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Heart Full of Love and Gratitude in Mendocino and Cheese Zombie Recipe

Heart Full of Love and Gratitude in Mendocino and Cheese Zombie Recipe

Stole my husband away from the Bay Area a few weeks ago to celebrate his birthday. Ken has been working from home since the March lockdown and hasn’t had a vacation since our trip to Tuscany last July. So you can imagine how excited he was to learn of my escape plan to  The Albion River Inn close to Mendocino, our favorite place. Today’s blog will be about our adventure, exploring the town and local businesses. I will also share my cheese zombie recipe that my friends keep asking for.

Ken and I masking it up in Mendocino

Mendocino is special because it is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon 31 years ago. We hadn’t been back to the Albion River Inn for many years and we wanted to escape the poor air quality in Walnut Creek. California has had the worst fire season ever. Even Oregon and Washington are struggling to contain wildfires also, causing smoke all across the West Coast. Yesterday, we had our first clear blue sky in many weeks. It was so bad that no one could go outside for fear having the effect of smoking 20 cigarettes. Ugh. We escaped to Yountville in August to get away as well.

After a restful night at our bed and breakfast, we drove to Mendocino. The Albion River Inn provided hot coffee, homemade granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, and freshly squeezed orange juice brought directly to our room and left on the doorstep of our little cottage. We slept like angels listening to the ocean and breathing fresh salty air all night long.

Pandemic herbal recipehttps://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Not much of the town was open, but there were a few quaint places to check out. The streets and stores were adorned with the most beautiful wildflowers. We found a natural food store  Corner of the Mouth Co op. I bought local whole wheat flours, buckwheat, teff, cracked freekeh, and organic barley so I can bake healthy breads and pizzas. They even had an herbal section where they sold a pandemic tea for $49.00 a pound. Let’s hope we never need it. I spotted dried organic hop flowers, horehound, holy basil, hibiscus flowers, lobelia, linden leaf, maca root powder, marshmallow root, green teas from India, China, Japan, Nepal, Argentina, Ecuador, South Africa, USA, Poland, Cameroon, Hungary and more. Wild yam root, yarrow, turmeric, white willow bark, wild cherry bark, wormwood, valerian root and much much more. I saw many kinds of dried mushrooms including reishi which has healing powers. These herbs and mushrooms fascinate me since they have been used as medicine for many years.

The herbal book section at The Corners of the Mouth Store in Mendocino

We stumbled upon a small family owned business called Garden Bakery where we had fresh chicken tacos and empanadas, and a blueberry cream cheese pastry for lunch. I saw an Oreo cookie baked inside a chocolate chip cookie too! They only took cash, so we had to go back to the car. We hardly carry cash anymore. Totally worth it.

The Mendocino Garden Shop had plenty of seeds for me to buy. Have you noticed the seed shortage? More people are planting gardens since the pandemic, so it can be hard to find seeds. I also bought cover crops like crimson clover, rye grass, and fava beans to add to my soil. These fix nitrogen that have been depleted from our summer vegetable gardens.Other cover crops that I didn’t buy were Red Fescue, Daikon Radish, Bell Beans, Common Vetch, Red Oats, Journey Peas, Blue Wild Rye Grass, Meadow Barley, White Dutch Clover. If you are interested in learning more about cover crops, you can listen to John Kempf and this YouTube video. It is so interesting. Some other soil diversity experts are Chris Nichols, Jeremy Wilson, David Johnson, Grant Simms, Joel Williams, Russell Hedrick from North Carolina and Andrew Man from Alberta. If you want to grow great crops, listen to these experts.

The flowers in Mendocino are outstanding! I loved seeing the hollyhocks, sunflowers, naked pink ladies (belladonna lily), and more in bloom. It is enchanting and romantic to be where we began our marriage.

Another thrill was finding the Highlight Gallery where we enjoyed seeing exceptional fine art, watercolors and oil paintings. Erin Dertner is one of the local artists who provided us with gorgeous watercolors that adorned our walls for many years. We met Phil Chomak who happened to overhear me speaking to the sales lady at the gallery. He is one of Erin’s good friends and was able to tell us how she recently relocated to Santa Rosa. We were given her biography which revealed her philosophy, “There is no better life than to study the world with paintbrush in hand and a heart full of love and gratitude.” We love art galleries. Here is the one of the artsy blogs I wrote when we went to see my friend Margery Ammond’s art in Caramel a few years back.

Me and Ken at the Albion River Inn Restaurant
Our table view of the fog coming in

Getting to run away with my husband to Mendocino was one of the best vacations we have ever had. The time away and clean ocean air was just what we needed to get rejuvenated and reconnected. I highly recommend eating at the Albion River Inn Restaurant too. We were spoiled with free champagne, an incredible Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and anchovies, meatballs and mac, and a seafood chowder with crispy croutons. The table was set outside with the most beautiful view of the sea and coastline. Charming lights were lit and strung above us and whimsical heat lamps were nearby to keep us warm. It will be an evening I will always remember.

Our romantic setting at the Albion river Inn’s Restaurant

Thanks for spending time with me today. I hope I’ve inspired you to bake, garden, or vacation with a loved one. I’m grateful for the time you have shared with me here and outside these homebound walls.

While rifling through my recipes, I encountered this family favorite. Cheese Zombies! I first experienced tasting one of these in high school in 1978. They were sold at brunch and provided by the cafeteria ladies. I’ve since learned my girlfriend Kim Johnson’s Russian grandmother Helen Ballock who worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s came up with this recipe and it was inspired by her husband’s Piroshkis. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the Cheese Zombie. Kim’s grandfather immigrated from Russia to the United States in 1926.  I may have to make Piroshki’s next since Kim shared her family’s traditional recipe with me. 

These delicious warm balls of cheesy dough make the perfect snack. I hope you will give them a try.

Cheese Zombie with chili

MOUNT DIABLO SCHOOL DISTRICT ZOMBIE RECIPE

This recipe makes 2 ½ pounds of dough or 15 large filled zombies or 24 smaller zombies

2 C warm water

2 T Active Yeast

6 C Bread Flour

¼ C Sugar plus 1 T for activating the yeast

½ C room temperature unsalted butter

1 ½ t Kosher salt

⅛ C Poppy seeds or White or Black Sesame seeds

1 whole egg whisked

1 t black Hawaiin Sea Salt or whatever special salt you have

Whichever filling you desire:Cheese, sausage, etc… I used canned chili and cheese.

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and 1 T granulated sugar. Stir and let bubble up for about 5 or 10 minutes.

Using a dough hook, slowly begin adding some of the flour (about 2 cups) a bit at a time, incorporating the sugar and salt also while the mixer is on low. Add the room temperature butter to the dough in stages to make sure all butter is incorporated equally.

Let dough rest for 5 minutes, before adding more bread flour until most of the flour has been added. The dough should be mixed on medium high for about 10 minutes or until it is soft and pliable to the touch.  Set dough aside to rest for about another 5 or 10 minutes.

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Cheese Zombies filled with Nicasio Cheddar and sprinkled with sesame seeds and black sea salt

Divide the dough into 1pound portions and roll into long logs. Cut each log into 5 equal pieces.

Roll out each piece with a rolling pin, using extra flour as needed to keep from sticking and place your favorite filling in the center of the dough, being careful to pull dough up from the sides to cover filling. Pinch to close carefully, so the filling can’t escape while baking. Place zombies pinched side down on a well greased or use parchment paper on a sheet pan. Brush with one whole egg.Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds and Hawaiin Sea Salt. Let rise until doubled in size.

Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Fillings:

Use 1 ½-2 oz of cheese per zombie. 

Traditionally, Velveta Cheese was used, but I prefer a sharp white cheddar.

Other filling suggestions are:

Pepperoni, pizza sauce and cheese, ham and cheese, green chilies, ground beef, sausage, roasted vegetables, or scrambled eggs.

Cheese Zombies http://www.letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

I’m told these zombies were inspired by the Russian Piroshikis. My friend Kim Johnson told me her grandmother worked for the Mount Diablo School District in the 1960’s. The government had a cheese surplus, so she invented the zombies to use up the cheese. Kim’s grandfather would fill his dough with meat. Great history lesson there.

I’m a huge fan of these lunchtime or anytime treats. It’s comfort food during these hard times.

Ken and me on the balcony at the Albion River Inn near Mendocino
 

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The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The French Laundry Part 2 and a Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe You Will Come Back To Every Time

The famous blue door to The French Laundry. We dined right next to it

I’m stuck sitting in my house all day because the smoke and ash from the West Coast wildfires are making the air unhealthy to breathe.The fires have charred over 2.5 million acres and it’s only mid September. I can’t imagine anything else that could go wrong in 2020. America and the world have been dealing with the Covid pandemic. We have missed weddings, funerals, concerts, and everything about our previous lifestyle and all this began a little more than six months ago. But August 23, 2020 will go down in history as being one of my favorite experiences ever, dining at The French Laundry in Yountville, California.

