Back-to-School: Easy Family Dinner

COMMENTS: 11

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The switch back to school days comes when it still feels like summer around here. It’s a sort of funny limbo in many ways at our house: not only does it feel too soon for sweaters and sharpened pencils, our preschooler’s day still isn’t all that different from his summer one. Dirty knees and make-believe are the cornerstones either way.

Still, I can feel the shift. We’ve signed him up for swim in the afternoons and he’ll be running around on the soccer field a few days each week. Afterward, dinner will need to be ready faster than usual if we hope to have any time between meal- and bedtime.

I’ve started to think about my repertoire of fast, healthy (tasty) dinners, and it could use some expanding. What are your favorites?

These baked, crispy chicken burgers are one of mine. They seem appropriate for this limbo: a little bit like summer (with its fried chicken and barbecue burgers) but with step that requires an oven—a sure sign of fall. Plus, the chicken here is baked and not fried: because back-to-school means back-to-business.

Panko breadcrumbs give it a satisfying crunch and a packet of Hidden Valley® Original Ranch® Salad Dressing & Seasoning Mix gives it a wonderful flavor. The whole process takes about 10 minutes hands-on and 25 in the oven. And the result is juicy and delicious.

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Lunchbox: Avocado & Egg Rollup

COMMENTS: 13

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We’re always on the lookout for more creative ways to make the kids’ lunchboxes healthy—while still appealing to them. So much gets rejected, and it’s completely baffling. Getting them to eat protein can be particularly challenging, yet it’s so important for helping them grow and giving them the energy they need to stay focused.

Once again, I turned to eggs.

The idea for this came from a favorite Indian lunch: I used to order Kati rolls—kebab or other fillings wrapped in paratha bread—all the time in New York. My favorite would be filled with paneer cheese, onions, and spices, and I’d always choose the option of adding an egg for extra protein. The egg would almost blend into the paratha, as if part of the wrap—it was just a thin layer cooked onto the bread.

Making paratha at home is definitely possible, but it’s a step that’s unlikely to make it into our schoolday-prep routine. Here’s a faster alternative…
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Eating Up the West Coast: Garden Breakfast Burritos

COMMENTS: 6

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Do you ever see a book and realize it’s the book you would have liked to write? Sometimes it happens to me with non-fiction, but the occasional children’s book slips in there, too. I’m not saying could have, just would have.

“Part cookbook, part travelogue,” Sunset’s Eating Up the West Coast follows Brigit Binns on a 42-day culinary adventure to “some 75 hidden eateries that showcase local flavors, then provides easy-to-follow recipes for over 125 of the very best dishes.” Wouldn’t you like to write that one, too?

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I’ve been paying particular attention to the spots she visits in California: dishes are shared from Ojai to Los Olivos (where we got married), Point Reyes to Bodega, and in and around Big Sur.

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This dish, a “Garden Goddess Breakfast ‘Burrito'” from the Seaside Cafe & Bakery of Shell Beach, has been on repeat ever since the book arrived.
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Summer Grilling Tools (& Mexican Corn)

COMMENTS: 2

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Fourth of July is always about the time when it really hits me how much more often we should be cooking outside. I should be grilling pizzas with eggs and eating weekend brunch outside on a routine basis! So whether or not this list serves you for the weekend holiday (one of my favorites!),  I enlisted Aron to help me round up a list of basic barbecue essentials. These are the things we find ourselves using time and again.

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Essentials: Summer Picnics in the Park

COMMENTS: 10

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One of the best things about summer in Davis is the weekly picnic-in-the-park. Every Wednesday night, a few hundred people come out to Central Park to pick up farm fresh fruit at the market, listen to a band play, and share dinner and drinks with friends. From March through October, there are pony rides, bouncy houses, a climbing wall, and usually a few games of hack-a-sack (remember that?) going on around the green to entertain kids who will only sit long enough to earn a popsicle (seasonal flavors, of course).

