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August’s Family Reunion in Mammoth Lakes, CA

games in the back yard (can you see the birdie?)

games in the back yard (can you spot the birdie?)

Every year on a Saturday near the Fourth of July, August’s family has a reunion at her grandmother’s house just south of Mammoth Lakes, CA.  Some family members come from as far as Colorado for one afternoon!  It is always a wonderful opportunity to catch up with each other, and of course, share a meal.  Because some people had to travel, not everyone could bring a homemade potluck item.  However, some salads are staples and are expected to be brought every year.  Sandy loves Nanci’s pasta salad, August loves Laura’s potato salad, and it goes around and around.

grandpa pete's barbecue pit

grandpa pete’s barbecue pit

August’s grandfather built the house that her mother grew up in.  At 91 years old, her grandmother still lives here and enjoys views of the White Mountains in the east and the Sierra Nevada range ending in her backyard.  Behind the house, built into a retaining wall, is a barbecue pit.  Every branch of the family brings a side and/or a dessert to share, but the meats are cooked here communally.

scotty and the bota

scotty and the bota

Being Basque, the family is all about sharing, community, and good times.  Taking wine from a bota is a Basque tradition, and Cousin Scotty is one of the best in the family.  August’s grandpa taught Scotty how to drink from the bota when he was ten.  The goal is to maintain a steady stream flowing from the bladder without spilling any wine, and today, those who tried were all successful.

A tradition that never falters for how we begin our reunion is a linguiça appetizer.  We grill the linguiça and serve it with choice of jack or asiago cheese, tomato, red onion, and mustard, on sourdough slices.  We like a milder linguiça (our family doesn’t do spicy), which is enhanced by the snappy onion and spicy mustard.

We cannot start our reunions without linguiça first.  The kids, who have only come for a couple of years, even know that it’s not a reunion if we don’t have linguiça!

sandy's salad/dip

sandy’s dip/salad

After linguiça, we dug into Cousin Sandy’s tasty dip/salad.  With chips it’s a dip, and with a fork it’s a salad!  Almost like a super chunky guacamole, she mixed avocado, black-eyed peas, corn, tomato, cilantro, and green onion, with a dressing of red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and cumin.

sandy's fruit salad

sandy’s fruit salad

Cousin Sandy is married to Ted, who works with fruit.  They always bring the most delicious selection of fruits.  This three-fruit mix of strawberries, cantaloupe, and blueberries was simple, but perfect for the season.

kelly's bean salad

kelly’s bean salad

Cousin Kelly used five types of beans in her salad.  She tossed garbanzo, kidney, green, white, and pinto beans with red pepper, red onion, cilantro, and a dressing.  For the dressing she combined red wine vinegar, light extra virgin olive oil, lots of garlic, dry mustard, oregano, and black pepper.

laura's potato salad

laura’s potato salad

Cousin Laura brought a chunky and warm potato salad.  She used russet potatoes for the base, with bacon, green onion, mayonnaise, parsley, green onion, salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and olive oil.

nanci's pasta salad

nanci’s pasta salad

August’s mom Nanci made her enviable pasta salad with lightly steamed broccoli, grape tomatoes, black olives, red and green onion, pine nuts, sliced and toasted almonds, and Parmesan cheese.  Served cold and without a heavy dressing like many versions of pasta salad, this is a great summer side.

All of the salads were so tempting to look at as we waited for the meats to be done.  At least it gave us lots of time to chat and relax.

Every branch of the family had their own meat, but the men worked together to prepare it all.  Shuffling the meat around on the pit made with a repurposed snow grate, everything was cooked perfectly.

the spread

the spread

This was not our biggest reunion, but with the turn out we had, the spread of food was pretty good!

dig in!

dig in!

Finally, time to eat a meal that we had been waiting for since last year!  Seriously, this is one day that many of us look forward to, not just for family but also for food.  Nanci brought boneless ribeyes for our branch, and she “salad dressed” them with what she found in Grandma’s kitchen: olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

angie's strawberry rhubarb pie

angie’s strawberry rhubarb pie

The kids couldn’t wait too long for dessert, and frankly, neither could the adults.  Cousin Angie brought a strawberry rhubarb pie, but she gave credit to her young daughter Jadyn for making the lattice.  That’s not a bad job at all for a six-year-old!

sandy's frosted walnut brownies

sandy’s frosted walnut brownies

Cousin Sandy, along with her avocado dip/salad and fruit salad, also made brownies.  These were rich and smooth, with chunks of walnuts and a light chocolate frosting on top.

