Archive for the 'Oakland' Category

Enchiladas for the journey

Remember how I said on Thursday night that I push deadlines but don’t miss them and that I’d report back about BlogHer, um, yesterday?

Well, make that tomorrow. The conference is still going on, it’s been an amazing weekend of networking and experiences and the occasional gratis glass of Prosecco (OK, maybe the occasional two glasses?), and I’ve gotten very little sleep because even when I get home, my brain is racing so hard I can’t get myself to go to bed.

And, in the meantime, I have a story to tell that has nothing to do with BlogHer, but is time-sensitive. Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen has made some tweaks to the rules for Weekend Herb Blogging, and technically, this story fits under the rubric of the old rules rather than the new. The new rules go into effect this coming week, so today is my last day to sneak this in under the wire. Sure, I could just post it without participating in WHB, but where would be the camaraderie in that?

And see? I’m just making a deadline!

So, even though I’m writing this from a conference room on Union Square in San Francisco, this goes back to my last days in Iowa, for a recipe that, much like my move to California, is not so much specific measurements, and more a wing-and-prayer approach of combining things that go well together, tossing them in the oven to bake, and enjoying what comes out.

I spent the first half of my last week in Iowa in California, actually, looking for an apartment. It was a crazy weekend of hoofing it around Oakland, following leads off Craigslist and taking deep gulps at the rents and the deposits required to move in. I signed a lease that Tuesday evening, boarded a red-eye back to Cedar Rapids, and then crawled into bed as soon as I got home in an attempt to avoid the amount of packing I had to finish in three days.

Because the move happened so quickly, I didn’t really have a chance to properly eat down all the food in my fridge and freezer, and because the winter had been so fraught with delayed travel, I hadn’t been home enough or rested enough to manage the proper cooking program I usually maintain.

This meant I still had some slow-roasted tomatoes in the freezer, and as anyone who reads Kalyn or Alanna of Kitchen Parade knows, you don’t waste slow-roasted tomatoes.

I also had made my last visit to the Iowa City Farmer’s Market that Wednesday night, planning mainly to pick up a few gifts for the folks who would be hosting me on my journey west, but deciding, while I was there, to grab a bunch of locally-grown asparagus. Even though I knew I had to stop using my cooking gear and get it into boxes, the asparagus looked to good not to buy it.

So, on Thursday night, I told Betsy to make time for one last dinner cooked in my big Iowa kitchen. It was time for enchiladas, which, over the course of my last year in Iowa, became one of my favorite go-to comfort foods. Fast, easy and, as I made them, arguably not that unhealthy, I started making large batches every couple of weeks, taking the leftovers for lunch or, on days when the comfort was necessary earlier in the day, eating them for breakfast.

Spinach and slow-roasted tomatoes

Spinach and slow-roasted tomatoes

I use an informal recipe, so informal that I’m not going to write it out in traditional fashion. But trust me…anyone can do this. I pre-heated the oven to 375 degrees, then pulled out my stoneware 9” x 12” pan (stoneware’s not required). I sauteed the slow-roasted tomatoes and a bag of baby spinach over medium-high heat until the spinach wilted, then mixed the tomatoes and spinach in a bowl with a diced package of baked tofu (hickory flavored) and three or four spoonfuls of salsa. These ingredients, it should be noted, are not written in stone—if you like mushrooms, or chicken, or black beans, or corn, try any or all of that.

I rolled that filling into spelt tortillas, but you can use flour tortillas or even corn, although warming the corn tortillas first will help keep them from cracking as you roll them up. I placed each tortilla seam-down in the pan, nestling them against each other so they held each other together. I poured a 12-ounce bottle of Trader Joe’s enchilada sauce (that’s my favorite brand, but any enchilada sauce will do) over the top and then sprinkled the whole pan-full with shredded Colby Jack. Eyeball the cheese until it seems right to you – there are days when just a light touch works great, but other days when extra cheese makes all the difference. Gauge your own mood accordingly.