Sometimes we buy our food there (tri-tip, corn dogs, and Indian fare are favorites), sometimes we bring our own. And after a couple of summers of these weekly market nights, I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of getting us packed up and swiftly out the door —often on our bikes. My friends and I have often joked about the lengthy process of nailing down exactly the right combination of supplies. There’s a lot of trial and error. Here’s what I’ve discovered I need in order to pull together a picnic any night of the week.

After all, picnics on the fly are, in my opinion, key to summer.

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Blanket
I’ve tried a variety of picnic blanket options over the years and find myself coming back to this surprisingly simple, inexpensive solution: a painter’s canvas drop cloth from the hardware store. It’s large without being bulky, and ours gets tossed in the washing machine regularly and cleans right up. (In fact, it softens with washing, so I’d recommend doing that straight off.) I also appreciate that the neutral tone doesn’t detract from the food—or faces, in photos—and goes with every occasion.

Hard, flat surface
If I’ll be setting it down soon, my preference would lean toward a beautiful wooden picnic basket like the one shown here—its lid works great as a table-top. But whether or not I bring it or a canvas bag, I also tote along a cutting board. Epicurean boards are favorites for picnics (and at home) because they’re thin and easily portable, but they’re still sturdy and attractive.

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Folding knife
I love the Opinel trekking folding knife we picked up in Paris a few years back. It seems like the sort of tool one would pull out while sitting under a tree in an orchard, to peel a piece of fruit.

Water
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Wine 
Bota Box. True, they’re a sponsor, but regardless: ever since my trip to Big Sur with the brand, I’ve become a fan—particularly of Bota Minis—for Farmer’s Market nights. I think the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is my favorite.

The minis are easy to toss into a bag (I don’t worry about them breaking en route or in the park); they’re lighter to carry than glass; I don’t need to worry about a corkscrew; and if I just want one glass (we’re there as a family), I can re-seal it and toss it back in the bag for later. Each one is the equivalent of three glasses of wine.

Of course we usually share with friends, so it’s rare they come home.

Cheese, Salami, Crackers
We often end up supplementing with some purchased food at the market, but a meal of cheese and salami secco is my favorite kind. Here are some favorite cheeses. And, if interested, here’s a cheat sheet for truly great picnic sandwiches.

Reusable serving pieces
I rarely pack plates, but these enamelware dishes (porcelain fused to steel) are functional and pretty—they’re hard to break. And a set of the tumblers would make great cups because they stack! But I also like these Govino wine glasses (pictured) if I have the space. Our market has someone stationed to help you sort your trash into different bins for composting, recycling, and landfill, and it’s always particularly embarrassing to have to put anything in the landfill bin.

Napkins
I tend to throw in some dish towels to use as napkins (or to wrap leftovers in). These striped ones shown are from a market in Mexico, but these Tekla dish towels or Schoolhouse Electric Utility Napkins would be similar.

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Small bills for Market fare
Right now, there are beautiful cherries and sweet stone fruits at the Davis Market. Sun gold tomatoes are starting to appear as well. There’s no need for serving dishes; just spread out and share.

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And of course a backpack with the usual amenities: diapers, wipes, and some milk.

What am I missing? What do you keep at the ready for summer picnics? 

This post is sponsored by Bota Box, the nation’s leading eco-friendly wine producer of premium 3-liter varietals. Each package is printed on 90% post-consumer fiber and is 100% recyclable; Bota Boxes create 85% less landfill waste than traditional glass bottles. Bota Box wine stays fresh for 30 days or more after opening, and has received 49 Gold Medals and 21 Best Buy ratings from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Have you tried Bota Box? Which varietal do you like best? Bring one along on your next adventure and tag your instagram #GoAdventure and #GoBota. (I know I’d love to see where you’re having your summer picnics! I’m @AshleyMuirBruhn.)

P.S. Thanks for asking! My sunglasses are “Headliner” by Madewell. My jumpsuit (n/a) and top are from Old Navy.