I’ve been following Thomas Keller (ChefThomasKeller)  and the Three Star Michelin Restaurant The French Laundry (tfl) on Instagram for years. I’ve walked through the gardens across the street from the restaurant every time I visit my dad at the Veteran’s Home in Yountville. I’m inspired by the organic produce they grow and look to see what flowers I can identify by name. Not only have I worked as a pastry chef, I’ve also been an avid gardener for over 30 years. So getting the chance to dine at one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, was a dream come true.

In January, my sister Sue booked a reservation in May for four to celebrate her daughter Marie’s 30th birthday. Marie takes after her auntie and is one of the biggest foodies there is. She knows her wine too, especially after working for Wente Winery for a few years.There is a great story of our day together in a previous blog if you want to check that out. When Covid hit in March, the restaurant had to close and pivot to outdoor dining reopening on July 8th. Our reservation was rescheduled for August 23rd, which happened to be my sister’s birthday. Perfect right? I was excited to be included in this fancy affair and couldn’t wait for August to come fast enough. 

When the day finally arrived, we started it off the right way by having brunch at my house first. Here’s the beginning of the story tfl Part 1. I didn’t want to go wine tasting at Robert Biale on an empty stomach, so I whipped up a few dishes to keep our tummies full.

The Bees home in the tfl gardens
Saying hello to my chicken friends

Before our reservation, we had to get coffee and hot chocolate and buy something at Bouchon, the famous French Bakery also owned by Thomas Keller. We then took a walk through the gardens, said hello to the chickens and the bees and took photos like we were having the best day of our lives. And we were. We even touched up our makeup and hair in the car so we would be ready for what was to come.

The time had come. It was 5:15PM, so my husband Ken dropped us off (a designated driver is always a good idea), took a few photographs and we walked up to the back entrance. We were greeted and welcomed with a smile. We gave our name and were escorted to our table. Just so you know, I don’t get to eat at places like this every day. I appreciate restaurants and bars and how they make us feel and that’s why I write about them. 

My niece Marie, Sister Sue and friend Sue Baker waiting for our experience https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

Our waiter was handsome and had an English accent. Very charming. We were smitten with him. My niece is single so of course I wanted to see if he was available since I am a matchmaker. I bet you didn’t know that about me. Well, he was taken, so that was that.

 Marie brought a Del Dotto Rose sparkling wine and I brought a Red wine to avoid extra costs. Our waiter was nice enough to decanter the Italian Amarone Della Valpolicella Terre Molin red wine and open the sparkling wine to start. It was delightful. Light and plenty of bubbles. The perfect way to start the evening.

Then the tastings started coming. There was an amuse bouche of a cheese ball served in a cone dipped in white and black sesame seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds I think. We were also given hand made, perfectly cut out, flower shaped crackers filled with special cheeses that  came from the cheese maker Soyoung Scanlan at Andante Farm in Petaluma California. 

And lucky me, Chef Keller graced our table. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Chef’s are like rock stars to me. I had to give him my business card with my blog on it and share that I almost applied to a job to be his assistant 8 months ago, before I chickened out. Maybe I will get the courage to apply there someday. He was warm and professional and everything I had hoped for. He is an author of three cookbooks: Bouchon Bakery, Ad Hoc At Home, and the latest one Under Pressure Cooking Sous Vide, none of which I have. Hint. Hint. He also launched a magazine called Finesse in Dec 2010 that featured different themes of importance to Chef Keller such Design, Community, Preservation and Evolution. I must check these out. For $15.00 a month you can register for his Online Masterclass and learn how to poach perfect eggs, make pasta by hand and confit vegetables. Pretty cool.

Birthday Menu

I should have taken better notes because I’m trying to decipher the menu and compare it to the photos I took of the dishes. I can recall a special pastry that we were served along with their extraordinary butter made by Diane St. Claire, found only in Vermont by a dairy called Animal Farm. Chef Keller even had a cow named after him. I bet the pastry was made from heirloom grains provided by Glenn Roberts owner of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina. The miller also grows Japanese buckwheat, French oats, Italian farro, legumes and antebellum corn. I’ve been experimenting with these grains and making bread by grinding grains with a Mocksmill that I purchased when there was a flour shortage. 

This dining experience is special because of the close relationship the chef has with the farmers like Sadie Kendall at Kendall Farms in Atascadero who makes creme fraiche, seafood purveyors like Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts,or Ingrid Bengis Seafood for her lobster,  scallops and crab. Chef Keller buys only the best ingredients for culinary excellence and discriminating appetites such as special spices and olive oils from  Le Sanctuaire in San Francisco. You get the idea.

I won’t go into every bite with you here, but I will include the menu so you can look it over yourself. It’s totally worth every penny to have an experience like we had.

Dessert table at tfl

In my opinion, the best part of the meal was the dessert. We were presented with a birthday cake “Gateau Marjolaine” a hazelnut dacquoise, chocolate ganache and praline buttercream for the birthday girls that had fireworks coming out of it. No joke. Incredible. My niece was blown away and so were the rest of us. 

Did I mention Sue Baker, my sister’s best friend paid for Marie to have a special glass of wine selected from the wine cellar to celebrate her and to make her experience even better? How sweet was that? I can’t forget to address that my sister Sue paid for all four of us to dine at The French Laundry. It’s seriously unbelievable and added to the excitement of the day. Thank you Sue. So generous.

Our waiter and the box of chocolates
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Back to the desserts, because of course these were my favorite treats and the most indulgent part of the evening. They kept coming and coming. There were caramels, and a strawberry flavored one too. We tried a peach French macaron (My recipe here) and chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I ate a white sesame cake with yuzu glazed strawberries, served with cream and cosmos flower petals.

Our service was undeniably the best I’ve ever had and our waiters had the precise attention to detail, skill and expertise that you would expect from a three star restaurant. They anticipated our every desire. Only better. I’m pretty sure someone stood near our table the whole evening just in case there was something we needed.

I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t begin to describe what was served in a tiny coffee cup. I also couldn’t stop eating the fluffy white dessert with chocolate crumbles. You realize we had been eating for four hours at least nine or ten decadent servings of everything a person could ever want and yet, I couldn’t stop myself from eating every single bite. Then they brought out the chocolates and we could try as many as we wanted. OMG. To die for. Don’t tell anyone. I took a few home in my purse so I could save them for later. Delicious. Works of art. 

To make the day even better, the staff guided us through the kitchen for a tour. The kitchen is spotless and shiny like no other. Copper pots lining the walls, bins of tiny white and red onions probably coming straight from their garden across the street. 

tfl kitchen
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We laughed and giggled all the way back to the East Bay telling Ken all about the upcharge option of wagyu beef, and the stunningly, impeccably cared for grounds and the gently lighted ambiance when the sun went down.

Dining at the French Laundry has been the most relaxing and memorable foodie experience ever. We were treated like royalty by the most courteous staff. It was truly remarkable.

I hope you enjoyed my blog on The French Laundry. Meeting Chef Thomas Keller made my evening, but dining with my family and loved ones will be something I will always cherish. Thanks for stopping by.

The four of us at the end of our tour at tfl
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Follow my blog for more stories and recipes. 

CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

50g or ½ C. Cocoa Powder

40g or ⅓ C. Powdered Milk

150g or ¾ C. Granulated Sugar

10g or 2 T Instant Coffee powder Or Espresso

½ T Kosher Salt

100g or about 5 large Egg Yolks (Yolks ONLY)

360ml or 1½ C. Whole Milk

2 T Rum

480ml or 2 C. Heavy Cream

1 tsp Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Directions:

In a medium size heavy saucepan, place the cocoa powder, the powdered milk, granulated sugar, instant coffee, rum, salt and stir with a wire whisk. Stir in the egg yolks. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla extract into the pan. Whisk ingredients and cook over low to medium heat until the thermometer reaches 158 degrees F or 70 degrees C.

Mixing the egg yolks into dry ingredients
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For the next 25 minutes (set your timer), move the pan off and on over the heat keeping the temperature between 158-162 degrees F or 70-72 degrees C and constantly stirring. Stay with your ice cream base the entire 25 minutes.

Cooked chocolate custard
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Remove the pan off the heat, once the 25 minutes is up. Strain the custard through a wire mesh into a large bowl to remove any clumps.Cover with plastic wrap touching the custard directly onto the plastic to prevent a skin from forming on your custard.

Put the chocolate ice cream base into the refrigerator overnight or for at least four or 5 hours to chill. Pre chill the 2 quart bowl preferably overnight. (I leave mine in the freezer all year long, always returning to the freezer after my ice cream is made.) When ready to churn, take the frozen ice cream container out, add the chocolate ice cream base and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions approximately 15-20 minutes or until doubled in volume. Remove it from the ice cream machine and place in a container with a lid and freeze until firm. 

This is my latest favorite dessert. It is fairly easy to make and keeps well in the freezer. Never lasts long in my house… Here is a video of me making the chocolate custard that is uploaded from my Instagram page.


