Welcoming Spring with: Seared Cod and Ratatouille


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Today is the first day of spring, which also happens to be Persian New Year, marking the first day in the Iranian calendar. “Nowruz,” the Persian New Year, begins at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator and winter ends.

I mention this because my boyfriend is Persian, and it’s an important holiday celebrated by his family. Every year I’m invited to his parents’ home to enjoy a feast of traditional, delicious Persian food, and I must say that I am super excited for dinner tonight.

Beyond all the food, I know little about the new year traditions, so I spent some time online today to read about the holiday. Apparently it’s tradition to do an intensive, complete cleaning of the house in the weeks before the new year, signifying the “rebirth of nature.” I guess Persians used to believe that guardian angels and spirits of the dead would come down to earth to visit their human counter parts, so they cleaned and prepared a welcome feast for their visit. Well…I definitely won’t be expecting a visit from “spirits of the dead.” Since I didn’t get the spring-cleaning memo, my home is in no condition for special visitors.

On the last Tuesday before the new year, bonfires are made and people jump over the flames, believing it will rid them of illnesses and misfortunes in the new year. I wasn’t invited to this important ritual, so now I fear for my health and fortune this year.

It’s also custom to buy at least one set of brand new clothing or shoes for the new year. (Do two new pairs of running shoes count?)

Persians set up an elaborate table setting of seven symbolic items, called Haft Sin, each item corresponding to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them.

sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth

samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence

senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love

sīr – garlic – symbolizing medicine

sīb – apples – symbolizing beauty and health

somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise

serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience.

But above all else, like any other holiday, it’s about enjoying friends, family and feasting. Now that–I can appreciate.

In honor of Nowruz I get a night off from cooking. But since it’s custom to eat fish for Persian New Year, I thought I’d share a fish recipe. It’s not a Persian dish, but it will feel like spring when you eat it!

Seared Cod over Ratatouille

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Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cod filet

1 large eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (I used yellow tomatoes)

1 portabella mushroom, chopped (or 1 cup sliced mushrooms)

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ tsp. paprika

1 lemon

1-2 T olive oil

cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add onions, and sauté until translucent.

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Add eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, cayenne. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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While the ratatouille is cooking, salt and pepper the fish. Squirt on juice from half of the lemon. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the cod for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it has a nice brown crust and flakes easily with a fork.

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Just before serving, salt and pepper the ratatouille to your taste, and stir in chopped basil. You can also add other fresh herbs to this dish, like parsley, oregano, thyme, etc. Serve the cod on top of the ratatouille, squirt the other half of the lemon on top of the cooked fish, and enjoy!

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RECIPE- