Archive for December, 2011

Cheers! Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Wishing everyone a very safe, happy, and healthy new year!!

P.S. Please remember NO drinking and driving. If you’re out and have too much to drink, call for a ride.

1-800-222-4357 (1-800-AAA-HELP)
Just tell the AAA operator, “I need a Tipsy Tow,” and a truck will be on its way.


“New & Improved” … Always Better?

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I really need to find a new ride. I’ve been doing the same ride for about a year now. Today I wanted a change, but didn’t want to load my bike into my car and drive to the ART (American River Trail) in Sacramento, so I did my 40 mile ride with the center loop in reverse. It’s amazing what a difference that can make! It was invigorating to see a different perspective.

Winters Bike Bridge

Today was a beautiful day for a ride, but not a great day for photos. I bought a new camera in the past few months and I am not that thrilled with it. It’s a Canon PowerShot SX150IS. My first digital camera was the Canon PowerShot SX 120IS, the earlier model, and I loved it. It took pretty consistently great photos. It was not a great nighttime camera, but, certainly better than this new one. The new one is supposed to be so much better – 12x optical zoom vs. 10x, 14.1 megapixels vs. 10.0, and it’s supposed to have a processor that will handle the 14.1 MP. I’ve found that every once in a while (maybe 10% of the time) this new camera will take a great photo, but for the most part, they’re not in focus, the macro doesn’t work as well, the aperture does not open as wide, and blah blah blah. It’s not worth the extra $50 I spent on it, and I don’t use it as much because it is pretty frustrating to take so many crappy pictures. Just goes to show you that “new and improved” is not always better.

However, sometimes “new and improved” can be better. For months, the town of Winters (or County of Solano ?) worked on the “new and improved” Putah Creek where it runs through town, under the cycling bridge. They dammed it and restricted the water through a pipeline for months. They reworked the bottom, sides, and bank. Over the past year, I have stopped to chat with other cyclists, locals, and others who were on the bridge watching the work. One man told me that “the people of Winters are very excited for this!” People say it is “new and improved” and “like nature intended” or “how it used to be before people screwed it up.” People have also said that it was necessary to prevent flooding in Winters. After many months of moving dirt, etc., there is a distinct bank, and the water is restricted to a narrow stream under the bridge.

I had only known Putah Creek to take up most of this area, and to not have much of a bank at all. I think it will look better after the grass starts to grow. One thing I have noticed, though, is that I have yet to see any evidence of any life (fish, otters, beavers, etc..) in the water again. I guess it will take time, and at some point the Creek will be stocked with trout, bass, and whatever else is considered appropriate. I used to see otters in this part of the Creek, but have not seen any lately. Poor little things were pretty displaced for months. I assume they’ll eventually come back, or new ones will move in.

Time will tell if this “new and improved” version really is better. I’m pretty optimistic about it. The creek does open up again after this narrow portion, just past the curve on the second picture, and it does look good. They’ve put in an island, which is pretty cute. It’s pretty tall and straight-sided, so I’m not sure how anyone will get to the top, but I’m sure someone will figure it out. It will be interesting to see how all of this changes over the course of the next few months when the rains start. Hopefully they’ll be starting soon. This coming year, I’d like to request rain during the week (M-F) and nice weather on Saturday and Sunday so I can get some good training rides in. LOL! If only it was that easy!

Christmas Eve Lumpia Party

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

I was invited to my first ever Christmas Eve Lumpia Party this year. Lumpia? For Christmas Eve? Why not? After all, what better way to celebrate the holiday season than friends gathering to play with food?

There are different types of lumpia. We made a Filipino style, fried lumpia with a pork based filling – ground pork, cabbage, green onions, garlic, egg, and seasonings.  I think this is the recipe that these lumpia were based on, but if not, it is very similar:


Some recipes call for the filling to be cooked, others not.







We cooked the filling.








Once you get all of the ingredients set up, it’s actually fairly easy to assemble the lumpia. You’ll need the prepared filling, separate the lumpia wrappers and be sure to keep them covered with a moist towel because they dry out easily. Be sure to have a moist towel to cover the rolled lumpia also.

Once you have everything in place, then start wrapping. To wrap, take one wrapper and place some filling on the corner, as shown below.

Now the lumpia are ready to cook.










Serve these with an assortment of sauces, such as Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, Plum Sauce, or whatever sauce will pair nicely with the filling.


We also made some dessert lumpia – one with a honeyed mascarpone and blackberries, and one with bananas.




Honeyed Mascarpone Blackberry 


Banana with Cinnamon 










Then, as you could probably predict, we began to experiment. What else could we fill these with? We had some homemade fudge, so we wrapped up some with fudge and nuts, and a few with fudge and blackberries.

What a fun tradition! I am already looking forward to next year!


Finally … the chance to ride!

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011


That was a lovely ride. No pictures today, sorry. I got out late and there wasn’t much time before dark to safely get home.

Tomorrow, weather willing, I’ll ride again in the morning.