"kelly's" lemon bars

“kelly’s” lemon bars

Cousin Kelly brought lemon bars in addition to her bean salad.  She used her son-in-law’s mother’s recipe, and was worried that they didn’t turn out.  There was no reason to worry, though – the crust was flaky and crisp, and the lemon flavor was strong but not overly acidic.  It was a great summery treat to round out the meal.

dessert course

dessert course

There were a few store-bought items, but we wanted to show you things that our family members were proud to cook.  None of us treat the reunion as a cooking competition, although we do compare notes and commend one another.  We do these reunions so that we can catch up, but the food brings us closer together.

Amaretto Pound Cake with Strawberry Chantilly

fresh, local strawberries

fresh, local strawberries

The aroma of fresh strawberries was absolutely intoxicating as we walked through the produce section of our grocery store the other day, so we couldn’t pass up getting some.  We didn’t know what we were going to do with them, just that we had to have them.  Zach decided today to use them two ways: syrup, and chantilly or whipped cream, to go with pound cake and vanilla ice cream.  We’re glad that the pound cake recipe yields 20 mini loafs with the tin we used, so there are lots of leftovers to turn in other types of desserts (fold into home-churned ice cream, dip in fondue, parfait…).

Makes 2 portions perfectly for the sauce and whipped cream, with about 18 leftover mini pound cakes (if you use a tin similar to ours)

• For the strawberry sauce:

1 pint of strawberries for the sauce, sliced

About 10 strawberries for garnish, cut in tiny cubes

1/4 cup of water

1/4 cup of white sugar

just starting

just starting

In a small saute pan, cook down the sliced strawberries, water, and sugar over medium heat.

breaking down

breaking down

Maintain over medium heat for about ten minutes until berries are fully broken down.

discard

discard

Remove from heat and pour through a strainer to collect and discard seeds and pulp.

finished syrup

finished syrup

Keep in the refrigerator until serving.  Stir in the cubed strawberries immediately before serving so that they don’t degrade at all in the sugary sauce.

• For the pound cake (our butter, milk, and whipping cream [used in the chantilly] all came from Strauss Family Creamery):

1 lb. of butter, plus 4 tbs. for greasing the tin

3 cups of all-purpose flour

3 cups of white sugar

1 cup of whole milk

5 eggs

2 tbs. of amaretto liqueur

1 tsp. of almond extract

1 tsp. of vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. of baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift together the flour and baking powder; set aside.  Add the amaretto liqueur, almond extract, and vanilla extract to the milk; set aside.  Melt 4 tbs. of butter to grease your mini loaf tin.

Combine butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Begin mixing on low speed and slowly increase the speed to medium-low until the butter and sugar are fully combined.  Continue creaming for an additional 2 minutes.  During this time, add one egg at a time with about 15 seconds between each egg.  Turn the speed up to medium and cream for another 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.

Incrementally, and while the mixer is running on the lowest speed, add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter, then half of the milk mixture, then another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then the last of the milk mixture, and finally the last of the dry ingredients.

scooped and ready

scooped and ready

When the batter is completely smooth, scoop into the greased tin and bake for 22-25 minutes until lightly golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center pulls out clean.

golden and done

golden and done

Let cool slightly before depanning.

• For the chantilly, aka whipped cream:

2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream

2-3 tbs. of honey (to taste)

1/4 cup of strawberry syrup (from recipe above)

Mix whipping cream, honey, and half of the 1/4 cup of strawberry syrup in a bowl with a whisk or hand mixer for 2-5 minutes, until cream is fluffy and soft peaks form.  Add the last of the strawberry syrup and whip just a little more to incorporate.  Make sure not to over-whip, or else you will make butter.  Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

so sweet and delicious

so sweet and delicious

Ladle some syrup onto the serving plate, place a pound cake, pour on the cubed strawberries, add a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream (ours is from Mission Hill Creamery), and pipe a rosette of chantilly (or just plop on that last part with a spoon if you don’t have pastry bags).  Flavor trumps visuals every time, anyway.

Pranzo Italiano! with Chris Cosentino and Jeremy Tummel: Cooking For Solutions 2013, Monterey CA

monterey 067

Day 2 of Cooking For Solutions brought us to Pebble Beach.  Our favorite offalist Chris Cosentino and Jeremy Tummel designed a four-course meal for a lunch at Casa Palmero.  The weather was excellent, and the food matched.