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Tex Mex Tartine

COMMENTS: 2

View More: http://dreamphotographystudio.pass.us/seesalt
View More: http://dreamphotographystudio.pass.us/seesalt

Tex Mex Tartine with Grilled Corn
by Jessica at SEE Salt

Summertime is all about easy entertaining. Fresh meals that make you feel light and cool are what we love to reach for. Being in Arizona, we have a strong influence from Mexico and the southwest. Honestly, we buy cilantro and jalapeños as a weekly staple at our house! What I really didn’t understand prior to moving here from the Pacific Northwest was the fact that hot peppers do not have to be hot. If you remove the seeds and veins, you simply have a fresh flavor that is very versatile. We even put jalapeños in our meatloaf!

Whether you prefer to call it tartine or bruschetta, this south-of-the-border recipe is sure to please!

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French Toast Roast with Caramelized Bananas

COMMENTS: 7

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Looking for a really special Father’s Day brunch recipe? Whether you need something decadent just for him and your own little brood, or for a crowd—that can be set-up in advance, this is the one.

Honestly? This is the most amazing brunch dish I’ve had in a long, long time.

A friend spied it being workshopped on Tyler Florence’s Instagram feed a while back, and we’ve since made it for Christmas and Mother’s Day. With some eggs and bacon on the side, it would make the perfect Father’s Day dish.

As with any truly amazing french toast, the key is using ample eggs to soak the bread, which makes it rich and delicious. The egg custard will give you just the right balance between soft and crispy.

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How to Roll Sushi at Home

COMMENTS: 3

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by Jessica at SEE Salt

It seems like sushi is one of those things many of us love—and crave! But we tend to only eat it when we go out. Why is that? I really want to encourage everyone to try rolling their own! It is so simple.

The fabulous thing is that you can keep the primary dry ingredients (uncooked rice and nori/dry seaweed) in your pantry at all times. We keep a small basket in ours where we store those ingredients along with rolling mats (bamboo or silicone) and chop sticks to grab and roll whenever we like. We love to entertain with sushi-rolling parties. It is so fun to get everyone working together in the kitchen!

Locating your local Asian market is your best bet to find fresh sushi-grade fish. Or you can buy pre-made coconut shrimp or imitation crab from your local grocery and add avocado and cucumber to make California Rolls (a guaranteed crowd pleaser). Keep it simple!
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The Easiest Two-Ingredient Doughnut Recipe

COMMENTS: 11

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  Donuts_HitherAndThither-04Scenario: You’re at work, reading blogs with photos of homemade donuts at your desk all day. You didn’t prep ahead. There’s no dough leavening on the counter. So you leave work, determined to swing by someplace to pick up one on the way home and you’re (a) too late and they’re closed, (b) faced with the only disappointing, cold leftovers, or (c) met with a mile-long line at the only place still making them hot. It’s happened to me.

Here’s what to do instead: Pass the shop and run into the grocery store to buy a pop-tin of biscuit dough and some canola oil. (And, if you’re going to add a glaze, get—at minimum—some powdered sugar, too. Although I’ll give some more ideas for glazes below.)

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In Season: Three-Grain Blackberry Breakfast Muffins

COMMENTS: 12

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Come berry season, it almost seems silly to enjoy the fruit any way other than straight off the vine if you have that option. Nothing is better than a freshly picked berry, still warm from the sun.

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But for when it comes time to extend the pleasure by saving berries (or for dealing with slightly more tart raspberries and blackberries, strawberries and boysenberries) in jams and pies and popsicles and whatnot, I’m always on the lookout for favorite recipes.

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This heartier muffin recipe is adapted from the Mayo Clinic Cookbook, and is great for breakfast on-the-go when you’re running out the door this summer (hopefully en route to the beach).

You can make a batch, and freeze them to keep at-the-ready.

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How to Cook Eggs (& understand labeling)

COMMENTS: 16

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As someone who’s a firm believer that to “put an egg on it” makes everything better (and prettier!), I’m excited to announce that I’ll be partnering with the American Egg Board on a series of posts this year—everything from recipes to site visits. Eggs are my never-fail, what’s-for-dinner solution.

