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, December 23, 2012

SLO Butternut

Nothing beats a warm pot of soup on a cold rainy day. Especially when you have a few hours to duck out of the wet weather to stay home and relax. 

Although this frenzied time of year doesn't lend itself to much down time—the hustle and bustle of the holiday season has a tendency of taking over our lives—sometimes you just have to batten down the hatches and make some time for yourself. 

The following recipe, sent to me by mom, is simple to prepare, contains a star ingredient that is seasonal and delicious, and is guaranteed to warm you on a blustery winter day. 

Enjoy the remainder of the holidays...and the winter season. 

Adapted from a recipe by Joanne White

Serves: 2 - 4  
Suggested wine pairings: Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier

1 butternut squash (med - large)
1 can white beans
32 oz. vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 - 3 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup half & half or cream (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°. Cut ends off of the squash and cut in half. Scrape out the seeds and place skin side down in a glass baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt & pepper to taste. Place in the oven and check every 30 minutes by piercing with a fork. Depending on the size of the squash, cooking times will vary and will take between 1 - 2 hours. When the fork easily pierces the squash, remove from the oven. 

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can roast the squash up to 2 days in advance and store in the fridge until you're ready to make the soup.

When you are ready to prepare the soup, scoop out the cooked squash and discard the skin. Chop the onions and garlic. Heat a large soup pan to medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt & pepper to taste, and the onions and garlic. Sauté for 10 - 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture turns translucent and develops a bit of color.

Stir in cumin and chili powder to the onions and stir for about two minutes. Pour in the broth, add squash, and the can of white beans (rinse and drain them first). Reduce heat to medium-low and cover with a lid. Let it simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Taste for seasonings along the way and adjust if needed. When the flavors are just right for you, get out your blender or emulsifier. If you are using a blender, purée about half the soup and add it back to the pot. If emulsifying, careful not to blend the entire batch so that some chunks of squash and beans remain for texture. 

If you care to add the cream, stir it in just before serving. This adds an extra creamy texture, although the soup is equally delicious with or without this extra ingredient. 

Serve this warm, gratifying soup topped with freshly-ground pepper.
This winter squash imparts a sweet, nutty taste when roasted and lends itself well to this rich soup. Cream adds an extra depth and texture to this recipe.
Stay warm. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

SLO Wonderland

Gleamin’ pink. I can think of no better way to describe the Madonna Inn during the holidays.

This renowned landmark, which sits pretty and pink on 2,200 acres of land on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo City, is rife with tradition. Each year, they deck the halls with more than just a few boughs of holly.

A friend treated me to a holiday dinner at the inn’s Gold Rush Steak House, where we discovered a feast for the senses.

The everyday interior of the ornate hand-carved marble balustrade, the 28-feet gold tree fixture, and the brazen pink dining booths and chairs lay the perfect backdrop for a dazzling display of Christmas lights and festive decorations.

Kris Kringle, prancing reindeers and gold cherubs surrounded us; the hustle and bustle of this popular eatery never stopped—and we feasted.

The last few months I’ve heard more than a few people—including myself—rumble about this holiday season. Perhaps the long warm Indian Summer left some of us feeling as if this celebratory time of year hadn’t really arrived.

But as I sat amidst the glow of hundreds of lights in this pink Christmas wonderland, I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be. In the company of a good friend, amidst holiday cheer.

My friend said it best: “When you need an intravenous dose of Christmas and a steak, there’s no better place than the Madonna Inn Steak House.”

The entrance to the steak house is adorned with rocks from the surrounding area and colorful fountains.
Some might consider the embellished interior an overload to the senses, but not me.
Who else does a house appetizer like this? Sliced carrots, celery and green onions covered with cherry peppers, peperoncini and slices of salami and cheese. Fun!

Crisp, ice-cold lettuce smothered in rich, chunky blue cheese dressing. Grape tomatoes and slivers of carrots and cabbage. Topped off with freshly-ground pepper. This classic American salad proved that less is more.

