Archive for November, 2009

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Monday, November 16th, 2009

When I think of  Thanksgiving I dream of  a golden brown turkey. I believe this tradition is embraced by most of us; and this bird will be the cornerstone of our meal. But why do so many people cook the same side dishes every year? I am sure many of these dishes are outstanding, but how about adding just one new dish?

Although I am always looking for ways to improve the Thanksgiving meal, I don’t want to make things more complicated. If I suggested a dish that was tasty, pretty easy to prepare, and added a new twist to the meal would you try it? Here are two sides that you might consider…

Carrot Souffle

I had the pleasure of visiting Blackberry Farm in Tennessee several years back; it’s a spectacular place with great food. Recently I saw an interesting  recipe from Blackberry Farm for carrot souffle. After a few modifications, I came up with the recipe below which is easy, very flavorful, and quite unique.

Cheese Souffle

Carrot Souffle

For 4-6 people…

16 medium sized carrots                           1/2 cup heavy cream

18 saltine crackers                                        1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese               1/2 cup grated  Monterey jack cheese

1/3 cup minced shallots                             3 eggs

1 tbs. butter                                                     1/4 cayenne pepper

1 tsp. salt                                                           1/4 tsp. ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel the carrots and cut into 1/4 inch rounds. Boil the carrots over medium heat till tender, about 10 minutes. Strain the carrots and add to the food processor with the milk and cream. Puree the carrots and add to a large mixing bowl. Place the saltines into a ziploc bag and break into crumbs. Add these crumbs to the mixing bowl with the cheese, shallots, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add these ingredients to a buttered baking dish. Break up the tablespoon of butter into small chunks and add to the carrot mixture. Whisk the eggs till foamy (you may want to use an electric mixer) then fold into the carrots. Bake for 45 minutes. The dish will puff up and turn a light golden brown. Serve immediately.

For many years we made mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. Remember the old days with the lumpy mashed potatoes? Well that is no longer acceptable, we are now told to put the potatoes through a ricer. I don’t know about you, but when I am trying to plate the Thanksgiving dinner with 6 side dishes a ricer is the last thing I want to deal with. A few years back I saw a recipe for smashed potatoes that I simplified. Smashed potatoes are so much easier than mashed, and I think they also taste better. I hope you like them as much as I do.

Smashed Potatoes (for 2 people)

14 small fingerling potatoes                            1 1/2 tbs. butter

2 tbs. sour cream                                                 bunch of fresh chives

salt and pepper

Boil the fingerling potatoes whole until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and return to the heat to cook off any excess water. Add butter and smash the potatoes with a potato masher, no need to over mash because lumps are preferred. Add sour cream, salt, and pepper and mix. Use a scissor and snip an abundant amount of chives. Serve. Note that small yukons can be substituted for the fingerlings.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Anacapa Island

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

If you stand on the beach in Santa Barbara and look out over the Pacific Ocean, you will notice a series of mountains 10 miles off shore. These are the Channel Islands, an archipelago of 5 volcanic islands that are a National Park. Although only Park Rangers and scientists inhabit the islands, they are a fun place to go for a day trip.

I visited Anacapa Island last Spring. It’s the second largest of the Channel Islands, and the easiest to get to. Anacapa is actually composed of three islets: east, middle and west with east being the largest islet. The most common departure point for Anacapa is Oxnard, a town that is 40 minutes south of Santa Barbara. The boat ride to Anacapa is 12 miles, and takes just under an hour. Although some boat rides are boring, if you like dolphins then this will be the ride of your life. Once the boat leaves the marina dolphins will start appearing by the dozens, and they will escort the boat the entire trip to Anacapa. My favorite part was walking up to the bow of the boat and watching the four dolphins right under the keel.  It looked like the boat would run them over. It was fascinating, almost like a synchronized swimming event, two would swim off and immediately two others would take their place. I could have watched the dolphins for hours, it was hypnotic. We must have seen a hundred of them; it was heaven.

As you approach Anacapa Island you see the lighthouse and Arch Rock, which is a 40 foot high natural bridge. The arch is one of those unique sculptures created by nature; it’s so cool. The lighthouse, which is perched on the highest point of the island, was built in 1932 in a Mission Revival style. It’s famous for being the last free standing lighthouse built on the west coast. 

Arch Rock & Lighthouse

Arch Rock & Lighthouse

The boat docks at Landing Cove, a small inlet on the eastern end of the island. The water was too rough to tie onto the dock so the captain expertly maneuvered the boat back and forth enabling the passengers to jump off. From the dock you climb up a steep metal staircase to the island plateau, which is about 200 feet above sea level, and you are greeted with spectacular coastal views.

Anacapa is long and skinny, only one square mile. Two miles of hiking trails crisscross the island and run along it’s periphery; there are markers along the path identifying all the scenic spots. Due to the lack of rain, the island is brown for most of the year. But the rain during the winter season transforms the island into a burst of color in the Spring. Rows of tree sunflowers line the hiking paths, and their bright yellow flowers are spectacular. Red paintbrush and morning glories are two other native plants that add to the palette of color. If Monet was alive, he would have gone to Anacapa rather than Giverny. So try to plan your trip during the Spring.

If you miss the Spring flowers, don’t fret because the island is filled with other natural beauty. As you head to the western tip of the islet you reach Inspiration Point which has sumptuous views of the Middle and Western Anacapa.

Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point

West Anacapa can only be reached by boat, and is rarely visited. It contains the largest breeding colony of the endangered California Brown Pelican.

Although most people on the boat trip just hike and picnic, you can arrange to kayak or snorkel. The island has many caves to explore, and this is where sea lions and harbor seals congregate. For the hikers there are two great overlooks to see these mammals: Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point. They are not as cute as the dolphins, but are fun to watch nonetheless.

There is a campground and picnic area located in the center of the island. We met three girls that camped here for 4 days while doing a research project; but I wouldn’t recommend staying over night unless you’re in dire need of extended solitude. The picnic area is perfect however for lunch before returning to the boat.

Anacapa is a great day trip for boaters, hikers, and anyone that enjoys natural beauty. Can you smell the invigorating sea air?