A Festive Twist on a Healthy Favorite

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Homemade banana bread with walnuts and dark chocolate chips
… a festive twist on a healthy, whole wheat banana bread.


Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Wishing everyone a warm, healthy, safe, and joyous Christmas! I am looking forward to getting some good riding in this week!


Blackberry Mascarpone Tartlets

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Start with some fresh blackberries.

Wash fresh blackberries with cool water and set to drain on towels. You’ll want to make sure they’re dry when you assemble the tarts.

Prepare the shortbread crusts  (see “As Promised … Tartlets”).

Prepare the honeyed mascarpone filling. Place the contents of one 8-ounce container of mascarpone in the bowl of a mixer. Add the zest of one lemon. Beat at low speed, drizzling in honey to taste. Add half and half to the desired consistency.

Yes, I know seems very vague, but … to make these tartlets perfect for you, you’ll have to adjust the ingredients to your own taste. I don’t like the filling too sweet, but some do.

Place the mascarpone filling into a pastry bag. In a pinch (like discovering that your very own pastry bags are all still in storage and not in your kitchen) you can use a Ziploc (or other brand) bag. Spoon the filling into the bag and pipe into the shells.

Make-shift pastry bag

The filled shells ...

Top each with a blackberry.

Make sure the jelly is very liquidy when you put it on the fruit, or you will end up with a glob, like this.

You can glaze these with any clear jelly (not jam), but apple is the most neutral. It will add a little sweetness and some shine, but will not overpower the berries and mascarpone filling.  I tried spooning a little over, drizzling a little, and using a pastry brush, but wasn’t very happy with any of the results. In hindsight, I liked the tarts better without the glaze. 

Blackberry Mascarpone Tartlets

However, if you want the perfect looking glaze, there are tools out there that will allow you to spray a glaze on the fruit, so if it’s really that important, then invest in a glaze sprayer. Then again, the glaze that is often used in this sprayer can be a chemical concoction that I personally would rather not ingest or inflict on others.

These tartlets are the perfect bite of sweet after a rich meal. They’re just sweet enough, but if you want to add a little decadence to them, you can brush a little melted dark or white chocolate in the shell before piping in the mascarpone filling.




As Promised … Tartlets

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

 Caramel, Nut, and Dark Chocolate Tartlets

These tartlets were really quite simple to make. All it takes is a basic shortbread crust, mini muffin tins, some good quality caramel sauce, dark chocolate, and nuts. You want to make sure that you have all of your ingredients ready before you bake the crusts.

Shortbread Crust
makes about 24 mini tart shells

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse briefly to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the dough begins to to come together. You don’t want to overmix this dough, but make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Depending on your tastes, if you are using unsalted butter, you can increase the salt to 1/4 teaspoon.

Turn the dough out of the food processor bowl onto a large piece of plastic wrap. If necessary, knead every so slightly to incorporate any unmixed flour. Let the dough rest.

Prepare mini muffin tins. This dough has a lot of butter in it, so you’ll only need to spray or “grease” them if they’re not non-stick.

Pull off small pieces of dough (the size of a non-shelled almond) and press them into the mini-muffin tins. You’ll want the dough to be fairly thin at this stage. When you’ve filled the pan, then dock the bottom of the shells with a fork 2-3 times. This will prevent the shells from puffing up while they bake. Place the pans in the freezer and chill for at least 20 minutes. This will also prevent the dough from sliding down into the bottom of the pan while they bake. Use this time to assemble the other ingredients: nuts, chocolate, caramel.

You can prepare these ahead of time and keep the shaped dough in the freezer. If you’re going to freeze the shells for more than 1 hour, you’ll want to wrap them well.

When you are ready to bake them, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Keep the shells in the freezer until you are ready to bake them. Bake in the center of a preheated oven for about 13-15 minutes, rotating once if necessary. Watch your time carefully. These shells go from not done to too well done very quickly.

While the tarts are chilling in the freezer, lightly toast your nuts of choice. You can use almonds, pecans, macadamias, walnuts, or any nut you’d like to try.  I used almonds, pecans, and walnuts because that is what I had on hand. These would be fantastic with macadamia nuts.

Nuts can be toasted in the oven while it is preheating. Just be careful because at this temperature, the nuts will toast very quickly and there is very little time between perfect and burnt. When done, remove from the oven and cool. Save 24 whole nuts for garnish, and chop the rest into small pieces, but not too fine, maybe about 1/8 inch chunks.

Somewhere I have a fantastic recipe for homemade caramel, but it makes a huge amount and you really only need a few ounces for this recipe. For the caramel sauce, I used Trader Jacques’ Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce. It was fantastic. You want to pick a caramel sauce that is fairly firm when at room temperature. A thin caramel sauce won’t give you the chewy bite you’ll want in these tarts.

For the chocolate, I used Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate chips. I think next time I’ll make a ganache because the chocolate  bloomed a little after it cooled and the tarts did not turn out as pretty as I had hoped. They were still quite delicious, though!

