir, I was delighted to try it again. This “white pinot,’ which exuded a light pink hue, offered a hint of pear and grapefruit with slight acidity that was easy to drink. I've heard it makes an excellent mimosa!

Although I enjoyed all of these wines, my instincts told me that the interesting qualities of Domaine Alfred’s 2008 Chardonnay would be the appropriate pairing for my basil-themed menu. However, since it was out of stock, I went back to the drawing board. I asked Nick for a recommendation for a good, local Riesling and he led me to a familiar wine that I've greatly enjoyed in the past—Claiborne & Churchill Vintner's 2007 Dry Riesling ($18).

After a quick taste of this Alsatian-style gem, I purchased a bottle to complete my SLO meal for one. Later that evening as I poured a glass of wine, the deep yellow hue and fresh aroma of citrus in my glass readied me to eat and drink. The balance of acidity and fruit in this Riesling left me free to enjoy the varying flavors of the meal and left a dry, smooth finish. Although I still feel this menu would benefit paired with a no-oaked Chardonnay, this fantastic Claiborne & Churchill creation fared well with the underlying flavor of bell peppers and garlic—these spicier flavors cut through the mouthful of subtle, fruity hints of lime and citrus lingering in the wine.

A nice wine. A nice meal. A nice SLO Sunday!


All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO.
All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Sweet SLO Life

Life is at times sweet, sticky, and if we’re lucky…full of unexpected flavors. But I’m willing to bet the bees buzzing merrily around Stoltey’s Bee Farm in Atascadero are oblivious to these life-truths. I imagine these five-eyed, two-winged creatures bustle about their business, concerned only with their immediate task at hand: foraging in our local San Luis Obispo bounty, pollinating orange blossoms, alfalfa crops and other harvests in their path, collecting nectar from these flowers for the sweet task of bringing us the natural byproduct of their efforts—their heavenly varietals of syrupy decadence.

If only modern life were that simple. As I juggle my multiple daily responsibilities at work and come home at the end of the day, I wonder if I’ve accomplished anything as grand as these bees. After all, their simplicity is genius: bringing sweetness to others. But maybe it’s enough that I’ve discovered these North County bees’ naturally-made melodious varietals; maybe I’m a bit sweeter for imbibing in their blissful treats.

Before discovering Stoltey’s at a local farmer’s market, never did I realize that the taste of honey is influenced by the flowers and terrain of where the bees work their magic (much like the wines of San Luis Obispo County, influenced by factors such as type of grape, terroir, and weather). Honey nuances differ in much the same manner. Bees produce a variety of seasonal flavors, varying in color, depth, and flavor.

More than 300 unique types of honey are available in the United States, each originating from a different floral source and each exuding unique qualities. Stoltey's produces as many as 18 varietals throughout the year and this summer I’ve been sweetly experimenting with orange blossom, alfalfa, and mixed floral honey in my kitchen. All three range in color, taste, and depth—and, much like wine, pair well with different cuisine.

These sweet nuances are now a part of my SLO life. Stoltey's luscious, raw, unfiltered honey brings the flavors of San Luis Obispo County into my tea and recipes, and I relish the essence of this indulgent food...what Aristotle called "nectar of the gods." Now that I’ve discovered these decadent amber varietals, I’m sharing my newfound sweetness with you. Following are a few recipes I’ve been experimenting with, each one utilizing a different, satisfying honey from Stoltey’s Bee Farm. May your life be sweet and full of unexpected flavors—yet to be discovered!

SLO SUMMER CHICKEN SALAD

The mixed floral honey in this salad is a blend of several varietals (depending on where the bees are buzzing) and exhibits a medium-amber color. The rich, earthy…almost buttery, sweet flavor pairs well with the creamy dressing.

2 tablespoons mixed floral honey
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 cups water
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4 cups spinach (or lettuce)
¼ cup purple basil
¼ cup Italian parsley (stems removed)
3 celery stalks
1 cup red grapes
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons Vegenaise (or mayonnaise)
1 large lemon
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Dash of red pepper flakes
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Place chicken breasts in a stove-top pan and add water and broth to cover. Add paprika, red pepper flakes, salt to taste, and a few dashes of pepper. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat, and poach chicken for 15–20 minutes or until tender and white throughout. Remove chicken from broth and allow to cool.

