I had two requests for vegetarian smørrebrød. As I have been quite the holiday chocolate machine lately, I decided to go totally veggie and clean. Was pretty happy with the result. Both are on a slice of sesame Ezekiel bread, buttered and then topped with a little spinach. Both experienced a salt and pepper shower prior to eating.

TOP SLICE: sliced pears, sliced tomato, sliced purple onion, carrots roasted in evoo/balsamic/cumin/paprika/garlic salt, slice of lemon, dill.

BOTTOM SLICE: dill pickle slices (from the Avila Valley Barn), roasted beet salad made with Veganaise/pickle brine/maple syrup/salt/pepper, sliced persimmon, and dill. 

Processed with VSCOcamand here’s how I packed the same ingredients for grain-free bento:
Processed with VSCOcam

BTW, I loved hearing your requests for veggie smorrebrod! Please, please let me know if you’d like me to make something from a certain part of the world or featuring a certain ingredient/eating style for either a regular dish or bento. The weirder the challenge the better, even if it’s abstract like, say, a Quentin Tarantino bento. Which I’m guessing would heavily feature ketchup splatters. See, I love that kind of thing! Please get crazy in the comments!

This has been a pretty swaggy Christmas season so far. I participated in Food 52’s holiday exchange this year and had to post a pic or two of my box, since my Food52 exchange buddy Steph really pulled out the proverbial bells and whistles to send me the best of Utah!
2014-12-16 16.21.232014-12-16 16.45.52On Friday, I came home from my swearing in party and found this beauty on the counter. One of my closest friends and college roomie Pam sent me this box of delish homemade goodies. I know, this bragging is shameless but I’m just so thrilled and grateful that I have people in my life willing to send something like this, and all the way from DC. 2014-12-19 20.41.10 2014-12-19 20.42.12

That’s right, bourbon balls. In other news, my sister Erika has returned to Tahoe. It was actually horrible to see her go. I am not a lonely person by habit or nature, but few things make me feel more unfortunately solitary than that vacant, suspended feeling in my chest after she drives away and I realize I don’t know when I’ll see her again. We celebrated Christmas early to coincide with her visit, which was a ton of fun. Does anyone reading play Just Dance on Wii?! It’s awesome. We did a ton of fam bonding with that game, and I can think of no other acceptable venue for me to do the music video dance from “Bang Bang.”

Before I go, a holiday reminder: it’s about the time you spend, not the gifts you give or receive. Christmas gifts are great, but they do not define your relationships. Getting a wonderful gift does not mean your relationship with the giver is any better, nor is the converse true. December is as close as America gets to a corporate sponsored season of days off work, culinary decadence, friends, and family; take advantage. The other 364 days, when the real relationship making and breaking goes down, are full of enough pressure as it is. Cheers, and happy holidays!

I saw this Serious Eats article on smørrebrød and had to make my own. Smørrebrød is an everyday Danish dish, an open-faced sandwich on dense rye bread with a layer of butter, piled high with various toppings. Scandinavian food–with all that smoked, dill-dusted fish–has always held a place in my heart, and with little time to cook I was in the market for a tasty, healthy, easy dish I could merely assemble. I gathered the necessary items, and made a lunch along with several bento for the upcoming week.

Smørrebrød, two ways

Both are on buttered Sesame Ezekiel bread with a layer of spinach.

TOP SLICE/SMOKED SALMON: sliced hard boiled egg, sliced persimmon, and sliced red onion. Dill-ed to the hilt. 

BOTTOM SLICE/PICKLED HERRING: sliced hard-boiled egg, sliced persimmon, sliced red onion, and a secret batch of Stormy T’s turnip pickles (which I am testing for flavor). Then, dill x a million. 

2014-12-14 12.10.58Yes, that’s a crip new Settlers of Catan. Cannot wait to get on board and learn to play!2014-12-14 12.10.48 Here’s the “photo finish” version, before I threw on the egg that didn’t fit and upended the dill. This is a total dirty blogger secret. The food that gets photographed and the food that gets eaten are often not precisely the same…2014-12-14 12.03.41And here’s the bento! Layers of spinach, red onions, smoked salmon, tomatoes, shredded carrots, Stormy T’s turnip pickles, and an egg over medium. 

