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Miso Pork Tenderloin with Apple Ginger Relish

Pork Tenderloin with Apple Ginger Relish

The holidays are over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. I love the lights and the cookies and the carols and the cocktails and the feasting as much as (or more than) anyone else, but I admit to welcoming the calm space of January, when a little austerity doesn’t go amiss. In the new year, we are all looking for food that’s a little lighter and fresher.

Lighter and fresher doesn’t have to be less flavorful, however. In the last year I’ve made a dedicated effort to cook more with fruits and vegetables, and I’ve been thrilled with the flavor and variety they’ve brought to my diet. That’s why I’m pleased to be partnering with Opal Apples and Kitchen Play to bring you this fresh and flavorful recipe for the New Year.

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Pasta with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Cashel Blue Cheese

Spinach Pasta>

I have resisted pasta for many years. Other people can’t get enough of it – I could take it or leave it. But life in our household has been pretty crazy lately, and I have been embracing pasta as a way to get dinner on the table relatively quickly instead of having to resort to eating crackers. (It’s happened.)

I think the problem is I’m not really a fan of traditional spaghetti sauce. My husband has taken to complaining that we never have a jar of spaghetti sauce in the house (he asked if we could make a bid for normalcy and just have a jar of Prego), while I’ve never felt the lack. Once I started to move away from the tomato sauces, pasta got a lot more interesting.
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This one was inspired by  a gorgeous wheel of Irish Cashel Blue cheese that the kind folks at Kerrygold USA sent me.   I’ve been a fan of their grass fed butter for years, but I won a year’s supply of butter and cheese at the Big Traveling Potluck and that has made be a convert to their amazing Irish cheeses.  They have several cheddar and cheddar type cheeses that are amazing, but my favorite is probably the Cashel Blue.  I shared the wheel with family members but immediately regretted it – I wanted more blue cheese for myself!  Even my mom, who has been a diehard French Roquefort snob for years said this is her new favorite blue.

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Five No-Fuss, No-Pasta Dinners For When You Don’t Really Want to Cook

dinners

 

So if you listen to as many food-related podcasts as I do, you may have noticed that lately there has been a lot of talk about cooking (I blame Michael Pollan)- about how it’s healthier, and better for society, and connects you with your humanity, etc.  Which, hello? is great, and I’ve been saying for years! Yay cooking! We love it around these parts. I also, however, like to play the role of fairy godmother of the reality check. You know and I know that we would LOVE to make from-scratch, healthful dinners EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, but we also both know that sometimes that just isn’t happening. Before you call the delivery man, or open (yet another) box of pasta, I present you for five ideas for easy, quick, no-fuss dinners. They don’t require NO cooking, but they do require MINIMAL fuss and no thought whatsoever. I usually plan to have ingredients for at least one of these in the house at any given time, to account for traffic jams, late meetings, and general exhaustion.

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Broccoli Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Broccoli Salad

I have discovered that one of the keys to eating more vegetables is having more vegetables available. And by “available” I do not mean sitting, happily dirt-encrusted, at the Farmer’s Market. Or even in the depths of my crisper drawer. I mean washed, prepped and ready to eat.

Crudites are the obvious answer, but it gets boring eating crudites. I mean, carrot sticks, in addition to winning the lifetime achievement award for “the only vegetable kids will reliably eat” have the unfortunate connotations of “diet food.” And even ranch dressing doesn’t help, as I’ve found my tolerance for bottled salad dressing has waned as I’ve gotten older. (Was that an unbearably Paltrow-esque and precious thing to say? I’m clearly channeling my inner GOOP. It’s just, well, goopy). We could (and have) roasted large amounts of vegetables on the weekend for snacking on the rest of the week, but that takes quite a bit of foresight. Salads are clearly another great answer, but lettuce can be a wee bit delicate for the depths of my crisper drawer, and don’t even think about dressing it in advance.