Finely chop basil and parsley and add to large mixing bowl with yogurt, Vegenaise, juice of ½ of lemon, honey, celery seed, and salt & pepper to taste. Blend well.

Chop celery, halve grapes, and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add to mixing bowl with dressing. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours in fridge.

When ready to serve, tear spinach into small pieces and lightly dress with drizzles of lemon juice, olive oil, and salt & pepper. Arrange on serving platter and top with chicken salad.

This salad is also delicious stuffed between two pieces of your favorite bread. Or, serve with sliced bread and honey butter. Serves 4–5 depending on appetite. Enjoy!

SWEET & SPICY LEMON PESTO

Also a medium shade of amber, alfalfa honey has a spicy bite to its taste and is mildly sweet. This varietal typically fares well in marinades.

2 tablespoons alfalfa honey
2 cups lemon basil leaves (flowers and stems discarded)
½ cup Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic (or 1 small shallot—both if you prefer it really spicy)
2–4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Red pepper flakes, salt & pepper to taste
1 pound of your favorite pasta

Bring water to boil and cook pasta according to instructions.

Pack food processor with basil leaves, parsley, honey, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, zest, red pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste. Pulse until thick paste develops, scraping down sides. Stream in olive oil until desired consistency.

Drain pasta and toss in large bowl with pesto. Enjoy warm, or as a cold salad by refrigerating for at least 4 hours. Delicious!

Don’t Forget the San Luis Obispo County Wine!

I recently served these dishes for lunch at a family get-together, paired with Claiborne & Churchill Vintner's 2008 Dry Muscat. My only regret is that I only bought one bottle—the five of us easily could have enjoyed two. As we sat outside on an unusually warm, clear day in Morro Bay and savored our lunch, this refreshing white—dry but fruity, just on the verge of sweet—left us all with a summery feel. The wine fit with the mood of the day and complimented both the sweetness of the salad and the spiciness of the pasta dish. Farther into the meal, clear hints of grapefruit played out in the wine, leaving us refreshed and ready to move on to dessert.

FRESH FRUIT SALAD WITH HONEY SAUCE

Orange blossom honey exhibits a lighter amber shade and brings a mild, smooth taste with a satisfying sweetness. I particularly enjoy this varietal in hot tea, desserts, or drizzled over peanut butter on toast.

½ cup orange blossom honey
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (or lemon)
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional)
Dash of cinnamon
4 cups fresh fruit

Whisk together honey, freshly squeezed juices, ginger, and cinnamon until honey is completely dissolved. Cut fruit into bite-sized pieces in serving bowl, saturate with honey sauce, and stir gently. Or, serve fruit sliced and drizzle with sweet sauce. Easy!

A perfect match for this dessert was none other than Claiborne & Churchill’s “Douce Amie” Sweet Orange Muscat. This slightly syrupy, aromatic “sweet friend” pleasantly reminded us all of honey and citrus, and we noted the effects of this wine on our palates after tasting the selection of fresh SLO fruit. Both the blackberries and plums cut through the sweetness of the wine, leaving a smooth finish. After eating the grapes, the familiar bitterness of the grapefruit essence lingered; the oranges had a similar effect, but slightly sweeter. This lovely wine was perfect with our sweet, healthy dessert—a sublime way to end a meal on a SLO summer day.
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Browse the National Honey Board's website for more sweet tips and fun facts about honey, including nutritional information and food ideas (like the delectable dessert recipe above that I adapted).
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Located in beautiful Edna Valley, Claiborne & Churchill specializes in producing premium dry but fruity Alsatian-style wines. Their small lot of exotic 2008 Dry Muscat is not expected to outlast the summer!

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Stoltey’s motto rings clear: Honey direct from the flower to you. Their honey is sold at farmer's markets throughout San Luis Obispo County; I hope you will seek them out and enjoy this sweet treat as much as I do!


My favorite recipe for honey is simple and requires only the following:
One spoon...one jar favorite Stoltey’s honey. Dip spoon...savor sweet SLO!
All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.
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