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Highlights from this week include: work party at the Madonna Inn (was served fillet mignon on a stick. So yummy, so laid-back Central Coast), midnight eggnog gelato and sunflower seed cookie sammies, seeing the Nutcracker and getting my picture taken with the Sugar Plum Fairy, and watching a date struggle through “level ten hot” Korean food while trying to remain nonchalant/keep up our conversation. 

In other news, my sister will be in town all week! I have put all other plans on hold for maximum sister and fam hangout time. This means there will be a ton of sushi-eating, hopefully some Moulin Rogue watching, and lots of quality convos that can only be had with your best flesh and blood relations.

ALSO: let me know if there’s a certain kind of cuisine you’d like to see stuffed in a bento. I am all about accepting challenges, Top Chef style. Just comment away if you have any ideas! Take care, hope you’re having a delightful holiday season!

Nothing says “I hate you” (or worse, I’m totally obligated) like a bagged gift from Target. While this is not a blanket rule–hello Target holiday pajamas–getting friends and family special, personalized gifts is what makes the holidays fun. There’s no point doing the stressed out gifts slog under those big box fluorescents if you live in a place with as many artists, artisans, and makers as SLO County. Here are some options:

  • Commission Some Art

The Central Coast has a glut of talented artists who may be willing to draw/paint/sculpt/decollage something awesome for your loved ones. And, it doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive. (Because let’s be real, for all the faux-Italian swag in this county, many of us are NOT Medicis looking to get our busts sculpted.)

This year, I commissioned two works from local artist Kevin Castaniero. This is one of his pieces (but not the one I commissioned! Those have to stay under wraps for now!):

Badass, right? Kevin will draw your friends and family members, potentially in the fighting gear of your choice, or any other character. He’s wonderful to work with and I would very much recommend him. Each piece will generally run from $30 to $70. Check out his website for details!

  • Local Jewelry

Len Designs Jewelry is the real deal. The materials are heavy, quality metals and Shannon Len’s point of view as a jewelry designer is strong. She’s all pared-down-contemporary with an eye for beautiful details. Observe:

Situated right across the street from the SLO Goshi, it’s easy to stop in and browse for something elegant. North County folks can pick up Len jewelry from the General Store in Paso.

  • Meat

Because that weird ish from the supermarket just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Alle Pia salumis made by the good folks at Buona Tavola are to die for and would serve as a decadent treat under the tree. A few months ago I went to a work-related event at Buona Tavola SLO and literally gorged myself on salumi-wrapped asparagus finger foods (classy, I know).

Check out their website here for local distributors or just go see Alex at the Tempelton Farmer’s Market on Saturday!

  • Theatre Tickets

People who say there’s “nothing to do” in SLO county apparently haven’t consulted local theatre schedules. The busy bees at the SLO Little Theatre turn out compelling productions, ranging from crowd-pleasing musicals like a Chorus Line and the Music Man, to acclaimed comedies like Steve Martin’s Picasso at Lapin Agile. There’s also the PAC, which always has an eclectic mix of performances running.

  • Bath and Body Goods

I am pretty obsessed with skincare and can be found lurking about Sephora on a weekly basis, but the line of custom-made soaps and scrubs at the General Store in Paso Robles keeps me coming back. I know I talk about these a ton, but seriously you need the Bitter Sweet Scrub in your life, or at least your Grandma does.

  • Spices

Spices are one of the few commodities people probably don’t spend enough money on. A good spice cabinet is a game changer in terms of the tastiness level in your home cooking. Fresh spices are pricey but they are literally magic powder in the kitchen; box store spices can’t compare. Luckily, Spice of Life in Paso Robles offers fresh spices and creative blends for sale at reasonable prices. I went in over the weekend to get some quality allspice and came across oodles of blends, sampler packs, and exotic ingredients (hello dill pollen?!) that would be perfect for a holiday gift. I’m pretty obsessed with their garlic salt, “Curry Up,” and “Greek Influence” blend. They also have cooking-grade matcha. Let’s just say someone on my list is getting a nifty little  bag of lovingly-selected mulling spices!