 

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The French Laundry (tfl) Part I

The French Laundry (tfl) Part I
n the garden at The French Laundry

Spent last Sunday in Napa and Yountville celebrating my niece Marie’s 30th birthday and my sister Sue’s birthday. We were joined by Sue’s best friend Susan Baker, her college roommate from 40 years ago. Today’s blog is all about our day together having brunch at my house, tastings at Biale Winery and dinner at the world famous three Star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry.

I was concerned about drinking on an empty stomach, so I decided to whip up a few things to keep our tummies happy. The day before, I prepared an organic milled spelt, bulgur, heritage grain Olan wheat flour by Capay Mills, sun dried tomato and salami bread and kept it in the refrigerator to ferment overnight. Baked it fresh that morning, so it would have time to cool before cutting into it. I served this wonderful high protein bread with two cheeses: havarti dill, and Nicasio Reserve from Marin County California and my homemade Blenheim apricot preserves. We splurged and opened a bottle of sparkling wine and made bellinis with my canned peaches from my garden and garnished with lemon verbena from the garden.

I also served a potato Spanish tortilla and a peach crumble with vanilla ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. So yummy. I probably over did it. But this was going to be a special day and I wanted to start it out right.

We left for the winery later than expected with full bellies and smiling masked faces all piled into my Lexus. My husband Ken agreed to drive us, so we could enjoy the day. 

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My niece Marie and sister Sue at the French Laundry Gardens

We had a nice experience tasting wines at Robert Biale Vineyards. Since Susan has a membership, we were spoiled with impeccable service and attention. We relaxed looking at the vineyard, chatting and sipping some of the best Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Biale’s rare blends some of the best in the Napa Valley. We happened to be the only people there because of the wildfires and smoke permeating the area. We were lucky there was a breeze and the air quality didn’t bother us. It was much worse in the Bay Area where we traveled from. We sat for hours admiring the planters filled with prolific fuchsia pink and yellow perennials lantana, pink dianthus and red and yellow dahlias. Just gorgeous.

My niece Marie, my sister Sue and me at The French Laundry Garden

We were blessed to be able to get a reservation at The French Laundry 6 months ago for a May celebration. Covid closed down many restaurants in March, April and May, but we were fortunate enough to claim one for August so we could acknowledge Marie’s 30th birthday. Her dream came true that day, and I was ohh soo grateful to be included in her special day. I can’t forget to mention the quick stop at Bouchon Bakery where we indulged in hot chocolate, espresso, fresh French bread and pastries, not wanting to spoil our appetites for what was to come. Bouchon sells Paris-Brest, Macarons, fresh fruit tarts, chocolate eclairs, cupcakes, pain aux raisins, yuzu citrus croissants, chocolate almond croissants, cream cheese Danish, french baguettes filled with ham and cheese, smoked salmon sandwiches on seeded rolls,tomato and brie sandwiches, cookies, chocolates and candies like almond toffee.

It’s hard to know where to begin on describing my experience at the French Laundry. The four of us began by walking through the gardens across the street from the restaurant. They are incredible. They keep bees hives, tiny new starts of herbs in a tunnel, rows of lettuce, peppers, squash, onions, tomatoes and more. We visited the chickens who seem happy eating their fill of discarded squash. I’m curious about owning chickens and am ready to try keeping them in my home garden.

My husband took photos of us perfecting our makeup, like we were getting ready to get married or something. We were so excited and had waited so long to have this day finally happen. It had been cancelled a few times because of Covid and we were worried it would be cancelled again because of the fires and smoke in Napa County. The tables would be set up outside because no one is allowed to eat indoors for fear Covid could spread. We were fortunate to have the money and resources to afford the $350.00 per person fine dining experience. My sister Sue treated us by scheduling the date and paying many months ago. How incredibly lucky I was to be included in this special day, since originally my sister had another person in mind for the ticket.

More photos were taken at the entrance, then my husband drove off to find his own dinner nearby. Kind of sad we couldn’t include him in the event, but he wouldn’t have wanted to participate nor have wanted to spend the money on this extravagant meal.

I’m going to end here and write my next blog about the remainder of the day. I hate to see my blogs getting too long. Look forward to my next write up continuing on about our French Laundry experience part II.

First I will share my Peach Crumble and Sea Salt Caramel Recipe.

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Peach crumble made with fresh Alberta peaches from the garden. Used buckwheat, oatmeal, almonds, brown sugar, butter, baking powder and salt. Served with ice cream and home made caramel sauce

Peach Crumble with Sea Salt Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

4 or 5 medium to large size peaches peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick

2/3 C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Granulated Sugar ( Plus 2 T more sugar for peaches

2 T Tapioca Flour or arrowroot to add to peach mixture later)

½ C. Buckwheat flour

¼ C All Purpose Flour

¼ C Oats

½ C Unsalted Butter room temperature or cold cut into chunks Plus 1 T extra to coat pie dish

½ t Kosher Salt

½ t ground cinnamon

½ t ground ginger

¼ t ground cloves

1 Baking pie dish or use several individual oven safe serving size bowls 

1 Cuisinart Food Processor or Kitchenaid Mixer 

Instructions:

Crumble Topping

In a Cuisinart food processor, Kitchenaid Mixer or large bowl combine all dry ingredients: Brown Sugar, White Sugar, Buckwheat Flour, All Purpose Flour, Oats, Salt and spices: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves.

Pulse 5 times to mix thoroughly. Add butter pieces and pulse again until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.

Peel peaches by boiling first and placing in an ice bath to loosen skins. Dry and cut peaches, remove pits and cut into ¼ inch thick slices and place in a medium size bowl. Sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of sugar mixed with 2 T tapioca flour onto peaches. 

In a buttered pie dish, place cut pieces of peaches that are covered with sugar and tapioca flour. Add crumble topping on top of peaches. Set the pie dish on a sheet pan and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-50 minutes or until dessert is hot and bubbly.

Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Dessert can be refrigerated at this time and reheated and served later.

Serve alongside vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel sauce.

Sea Salt Caramel

Ingredients and Instructions

320g or 11 oz Heavy Cream

200g or 7 oz Light Corn Syrup

60g or 3 oz Granulated Sugar (Plus an additional100g or 3.5 oz for later)

Heat these ingredients together in a medium size pot and set aside keeping it hot.

In another medium size pot, on medium low heat sprinkle 100g or 3.5 oz of granulated sugar little by little melting and cooking sugar slowly NOT stirring, until caramel turns amber color. 

Slowly add hot cream mixture to amber caramel stirring and cooking until temp reaches 105 degrees C or 220 degrees F. The longer you boil, the thicker the caramel.

Add 4g Sea Salt, Maldon, or Fleur de Sel and cool. Caramel will thicken as it cools. 

Recipe credit to Pastry Chef and author Dominique Ansel

I’ve used buckwheat flour to add complexity to the recipe and to make it healthier. You can substitute your favorite flour or use flax meal or almond flour.

Enjoy!

Thanks for joining me today. Leave me questions or comments below.

 

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Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Wine Down After Walking the Camino and a Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

Part II of my hike through Spain. Here’s a link to Part I, in case you missed it. 

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Sylvia.Peregrina and me at a cafe in Spain

Where do I begin? Well, I have to give a few shout outs to Silvia Peregrina who I watched from afar for a few days before approaching her. You see she happened to be walking the Camino at the same time as our group. Turns out, she is a tour guide and had a big group with her. My friend Nancy and I noticed her one morning as she walked beside us singing an American tune by Bruce Springsteen with her ear buds on. She wore a cowboy hat and stood out among the others on the trail. She was happy and had a lot of energy. When we finally met, I asked her if I could take a photo of her and write about her. She said I could, and also was very helpful in giving us good places to stop and eat along the way.

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Us at dinner in Portomarin. And Wine!  from left:Jeanne, Marianne, Sharon, Me, Beth(Nancy taking the photo)

 We were excited to find a special bocadillo restaurant that served humongous sandwiches. Sylvia also recommended A Paso De Formiga Restaurant which was all about Ants. We ate at Restaurante O Mirador    on the first night of our hike walking from Sarria to Portomarin. A few of us shared a bottle of Albarino white wine, blistered padron peppers, fish entrees and pizza. I think we were just getting in the groove and relaxing a bit. After all, I basically got off a plane one night and began walking the Camino the very next morning. And we got up EARLY. 

 

It’s hard to really describe what’s it’s like to get up and walk for 6 or 7 hours every day for 6 days straight. There is something about Walking the Camino that you just can’t understand until you do it yourself. We read books, watched movies and read blogs trying to prepare for what this experience would be like. The best part was sharing the many hours chatting with my friends Nancy, Jeanne and Beth and getting to know them better. We had nothing else to do while walking through the Spanish countryside. Of course, the farm animals kept us guessing. We saw herds of sheep running through the streets of Sarria while stopping at a cafe to use the ladies room and grab an espresso. Next thing you know, we would come across a local farmers market getting set up for the day with cages of chickens, bunnies, sausages, bacon, and seasonal vegetables.

