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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

SLO Insomnia

Sleep deprivation can prove fruitful. As the moon and stars hover silently over San Luis Obispo County and my waking hour of two approaches each night, these quiet hours bestow the gift of time. Although my weary body and groggy mind hope slumber will soon return, until I drift off to sleep again, my thoughts flourish. Sometimes during the wee small hours of darkness I waste time worrying. Other nights my best ideas surface.

A few nights ago as I lay awake, the gleeful anticipation of an upcoming short work-week and the traditions of Thanksgiving settled in. Glimpses of fall-colored, tempting traditional recipes took shape in my mind and I dreamed up the following SLO medley. I attempted this recipe over the weekend and achieved stellar results. Ironically, I'll be dining out for this year's autumn harvest festival with family and won't have an opportunity to put this vibrant, healthy soup on the table next Thursday; but I offer up this recipe—wishing you a wonderful holiday, a bountiful feast, much to give thanks for...and a good night's sleep.

SLO Roasted Apple & Pumpkin Soup

1 - 29 ounce can pure pumpkin

Feel free to bake your own fresh pumpkin—you will need about 2 1/2 cups.

3 medium-sized apples, cored & sliced (feel free to leave the skins on)

I used organic Pink Lady apples fresh from the farmer's market that morning. The crisp, sweet yet slightly tart flesh makes for a good baking apple.

1 heaping tablespoon raw honey (I used Stoltey's mixed floral)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or grapeseed oil)

2 medium shallots

1 medium onion

2 stalks celery

2 large carrots
I used a combination of 4 smallish-sized SLO organic purple, white & orange carrots.

32 ounces vegetable stock

8 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

Red pepper flakes to taste
Go easy if you don't like it spicy, but this sweet & savory combination of flavors benefits from some heat.

Salt & pepper to taste

Organic cream (or crème fraîche) for garnish

Heat oven to 350˚F. Chop apples & shallots, toss in baking dish with 2 tablespoons oil, honey, salt & pepper to taste. (If you feel this is a strange combination, you're just going to have to trust me). Bake for 40 - 45 minutes, until apples are tender when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, heat large pot over medium heat with 2 tablespoons oil. Chop and throw in onion, celery, carrots, salt & pepper, and red pepper flakes. Stir frequently, about 20 - 25 minutes. When veggies are flaccid, add sage leaves and pumpkin pie spice; stir for a few minutes and turn off heat. When apple & shallot mixture come out of the oven, reheat pot and add apples. Sautée with veggies for about 5 minutes. Your kitchen should be fragrant...your stomach growling...your mouth drooling.

Add a cup of vegetable broth to deglaze the carmelized bits from the bottom of the pan and bring up the myriad fall flavors. Add remaining broth and can of pumpkin, add a bit more salt, slap on a lid, lower heat, and simmer for about 60 minutes to let flavors fuse—tasting frequently and adjusting seasonings as needed (you might need more salt & pepper depending on your preference). Cool and transfer to blender and purée. Serve with a dollop of cream and sprinkle with parsley.

This substantial, almost bisque-like soup starter will feed a small group of pilgrims (possibly 8 - 10, depending on size of bowls) and has the potential to turn out thick enough to be served as a side dish. This pumpkin jumble will taste even better the next day, so feel free to make it the day before Thanksgiving and reheat.

This creamy autumn soup wouldn't be complete without a nicely paired SLO County wine. I recently discovered a pleasant, affordable white Rhone blend while tasting in downtown Paso Robles at The Paso Wine Centre. This retail location features over 40 wines dispensed by Enomatic tasting machines, many from SLO County wineries with no tasting rooms, and donates 100% of net proceeds to clean drinking projects around the world.

During this festive time of year, I felt especially good about supporting a noble cause. My purchase of Barrel 27 Wine Company's 2008 High on the Hog ($15) unified mix of Paso Robles appellation Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussane, and Marsanne varietals blessed the meal. Possessing a light golden hue and exuding a fresh citrus floral nose, the flowery notes of this well-balanced, weighty blend left lingering touches of honey and lemon, with a hint of mineral essence.

Count your blessings and enjoy. I wish you the happiest Thanksgiving yet!

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

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SLO Seasons

I'm full of seasonal habits. And I like to eat that way, too. As the days grow shorter and the Saturday morning San Luis Obispo farmer's market vendors continue to offer up oddish-shaped squash...varietals of striking orange persimmons...crisp freshly-picked apples and other customary fall indulgences—autumn lingers in the air. During this cooler time of year I realize how much I crave warm, spicy combinations of SLO veggies, simmered slowly with whatever appealing and unique concoctions I conjur up.

Today's weather, with its sunny overtones and chilly nuances, felt like chili and beer. The following experimental recipe, consisting of beans, vegetables and a balanced mixture of slightly exotic spices, resulted in the perfect seasonal dish on a cool fall day. I look forward to further enchanting fall and winter creations, influenced by the weather and seasonal produce. Enjoy a bowl of my following SLO fusion with friends and family, served with your favorite beer.

SLO Vegan* Chili

1 - 15 ounce can black beans
1 - 15 ounce can chili beans in sauce (or use Ranch Style beans)
1 - 28 ounce can crushed tomotoes
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 bottle of your favorite beer
1 large onion
2 shallots
5 cloves garlic
1 large red bell pepper
1 medium-sized halapeno
1/2 teaspoon cinammon
3/4 teaspoon cumin (I bought SLOCAL: The Spice Hunter)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon sweet paprika (The Spice Hunter)
1 tablespoon chili powder
Red pepper flakes to taste
Salt & pepper to taste

*Vegan = no animal products

I had every intention of making this chili with ground beef, but life doesn't always work out the way we plan. Feel free to brown 1/2 pound lean ground beef with the veggies for extra flavor and protein.

Chop veggies. Heat a large pot with oil over medium heat, add vegetables and stir with salt & pepper and all spices. Open a bottle of beer and sip frequently. Sweat veggies for about 15 - 20 minutes. Your kitchen should be fragrant by now, your bottle of beer half gone. Add remaining beer to veggies, stirring frequently to remove the cooked, tasty bits of spices adhering to the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile, open cans of beans and crushed tomoatoes. Dump into veggie and spice mixture. Stir, cover with lid, and simmer for as long as possible to let flavors meld—at least 2 hours if possible.

Serves 2 - 4. Consider serving cornbread on the side. And don't forget your favorite beer.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2009

SLO Frolick

Unexpected discoveries help keep life smooth, even when the road traveled is a bit bumpy. Recently, as my mother and I drove off the beaten path of San Luis Obispo County—lost, confused, and in search of a small winery located on top of Frog Pond Mountain on the west side of Atascadero—I wondered if our final destination was within reach. But finally, just when we had given up hope, we stumbled upon the right course, leading us to the home of Frolicking Frog (formerly EROS Cellars), Atascadero’s only winery.

Perched obscurely amongst oak trees and surrounded by stunning hillside views, we began to understand how “a fine wine begins with nature’s blessings and virtuous expectations.” Our gracious hosts for the afternoon, winemaker Stu Goldman and marketing and sales director Maria Montijo-Goldman, greeted us at their lovely home and winery, paying no mind to our 45-minute late arrival. Open only by appointment, they welcomed us with open arms. Although my mother and I already had the pleasure of tasting a few of Frolicking Frog’s smooth, delicious wines at SLO County events during the past year, we had no idea what an indulgent and educational afternoon lay ahead.

Stu and Maria led us to their quaint winery facility, full of American oak barrels brimming with ageing wine and vats of fermenting grapes. Removing the lid of one of the tanks of crushed Zinfandel and stirring its fragrant purple mash, Stu allowed us to revel in the awesome sight (and scent) of fermenting fruit. Melded for about two weeks, this spicy varietal would soon be barrel-aged for two years before bottling. This year, utilizing only Paso Robles appellation grapes, their annual production of 400 cases will include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandel. These winemakers—who originally only produced Cabernet Sauvignon—have come a long way.

Moving to their stunning property almost 20 years ago (which now includes goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and wind chimes—to ward off rattlesnakes), Stu recounted why he started making wine, pointing to the Mission grapevines they inherited with the acreage, growing just beyond their house and laughed, “If life gives you lemons, what are you going to do?” After experimenting as home winemakers for several years, they went commercial in 2003 with Cabernet Sauvignon, venturing out in 2006 to include other varietals.

