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, February 28, 2010

SLO Lackadaisical

I'm a lazy hiker—and a lazy cook. My idea of a great meal is one that requires minimal effort and ingredients, yet produces tasty, bold flavors that uplift both my palate and spirit. The same goes for my treks through the San Luis Obispo hills. Although I appreciate a good workout and a steep climb, stopping leisurely along the way to absorb the spectacular SLO surroundings to heighten my outlook on life is a welcome pastime.

Today my lackluster efforts began early in the kitchen, as I courageously sliced onions at 7:30 in the morning. With blue skies and no rain clouds anywhere in sight, my desire to escape to the shining green SLO hills for a puddled hike prompted me to start cooking at the crack of dawn. The simple recipe that I created required just a few ingredients, with most of the underlying flavor bursting from a few well-carmelized onions.

Later in the day, after my leisurely sojourn up the side of San Luis Mountain transported me to warm fresh air, lush green hillsides, and magnificent views—I delighted in slowly sipping on this healthy, satisfying vegan soup, packed with beneficial nutrients and big flavors. A trek and a soup for the soul.

SLO Split Pea Soup

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
4 large carrots, chopped
(I used a bunch of organic young carrots)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup dried yellow split peas (soaked overnight)
½ cup dried green split peas (soaked overnight)
(substitute 1 cup of your favorite dried beans if you don't care for split peas)
32 oz. vegetable broth plus 2 cups
½ teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

This lazy soup requires just a bit of advanced planning since you must soak the split peas in water and a bit of salt, covered, overnight (or for 8 hours). But the rest is easy. Start by slicing onions and shallot in strips. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat, add sliced veggies and salt & pepper to taste. For the next 20 minutes—let the onions and shallot carmelize and develop a deep, rich color and flavor by letting them sizzle and darken (stir frequently).

Meanwhile, peel and chop carrots and garlic. When onions are wilted and caramel-colored, throw in carrots, garlic, and thyme. Sauteé for another 10 minutes. Add a bit of broth to deglaze the pan, bringing up the intense flavors from the bottom. Add the remaining broth, then the peas—and don't forget the bay leaves! Add a bit more salt & pepper, bring to a boil then turn down heat and allow soup to simmer for 2 hours (covered), stirring every so often and adjusting for seasonings.

The carrots, carmelized onions and shallots add a sweet component to this soup, while the split peas add a fibery bite for texture. The thyme and bay leaves impart a secondary woodsy flavor. Be sure to discard bay leaves before ladeling up this healthy, satisfying lunch or dinner. Serve with slices of dense whole-grain bread, toasted and drizzled with olive oil or melted butter to mop up the tasty broth.
(These guidelines serve 2 - 4. Feel free to double the ingredients if feeding a larger battalion.)

A lovely Pinot Gris, a buttery Chardonnay, or your favorite beer would nicely compliment the underlying and bold flavors of this easy, flavorsome meal. ________________________
Chop slowly.
Stir frequently.
Sip repeatedly.
Be lazy.

My SLO hike started at the base of San Luis Mountain, where I casually embarked on the Lemon Grove Loop.

Prickly cacti guided me up the winding trail.

I stopped often to appreciate the stunning landscape.

Higher up on the mountain, this panorama view of downtown San Luis Obispo and the surrounding city provided a different perspective of my usual surroundings.

This lazy SLO day nourished my body and my psyche.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

SLO View

Countdown begins! In less than three weeks my favorite event of the year—the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival—will bring filmmakers, film buffs, and celebrities to our tiny little paradise. This premiere 10-day event will span SLO County, showcasing films by up-and-coming filmmakers (as well as international and classic films), bringing many special guests to the county.