I’ve been learning a bit more about eggs as a consequence, and trying to understand the difference between labeling like cage-free and free-range.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned, in case you’re interested, too, along with what may be my favorite way to enjoy eggs these days…

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Simple & Healthy: Zucchini Noodle Pasta

COMMENTS: 6

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Lemon-Parmesan Zucchini Noodles with Toasted Pine Nuts
by Jessica at SEE Salt

Zucchini noodles are one of my favorite food trends of 2015. They really are worthy of all the hype. Have you tried a spiralizer!? They are so fun to work with, and super simple. I would highly recommend making the small investment. With the endless things you can use it for (carrots, daikon radishes, sweet potatoes, apples…), I honestly think you will love it.

By the way, isn’t this couple beautiful? We were able to capture some beautiful photos as they enjoyed our SEE Salt recipe, and we had to share. Here’s hoping you’ll enjoy it too…

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Top Tips for Starting a Culinary Garden

COMMENTS: 3

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Earlier this month, Aron and I got to have dinner in the gardens at Kendall-Jackson’s Santa Rosa winery. One of the highlights was having the winemaster, Randy Ullom, take us around to show us from where our dinner (and wine) was sourced, and introduce us to their resident culinary gardener, Tucker Taylor.

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Food styling and photography

COMMENTS: 12

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My only photography training was an elective in college which sent me into the darkroom for hours on end. I feel like I’ve improved a lot since then through practice—owing almost completely to this blog.

But it felt like the time was right for some instruction—some mentoring: As I mentioned, we were in New York because I’d signed myself up for a food styling and photography workshop.

Aran Goyoaga is a food stylist and photographer based in Seattle, and the creator of the blog Cannelle Et Vanille. Aron’s cousin actually sent us her cookbook, Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten-Free Cooking a few years ago (she’s a friend of his) and wondered if we’d seen her work. (I had and it’s beautiful!)

I suppose it would have made sense to wait until she was teaching in her Seattle studio (she’s in Portugal next) but it was a nice excuse to visit New York—and to once again step inside the gorgeous space that’s home to Karen Mordechai’s Sunday Suppers.

I thought I’d share some of my favorite dishes and photos from the workshop…

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The Melt Moment

COMMENTS: 8

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The other day, I popped one of those LINDOR truffles (with that distinctly smooth melting center) into my mouth, almost absent-mindedly getting an afternoon chocolate-fix, and it stopped me in my tracks. It evoked such a strong memory.

As with that Proustian petit madeleine that—when dunked into tea—prompt’s the author’s narrator to recall his childhood, the chocolate prompted me to recall the sound of my feet pounding, racing down a hotel hall over ornate carpet and past endless ivory doors.

When I would travel with my parents as a little girl, I would always look for chocolates on the hotel pillow. It stemmed from one particular trip—to Vancouver—when the hotel placed LINDOR truffles on the bed each night. I thought they were the best chocolates I’d ever had, and even if I didn’t know enough to appreciate the luxury of “turndown service,” I knew they were special.

There were always four chocolates in the room and just three of us. And to the race’s victor went the spoils.

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May Day

COMMENTS: 0

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Happy May Day! Spring is here and summer is close! (I can’t believe how fast this year is passing.)

We had this Lavender Sidecar at dinner the other night at Sacramento’s Hock Farm, and I think I may try to do at lease some version of it tonight, in honor of May Day:

Lavender-infused Remy V, Combier triple sec, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon, lavender, and a vanilla-sugar rim. We have some lavender growing in the front yard that the bees are loving.

What are your plans for the weekend? We had a sick little kiddo home today (always so sad!), but things are looking up so hopefully we’re keeping our plans to go to Sonoma on Saturday and then, of course, there’s the Garden tour. And I have one other post planned for tomorrow morning!

P.S. A pre-kid May Day. And more cocktails for spring.

[Photo of ranunculus—an all time favorite—from my Instagram feed]

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