Stu’s “hobby gone wild” now keeps him busy, in addition to his full-time responsibilities as a goldsmith. Visiting vineyards throughout the year, Stu tastes for complexity and keeps an eye on the quality of the grapes he chooses to purchase. Close to harvest-time, he tests the ph and acid levels. Stu recounted that although this year ph levels were off and acids were low, creating more of a challenge to make a good wine, his confidence to create quality wine remained high. We soon got a taste of the past successful fruits of his labor.

Stu and Maria seated us at their stunning outdoor tasting facility next to the winery, where we readied ourselves for seven wines. The first pour, a taste of their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($18), yielded a light buttery hue; a soft bouquet of vanilla, apricot, and honey; and a silky taste with notes of light citrus, vanilla, and stone fruit. As we moved on to their red varietals, the buttery vanilla nuances of their low-tannin American-oaked wines became a familiar theme, yielding smooth, creamy flavors. The 2006 Syrah ($27) splashed the color of cherries in our glasses, also hinting of cherries on the nose and palate, and alluded to a caramel finish. This pleasant red wine warmed up our palates.

The next taste, their 2006 Cabernet Franc ($26)—one of my favorite varietals—exhibited a rich, lush berry hue with a beautiful raspberry nose. Its lovely, smooth, caramel and buttery flavors finished with sweet berry undertones. The 2006 Zinfandel ($30) exhibited a soft purple tinge and light fragrance of berries and cinnamon, displaying smooth, buttery qualities with a spicy zing on the finish, reminiscent of a traditional Zin.

The fifth indulgence, a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28), exuded both a smack and shade of rich, dark berries. But its bold cherry and soft vanilla flavors left a smooth, mellow finish. The 2006 Petite Syrah ($32) played out with beautiful deep plum hues, wafting of berry and vanilla and its smooth, buttery qualities mischievously finished with fun, peppery undertones. And the last treat of the day—the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)—left us impressed with its robust berry color, nose and smooth flavor.

According to Stu, these smooth wines with soft tannins and balanced acids make for nice food-friendly wines. I couldn’t agree more. Meticulously picking out the stems before fermentation and utilizing particular yeasts to keep the tannins low (tannins act as a preservative), Frolicking Frog’s smooth, sip-friendly red wines can be stored for a maximum of five years. I purchased several bottles to take home with me in anticipation of future meals. I paired my following recipe with their 2006 Cabernet Franc, which yielded smooth, delicious results.

SLO Stuffed Peppers

8 bell or pasilla peppers
1 cup brown rice (cook 1 cup according to package directions with 1 cube vegetable bullion—I used basmati)
1 ½ cups red or black beans (cook according to package directions with 1 cube vegetable bullion—or use 1 or 2 small cans of your favorite pre-cooked beans)
1 large chopped halapeno
1—2 chopped chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (omit if you don’t like it too spicy)
A friend recently informed me that I enjoy spicy food so much because I’m a Scorpio.
½ cup chopped sweet onion
2 large chopped shallots
3 chopped cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sweet (or smoked) paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
6 tablespoons grape seed oil or extra virgin olive oil (reserve 4 tablespoons)
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cheese (reserve ½ cup)
(I used an aged, semi-hard goat cheese with soft flavors—use your favorite cheese)

Cool cooked rice and beans. Heat medium sautée pan with 2 tablespoons oil. Add halapeno, chipotle peppers, onion, shallots, garlic, paprika, oregano,and salt & pepper. Stir frequently, about 10 - 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350˚F. Cut stems of peppers off and scoop out seeds. On a large baking sheet or glass pan, coat with 2 tablespoons oil. When sautéed mixture is translucent, mix in with rice and beans. Add 1½ cups of cheese and mix. Stuff peppers and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and cover with alumimun foil. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until peppers are tender when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly, serve with remaing shredded cheese melted on top.

This recipe proved delectable with the Cabernet Franc. Paired with a spicy meal, the wine boasted a syrupy feel; its underlying smooth qualities offset the spiciness of the pasilla peppers and beautifully accented the light earthy tone of the goat cheese.

If you plan a visit to Frolicking Frog, please call ahead for an appointment and directions. Once you arrive, you'll be grateful you made the trek to experience these smooth wines on the top of Frog Pond Mountain!

Consider joining the "Horny Frogs" wine club, ensuring members three bottles of wine, twice a year! You can also find their wine at various grocery stores and restaurants throughout SLO County. Look for these details on their website, including online ordering and delicious wine recipes.

Stu and Maria associate winemaking "like a journey and expression of the appreciation of art."

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

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