 

We were entertained by the roosters who would crow early in the morning to greet us and enjoyed listening to the variety of bird calls. There were many dogs in backyards who would run to the fence to say hello. I was amazed when I saw an older kitten drinking from his mother on the side of the road. He looked about the same size as the momma cat and I wondered about that. It was funny to see a chicken running around near a cat and a dog, like they were just another member of the family. There were herds of cattle grazing on fields of bright green as far as the eye could see. The people were friendly and hospitable to us and it was fun to see the locals, many of them little old men walking to town.  Spain is incredibly beautiful.

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Me and Nancy walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain

I haven’t mentioned the cathedrals and churches we encountered on our walk, but there were many. I am Catholic, yet I don’t consider myself as devout as most. I’m religious, but don’t consider myself as faithful as some friends of mine. This trip, I was the only person who was interested in going into these beautiful buildings. I would light candles and say prayers for my friends and family that are in need. I’m grateful for my faith that my parents gave me, especially my mother who was raised Catholic. My Dad never fully converted from being Lutheran, but always went to Mass with us when I was young. All that went away when my father stepped out on us and left when I was 14 years old. My Mother never felt accepted because she divorced my dad and the church frowned on that. We grew up going to Catholic School in the 1970’s when divorce wasn’t popular. 

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Different Routes getting to Santiago

 

I digress… I enjoyed seeing these ancient cathedrals. After a long, hard second day, we came upon Iglesia San Tirso that we hoped to get a stamp from (We had books that we stamped to prove we walked the camino), but the doors were locked. As we walked down the stairs a man with a guitar case approached us with keys in his hand. We were so grateful to have made it in time to see this beautiful place in Palais de Rei. I was surprised to find my friend crying as we walked out. I immediately began to cry too, thinking I should be feeling her feelings as well. It was moments like these that made our trip. We looked out for each other. When Nancy needed a band aid for a cut, I always had one. When someone needed Advil to relieve a headache or sore feet, one of us would share our stash. I always had extra food to share in case any one got hungry. It was brief moments like these that helped us women stay strong throughout our journey.

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One of the many older gentlemen we passed by who would be sitting along the road in Spain

I will put this away for now. I’m writing from a Casino in the wine country while my father is sleeping in the room next to me and I’m waiting for my older sister to come to bed. We are making new memories here at Twin Pines as much as I can’t stand these places. Good night and hope to share more stories and pictures very soon.

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Fashionistas at the airport heading to Milan and Bergamo for a bike ride

But first I’d like to share our family recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole which we serve at every holiday. It’s perfectly sweet and oh so good!

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Sweet Potato Casserole. Our families favorite side dish

Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients

3 C.  Roasted or boiled mashed Sweet Potatoes .See article to choose your favorite variety

⅓ C Brown Sugar

⅓ C Skim Milk

2 T Unsalted Butter or Margarine melted (plus more for buttering dish)

1 t Vanilla

½ T Kosher Salt

1 t. Ground Cinnamon

1 t. Ground Ginger

½ t Ground Cloves

 

2 Egg whites whipped in a separate bowl

1 t lemon juice

 

Topping:

⅓ C Packed Brown Sugar

¼ C Unbleached all purpose Flour

2 T Unsalted Butter chilled and cut into pieces

½ C Chopped Pecans

1 t Ground Cinnamon

1 t Ground Ginger

1 t ground Cloves

 

Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Roast 3 large sweet potatoes I like garnet or jewel variety. Or peel and boil them until soft. Cool.

In a stand mixer place cooked cooled sweet potatoes and mix on low. This will help them cool down a bit.  Add Milk, brown sugar, melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt and mix until combined. 

 

In a separate bowl, whip up egg whites and a teaspoon of lemon to soft peaks. It’s best to have the bowl super clean with no residue of oil residue which would inhibit the eggs from getting to their fullest volume. 

 

Fold egg whites into sweet potato spice mixture until combined. Place mixture into a buttered 13X9 casserole dish. Set aside. This dish will serve 6 -8 people.

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Pictured her unbaked Sweet Potato Casserole. A well loved dish

 

Topping Instructions:

 If you have a Cuisinart Food Processor this step is very easy. Place all topping ingredients brown sugar, flour, chilled butter, chopped pecans and spices into food processor. If you don’t have one, place all topping ingredients except pecans into a medium sized bowl and cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter until topping is well combined and butter is the size of small peas. Add chopped pecans and sprinkle topping over sweet potato mixture.

 

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes until casserole is golden and bubbly. Your house will smell amazing and your family will ask you year after year to make this delightful dish. It is especially good served with roasted turkey or roasted chicken.

Side note: I usually double this recipe and use two 13 X 9 pans because we have about 25 people that come to our holiday parties. And we never mind having left overs if there happens to be any left. I should mention I first learned of this dish through my sister Julie’s sister in law Maryann Weigant who made this special recipe for us many years ago. I added more spices because I love to spice things up!
Thanks again for spending time with me and reading my blog. Feel free to sign up to receive and read more blogs and recipes. Every time I write a new one, it will arrive in your in box for you to enjoy at your convenience.

 

 

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Lifetime Pursuit of Gelato While Touring Italy and an Apricot Shortbread Recipe

Lifetime Pursuit of Gelato While Touring Italy and an Apricot Shortbread Recipe

 

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The best part of visiting #Venice is riding on a gondola

I’m excited to write again. I’ve been traveling in Italy for the past couple of weeks on vacation with my husband. We celebrated our thirty year wedding anniversary there and I didn’t bring my computer to write a new blog while away. But don’t worry, I did plenty of research eating and drinking my way through Venice, Rome, and Tuscany. Today, I will share a story or two about the Italian people we met, the food we ate, specifically the gelato, and reveal my apricot sable cookie recipe.

It’s honestly so hard to decide where to begin. We ate the best gelato, pasta, pastries and coffee of our lives. I had to stop in just about every patisserie or chocolate shop wherever we walked. My poor husband would wait outside and fiddle with his camera or people watch while I was picking out the best treat to fill our bellies so we could keep up with the next destination.

Can I first give a shout out to our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon with Orinda Travel? Nancy led our last trip to Iceland which was phenomenal and was instrumental in making our anniversary in Italy memorable. We can’t thank her enough for the perfect itinerary, excellent hotels, delicious food and farm tours, and making all the plane reservations and Vatican, Statue of David, and Colosseum tickets. We basically handed over our credit card and she planned every detail for us. Nancy asked all the right questions and I wouldn’t hesitate to use her services again.  This adventure was personalised so that we could relax and enjoy each other. It was a trip of a lifetime and ultimately the most romantic vacation that we’ve ever been on.

My husband and I agree that we ate the best breakfasts at the Michelin rated restaurant at  Hotel Ai Reali in Venice and we ate the best pizza and gelato in Rome. Since this was our first time in Venice, we were blown away by all the superb breakfast options to choose from. There were mini pancakes which popped out of a machine made on the spot and all of the different toppings like crema di nocciole (hazelnut spread), sciroppo d’acero (maple syrup), miele di acacia (acacia honey), jams from every fruit possible like orange marmalade, triple berry, strawberry, apricot and sour cherry my favorite. Delish.

 

Ai Reali Restaurant served many baked goods like a plum cake, crostata, heart shaped gingerbread cookies, orange cake, donuts, muffins, croissants, and freshly baked breads of all kinds. There was a cheese and charcuterie platter, fresh greens with olive oil and balsamic, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, fresh fruit, yogurt and more. I had a glass of prosecco and cappuccino before we left for the day with coppa, salumi, ham and cheese croissant sandwiches which sustained us when we got hungry in the afternoon. 

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The sandwiches I made from our breakfast spread at Hotel Ai Reali in Venice.

The art in our hotel in Venice was colorful and inviting, many pieces made with murano glass from Vetreria Artistica a Murano Glass Factory in Venezia. Spectacular.

 

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Poli Distillerie in Venice

We also made it to Poli Distillerie where I sampled  grappa, sambuca (a licorice liquor), limoncelli and who knows what else. This place was cool and trendy. I had never sampled grappa before, so why not embibe in Venice before exploring St. Mark’s Square and Basilica?  I couldn’t stay long because my husband was yet again, waiting outside, but had time to purchase a few gifts for my boys. Ken doesn’t drink, so it was not the best time to learn about Poli and what they offer. I’ve never seen it sold in America, but that’s not saying much since I don’t shop for hard alcohol and liqueurs often. I’m known for stopping at distilleries in Sonoma

 

Can we talk about the worst experience we had in Venice? This happened after our gondola ride. We finally had our fabulous gondola ride, which I had to talk my way into  because my husband always wanted to save money and walk everywhere. The gondolier warned to only eat at the restaurants that had small menus. He was from Venice and seemed to know what he was talking about and it makes sense after all. So after he recommended Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso and we saw the extended menu, I was perplexed. 