And don't forget the special events! Complete with excellent SLO wines and cuisine from around the county, VIP guests and remarkable films, this year's lineup can't be beat. Three Hollywood & Vines Events will take place in different parts of the county: Tribute to David Carradine; St. Patrick's Day Celebration; and A Night at the Moulin Rouge. Then there are the Red Carpet Events: An Evening at Santa Margarita Ranch; Surf Nite in SLO; and The Independent Film Awards & King Vidor Award Presentation to Alan Arkin.

Today, a fellow film festival volunteer and I drove the scenic route of Highway 46 West through Paso Robles, on our way to Cambria to pick up donations for the festival. Massive, fluffy clouds filled the county, sometimes spilling over and spattering the already lush green hillsides. We stopped on a turnout (this stopping point is located just a few miles past the vineyard-strewn stretch of 46), to absorb the flourishing valley below and the dominating clouds above.
This breathtaking view, shadowed by silver-lined clouds and clear blue patches of sky, allowed us to see all the way to Morro Bay; the small silhouette of Morro Rock jutted from just beyond the green hills.

Grazing cows dotted the tranquil landscape.

Standing here today... I felt blessed to live in this tiny little paradise.

I look forward to stumbling upon more awesome views, and of the exciting film festival events spanning the county March 12th - 21st!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

SLO Corkscrew

Even though my half marathon training has degenerated and I no longer envision 13.1 miles as an achievable victory next month, in the spirit of advice of one of my running heroes, John Bingham, I will still proudly continue to "waddle on." Round and round through the streets and hills of San Luis Obispo I will go. I will also carry on with one very important facet of endurance training that I learned from my participation with Team in Training—carb loading. With my current running schedule and 5K and 10K triumphs on the horizon, images of gooey baked pasta have repeatedly sprung to mind. I went in search of a new recipe and recently took advantage of the 3-day holiday weekend and my 259,200 seconds of freedom (someone check my math, please), to experiment with and adapt the Classic Italian Lasagna recipe by Giada De Laurentiis. I decided this rich repast could benefit from "cellentani," a hollow corkscrew pasta—an amusing choice for this creamy, hearty dish. My version of this recipe fared well and will be sure to keep my tastebuds contented and my glucose levels stored for the winding mileage ahead. Hopefully yours as well.

SLO Cellentani

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
8 0z. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 pound ground sirloin
Salt & pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
3 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons raw alfalfa honey
2 bay leaves
Splash of red wine
2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
8 0z. fresh mozarella, diced
15 oz. ricotta cheese
¾ cup grated parmesan
1 pound your favorite pasta
(remember, whole-grain pasta is your waistline's friend)

SLO Bechamel

2 cups organic whole milk
2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-pourpose flour
Pinch or two of nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
2 tablespoons grated parmesan

Feel free to use low-fat cheeses in this dish; however, for the bechamel sauce, whole milk is recommended.

Start by chopping onion, celery, and carrot. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat, add salt & pepper, and throw in veggies. Stir frequently, about 5 - 10 minutes, allowing this aromatic mirepoix to wilt a bit. Next add chopped shallot, garlic and red pepper flakes, continuing to sautée for the next 5 - 10. Use this time to slice your mushrooms and then toss them in the fragrant pot. Stir, stir, stir until this fungus starts to wilt. Then add meat, 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a bit more salt & pepper to taste. Break up with wooden spoon and cook until beef is browned (about 10 minutes). Add your splash of heart healthy red wine, stir a bit and let alcohol cook out for a few minutes.

Add both cans of tomatoes, honey, and bay leaves. Swish it all together and turn heat to low. Simmer for one hour uncovered to let it thicken, stirring occasionally and adjusting salt & pepper as needed. Meanwhile, in a large pot boil water and cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. When pasta is finished, strain, and rinse with cool water to prevent from sticking. Set pasta aside. Grate parmesan cheese.

During the last 20 minutes of your red sauce's simmer, heat another small pan to medium heat to prepare bechamel sauce. Melt butter. Add flour and whisk until combined with no lumps. Add milk and whisk continously (about 8 - 10 minutes) until the bechamel sauce thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat and whisk in nutmeg and parmesan. Turn off heat for tomato sauce, remove bay leaves, and pour in the rich bechamel. Meld the tangy red sauce with this creamy, rich white pottage.