 

I hope I’ve convinced you to up your present game this year! Christmas can get costly and stressful, so you might as well get the good stuff and keep our local economy on its feet. Take care everyone, and happy holidays!

Two maj holidays down, one to go. I’m working on putting together a gift guide but for now all I’ve got is this post, which contains all the best parts of my long weekend: friends, family, wine tasting, all winding up with some meal prep and hella eggs. 

For Thanksgiving, I was asked to make the apple pie. I decided to apron-up and improvise on a basic recipe; the result was a whiskey-spiked mulled cider apple pie with apples and Gopher Glen cider from the Avila Valley Barn. I mulled the cider myself, then boiled it with Crown Royal and Throat Coat tea. Yes, I basically doused these apples in a scalding cocktail before stuffing them in the crust. I think the real “secret ingredient” was coconut sugar, which lent the pie a nice caramelized taste.

Phase one: peel.

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Last week I assembled a posse and headed for a pre-SLO brew show dinner at Foremost Wine Co. This is a brand new SLO establishment and if our meal is any indication of what the kitchen is capable of, it’s here to stay. It might even be better than Thomas Hill, which is a pretty tall order. In any case, I was deeply impressed with the creative menu options. Foremost, if their aerological-themed menu presentation didn’t give it away, serves strictly seasonal fare and boasts a kickass, international wine list. The actual space is beautiful to behold. Part enchanted forest with lots of cool, dark earth tones, Foremost has an elevated but folksy noir feel that welcomes. Like if Karl Lagerfeld and Malificent had a baby who decided to decorate a restaurant, it would probably look a lot like Foremost Wine Co.

At some point during my visit I remember thinking Foremost Wine Co. is just the kind of place SLO County needed; food that’s not only quality but inspired, and with a casual but distinctly polished atmosphere that serves the food-forward 20-something crowd just as well as it does the 40-somethings. No faux-Italian/French/whatever, no pretense; just balls-to-the-wall creative cooking. I’d highly recommend Foremost and can’t wait to return. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Here are Marianne and I nerding out over the prospect of delish food, as per usual.

2014-11-16 18.05.25 Liquid courage indeed! We all started out with a drink. I was feeling girly and tried their rose by the glass. It was only slightly pink and BONE DRY, which is exactly up my alley. Marianne tried the cava, loved it, and Alex had a drink from the bar but I sadly do not remember its name. 2014-11-16 18.08.27 The menu front page is beautiful. Inspirational quote at the bottom of the page doesn’t hurt. 2014-11-16 18.11.24Spoiler alert: we definitively asserted our dominance as a species with these meal choices, covering both land and sea. We started out with the rabbit mole tacos. This was a rich, spicy mole made with evident care, and the rabbit meat took to it wonderfully. 2014-11-16 18.34.15 We also split the cauliflower fritti, which is curried and served with mint, accompanied by lemon yogurt for dipping. This dish was the only choice I wasn’t so fond of. The deep-fry killed the curry flavor. 2014-11-16 18.34.20 And here is the decided belle of the ball for the evening: the cocoa paperdelle with braised quail. If given the option, I would have put my face in the bowl. This was what I came for: delicious slow-cooked, handmade food with a burst of culinary creativity. The taste was unique, the noodles soft and perfect–not too overwhelmingly imbued with cacao–and the braised quail actually mouthwatering. We split all the dishes but I probably ate more than my share of this one.2014-11-16 18.34.27 This grilled octopus was also a table favorite. Foremost expertly prepares that hard-to-find TENDER octopus that’s still a bit crisp around the edges. It is served in cream corn with chorizo vinaigrette and arugula. This dish should be considered a must for your trip to Foremost. 2014-11-16 18.34.36 Stoked. 2014-11-16 18.35.12The servers also take awesome group shots! I should note that Foremost brings a strong service game. Everyone we came into contact with from servers to hosts was poised, no-fuss and excited to talk about the menu.
2014-11-16 18.36.22The receipt came with kale seeds.
2014-11-16 19.15.33 Must get a seat at this sexy oyster bar next time. Foremost has a full on dining room, an oyster bar, and a lounge.2014-11-16 19.17.43Pretty decor, indeed.
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Hopefully these pictures have persuaded any SLO readers out there to book a table, although you might have to fight me for it. Enjoy your last few days of sanity before Thanksgiving sets in!