 

This waiter didn’t like me in the least and came back 6 times in 10 minutes, which just pissed me off. He acted irritated with me the whole evening, and eventually had another waiter check on us. He even brought me Chardonnay after I asked for Pinot Grigio! I was afraid of having frozen fish, like the gondolier had warned us about, so I eventually ordered pasta with Bolognese sauce and it was just fine. 

 

We even had a guy selling roses at this same restaurant who came by the table and asked me if I wanted a rose. I said, “no” and he scurried away. A little later, the same guy basically handed me the rose, then came back later and asked my husband for money to pay for it. Such a scam. But we had experiences like this in Thailand, which tainted our time there, and yet we completely understand that these locals have to make a buck and see us Americans as easy money.

 

On the fourth day, we took a train to Rome and made it to the Palazzo Navona Hotel to settle in. We had dinner at Lion, a contemporary Italian Restaurant and Cocktail Bar located across the street. Lion was the swankiest restaurant we have ever eaten at. It was bright cobalt blue with geometric floor tiles, fancy cocktails and a smart vibe. We ate oysters, grilled octopus, beef tartare, and a puffed polenta with cod cooked perfectly. Their country style bread, olive oil and balsamic didn’t disappoint. We ended our meal with a caffe corretto cappuccino, chocolate and peanut truffle and a passion fruit gelee which I think was complimentary. It was quite the culinary experience being in extraordinary Rome, Italy for the first time. 

 

But that meal wasn’t our favorite while tasting what Rome has to offer. Grano Frutta e Farina had the best pizza. I had the funghi porcini-tartufo and Ken had zucchine pesto pinoli. We were always starving after walking for miles around the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel and we went into every basilica we walked by. Incredible.

 

 

On to the gelato. My very first experience tasting gelato was at Venchi in Venice near St. Mark’s Square. Oh my! I was so excited to see this chocolate gelato shop also known as #cioccogelateria in Italian. I was asking Tomazzo questions about his favorite chocolates to get the inside scoop. My husband and I shared a cup with two different flavors and I honestly can’t remember which flavor I had. I do remember how they line the paper cup with the most delicious liquid dark chocolate and dessicated coconut before they add the gelato. And it’s the dreamiest sweet treat after walking for hours in the humidity and 90 plus degree weather. I can’t understand why the US hasn’t picked up on this concept. Because after you hold the cup of gelato in your warm hands, the chocolate on the bottom of the cup melts, and after your last taste of the cold gelato, you get this incredibly rich spoonful or two of dark melted chocolate and coconut. It’s my all time favorite treat, and that is saying a lot.

 

I will end today’s blog with these pictures and fond memories of our time in Venice and Rome. There is much much more to share, but this will suffice for now. I think I took over 1000 photos, so it has been somewhat overwhelming getting my ideas and photos in order. Now it’s time to find a good gelato spot in  Northern California. Help a girl out here. Any one know of one?

 

Thanks for stopping by and reading my latest post. I’m honored to be able to share by travel and food experiences with you and am happy to leave you with my shortbread recipe. 

 

Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients:

2 Cups Unsalted Butter

1 Cup granulated Sugar

4 Cups Bread Flour

1 Cup Cake Flour

½ teaspoon vanilla bean

¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Saltwerk Licorice Salt (Bought in Iceland)

 

Directions:

Cream butter, add sugar gradually and cream well. Add both flours, vanilla, and salts and mix well in a standard mixer. 

 

I use round cut outs used for biscuits in varying sizes to get desired outcome. 

 

Bake on a parchment lined sheet pan in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until done and slightly browned on edges about 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

 

Fill with apricot jam, or whichever filling you prefer. Serve right away with your favorite tea or coffee.

 

 

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You Must Be 21 in Santa Cruz California and a Fabulous Carrot Cake Recipe

You Must Be 21 in Santa Cruz California and a Fabulous Carrot Cake Recipe

Spent time in Capitola and Santa Cruz recently with my niece Jasmine. She had time off from work and needed a get away. We all need mental health days and Santa Cruz was just what the doctor ordered. Good thing we are both over 21, since a few of the places we explored required a valid drivers license if we wanted to buy the mind altering drugs which I describe below.  In today’s blog I will write about the unique stores that we found in downtown and explain what we learned along the way.

 

Several years back, I had been to Santa Cruz with my neighborhood book club. Our friend Rachel lived near campus and offered an overnight at her place. In the morning, we ventured into town and ate at one of the local restaurants. I had wanted to explore the area further, but we didn’t have time. So I was happy to make a trip back to the Pacific Avenue strip with Jasmine.

 

 

We started off in Capitola at Gayle’s Bakery where they have every sweet imaginable including Florentine cookies, pavlova’s and German Chocolate Cake. Yum. We spent a couple of hours eating and walking around, when we decided to move on and find this cool neighborhood that I had been to years back. We stopped at a gas station and asked a local. He knew exactly where we wanted to go and after Google map search, we made it there. Side note: My grand parents on my mother’s side Elvina and Bill lived in Santa Cruz when I was a child, so my family would take trips on the weekends and holidays at the Beach and Boardwalk. So fun!

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Grandma Elvina and Bill Caprasecca with their 1928 Chevrolet

We started off at a small shoe shop since Jasmine’s feet were killing her. I scored some Teva sandals and she found a comfy pair of sneakers. Off we went!

Next we asked about massages at the Tea House Spa, but they didn’t have any appointments available. Might have to make a special trip back just to spend time there to drink herbal tea and get a body treatment.

We walked past Mission Hill Creamery which specialized in local organic ingredients. Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Candied Ginger, and Nutty Cookie Monster were just a few of their ice cream flavors. They also served Margarita Sorbet, Strawberry Daiquiri Sorbet, Mango Sorbet, Avocado and Almond Milk and Toasted Almond plus a Blueberry Goat Cheese all perfect for vegans. We had stopped for coffee earlier at Mr. Toots Coffeehouse in Capitola, so we weren’t in the mood for these ice cream treats quite yet.

 

Glow Candle Lounge came next where we observed two women assembling colorful wax cubes into molds to  make candles. This looks like a fun activity when you have all day and can come back later to pick up your candle.

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Glow Candle shop

Melo Melo Kava Bar attracted us in with their wall of living ferns and houseplants and plush, bright, modern couches. We had no idea what was going on in there, but it looked interesting enough to take the seats at the bar. One guy was preparing a chocolate drink using Keith’s Cacao 100% Pure Ceremonial Grade Cacao. And chocolate drinks always get my attention. This was serious stuff. They serve sipping chocolate one called Midnight Mystic which is 80% cacao, vanilla bean and himalayan salt, and Global Warrior which is 65% cacao, with maca, turmeric and cardamom. We learned that raw cacao contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate. It is a mind stimulant and a great aphrodisiac. I’m a fan.

 

This article explains Kava’s non addictive-medicinal South Pacific root and how people are using it to calm their nerves and relieve anxiety instead of using drugs. Kava Kava Root (Piper Methysticum) relaxes the nervous tension, muscle cramps and helps to stabilize moods. It is a mild psychoactive, tastes like earth like you are licking an outside of a potato, and will numb your throat when you drink it.

The employee recommended us trying the Nak-Out 8 oz. drink of kava and to add the Rip Tide to it which is an extra boost of kava. Here was her explanation about Kava.

My niece and I were smart enough to pass on these drinks especially since we still had an hour drive home.

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Jasmine and me posing at Go Ask Alice in Santa Cruz

 

Go Ask Alice was another interesting place to check out. Here we found many medicinal herbs like Chaga, Ginkgo, Mullein, Borage, Calendula, Comfrey, Holy Basil, Lemon Balm, Red Reishi and many more. There was a section of herbs under an Aphrodisiacs sign like Cacao (which we learned at the previous business), Blue Lotus, Cordyceps, Damiana, Kava Kava Root, Maca, Macacao, Muira Puama, Mucunna, Oat straw, Schisandra, Shatavari Root, Tongkat Ali, and Tribulus. Weird stuff, but if it helps people then I’m all for it. They also sold CBD, Kratom and devices to smoke them with. It’s all news to me.

 

Under the Sleep Aids and Sedatives sign were Ashwagandha, Catnip, Hops, Mugwort, Mulungu, Night Tea, Passionflower, Skullcap, and Valerian Root. I grow Valerian, Borage, Comfrey, Mullein, Lemon Balm and Calendula and many more herbs in my garden, but I haven’t made them into tinctures for health purposes.

 

Go Ask Alice sold Let’s Thrive a CBD  wellness products, Melo Out Man a CBD Milk Chocolate Bar, Honu CBD Chocolate Turtles and CBD Peanut Butter Cups, Kratom Chocolates and Treometry Raw Cacao and Reishi products. These items reminded me of my trip to Portland at Electric Lettuce.

 

Go Ask Alice had everything from Root Remedies Kava Liquid Chill drops to Rainbow Bliss Botanicals Rooted Tea. Host Defense Primordial Chocolate Bar, Choquiero Chocolate Bars like Spicy Chipotle a 73% with cacao nibs and cayenne pepper or Mayan Rose that included a 75% cacao plus cinnamon and maca root. This place was mind blowing!

