It may be spring, but the nights are still chilly and sometimes you just want a nice plate of comfort food. One of my family's favorites is beef bourguignon.
This classic dish of beef braised with red wine and vegetables is easy to make and I haven't yet found anyone who doesn't like 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 (like Marin Sun Farms) when I can, and this is a great way to prepare it without breaking the bank.
Tonight is the night of the big Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco, and it's a tradition in our house to make wontons to eat while we watch the parade on TV. Wontons are easy to make, tasty, kid-friendly, and you can get everything you need at the grocery store. Furthermore, they're something the 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 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.
1-1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into pieces
1 package square wonton wrappers
2–3 green onions, chopped
1/2-inch piece of root ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
This just in: Famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has failed to see his shadow, meaning that spring is on its way. All the alternate, less noteworthy groundhogs, such as Atlanta's General Beauregard Lee have concurred, so we have something of a groundhog consensus. 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.
Apparently Groundhog Day is derived from an old German superstition brought to America by early immigrants. The groundhog (Marmota monax) is a large rodent common in central and eastern North America. We don't see groundhogs out here, but we have a close relative, the marmot, which lives in the Sierras. There aren't any groundhogs in Germany, either, but marmots are common in alpine areas, so perhaps that's the original groundhog.
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.
Here's what you'll need to cook up your turkey on the grill. My method is optimized for your standard 22-inch Weber charcoal grill, so your mileage may vary with other kinds. I have no idea if this will work on gas grills, so if you try it and it doesn't work don't blame me.
I know some people who say that pizza is one of those dishes that's always better when you dine out. I respectfully disagree however. 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.
Our latest home pizza night was inspired by the surplus of heirloom tomatoes from our vegetable garden. The tomato plants seem to be going full throttle now, and we have more tomatoes than we know what to do with. Pizza seemed a great way to help with the problem!
The refigerated pizza dough sold by Trader Joe's is actually very good, and we use it all the time, especially if we want to make pizza on the spur of the moment. Making your own pizza crust isn't all that challenging, though, so if you have the time, go for it! The results are usually quite good, and you can even freeze extra dough to use later.
While miniature railroads like Sonoma TrainTown are fun, eventually you have to move up to the real deal. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in the Gold Country 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 parks slated for closure back in July, but due to the efforts of 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 end, this could be the place to go.
As the name implies, Railtown 1897 has been around since the end of the 19th century, when it was known as the Sierra Railway, a short line railroad that traveled between Jamestown and nearby Sonora, Angels Camp, and Oakdale. The railroad's chief claim to fame, and one of the reasons that it's still around today, is its role in countless Hollywood movies, including High Noon, Unforgiven, and Back to the Future III and TV shows like Wild Wild West and Petticoat Junction. Pretty much any western movie that you care to name that features a train was shot here.
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.
The NFC playoffs are coming up tomorrow, and of course you'll need something to eat while you watch the 49ers demolish the New York Giants. In my mind, chili is an ideal food for a football-watching gathering. You can serve chili to your guests in large mugs—they’re easier to hold while everyone socializes—and you can offer a spread of different condiments so everyone can customize their chili to their own liking.
Since the last thing you want to do during the game is hang out in the kitchen and miss all the action on the field, I’ve adapted my go-to chili recipe for the slow cooker. Put all the ingredients in the cooker in the morning and let it go and it will be hot and ready in time for the game. You can also chop up the vegetables for the recipe—onions, garlic, and green peppers—in the food processor, saving a little more work in the process.
Chili is also traditionally spicy, so if you want to heat things up with some cayenne pepper or jalapeños, go right ahead. When I make chili, I usually have to feed both grownups and kids, so I tend to make it more mild. Besides, you can always add your own heat after the fact (but it's hard to take it out once you've put it in).
As a lifelong Tintin fan, I greeted the news that Steven Spielberg was making The Adventures of Tintin, a computer-animated movie version of the boy reporter's escapades, with a mix of delight and dread. Like many Tintin fans, I feel a sort of irrational protectiveness for the stories and characters, and was worried about Hollywood making a mess of things. If you're new to Tintin and wonder what it's all about (he's unfamiliar to many in America), read my earlier blog post about him here.
I've made a point of introducing the Tintin graphic novels to my kids, who are now 8 and 6, and together we've read most of them. They were also excited at the prospect of a Tintin movie, and have been bugging me to take them since they heard about it.
So last week we finally made it to the theater to see The Adventures of Tintin. The Adventures of Tintin is ostensibly based on The Secret of the Unicorn, but it's actually a pastiche of that, another Tintin story The Crab with Golden Claws, and a lot of stuff that's pure Hollywood. Although I had a hard time shaking my feeling of dread, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. (By the way, there may be spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk if you haven't seen the movie yet.)