I devoured a nicely-seared, tender 11 oz. filet mignon. This meal, accompanied with sugar snap peas and a baked potato wrapped in gold foil and adorned with butter, sour cream and fresh chives was a throwback to classic Americana.

No matter how much steak you eat, it's almost impossible to leave without imbibing in one (or two) of Madonna Inn bakery's infamous cakes. Their pink champagne and black forest cakes can only be described as...euphoric. 

Photo courtesy of Terence Collins. 
In addition to the steak house, Madonna Inn offers 110 special-themed rooms, a cafe, a day spa, and banquet rooms.
The first twelve rooms were completed at the end of 1958 and construction of the main inn commenced in 1960. This relic of decades past continues to delight locals and travelers alike.
The infamous men's bathroom, complete with a waterfall urinal. Don't ask how I got this picture. 


Monday, December 17, 2012

SLO Roasted Soup

I recently took the plunge and signed up to run the half marathon taking place as part of the San Luis Obispo Marathon next April. 

As we all know, some training days are good and others are less than optimal. 

Over the weekend, my body succumbed to a bug that left me feeling lethargic and in need of nutrients. Funny how the body works—it always knows what it needs. 

So here is a recipe that I created based on what I craved. A spicy, delicious, make-your-kitchen-smell-good-soup served up comfort style with a toasty grilled cheese sandwich. 

Enjoy. Keep warm. Stay healthy. 

Serves 2

2 pounds tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 of a large onion, sliced
1 whole bulb of garlic (unpeeled)
2 jalapeños, sliced with seeds removed (unless you really like it hot!)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
32 oz. vegetable broth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Grilled Cheese Sandwich
4 slices sourdough bread 
Several thick slices of your favorite cheese (I used a cheddar Gruyère combination that I found at a local specialty store)
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, wash tomatoes and jalapeños. Cut out stems of tomatoes and cut in half. (If you have jumbo-sized fruit, quarter them). Slice jalapeños in half and scrape out the seeds (wash your hands afterwards!). Place the tomatoes and jalapeños in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. 

Peel and slice half an onion and sprinkle over tomatoes. Put a whole garlic bulb in the center. Drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. Place in the oven and set your timer for 30 minutes. 

After time is up, sprinkle oregano over tomatoes and stir. Set timer for another 30 minutes. Stir again when timer buzzes.Remove the garlic bulb to cool. 

By this point the medley of ingredients should be getting soft, juicy, and developing all kinds of wonderful flavor. 
If your tomato mixture doesn't yet feel soft and squishy and bubbling in its own juices, set timer again for another 30 minutes. When time is up, take the dish from the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes. 

Get your blender out. 

Pour the tomato mixture (including juices) into the blender with 1 cup of the vegetable broth. Blend for just a few seconds (don't over-pulverize as this soup benefits from a bit of texture). Pour into a large soup pan on the stove top with the remaining broth and crank up the heat to high. 

Tear open the garlic bulb and squeeze the roasted mash into the soup. It's a messy job, but somebody's got to do it!

Once the soup comes to a boil, turn heat way down and simmer on low-medium heat, uncovered for 30 minutes. Stir and taste intermittently, adjusting for
seasonings. You might need to add more salt, pepper, and oregano depending on your preferences. 

Once the soup is simmered down and flavored to your desire, turn it down to low heat. 

Crank the oven back to 350°F. Get out a baking sheet, your bread, cheese and olive oil. Drizzle the outer sides of your grilled cheese sandwich with oil. Place 2 slices (oil-side down) on the sheet and layer with cheese. Top with the remaining bread, making sure the oil-side is up. Place in the oven for 8 minutes, then turn the sandwich for another 4 minutes. 

Remove from oven.  Ladle soup into a bowl and serve with toasty sandwiches. 

Dipping optional. 

According to Andrew Weil, M.D., he contends that eating tomatoes cooked with a little fat yields the most health benefits. 
Get some lycopene!

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