Heat oven to 350˚F. Take out reamining cheeses and prep. Slice fresh mozarella. Mix ricotta with 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning and salt & pepper to taste. Prepare assembly. In large lasagna pan, spoon sauce to cover bottom and add all pasta. Sprinkle slices of mozarella and spoonfuls of ricotta evenly over pasta. Add remaining sauce over the top. Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle parmesan over the top and bake for another 20 minutes, or until pasta bubbles and is golden brown on top. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes. Serve with a glass of red wine to cut the fat.

I served this dish twice over the weekend, both times unsuccessfuly with my wine choices. I'd love to hear your comments about this recipe and any triumphant union of food and wine!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

SLO Rain

With the rain beating down on my windows and the end of a long, arduous week behind me, I turned to my culinary hub for therapy. Still recovering from a bad cold and feeling downtrodden for veering so off track from my half marathon training program, my resolve to turn to my granite counters and stainless steel appliances for a little gastronomic healing proved the right choice. My kitchen now smells like heaven—a little roasted garlic lingering in the air; an aromatic and spicy soup simmering on the stove; and the ideal fragrance of butter and parsley joining together in sautéed bliss.

For today's therapy I chopped a few veggies, threw a few garlic bulbs in the oven, sliced some bread, and prepared to eat. With this wet, stormy weather I can't help but to continue to create scrumptious, bubbling soups (pretty soon I'll have enough left-overs in the freezer to feed an army). This recipe was inspired by my grandmother Mary, who made something similar for us some time ago. I put my own spin on it. Perfect for a rainy day.

SLO Sausage & Tortellini Soup
With Garlic Bread

2 whole roasted garlic bulbs
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
32 oz. vegetable stock
5 links Italian sausage (I used spicy)
3 cups of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 tablespoon oregano
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 - 8 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or olive)
1 small loaf Ciabatta bread, sliced
8 oz. of your favorite tortellini

Start by preheating the oven to 350°F. Slice the tops off the ends of the garlic bulbs and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with oil, salt & pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Wrap in foil and bake for 45 - 60 minutes. The garlic should be just tender when pierced with a fork. Don't overdo it or you risk bitter garlic. When garlic is done, cool, and squeeze meat from the skins. Roughly chop and set aside.

When garlic is almost done turning into divine mush in the oven, chop onions, shallots and carrots. Heat large soup pot on medium heat, sprizzle with oil, salt & pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Add veggies and sautée until lucid. Next comes the sausage (I squeeze it from the casings and use a wooden spoon to break it up into little pieces in the pan) and half of the chopped roasted garlic. Stir frequently for about 10 minutes before adding broth, tomatoes, and bay leaves (make sure to remove leaves before serving soup). Cover with a tight lid, reduce heat to a simmer, and let it rip for about an hour, adjusting for seasonings every now and then.

When the hour is up, turn oven back on to 350°F. Place sliced bread on racks and lightly toast (watch carefully so they don't burn). Bring up the heat on the soup and add tortellini and 2 cups of parsley when broth comes to a boil. Cover with lid for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat small pan with butter, a bit of salt & pepper, remaining roasted garlic, and 1 cup parsley. Sautée vigorously to prevent butter from scorching. Wilt parsley (takes about 3 - 4 minutes). Remove bread from oven—plate—and pile with garlic and parsley medley. When tortellini is finished, invite over three of your closest friends, ladle hearty soup in bowls, pour a glass of spicy Zinfandel, and prepare to feast on a rainy day (or any day for that matter).