 

There were lots of books on Psychedelic Healing, one on The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants by Christian Ratsch, the Handbook on Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda by Bridgetta Shea, The Honey Prescription by Nathaniel Altman and many more. One could spend all day here and get all the feels that Santa Cruz has to offer.

 

Jasmine grabbed a couple of cookies from the Pacific Cookie Company. They had so many to choose from including Triple Chocolate, Mint Condition, Coconut Macaroon, Almond Joe, Chocolate Chip with Walnuts, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Snickerdoodle, Ginger Spice, Peanut Butter and Gluten Free varieties from Mariposa Bakery. The place smelled intoxicating and I wanted one of each, but I had already purchased and eaten a Florentine cookie earlier. I definitely want to make them. All of them looked delicious!

Retro Paradise was a clothing store with lots of colorful and erotic merchandise and reminded me of The Haight in San Francisco. Of course the Pride Parade took place last weekend, so I’m sure many folks bought their outfits from this shop.

 

There was plenty more to see, but we decided to drive back before it became dark. When I’m not familiar with a new neighborhood, I don’t like to be there into the evening. It looked safe enough, but we needed to get back to the care before our time ran out on our parking meter.

 

We made it back to San Jose in time for a drink, hot wings and chicken fingers at Smoke Eaters. Fieldwork Blackberry Parfait a Sour Ale, Jackrabbit Afterglow a Brown Ale, Hop Dogma Stout, Anderson Valley Nitro Cerveza Crema, Lagunitas Citrusinensis a Pale Ale, Knee Deep Simtra Triple IPA, Six Rivers Sasquatch Double IPA and many more were sold on draft. Or you could choose from their signature cocktails Rose Martini, Lemon Pie Martini, Black Beauty, Pisco Sour or a Prickly Pear Mez-arita. The bar was fun and lively everyone watching the hockey game hooting and hollering. I drank water since I still had another hour drive back to my house, but Jasmine had a cold pineapple cider. She taught me how to order wings by choosing a sauce like mango habanero, honey sriracha, garlic Parmesan or the extra hot inferno sauce. Eating at Smoke Eaters Restaurant was the perfect ending to our day together.

 

So if you are looking for an outing a little out of the ordinary, check out Santa Cruz. Whether you visit the far out kava house Melo Melo also located in Berkeley, or bother to stop off at Go Ask Alice for a mood elevator or plant sedative you will not be disappointed.  Maybe you are lucky enough to take a friend or loved one with you like I did.

 

Thanks for spending this time with me and reading my blog. I’m so happy I can share my treks and good eats here and give you ideas for your next vacation or day trip.

 

Please leave me a comment and share your Capitola and Santa Cruz experiences with me. Next I will be sharing my trip to San Francisco with my son Andrew and also share a fun beer crawl in Walnut Creek with my son Curtis. Someone has to have some fun, so it may as well be me.

Here is my famous Carrot Cake Recipe for you all to enjoy.

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Carrot Cake layer getting smeared with Cream cheese Frosting

Fabulous Carrot Cake

Ingredients:

2 C. Granulated Sugar

1 C. Canola Oil (Vegetable or Grapeseed ok)

4 Eggs

Zest 1 Orange

1 teas Vanilla

 

2 1.2 C. Unbleached All Purpose Flour

2 teas Baking Powder

1 teas ground Cinnamon

1 teas ground Ginger

¼ t ground Cloves

2 teas Baking Soda

½ teas Maldon Salt (kosher ok)

 

3 ½ C Grated Carrots (can substitute zucchini)

1 Grated Apple

 

3/4 C Chopped Toasted Walnuts (or pecans)

¼ C. Chopped Crystallized Ginger (Found at Trader Joes)

½ C Flaked or Shredded Coconut(Can be toasted first)

½ C Dried Cranberries, Raisins or Currants

 

Cream Cheese Frosting 

8 oz Pkg cream cheese softened

½ Cube Butter Softened

2 teas Vanilla

3-4 C Powdered Sugar sifted (Can use less)

1 T Heavy Cream

 

Directions for Cake:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees

Grease 8 ½ X 12 ½  Bundt Pan with shortening then dust with flour

Or Make 2 dozen cupcakes using muffin pans and use paper or foil liners. I like CupBakes brand which are grease resistant and found in restaurant supply stores.

In a large bowl, cream together Sugar, Oil, Eggs, Orange zest and Vanilla until combined. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer.

In a separate medium size bowl sift together all dry ingredients flour, spices, baking soda, salt, baking powder until combined.

Using a Cuisinart, grate carrots and apple. I swear by this piece of equipment and use it every day when cooking and baking.

Chop walnuts and set aside.

Starting with the dry ingredients, alternately add dry flour mixture to wet sugar, oil and egg mixture while mixer is on low. Then add some grated carrot/apple to mixer and blend. Keep adding more dry, then more carrot/apple until all ingredients are in the mixer ending with flour.

Remove bowl from Kitchen Aid, and fold in remaining ingredients: Crystallized ginger, coconut, cranberries and walnuts.

Pour carrot cake mixture into prepared bundt pan or lined muffin pans. If using a Bundt pan, bake for 45-60 minutes. Cupcakes will only take 15-17 minutes or until a tooth pick comes out clean.

 

Frost with cream cheese frosting when cake has completely cooled. 

 

Directions for Cream Cheese Frosting:

Place softened room temperature cream cheese, butter in a mixer and blend until smooth. Add vanilla and powdered sugar slowly while mixture is running adding heavy cream to get the right consistency.

Last and final note. I give credit to the original  recipe to Lorraine Andrew’s who is the mother of my previous coworker Cynthia. I worked with her at Dr Hunter’s office over 20 years ago. I’ve added a few extra ingredients to make it my own and love spoiling my family with this cake on special occasions.

Until next time.

Teri

 

 

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Forks and Corks at Chez Panisse and Strawberry Pie Recipe

Forks and Corks at Chez Panisse and Strawberry Pie Recipe

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Me and my son Andrew at Chez Panisse in Berkeley

Had the best lunch today with my son Andrew in Berkeley. We ate at the #ChezPanisse Café, Alice Waters’ farm to table restaurant, open since 1980. It’s commonly referred as one of the best restaurants in the country. We visited The Local Butcher Shop which is where many of local chefs like Alice purchase their protein. Then we went to see the inspiring organic and sustainable Edible Schoolyard garden located at King Middle School a few blocks from the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant. At the end of this post you will find my strawberry pie recipe if you hang around long enough.

I was fortunate that my son had time to have a leisurely lunch with me. I decided to treat us both and give him (and me) the 5 star dining experience. Sometimes it’s nice to have one on one time to really appreciate your loved one. Andrew appreciates good healthy food more than most and today’s lunch was exceptional.

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Spring Flowers to brighten your day from my garden

I had been to Chez Panisse twice before when celebrating special occasions. The first visit was a dinner with my Mom Diane and my Step Dad Tom. They took my husband and I out for my birthday. The second time, I spoiled my friend Marie for her birthday and took her there for lunch. The attention to detail on every level is top notch. I’m speaking about the professional staff who greet you at the top of the stairs and graciously seat you. Of course, it’s best to have a reservation since it is very popular. Andrew and I were fortunate enough to get a table calling the day before. The atmosphere was delightful, people imbibing in a glass of wine (in my case) or beer (for Andrew) to go along with lunch to enhance the experience. Because you never feel pressured to eat quickly here and why not relax a little?

 

The menu is packed with seasonal fresh produce from local farms, fruit from orchards, ranches and the best fisheries that practice principles of sustainability. Chef Nathan Alderson is the Cafe’s culinary artist. Here is the menu we were presented when perfectly seated.

 

It’s actually a dream of mine to work at Chez Panisse. Still recovering from toe surgery, so I’m taking it easy these days. Easter is coming up and everyone is asking if I will host again. I’m not feeling 100% and I’m of the opinion that it’s okay to let others carry the burden of the holiday party once in a while. After all, I’ve been entertaining ever since Ken and I got married almost 30 years ago.

 

My Mother hosted Easter when the weather was good. For several years she had chickens and a bunny which the grandkids loved. And she has a picture perfect garden with a pond, big trees and a nice brick patio. But my mom hasn’t been well for about 5 or 6 years now and it’s not an option. I don’t like feeling pressured to host even though I love to cook and bake. I’m ready for the younger generation to step up and “take the reigns.’ After all, they have the young ones who like to hunt for eggs and like waiting for the Easter bunny. Luckily, my brother Rick and his wife Aly graciously offered to have Easter at their home. Hopefully, we can all be together this year.

 

So, enough of my ranting. Chez Panisse is a great Berkeley destination if you like good food. We were greeted at the top of the stairs with a beautiful flower arrangement with ranunculus, jasmine, and quince branches with gorgeous pink blossoms.