Foremost Wine Co.

570 Higuera St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805)439-3410

foremostwineco.com

 

I guess it’s one of those annoying “blessings in disguise” that San Luis Obispo is bereft of a legit dumpling place. As is the case with many finer points of Asian cuisine, SLO residents have to make their own damn mandu. (Aka, Korean-style dumplings!) The least that can be said for this predicament is, with the stern expectations of “authentic” cooking cast on more diverse/cultured pockets of California, at least there’s room to be creative. So, I got creative. This recipe had been brewing in my head for over a week before I finally made some time to execute.

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Mandu filling contains (top row): sweet potatoes roasted in gochujang and chili oil; roasted garlic; kimchi and sesame seeds stir-fried with red pepper flakes; smoked effing gouda cheese; scallions; and lean ground beef. I added a dollop of oyster sauce and drizzled in some soy. Wrappers are store-bought (sorry not sorry, they take FOREVER to make by hand). Over fresh spinach.

Roast veggies (bottom row): broccoli, cauliflower, and kabocha roasted in fermented black bean paste, chili oil, garlic salt, and red pepper flakes. Over raw shredded carrot.

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And they were really, really good. I’m excited to nom on these all week! The great thing about these mandu is that the taste is brash and complex, but they’re still firmly the “clean eating” category. This is lean ground beef, there’s hardly any cheese spread across like, sixty dumplings, and oil was used sparingly. There’s also great-for-your-gut fermented ingredients (kimchi and gochujang). Sweet potato and garlic go a long, long way.

DIRECTIONS: Roast some sweet potatoes in a little less than a handful of gochujang, and roasted a ton of garlic on the side. Super easy step, just put them in the oven at 400 degrees for around an hour. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl to cool.

2014-11-15 12.06.06

Stir-fry some kimchi and sesame seeds in a little chili oil. Get the kimchi nice and crispy while toasting the sesame.2014-11-15 11.05.32 Chop up some scallions and toss them in a food processor with the kimchi and the roasted garlic. I have a fancy tub-like food processor but I always find myself resorting to this little Ninja! So handy, so easy to clean. 2014-11-15 11.13.52Add the food processed mix, ground beef and shredded smoked gouda to the mixing bowl along with a few dashes of oyster sauce and soy sauce. Time to get your hands dirty and mash it all up! Try to ignore how the ground beef looks uncomfortably like brains…2014-11-15 12.12.34 Set up your wrapping station, pick a dumpling shape and get to folding! I always have a little bowl of water to dampen wrapper edges for easy sealing. PRO TIP: GET A FRIEND TO HELP. DUMPLING-MAKING IS TEDIOUS, DEFINITELY A TEAM SPORT. I had to call a friend over for backup so the meat wouldn’t spoil on the countertop! 2014-11-15 12.19.50 Steam those baddies for eight (8) minutes on the stove. I use a steaming tray and rice paper in a big wok-like pan, but a bamboo steamer with some napa leaves would surely be more effective. 2014-11-16 13.15.14Mixing sauce is up to you and your taste buds. I tend to use soy sauce, chili oil, and chili flakes.

Hope you enjoyed this bento! Get excited for more food soon!