Broccoli salad, now, there’s the ticket.  It has the advantages of sturdiness, and anything with broccoli imparts that aura of good health.  My kids will sometimes eat it (though the Nuni’s BFF complained that it was “spicy”.  Five year olds find currants to be “spicy.”  Be warned.)  I can make it one day and the leftovers are perfect for noshing the next day, and the next.
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Roasted Asparagus with Creamy Tomato Sauce

Asparagus
Nothing really sings of spring like Asparagus. The little stalks, poking up so proudly, and tasting so very green are the essence of all that is springtime. Asparagus was a seasonal vegetable before eating seasonally was cool – I remember eating lots of asparagus during my childhood, but only in the springtime. (Do not speak to me of the horror that is frozen asparagus or – shudder – CANNED asparagus. Part of the point of asparagus is its texture – that perfect balance between crisp and yielding with just a tiny snap as your teeth close on the stalk.

Raw Asparagus
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Salmon On Curried Spinach

Salmon on Curried Spinach

I told my husband last night that I loved him but what I really need is a 1950’s wife.  Someone who will hand me a cocktail and my slippers when I walk in the door so I can relax, pat the kids on the head and send them off to bed while sipping my scotch.  Sadly, my reality is more along the lines of leave work, pick up the baby, drive drive drive drive drive, come in, immediately rush to find dinner for the Nuni and Bootsy, feed the kids, bedtime routines, fix grownup dinner (if we didn’t eat with the kids), eat grownup dinner, and then start in on the laundry before I even get to think about a cocktail.

Since weeknights are a little crazy (to put it mildly), I’m always on the lookout for meals that are a) healthy and b) quick to prepare.  And that doesn’t mean 30 minutes or an hour quick.  I mean on the table in 20 max, so I can get to my cocktail faster.  This salmon on curried spinach, which is an old recipe of my mom’s, just fits the bill.

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Fennel, Apple and Pear Salad

Apple Pear Fennel Salad

I know when I promised vegetable recipes, you were not thinking “salad.” Salad is boring. Salad is easy. We’ve already thought of salad. Well, salad IS easy, but it doesn’t have to be boring. The universe of salads is huge, and if recipes for salads are more ideas than recipes, well, couldn’t we all use some more ideas?

We eat salads a lot. This one takes a little more hand work than the most rushed “open a bag of lettuce, throw on some dressing” (though those feature heavily in our rotation as well), but it’s also delicate, and appealing. The Nuni loved it, the husband loved it. It’s neither all sweet nor all savory, but a lovely both/and.
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Summer Vacation II: Great State of Maine and Crab Rolls

Maine Crab Roll

After we went to New York this summer, we decided to head up the coast to Maine. Ken and I both love New England — he spent part of his childhood there, and we met in college there. I’m a total California girl, but the other place I really feel at home is New England.

Neither of us had ever been to Maine, though I had been fascinated with it since I was a child. To a kid growing up in Los Angeles, nothing is quite so exotic as the Pine Tree State. We rented a darling little cottage with a water view, no cell service, and a lot of peace.

And here’s the thing about Maine — it’s exactly how you imagine it to be.
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Summer Vacation I – New York and Street Chicken and Rice

Street Meat

I know I am supposed to be charmed by New York. I know I am supposed to wax rhapsodic about the “energy” of the city, to tell you about the fabulous meals I experienced at Eataly and Eleven Madison Park and this tiny hole in the wall I “discovered” in the Village. I am supposed to be converted to the cult of the Shack Burger and say things like “No place is like New York”.

Well, I’m not charmed. The city is dirty and smelly and noisy and crowded. The weather is uncalled for. Everything is too expensive. And it’s hard to navigate. You literally cannot get a stroller out of the subway without setting off an alarm. In the seven years since I moved away from New York (to, may I add, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States) I have become old and sedate and suburbanized. I can’t hack it in New York any more. So no, I am not charmed.