 

The lunch menu was full of seasonal vegetables like fennel, cauliflower, beets, carrots, parsnips and garden lettuces. We started with their fennel and citrus salad,  plate of rosemary olives, Spanish anchovies and parsnip-carrot soup with crème’ fraiche and chives. Delish.

 

Then I ordered the halibut with snap peas, spinach and Meyer lemon beurre blanc, and Andrew ordered the pork loin. After a bit, the waiter explained that they needed to substitute the pork with a roasted chicken breast, which was served with  roasted asparagus and shoestring potatoes. Andrew absolutely loved it. He said he could cry after taking the first bite. He said it was his second best meal of his life, the first being in Europe.

 

Later, the waiter brought us the coconut panna cotta with tangerine-passion fruit coulis and a cardamom cake with blood orange caramel and Chantilly cream on the house. Our generous waiter also gave me Mary Jo’s email who is the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. Of course I tried to look her up on Instagram immediately to follow her. And I will definitely be reaching out to her to see if she needs an assistant.

 

 

With full satisfied bellies, we walked into The Local Butcher shop and bought a pork chop so my son could finally get the pork he was looking forward to. This place had everything you could think of from chicken, sausages, deli meats, bacon, smoked ham hocks, hot dogs, pates, duck, turkey, rabbit, quail, varieties of lard, stocks and bone broth.

 

This butcher shop focuses on providing local proteins: Such as Wolfe Ranch in Vacaville, Devils Gulch in Marin County, Paine Farm in Sonoma, Farmer Joy in Petaluma, Tomales Bay Pastures in Marshall and many more. They offer sausage making classes, a poultry butcher class, a stock making class, duck confit classes and much more. I would check out their website for more information on dates and classes.

Next, Andrew and I we on to the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School which I’ve heard so much about, a few blocks from Chez Panisse. Kids learn about gardening, cooking, composting, edible education programs, and the program is committed to forging a just, sustainable food system. We saw rows of organic kale, arugula, leeks, borage and much more.

 

 

“To spend time in an Edible Schoolyard is to realize how much more is going on here than teaching kids how to garden or cook. Kids begin to learn about food in all its dimensions – as an edible medium of culture, science, ecology, and even social justice. The Edible Schoolyard is an eloquent and practical answer to some of the most pressing questions facing us as a society.”

MICHAEL POLLAN Journalist and Author

Here the children learn about fungi, bacteria, and how food scraps become rich organic compost in six weeks. Andrew and I saw cuttings of fruit trees that had been grafted and placed into pots. Last year, I took a class last year on grafting trees and learned a lot. Unfortunately, my apple tree didn’t survive, but plenty of Alice Waters’ students trees were thriving. There was even a greenhouse with new plantings that the students grew from seeds.

 

I was impressed by the curriculum of pressing cider, learning about global warming, making kale pesto, the study of bees and pollinators, and the process of orienting kids into a kitchen and what happens there.

 

We even came across a friendly neighborhood cat who looked content supervising our visit. It was even more exciting to walk by a plant share kiosk in front of someone’s house. People leave extra plants that they don’t need and share them. I could place one of these stations in front of my house since I have many plants that reseed everywhere. They call it the “give and take garden” and I’m in love with the concept. After all, I started out gardening when my friends gave me cuttings of perennials from their gardens.

 

Overall, it was a fabulous day spending time with my son and exploring Berkeley. We loved Chez Panisse, The Local Butcher Shop, and The Edible Schoolyard. I hope you and your loved ones are getting out and trying something new. It’s exciting to be inspired by what’s going on in the community.

 

Are you inspired to cook when you see fresh produce at your market? What dish are you looking forward to making this Easter? I saw an adorable cake on Instagram by TheTipsyCakery that I could try making with my four year old niece Josie.

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Isn’t this the cutest cake by thetipsycakery? Found on Instagram

Please subscribe to my blog to get the latest posts. And thank you for reading. It means a lot. Happy Easter!

Here’s my recipe for Strawberry Pie

 

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Biking in Napa for Calamari and Hazelnut Dacquoise

Biking in Napa for Calamari and Hazelnut Dacquoise

Spent the day in Yountville and Napa with my friend Ana bike riding and eating at some of my favorite restaurants. The rain in Northern California has been non stop, but we had a break in the weather that day and biked until our hearts were content. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at Bistro don Giovanni, dessert and beverages at Auberge du Soleil, then a quick stop at the Cia Copia and OxBow Public Market to complete the perfect day.

 

Ana and I were originally going to ride bikes to Danville for lunch at SideBoard a neighborhood cafe. When I heard they closed, I shifted our bike ride to the Napa Valley so I could check out Farmstead Restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena.

 

We set out North on our bikes after parking in the town of Yountville. We brought our own bikes even though you can easily rent them. I stopped to ask for directions at a bed and breakfast in town and the clerk Googled and even printed me a map towards our destination.

Unfortunately, after several attempts and ending up off the beaten path on to rocky surfaces, we decided to ride South towards Napa instead on the designated Napa Valley Vine Trail. It was refreshing to finally be on a flat safe surface in a clear direction.

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We had been riding for over an hour and a half and we needed food in our bellies. Luckily, Bistro Don Giovanni was nearby, so we rode our bikes there. Well, not directly there, since I thought we could sneak in through a vineyard. That wasn’t going to happen since there were barbed wires surrounding the property. Through the mud we rode, until we finally found a newer property that had a paved road. Phew! Boy were we glad to see that.

 

Eventually we drove through a quaint older Napa neighborhood and onto Hwy 29 for a block to get to the restaurant. Ana and I were fortunate that they still had an available table to seat us. The food was exceptional as usual. We shared their short rib, cipollini onion, asparagus pappardelle special and fried calamari with green beans, fennel and onions. So tasty. Ana had a Merlot from Whitehall to drink and I ordered a Cabernet from Frank Vineyards. Food always tastes better after a long bike ride and Ana had never had fresh pasta from California before. Here’s a Chef’s Salad Recipe I made.

 

Obviously, we took a shortcut back to the bike path on the way back to Yountville, but had a good laugh about our earlier excursion through the vineyards.

 

Next was a quick ride through the small town since we weren’t quite ready to abandon the bikes. We saw the brand spanking new Villagio Hotel  conference/wedding venue which is spacious and gorgeous. Atelier Fine Foods was catering a Yountville Chamber of Commerce networking mixer at JCB Salon Prive’ with focaccia and a huge platter of cheese, olives, charcuterie and of course wine. We didn’t stick around long enough to imbibe.

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Outstanding cheese and charcuterie platter on its way to a Yountville Chamber of Commerce Mixer. I want to be a member !

 

Back to the car with the bikes we went, and headed for our Farmstead Restaurant. The only problem I have with taking friends to Napa is getting side tracked by all of the other phenomenal choices to experience. This time I stopped at Auberge du Soleil off the Silverado trail which is a part of Relais & Chateaux. This property sits high on a hill and looks over the Napa Valley. The view is spectacular and the restaurant is Michelin rated.

 

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Anna and me standing in the entry way to Auburge du Soleil

Since we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on food, we took a seat at the bar. They have a wide selection of fancy cocktails, beer on tap, and wines of course, but we ordered the non-alcoholic Ipanema: A refreshing drink consisting of ginger ale, fresh muddled lime and sugar. Since we weren’t hungry, we settled on their famous Auberge Torte au Chocolat : A hazelnut dacquoise (a fancy name for a almond hazelnut and meringue cake), gianduja mousse and vanilla gelato. I’m pretty sure it was the BEST dessert I’ve ever had. The good news is they sell them and will ship this chocolatey decadence all over the world. And one piece cost $17.00 which we shared, but it was worth every penny. Pastry chef Paul Lemieux has a lot to be proud of and I will happily follow him on Instagram.

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The mouthwatering chocolate hazelnut cake at Auberge du Soleil

 

Feeling generous, Ana bought 9 of their freshly made cookies so we could bring my Mother and Step Father some goodies. I have to say, the oatmeal cherry were my favorite, but the peanut butter and chocolate chip ones were delicious too. Yes, we ate most of them before we got to the car!

Losing our appetite for Farmstead, we headed home. Again I took a detour and stopped at the Culinary Institute of America Napa. I took Ana upstairs to the cooking school where there was a class that was assembling dumplings.We also walked through the fascinating Chuck Williams Culinary Art Exhibit featuring over 4000 artifacts of specialty cookware used by great chefs in Europe.

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Delicious pastries at Frankfurt Airport. I bet OxBow has similar goodies to indulge in.

Next to the Cia Copia is OxBow Public Market where there is practically every kind of food and drink available to consume. We walked around Whole Spice Company, Napa Valley Distillery, Fieldwork Brewery, Annette’s Chocolates and many more foodie destinations. At least Ana will know where to go when she entertains her out of town guests in a few weeks.

 

Let’s just say, Napa Valley has captured my heart. I’m never disappointed by the hospitality and generosity they offer their tourists and people like me. Sometimes the wine country is calling me and I have to escape the Bay Area. Is it calling you? You will come back feeling rejuvenated from all of the good food, great wine and clean country like charm it offers. Can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time I will actually make it to Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch.