I picked up a bottle of very affordable local San Luis Obispo County zin on sale (less than ten dollars) at the grocery store: Peachy Canyon's 2006 Incredible Red, Paso Robles Zinfandel. With my lingering cold, I couldn't quite distinguish the nose, but the light berry hue, soft tannins and slightly jammy, spiced, berry and plum untertones left a mildly peppery finish and paired well with this fiesty, hearty soup. The wine was not a bad choice for the price and its finish left me with a toasty—yet welcome cooling effect—after slurping the hot soup.

I feel up to starting a new week already.
The sun is just beginning to push the clouds aside.

Monday, February 1, 2010

SLO Winter Fuel

My family sweeps across the country…and the globe. My parents each hail from families of eight children, and they settled on half for themselves. I have three younger siblings and I'm now about to embarrass one of them. He tortured us for years with his lifelong problem of digestive disturbances—and although I'm a bit sad that he now lives halfway across the world—I admit that I don't miss the good 'ol days when we used to put him outside for a good twenty minutes to let the fresh air render him ready to come back inside the house among the living. No wonder my olfactory senses are so sensitive.

But in spite of these malodorous memories, I embrace the reminiscences of my colossal family and cherish the celebrated stories that survive to this day. How appropriate that the following ham and bean soup recipe, contributed by my Aunt Kay, ties in a delectable family recipe to one of her memories of my odorous brother. Recently I followed her directions for this mildly fiery supper and created a winter potage that is—hands down—one of the best soups I've ever tasted. This hot, savory, peppery meal is sure to warm and nourish you. Fix this for a crowd and you will be forever in their good graces (assuming everyone is blessed with good digestion).

In Kay's own words:

"The night before you make the soup, place one bag of dried white navy beans in a bowl of water—add a dash of salt and soak overnight. In the morning: Place your ham bone and ham in a large kettle. Pour one large can of chicken broth into the pot. Add 5 bay leaves, two chopped onions and 6 stalks of chopped celery. Add water to bring the water level high to the top of the pot. Add your beans after draining the soaking water. I add peppercorns, but you can add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for hours slowly until the soup broth is thick. Carefully remove the ham bone and check for any bones in the broth. Strip remaning ham from bone and add to the broth. Remove the bay leaves before serving. The key to this soup is black pepper and lots of it! Serve with crusty buttered rolls or french bread! It make enough to feed 8 people for a week (in other words, plan on freezing some).

Liz, a little family folklore to go with the bean soup recipe. Mack, Seth and Dawn once left here in a blizzard headed for Sacramento with a thermos of bean soup. They were stuck near Lake Tahoe for hours in the car with only the bean soup for fuel. We all know about Mack—it was an unfortunate food choice for others in the car."

I paired this piquant soup with a local San Luis Obispo County wine, Tobin James Ballistic 2007 Paso Robles Zinfandel. This easy drinking red (Zinfandel is their flagship varietal) yielded a smooth, buttery quality with berry undertones, and a spicy, peppery finish that played well with the black pepper theme of the soup. Very food friendly.

SLO Ham 'n Bean Soup

By Kay Gilbraith (slightly adapted with my comments)

1 pound dried white navy beans

48 oz. of chicken broth (I used reduced sodium)

2 - 3 pounds ham with bone-in (I used 5 pounds and thought it was way too much—my broth ultimately turned out a bit too salty)

1 ham bone (I left this out because I couldn't find one)

2 onions, chopped

6 stalks celery, chopped

5 bay leaves

Pepper or peppercorns to taste

You will most likely not need to add salt as the ham imparts more than enough; but, salt levels are personal. As the broth simmers, taste frequently and make necessary adjustments for your own palate preferences.

Since we're still in the midst of winter and many of us could benefit from a warm, hearty soup, I hope you'll throw these ingredients on the stove in a very BIG pot and let this slowly-simmered infusion bubble away and permeate your kitchen (mine simmered for about 2 1/2 hours before the beans met my desired softness).

This meal will truly make its way into the hearts, stomachs, and memories of your family and friends.
Delicious. No other word for it.

All Text and Photos Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.
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