But I have to visit, because there live my people. My girlfriends from my young married days, who think nothing of coming to a happy hour near my hotel when I’m in town despite the fact that there are an additional eight and a half children among us and most don’t even live in Manhattan (the half is Mrs. Limestone’s daughter to be). My husband’s family – his father and half sister and stepbrother whose kids are my kids’ only cousins. My baby cousin, who has worked in some of the most amazing restaurants in the city. My college roommate, who was living with me when I met my husband, and knew “us” from the earliest days of our courtship. And the godfathers of both of my children.

So I try to find things to love about New York. One thing to love is the laws on gay marriage. The impetus for our trip was the marriage of the Nuni’s godfather (who is one of my oldest and dearest friends) to his partner of eight years. I was Matron of Honor, Nuni was the flower girl. The wedding was beautiful, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Here’s a link to a video put together by one of the grooms featuring the song he wrote for his vows. Aren’t they handsome?

Mike and Dale

And our family, in Central Park (about 5 minutes before the Nuni stepped in a pile of poo apparently left by the world’s largest Great Dane. We had to throw away her shoes)

August 2012 East Coast Trip 001

Another thing to love about New York is street meat, aka halal chicken and rice, which is sold from carts on the Sidewalks of New York. When I was studying for the New York BarExam, my review course was right near one of these carts, and I would often get delicious spicy, savory chicken with crisp vegetables and fragrant rice for lunch. LA has a thriving street food scene but offers nothing quite like street meat, and my only chance to enjoy it was on my infrequent trips to New York.

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Chicken Bouillabaisse (Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe)

Bouillabaisse 2

Ordinarily as a Californian, I decry hot weather. “We get plenty of sunshine!” I say. “Bring on the rain and the fire’s cozy glow.” Well, here it is, the end of March, and I realize I am spoiled. This winter was dry as a bone, but with spring has come the rain and the wet and nights in the 30’s. And flu season. Working on my second cold in as many weeks and a single warm maternity cardigan, I cry uncle. I’m ready for our usual spring weather (heck, our usual weather) — 75 degrees and sunny. I want sandals and sundresses and time in the hammock. I have optimistically assembled adirondack chairs and ordered outside rugs for the deck, only to watch them soaking in the rain. (We won’t address the fact that “tired of cold weather” may translate in my bruised and battered psyche to “tired of being pregnant” with May seeming very far away indeed.)

This will probably all come back to bite me this summer when I face yet another triple digit day at home with an active preschooler (almost kindergartener! How did THAT happen?) and a baby who wants to be held all the time (which is, IME, all babies), but right now I could use some sunshine, even if it’s just sunshine on a plate. Eating a springtime salad for dinner when it’s 50 degrees inside your house just seems wrong, but by March I am done with hearty beef stews and warming casseroles. Enter chicken bouillabaisse. Sure, it’s a stew, but one that is lighter, fresher than your typical stew, singing of warmer climes and summer.

Along the Cote D’Azur, pretty much every restaurant offers a version of fish soup. Made with the local catch, it is always served with croutons, rouille (a garlic and saffron mayonnaise), and cheese. I had been craving a good soupe de poissons but not the trip to the fishmonger to get the bones to make the stock and the fish to puree into the soup and .. . well, you get the idea. Chicken bouillabaisse, though less traditional, is infinitely simpler, and offers many of the same flavors. I make mine with fennel, herbes de provence, and, because I had it, a pinch of lavender, all of which are ubiquitous in that part of the world. Served with the requisite croutons, rouille, and cheese, I could almost imagine myself on a terrace covered with rosemary, sipping my chilled rose next to the Mediterranean.

I made the rouille in my mini food processor,adding the olive oil a little at a time. It’s best to make it in advance so the saffron gets a chance to infuse the mixture. I used pasteurized eggs to minimize the risk of food poisoning with le bebe — I would ordinarily take my chances with raw egg yolks, but that’s your call. If you’re short on time or lazy, adding some minced garlic, cayenne and saffron to prepared mayonnaise will also do in a pinch.

Bouillabaisse 1

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