Hello There, Spring!

Strawberry CrostiniI love springtime — the changeable moods of the weather, how amazing everything smells, all the new growth — even with the pounding my immune system gets due to allergies. It’s such a gorgeous time of year.

Food seems to reflect the pastel wonder of the awakening world as well. It’s a time for roasted asparagus, tender greens, and new cheese. Plus, strawberries. I really love strawberries! The crostini shown above is super simple, and could almost be used as a dessert, it’s so creamy and decadent. We had it for dinner with a side salad. Serve it with a lovely glass of rosé, and celebrate spring.

Spring Crostini

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 4

half a loaf of a crusty sourdough baguette sliced into thin pieces
extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. fresh soft sheep cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm‘s sheep milk Laychee)
12 strawberries, sliced
balsamic vinegar

Place sliced bread onto a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil.
Turn on broiler and set bread underneath. Cook for a couple minutes, or until the bread begins to turn golden.
Remove from oven and allow bread to cool.
Smear a bit of cheese onto each piece of bread. Arrange strawberries on top and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

(For even more savory, green flavors, try sprinkling the crostinis with some chopped basil.)

End of Summer Pasta Salad

End of Summer Pasta SaladAs summer winds into autumn, I begin to be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction, as crisp nights cause me to begin to dream of sweaters and boots and cooking hearty meals in the kitchen. Then, BAM!, the hot days come back with a vengeance, a t-shirt feels like too much clothing, and there’s no way I’m turning the oven on after all. Happens every year. You’d think I’d learn.

Despite the heat wave, my body has decided it’s pasta time, remembering the chilly mornings before the 100 degree F days. I thought I’d compromise with my cravings by making a cold pasta salad, something assembled, the only heat required being boiled water. I paired dinner with a Red Meritage, enjoying the play of flavors with the different salad ingredients.

End of Summer Pasta Salad


Serves 6-8

1 lb conchiglie pasta
a few splashes of sundried tomato and garlic vinaigrette
4 oz capers
2 roasted red peppers, diced
3 oz kalamata olives
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 basket of cherry tomatoes
1 slicer tomato, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (I used Pennyroyal Farm’s Pepper Moldune. It gave the salad a nice hint of heat.)

Put a large pot of water over high heat. Cook pasta to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, put mushrooms in a large bowl and drizzle a bit of vinaigrette over them. Toss mushrooms until they’re fully coated. Toss roasted peppers, olives, capers, and sliced tomato into the bowl, mix well, and set aside. This will give the mushrooms a chance to soak in the flavors of everything else hanging out with it.
Once pasta is finished, drain and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool. Work the pasta through your fingers a bit, since conchiglie likes to nest into clumps.
Add cooled pasta, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle on a bit more vinaigrette and toss until everything is happily mingled.
You can serve right away, or cover it and leave it in the fridge until the next day, as it will be even more flavorful after a night’s rest.

Morel, Asparagus, and Pancetta Pizza

naan-pizzaSuddenly, it’s April. No one I know can quite figure out how we got here already, but hey, it’s the fourth month of the year.

Spring has sprung, and so have morel mushrooms. Morels should be cooked before being eaten, and many people enjoy them sauteed in butter with a bit of salt and pepper. I’m all about sauteing mushrooms in butter — and I did that as part of my preparation — but I thought a pizza that showcased the first flavors of spring would be just perfect. Along with morels, the first asparagus is presenting its green, tender shoots. With the warmer weather, Pennyroyal Farm is also back to making their Laychee cheese, the light, fluffy stuff that they make from new milk. To finish off the flavors, this pizza-of-the-spring was put on a “crust” of garlic naan, given a white sauce cover, and graced with some pancetta. It was incredibly delicious. Pair it with Pennyroyal’s sister ranch, Navarro Vineyard’s, Pinot Noir (2011 was a very good year) and toast the fresh, new world.

Morel, Asparagus, and Pancetta Pizza


Serves 4

White Sauce
1 pat of butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
dash of white pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1⁄4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shredded

2 pieces garlic naan
8 asparagus tips
6 pieces of pancetta
3 morels, sliced thinly and sauteed in butter
12 dollops of Laychee cheese (or chevre)
balsamic vinegar (in a spritzer if you have one)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
On the stove top, put milk and butter in a small pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Stir until flour is mixed thoroughly. Mix in white pepper and garlic. Add cheese and remove from heat. Whisk until cheese is melted and set aside while you cook the morels.
Place naan on a pizza stone, pizza pan, or cookie sheet. Spread white sauce evenly over each piece. Place pancetta on top, then follow by scattering the asparagus and morels. Dollop each naan with the cheese, placing strategically so each bite will have some gooey goodness.
Put naan pizzas in the oven and cook seven to 10 minutes or until the asparagus begins to brown. After about five minutes of the pizzas being in the oven, spritz the tops with balsamic vinegar.
Cut each pizza in pieces and serve right away.