Then I baked them up, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the cheese had melted and the sauce around the edges bubbled and hissed.

Enchiladas, between asparagus and avocado

Enchiladas, between asparagus and avocado

I also roasted that asparagus, and plated up the enchiladas with the Iowa asparagus on one side and sliced avocado, which just happened to have been flown in from California, on the other. Betsy and I ate dinner at the kitchen table gleaned from another friend who passed it along just when I needed it most, as the light faded over my garden in the back. There would be no more cooking in Iowa, but it seemed just the right dinner to end on: one that featured ingredients from both states, that I served to a friend in the kitchen I’d loved since I first walked into it, and that offered nutrition and comfort for the journey.

This is my post for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week by Archana of Archana’s Kitchen. Please stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of posts!

Nuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimp

Leeks and shrimp, cookingEver since I arrived in California, I’ve been over-buying produce. That’s not to say that I’m wasting it—it’s quite possible that I’m eating a closer-to-vegetarian diet than I have ever eaten in my life—but it is requiring me to come up with interesting ways to use what I’ve got in fairly short order so I don’t end up with a full refrigerator of wilted, over-ripe, slightly moldy vegetables and fruits.

I also have a 15-minute commute to and from work. On foot. (I know, I know. Do you know how many people I know want to kick me in the knee just so I can feel the pain they feel when they hear this? Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am…) That means that when I leave work in the evening, assuming I’m not on my way out to meet friends for dinner, I have the perfect window of time to evaluate what’s in the fridge and how I can combine it in the most tasty manner.

Earlier in the week, I’d mixed up a batch of nuoc cham, that godsend of a condiment served in all Vietnamese restaurants. Lydia of A Perfect Pantry inspired me to make it—I’ve been eating it for years and thinking it couldn’t be that hard to recreate at home, but it took me an awfully long time to actually try to do it. Now that I’ve done it once, I may never be able to go without having some in my refrigerator again. It’s that addictive. And that dead-easy to make.

I am also a huge fan of leeks, particularly when they’re roasted alongside a chicken, or caramelized, slowly, until they’re soft and sweet. Leek and potato soup is one of my favorites, and I adore braising them. I picked up some beautiful leeks at Friday’s Old Oakland Farmer’s Market, and decided, during my walk home, that tonight was the night they would give it up for the cause.

I caramelized them up in some local olive oil, then tossed in some of the leftover nuoc cham, which braised them just a bit before cooking down to a lovely sauce. Toward the end of the process, I tossed in some shrimp for protein’s sake, let them turn pink and opaque, and served it all up together. It was a simple, delicious combination that I plan to return to—a little bit sweet, and just barely savory from the chili-garlic sauce in the nuoc cham. If I make it again, the only thing I might try next time around is tossing in a little chili oil just to bump up the spicy side of the flavor combination. Otherwise, it’s all good.

Nuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimpNuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimp
(Serves four)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 leeks, trimmed (remove the ends and the tops) and sliced thinly
1/3 c. nuoc cham (See Lydia for the ideal recipe)
2 dozen uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (Leave the tails on, if you’d like)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan.
  2. Add the sliced leeks and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook the leeks, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and caramelized, approximately 40 minutes. At the 30-minute mark, add salt and pepper and taste. Adjust seasonings if need be.
  3. Once the leeks are caramelized, add the nuoc cham. Continue cooking until the sauce is reduced by at least half and is fully coating the leeks.
  4. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook, stirring every minute or so, for approximately five minutes or until the shrimp are opaque and pink. Be careful not to overcook.
  5. Serve immediately. For a prettier presentation, serve the shrimp on top of a bed of the leeks.

This is my contribution for this week’s version of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week by Astrid of Paulchen’s FoodBlog. Please stop by later in the weekend to read the full round-up!

Green Thumb Sunday: Peaches, Old Oakland Farmer’s Market

Peaches, Old Oakland Farmer\'s Market

Gardeners, plant and nature lovers can join in Green Thumb Sunday every week. Visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

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