Liz

Um, yeah. I am eating mostly raw, veggie foods this week after going a bit full throttle on everything edible and Asian during my work trip in SF. It was absolutely worth it, and I can’t wait to tell you about the delish highlights from Namu Gaji and Izakaya Yuzuki!

But before we get started, here’s this week’s “RAW-BESIDES-THE-BBQ CHICKEN BENTO.” I was out of town until Saturday morning and spent today out with fam and friends, so no massive batch cooking. That’s ok, because this turned out quite to my satisfaction. (1) marinated artichoke hearts from the Avila Valley Barn (2) simple bbq chicken, slightly steamed (3) cut up carrots (4) blackberries. All on a bed of spinach with some sprouts.

2014-11-02 17.34.56

Work was the focus of this trip, but you can bet the minute quitting time rolled around I was out the door to a carefully researched reservation. SLO county is great, but SF is a safe haven for young, daring chefs and restauranteurs to make it happen, especially when it comes to Japanese and Korean food. My version of dinner hell is a fancy, stuffy French or Italian place where butter is a key ingredient; when I look for “special” restaurants, I’m not necessarily looking for a “decadent” feast. I look for chefs or a group of people who did something adventurous with locally sourced and/or quality ingredients, or design whole menus around one ingredient (like Yuzuki with shio koji), or who generally live for food and a changing menu rather than just bending over backwards to serve sellable “classics.” After a lot of hand-wringing, I decided to hit Namu Gaji on Wednesday night and play it by ear on Thursday, depending on my schedule.

On my way to Namu, I saw these positively titanic avocados at a bodega! I mean, check out the hand:avocado ratio, for scale! I had no idea they even grew this big. Horizons broadened.