Crab and Shrimp Nachos

crab and shrimp nachosIt’s Dungeness crab season in northern California, and it’s something of a tradition for coastal folks to have crab for their Christmas dinner.

While we moved inland a few years back, that doesn’t mean that Charles and I are willing to give up our coastal traditions. The store has been selling Dungeness precooked, which made our dinner preparations even easier this year, and since we are inland, it makes sense to sell them that way. While cooked and paired with a Beaujolais Nouveau or crafted into an amazing stew called Cioppino and served with hot sourdough bread are the traditional ways to consume this amazing crab, I — not surprisingly — did something slightly different this year. I combined the crab with precooked shrimp and made gooey, amazingly addictive, nachos.

I paired our meal with another West Coast tradition, Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s awesome seasonal beer, Winter Solstice. Its hints of toffee and spices went well with the rich flavors of the seafood and chevre, and its creamy mouthfeel was perfect with the melted cheese. Since tomorrow is Solstice, pick some up to toast in the returning light — and to pair with your own shellfish nachos.

Happy holidays, everyone! Cheers!

Crab and Shrimp Nachos


Serves 6

1 Dungeness crab, cooked and meat removed (Since I know most of my readers aren’t in northern California, canned crab can be substituted and will be just as tasty.)
1 handful of baby shrimp, cooked
1 Tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3 Tablespoons chopped green onions
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
juice of one lemon
8 pepperoncinis, stems removed and chopped
2 roasted red bell peppers in olive oil, chopped
2 oz of chevre (I used Cypress Grove’s PsycheDillic®. The flavors were perfect.)
2 handfuls of shredded mozzarella
6 handfuls of tortilla chips

In a small pan, melt butter over low heat and toss in shellfish, nutmeg, green onions, and garlic. Stir until garlic becomes fragrant. Add lemon juice, pepperonchinis, and roasted red bell peppers and stir until well mixed.
Turn on broiler to high. Adjust the oven rack to be about six inches below the broiler.
Heap chips onto a cookie sheet. Scatter the contents of the pan, sprinkle on the mozzarella, and then top with the chevre. Place in the oven and cook until the cheese begins to bubble and turn golden brown.
Separate your cheesy, gooey mess evenly onto six dinner plates and serve right away.

A Dessert Recommendation

Chimney-RockThis is just a super-quick post to let you all in on my latest dessert obsession. It’s Cowgirl Creamery’s fall seasonal cheese, Chimney Rock, and a bit of NV Rosemount Estate Old Benson Tawny Port. I’ve written about the glories of savory and sweet pairings as dessert before, but this newest combination has taken my taste buds to new heights. The earthy and creamy flavors of the cheese with its touch of herbs added to the hazelnut toffee of the tawny — truly, this is what gastronomic bliss is.

The Cheese Can Stand Alone

Penny Royal FarmsteadSometimes I’m so grateful I’m a supertaster. I want to scream, “Thank you!” at the heavens and do cartwheels.

When I received my first shipment of my Farm to Table program from Pennyroyal Farm, I was blessing each and every taste bud clustered on my tongue.

Charles and I had first gotten the opportunity to sample Pennyroyal’s cheese at the Alsace Festival in Anderson Valley. I could honestly say that I’ve never sampled a more glorious cheese. I was hooked. My need would not be assuaged, so I signed up to have the farm’s creations sent to my door five times a year.

The spring shipment arrived on Thursday, and I instantly grabbed a spoon to try the Laychee. Sweet, salty, slightly tangy and ever-so dreamy creamy, one bite and I knew this cheese had to be the main focus of any dish of which it was a part. That spoonful made my stomach dance with butterflies of pleasure, like the way you felt in third grade when that cute boy with the mop of brown hair looked at you with his azure blue eyes. That first spoonful was like that, except in cheese form.

manicottiTo showcase my new found Laychee love, I decided to make a manicotti dish, but instead of using the traditional ingredients of spinach, nutmeg, pepper, and meat as well as cheese, I just stuffed the pasta with Laychee. I then poured tomato sauce on top and baked the concoction in the oven at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.

Topped with some Boont Corners, grated finely, before serving and paired with a pinot noir, this ended up being a spectacular way to celebrate my very first cheese shipment. It’s going to be a very long wait for the next one. Until then, I’ll content myself with the final cheese in the first batch — a lovely blue that we’re slowly savoring, paired with almonds and a small glass of tawny port each evening we feel like having a special treat.