When you have all of your ingredients assembled and ready to go (i.e., mis en place*), then place the shells in the oven to bake. While they are baking, heat up the caramel sauce so that it will be easy to pour into the shells. When you pull the shells out of the oven, you will want to fill them immediately.

To assemble the tarts:

If using chocolate chips, then place 1-2 chocolate chips in the bottom of the shell as soon as it comes out of the oven. Place a few pieces of chopped nuts, then pour in the caramel. Top with another 2-3 chocolate chips and allow to melt slightly. Then press a whole nut on top for garnish. Press it in slightly. Allow the tarts to cool.

If using ganache, you can allow the shells to cool. Place a few pieces of chopped nuts into the shell, pour in the hot caramel. Cool. Prepare the ganache (it can be as simple as 1 part heavy cream to 2 parts dark chocolate – heat the cream to just below boiling, remove from heat, and stir in the chopped chocolate and stir until smooth).

When the caramel has cooled completely, carefully spoon a little ganache on top of the tart, then place a whole nut on top.

Voila! You have tartlets!

We paired these with a Mendelson late harvest pinot gris (

The blackberry mascarpone tart recipe will have to wait another day …

These we paired with a Mendelson late harvest muscat canelli (

Now that was a little piece of heaven on earth!



* Mis en place means to put everything in its place.

Overcoming Foodie’s Block

Monday, December 19th, 2011

So I’ve been struggling for a few weeks now about what the heck to make for a potluck we’re going to tonight. Having worked as a baker for many years, I typically whip up some yummy baked goods, but I wanted this to be different. Potlucks always seem to have so many desserts, I wanted to make something else. Stumped. I was completely stumped. What was everyone else bringing? What did we NEED? Inspiration eluded me.

We had dinner with a friend last week and he gave us a bottle of wine, a 2009 DeLoach Sonoma County Chardonnay Vinthropic Cuvee.

When it comes to wine, I like white wine, but I will almost always go for red. So this posed a fun challenge for me. What the heck could I make to pair with this wine?  I Googled it. This is what DeLoach recommends:  “a perfect complement to alfresco dining, and pairs well with creamy risotto with shitake mushrooms or a freshly tossed Caesar salad with grilled prawns” (

I went around and around with this, but kept coming back to mushrooms. Risotto would be fabulous, but it wouldn’t transport well and it’s not like I could make it there.

OK. Risotto’s out.

Caesar Salad … that’s a possibility … but I’d like to take something warm.

Mushrooms. What can I do with mushrooms? Potluck … finger food … stuffed mushrooms? Nah. Skewers? Nah … that would take waay to long on my George Foreman.

What about quiche? Frittata? Tartlets?

Hmm … tartlets. In search of a recipe, I didn’t find exactly what I wanted, but one that sounded really good:  Hot Mushroom, Toasted Walnut, and Camembert Filo Tartlets (
This was my inspiration.

Mushroom, Walnut, and Smoked Gouda Tartlets

So, with this in mind, I set out shopping. I picked up some mini filo shells, baby bella mushrooms, fresh thyme, garlic and shallots. While I was shopping, I came upon a sample of a fantastic smoked gouda cheese and thought that would be amazing in the tarlets.

Here is my version of the tartlets …

1/2 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic
1 shallot
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 1/2 pounds baby bella mushrooms (cremini)
1/2 cup white wine (I used a sauvignon blanc)
salt & pepper to taste

45 mini filo shells
7 ounces smoked gouda, cut into small cubes or shredded

Chop mushrooms into small pieces (~ 1/8-inch dice) and set aside.
Strip thyme leaves from stems and set aside.
Saute garlic & shallots in olive oil and butter. Be careful to not burn.
Add mushrooms and cook until most of the liquid has reduced. Add wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember the cheese will add some salt, too, so depending on the cheese you use, you’ll want to adjust the salt accordingly.
This can be prepared up to a day ahead.

When it’s time to assemble, preheat oven to 350-degrees (F).

Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and line up the filo shells.Place a small amount of cheese (2-3 small cubes, depending on size) in the shell. Bake about 5 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt. Remove from the oven and top off the tarts with a spoonful of mushroom mixture. If you’ve prepared the mushroom mixture ahead of time and refrigerated it, you’ll want to heat it up a bit before assembling the tarts.
Top the filled tartlet with some additional cheese.
Bake about  5 more minutes, or until heated through and the cheese is melted.
Garnish with additional thyme, and/or chives.



Expect to have some filling leftover. I suspect it will make a lovely omelet or frittata, savory pizza or focaccia topping, or filling for thinly prepared chicken, pork, beef rolled up. Or, even stir fried with some brown rice, or with hearty grain like barley. I will have to experiment with this.

Oh, I also made these …

Blackberry Mascarpone Tarlets

Caramel Nut Chocolate Tartlets

I’ll post those recipes soon.

Kim Taylor Cabinetry

Monday, December 12th, 2011