 

If you enjoyed my blog, please share on Facebook, Twitter or email a friend. Maybe they will be ready for a change of pace and join you for a special day in the Napa Valley Wine Country.

 

 

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Measurable Thrill in Oakland and a Blackberry Pie you Won’t Forget

Measurable Thrill in Oakland and a Blackberry Pie you Won’t Forget

Our family celebrated my son Curtis’ 34th birthday in the Berkeley Oakland area last month and we had a ton of fun. We ate and drank at Limewood, Mad Oak Bar, and at Mua Restaurant all evening long and truly enjoyed spending time together. It’s rare my husband and I get to take our boys Curtis and Andrew 27 out on a Friday night, so we took advantage of the opportunity. I’m hoping today’s blog will inspire you to check out Oakland and all it has to offer. Plus I will include my recipe for my home made Blackberry Pie.

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Our Hansome men Curtis and Andrew out celebrating Curtis’ 34th birthday at Limewood Bar Claremont Hotel Berkeley

 

I always do a ton of research before exploring a new area, yet trying to make reservations online isn’t my cup of tea. I never want to box myself into a time in case our plans change last minute. That’s why we started off at the Claremont Hotel and their Limewood Bar. Also Curtis didn’t wanted to miss the Warriors  game, so we were happy we could keep track of the score while eating dinner.

 

The Claremont is a special place because my husband and I stayed there on our wedding night over 29 years ago. It is a gorgeous historic place and I knew my boys would love experiencing the food and nightlife there.

 

My husband Ken was our designated driver so Curtis, and Andrew and I could enjoy ourselves and imbibe in fancy libations, but we first had to eat. We ordered the crispy Brussel sprouts made with fish sauce caramel, peanuts and cilantro, olives, ahi tuna with potato chips, the roasted chicken and lentils and their braised beef cheek in tagliatelle. The food was presented nicely and everything was delicious.

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Me and my number one son Curtis at Mua Restaurant checking out the art. My dad named him Montana since he was born on superbowl sunday 1985.

 

Andrew ordered a Guinness beer, Curtis had a cocktail and I had a glass of Cabernet. We asked the bartender where he suggested we go next and he recommended the Penthouse Bar Mad Oak. This place was very hip and popular. They had a rooftop bar that was packed with a fun crowd. They also had the Warriors basketball game showing on a large wall. We found a spot to sit at the roof top bar and enjoyed our drinks. Curtis had the vodka cocktail that was on special, while Andrew and I stuck with our beer and wine. We weren’t hungry yet, so we sat and talked and enjoyed the clear night and open air bar.

 

Next we went to Mua Restaurant not far from the last stop. We were lucky to find parking close by and an available table. We ordered more drinks, guacamole and chips, the half pound burger with fries, the “Mac n Cheese” made with butternut squash and cream and who knows what else. The night is a blurr and I can hardly remember much else. All I know is that we didn’t get home until 1:30 AM after dropping off our boys.

Mad Oak roof top Bar in Oakland

 

I can’t remember the last time we partied like this with our kids. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but we are excited to spend time with them, especially around their birthdays. I highly recommend spending the evening in Oakland and checking out the Limewood Restaurant and Bar, the Mad Oak Bar and Mua Restaurant.

 

Next you will find my favorite Blackberry Pie recipe. It’s the perfect dessert to go with your Valentine’s day dinner. It’s my husband’s favorite pie, so I had to have my friends over today and show them how to make it. We had a blast and you will too.

 

Be sure to share this blog with your family and friends on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or via email to a friend. And follow me for more fun recipes and travel posts.

 

Blackberry Filling for Pie

 Ingredients: 

6 Cups of Frozen Blackberries (3 bags of O Organics from Safeway or fresh if in season)

1 Cup granulated sugar

Juice and zest of 1 orange

½ t grated nutmeg

Pinch of Maldon Salt Flakes

 

¼ C Hanson’s Sonoma Organic Vodka Mandarin Flavored

2 T Cornstarch

 

3 T Tapioca Flour

3 T Unsalted Butter cut into chunks

 

1 whisked whole egg (used to brush on top of pastry)

 

1 T granulated sugar

1 T demerara sugar

 

Directions: 

Pour 6 Cups of blackberries into a heavy medium sized pot. Add sugar, nutmeg, orange juice and zest and salt and cook until bubbly.

Mix mandarin vodka and cornstarch in a small bowl and add to the pot of boiling blackberries. Cool.

Make pastry. Check out my previous post here: pastry recipe .

 

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This is Nancy’s blackberry pie. She chose to use fresh blackberries and bake them without cooking first. Looks so pretty

After mixture is cooled and pastry is rolled out and placed into pie dish, mix 3 T of Tapioca Flour into blackberries and pour into pastry lined pie dish. Dot with chunks of butter. Top with remaining rolled out pastry, crimp sides with your thumb and pointed finger to make a nice edge. Cut out a tiny whoel (I made a heart shape) in center of pie.

 

Brush with egg and sprinkle with both sugars.

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place filled blackberry pie onto a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour or so until crust is golden brown.

 

Let pie cool completely so that blackberries have time to gell and set. This is the hardest part. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!

Teri:)

 

 

 

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This Might Be a Little Goofy and Twice Baked Cheesy Potato Recipe

This Might Be a Little Goofy and Twice Baked Cheesy Potato Recipe

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Goofy at Disneyland January 2020

 

I had an incredible weekend in Disneyland with my sister in law, her husband, their two daughters and 2 more nieces and a nephew last January. It’s fun to think of the good times we had before Covid19 came into our existence. Traveling along side these families while in Disneyland is fairly familiar to me because I’ve been going there with them since 2014. The clan keeps growing every year. My niece’s now have boyfriends who love to go with us. It’s a ton of fun and a vacation not to be missed. We do get a little goofy.

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Here are a few of the family members who attend our Disney vacation year after year. Starting from the back left, my niece’s Laura, Michelle, my sister in law Terri Ann, her son, my nephew Peter, my niece’s Jamie, Keri and Keri’s boyfriend Sam. Missing was my sister in law Kathleen, her husband Rodney and me.

These people are Disney experts when it comes to making the most of your time and getting to go on the best rides without waiting in line for hours. It’s remarkable tagging along and observing their strategies in getting to the park early at 6:30 AM so we are the first people in the park when the gates open.

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#splashmountain Not a roller coaster lover. That’s me in front trying not to die or get wet

We usually stop for coffee at Starbucks after ordering online, before getting in line to get into Disneyland.

 

The fun starts when I try to keep up with my 21 year old niece Jamie, who insists on being in the first car on the cars ride and who runs as fast as she can trying to avoid the “no running!” And “walk!” comments all along the way. I’ve never laughed so hard keeping up with her skinny and fit legs. I pride myself on being in fairly good shape and love a good competition, but this run always leaves me sore and out of breath. Seeing her smile when she sits down in that first car is something I don’t ever want to miss. Of course, we all have to go along with her silly facial expressions during the photo shoot so we all look alike. It’s crazy, exciting and fun and nothing like my everyday life back at home.

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This is me back at the Disneyland Hotel trying to get a nap before we set off for another several hours of rides and entertainment

The food was expensive, but we always have plenty of good meals that sustain our energy levels so we can keep up with the rigorous challenges of 3 days at the park.

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I never buy these Rice Krispie Treats, but am always inspired to make them myself when I get home

 

I couldn’t wait to come home and prepare a nice home cooked meal after the love fest of spending time with my extended family. One of my favorite side dishes is my twice baked potato recipe. These warm from the oven cheesy treats are perfect served along side a baked ham or prime rib roast and would be the perfect recipe for a weekend dinner party.

This recipe is a family favorite that will feed a crowd. I hope it becomes your go to meal when entertaining your loved ones too, especially when you are back from a long and fun family vacation.

And here’s another blog from my last trip to Disneyland during the Food and Wine Festival.

 

Twice Baked Cheesy Potatoes

Ingredients

10 Russet Potatoes

¼ C. Softened Butter

¾ C. Sour Cream

2 ½ oz Garlic flavored Boursin Cheese

4 oz softened cream cheese

¼ C. Milk

¾ lb. shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese

2 Tbs Fresh Chopped Parsley

 

Directions

10 Russet Potatoes (coat w olive oil) bake 400 degree oven for 1 hr, cut in half

Scoop out inside of potatoes and put into large bowl

Add remaining ingredients and mix w electric hand mixer until combined.

Place potato skins onto a foil covered sheet pan. Use large spoon or ice cream scoop and fill each skin generously with cheesy mixture.

Sprinkle w parsley. Bake again in 400 degree oven for @ 30 minutes.

This will serve 15 people or more depending the size of the potatoes.

 

And in case you don’t believe me, here is a quick YouTube video of our weekend.

 

Feel free to leave a comment down below. Follow my blog for more great stories and recipes.

Teri:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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