2014-10-29 18.04.35 Creeping on the kitchen at Namu.2014-10-29 18.17.25 Namu Gaji is right off Dolores Park in the Mission, around the corner from Bi-rite creamery. Maj score on location.2014-10-29 18.17.45 Here’s a peek at the interior! I loved the natural accents and amber lighting.2014-10-29 18.19.24 They started me off with an amuse bouche. This is kabocha soup, and it certainly tickled my palette in just the right way. I love cooking with kabocha so I can definitely appreciate that the Namu kitchen was able to tease out its best nutty but sweet undertones in this soup. 2014-10-29 18.29.13 My first dish was the BEEF TONGUE. I could not have been more pleased. I was probably embarrassingly high drama after taking the first bite–I’m pretty sure I actually leaned back and raised my hands to the heavens, or something weird–but let me impress upon you how deliciously prepared this actually is. The tongue itself was served in very generous portions. The veggies surrounding the tongue pieces are accents, but the blend of veggie, tongue, and chili oil is perfect after a dip in the shichimi pile at the corner of the plate. The meat had been brined for several days and seared, and the texture was akin to eating a more sophisticated, solid butter. 2014-10-29 18.45.18 Next, I got the napa salad aka napa cabbage, shiritaki noodles, ponzu sauce, nori and some “korean melon” that I thought was a plum. It was a lovely dish, tasty and light, but in retrospect I should have gone for the dumplings. “I should have gone for the dumplings” will probably be written on my tombstone…2014-10-29 18.58.52 After dinner I wandered around Valencia, which was in full swing for the World Series and came across these very choice grouchy cat mugs…2014-10-29 19.36.06…AT THIS VERY FAMILIAR PLACE. I don’t know if any SLO natives are reading this, but do you remember that store that used to be downtown, Therapy? Chalk full of kitsch and semi-affordable boutique fashion? It originated in San Francisco and the mother store is still standing. It even smelled the same.
2014-10-29 19.36.42 Finally made it back to the hotel before full-scale World Series rioting happened. Annoyingly didn’t get to bed until late since some people get slightly too excited about sports. JUST SAYING.2014-10-29 19.58.02 At this point in my itinerant life I’ve gotten pretty good at packing only the necessities. This isn’t all the makeup I brought, but these are the heavy-lifters. Most of it is Korean! All have the Umami Life stamp of approval! Starting on the left, you’re looking at (1) Too Cool for School – Artclass sculpting compact. It’s a nice soft brown gradient that’s not really bronzer and works well for the “makeup no makeup” look. (2) Innisfree eyeshadow shade 39, (3) Too Faced Perfect Flush Bush in Candy Glow, (4) Make Up Forever Full Coverage Concealer, (5) elf Flawless Eyeshadow compact, (6) Innisfree No Sebum Mineral Powder, (7) Clio liquid eyeliner, (8) cult fav Carbon Black mascara, (9) Skin79 BB Cream, (10) Peripera Ice Jelly Sun SPF30! 2014-10-30 07.03.02 Day two work outfit! West Coast Stepford Wife! I wear more formal stuff in the SLO office, but the litigation team I worked with in SF was a notch below business casual, much to my delight. 2014-10-30 07.37.38 I had walked past Yuzuki on my way home from Namu Gaji the night before and taken a glance at the menu. Immediately I noted (a) they had freaking chawanmushi on the menu, topped with UNI no less, and (b) they were “Michelin recommended.” It was cold, I knew I’d be dining alone the next night, I WANTED SOME CHAWANMUSHI WITH UNI. I made the res and was not disappointed.2014-10-30 18.44.32 The interior is exactly the kind of backdrop one would hope for when feasting on real Japanese: staid and elegant, lighting kept to a decided “glow,” little details that draw the eye.2014-10-30 18.47.08 I started off with a glass of rose sake, which the staff kindly let me sample before moving on to this full portion. It did NOT just taste like sugary sake. More like sake infused with a light floral taste. I liked it very much and finished the glass!2014-10-30 18.55.36 THE CHAWANMUSHI WITH HOKKAIDO UNI. How do they prepare eggs like that? Literally a perfect custard with a slim layer of dashi broth. The uni was a massive treat; this particular uni was a veritable umami bomb of flavor. 2014-10-30 19.09.19 At this point the staff had detected a fanatic and started offering some off-menu options. I LOVE when this happens and am never more flattered then when the kitchen lets me in on their secrets. The dish pictured below is MONKFISH LIVER in a ponzu-y broth with grated pickled ginger and daikon (I’m pretty sure it was a blend), onions, and shiso. The portion was huge, the flavor was unbelievably bright and memorable. I died. And then came back for dessert. 2014-10-30 19.14.41 Dessert was also off-menu. Apparently the owner of the restaurant made a few of these hojicha creme brulees himself. It was worth every rich, pillowy spoonful. I absolutely cannot wait to come back to SF and dine here again. 2014-10-30 19.30.25 2014-10-30 19.31.10 On Friday I was actually excused from work on account of the Giants Victory Parade, so I slept in and trucked over to Chinatown for some grocery shopping. 2014-10-31 14.13.33 2014-10-31 14.24.42 I had gotten a smoothie for breakfast and a smoothie for lunch in an effort to, you know, dial it back after two hearty dinners, but then I saw this frankly alluring sight at YOU’S DIM SUM. 2014-10-31 14.43.57This definitely happened. And for one moment I was the happiest girl in the city. I saw the buns in the window, figured they were either pork or red bean (both would have sufficed) and ordered one to go. It was pork. It was amazing, and the dough slightly sweet!
2014-10-31 14.46.12 I deeply regret not getting more Halloween shots, but here’s one of Priya in the midst of a dramatic reading of the tale of the Blue Lady, the ghost that purportedly haunts the Distillery in Moss Beach. I joined her and some of her friends for dinner at the haunted distillery, followed by a haunted house, and finished the night off on the beach debating whether or not the wolfman would appear and eat us. I’ll have you know I wore normal clothes and mouse ears. Thank you Karen and Mean Girls for paving the way for my ridic costume. 2014-10-31 19.55.47That’s all I’ve got for now! If you’re ever in the Bay area I’d definitely recommend Namu Gaji and Izakaya Yuzuki! Take care and let me know if there’s a place I should hit on my next trip up (which is happening on the 15th so, you know, actually a relevant question).

Liz

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