While we waited to be seated, we sipped champagne from Chandon.  In fact, all the wine pairings were from Chandon.  Staff eagerly rushed out more flutes than we could handle as we anticipated the main event, and the sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir were well suited to their respective entrees; at the third course with the pinot noir, August gasped, “This is my new favorite red!  It tastes like savory liquid dessert.”

The skewered kobe beef was superbly seared with a medium-rare center.  It was extremely tender with a deep beef flavor, and the sauce was rich yet mellow so the kobe was still the star of the bite.  The roasted artichokes with Bermuda Triangle goat cheese and pepper relish were marinated so there was some green acidity underneath the tanginess of the goat cheese.  Zach typically does not like goat cheese because it is strong for him, but this “wasn’t the strongest (he’s) had, it’s more like a medium to low range.”  The sweet, earthy relish was refreshing to top it off.  The oysters, though, stole the show.  Chef Chris shucked them for us while answering questions and sharing anecdotes.  The two mignonettes for the oysters were citrusy like a vinaigrette without oil, but each had their own zing (the serrano was a little spicy, but good).

40 lucky palates

40 lucky palates

Being Italian-American and growing up with certain attitudes towards food, Chef Chris explained to us that “Italian food is convivial,” so all but dessert was served family-style.  We had a great time meeting our table mates and making new friends.

monterey 033

Chef Chris was not reserved in speaking to us about our meal.  He explained that our first course was “from the bottom of the food chain today,” with vegetables, anchovies, and an anchovy bagna cauda (for which we were given the recipe, yum).

carrots, squash blossoms, green beans, wax beans, sweet peppers, baby radishes, turnips, tomatoes, anchovies, microgreens

carrots, squash blossoms, green beans, wax beans, sweet peppers, baby radishes, turnips, tomatoes, anchovies, microgreens

We passed the platter to pile our plates of fresh, fragrant finger foods.  Some vegetables in this non-traditional crudité were raw while others were lightly blanched, but the bagna cauda was delicious for it all.  Like a super intense Caesar salad dressing, it was tangy, salty, and bright.

Second course was a green salad like none we’ve had before.  The vegetables tasted like they were harvested that morning.  The deep green colors aligned with the vibrant smells, so you could tell that the ingredients were as fresh as you could get.  To stay in the theme of seafood, Chef Chris shaved salted cured fish roe, which added an intensely rich saltiness.

braised pork shoulder with green garlic & clams

braised pork shoulder with green garlic & clams

When the third course arrived, Chef Zach took charge and served each person at our table since it was just too heavy to try to pass this around.  The pork was so tender and moist, he used a spoon to cut and serve!  Despite being that tender, the meat still had a nice rub on the crust, aka bark, so we’re happy to have gotten the recipe for the dish and learn how to recreate it.  For either this or the bagna cauda, if you’re interested in trying them for yourself, let us know and we will send you the recipe(s).

We don’t believe we’ve had asparagus as sweet as this was.  The sauce for the pork and clams was a mild green garlic, more like a deep broth with rich clam flavor.  The aioli, though, was killer.  It enhanced each element of the course and brought uniformity and theme among the different flavors.  Zach especially liked it with the asparagus, and August couldn’t get enough on her pork.

strawberried treats

strawberried treats

The desserts didn’t have a name or description, and we’re not going to make up a name, but we can still write about the flavors and textures.  The chiffon-like cake was very thin and soaked in a flavored simple syrup, with fresh strawberries set in the white chocolate mousse.  Smooth and creamy, the mousse was August’s favorite part of the plate.  It had a deep white chocolate flavor that perfectly complemented the strawberries.  The strawberry sorbet was rich but ironically light – sorbets are supposed to be light, but this was so creamy it almost fooled us because it didn’t have the same rough ice crystal feel that we’re accustomed to, and it didn’t even contain any cream or milk.  Zach felt it was tart and tangy with a natural, robust strawberry flavor.  Raspberry sauce and vanilla crème anglaise created a fancy border between the two parts, which was great for the cake as well as plain with a spoon.  It helped to offset the dessert so that we didn’t go on strawberry overload.

swag

swag

We can’t wait to pour over this cookbook organized by season.  Part of practical, conscientious eating is being aware of not just where our food is from, but when.  With an enthused sense of culinary responsibility and environmental awareness inspired by what we’ve learned so far in two events of Cooking For Solutions, we eagerly await (and look forward to sharing with you) tonight’s street food-themed dinner and tomorrow’s conclusion.