On cool winter nights, it just seems right to make some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food classics. One of my family's favorites is beef bourguignon.
This timeless dish of beef braised with red wine and vegetables is easy to make and I have yet to find anyone who doesn't love it. It's one of my dinner party staples, since you can throw it all together in the early afternoon and just let it go on the stove so you can socialize instead of slave away in the kitchen.
One of the other great things about beef bourguignon is that you can make it from an inexpensive cut of meat like chuck, which the long braising time renders tender and delicious. I like to buy locally raised grass-fed beef from Marin County producers, like Stemple Creek Ranch and Marin Sun Farms, when I can, and this is a great way to prepare a quality ingredient without breaking the bank.
I know some people who say that pizza is one of those dishes that's always better when you dine out. I respectfully disagree! While that might be true for topping-laden old-school American pizza, we've been successfully making some pretty wonderful Italian-style pizzas right here at home. Unfortunately, we lack a wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard (someday…), but we get some good results in a regular home oven with a little preparation and a few tricks.
This just in: Famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, meaning that winter will be here for another 6 weeks or so. All the alternate, less noteworthy groundhogs, such as Atlanta's General Beauregard Lee did not see his shadow, which means an early Southern spring.
Groundhog Day has always been America's most underappreciated holiday, but not in our house! Our kids saw it on the calendar and have been eagerly anticipating the great day for weeks. We're extra lucky this year in that Groundhog Day coincides with that other unofficial American holiday—the Super Bowl.
Today, January 28, marks the beginning of the celebrations for Chinese New Year: the Year of the Rooster. It's a tradition in our house to make wontons, as dumplings are traditionally associated with the holiday. Wontons are easy to make, tasty, kid-friendly, and you can get everything you need at your local grocery store. Furthermore, they're something children can help make with minimal effort, and they even have a lot of fun folding the things.
So, pick up a pack of pre-made wonton wrappers and other ingredients and get ready to start your Chinese New Year wonton party! Our recipe is for chicken wontons, although you can use pork, shrimp, or other fillings, depending on what you like or happen to have on hand. Wontons can be prepared in a number of different ways, including steaming, boiling, frying, and can even be served in soup (our favorite).
This year, as I've done for several years now, I'll cook our Thanksgiving turkey on the charcoal barbeque grill. This is, in my humble opinion, the best way to cook a turkey, hands down. And it frees up the oven for more important Thanksgiving fare, like pie!
Cooking the turkey on the grill has long been my family's favorite way of doing so. I know a lot of people like to deep fry their turkeys in one of those turkey fryer contraptions, but as Captain Kirk shows in this cautionary video, it can be hazardous to life and limb.
The other day I was craving really good homemade pizza, but I was also feeling kind of lazy and didn't want to deal with making dough, trying to get the pizza onto the pizza stone intact, and the rest of the work that comes with my other homemade pizza recipe. In a moment of inspiration, I thought about pizza al taglio, the thicker pizza that's cooked on a baking sheet and popular as a street food in Rome. What if I tried to make it with Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough?
I ran over to our local TJ's and picked up two packages of their very good and inexpensive refrigerated pizza dough, as well as some fresh mozzarella and of course a bunch of other stuff that I probably didn't really need. At home, I picked some plum tomatoes from the garden and grabbed some fresh oregano and basil, too, and decided that I had everything I needed.
Here's the recipe that I came up with for a simple margherita style pizza al taglio:
Two bags Trader Joe's refrigerated pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded (canned are OK, too)
On cool winter days, everyone loves a steaming cup of hot chocolate. It's a comforting way to warm up, and a nice treat for kids and grownups alike. Did you run out of those little packets of Swiss Miss hot chocolate that usually hang out in the back of your pantry? Don't worry—making hot chocolate from scratch is far easier than it sounds, and uses only a few simple ingredients. Here in the Marin Mommies test kitchen we tried out a few different recipes as we searched for the best hot chocolate ever.
Did you know that chocolate, in its first form, was consumed as a drink? Spanish conquistador Cortés found chocolate being consumed at the court of Aztec emperor Moctezuma, and the Aztecs in turn adopted the custom of drinking chocoloate from their Maya neighbors to the south. The big difference was that the native Mexicans drank their chocolate cold, mixed with cornmeal and flavored with herbs and chili peppers.
While miniature railroads like Sonoma TrainTown are fun for train buffs young and old, eventually you have to move up to experience the real deal. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, in the Tuolumne County town of Jamestown, offers families the chance to see what a real working railroad looks like and, better yet, to experience a ride on a historic, century-old steam train. Railtown 1897 was one of the many state parks slated for closure in 2012, but due to the efforts of the park's many passionate supporters, it remains open for all of us to enjoy.
A three-hour drive from the Bay Area, Railtown 1897 is a fantastic destination for a family weekend getaway, especially when combined with some of the other Gold Country attractions in the area, like Columbia State Historic Park. If you're thinking of getting in one last road trip before summer vacation ends, this could be the place to go.
A few weeks ago, we visited the Petaluma Seed Bank to pick out our seeds for this year's vegetable garden. After last year's experience with really slow-growing seedlings, we decided to be a little smarter about how we did things this season.
Last year's garden was hit-and-miss, mainly due to the cooler-than-usual weather we experienced here in Northern California. The hits were our tomatoes—we had tons of them, and the vines kept producing well into December! Sadly, our squash plants never really got going, and only produced a few fruits. What we had was good, but there wasn't very much. The peppers that didn't get destroyed by cutworms early on didn't produce that well, either. Hopefully this season will be a little warmer and we'll have better results.
Our first task was to start the tomato and pepper seeds indoors. Last year we used egg cartons. They worked OK, but our seedlings took a long time to grow, and apparently the egg carton cups aren't deep enough to allow for proper root development. This time we picked up a reusable and recyclable plastic seed-starting container from the Seed Bank. It has 72 cups, so we have room for plenty of seedlings, and the whole thing fits into a neat drip tray to keep things neat.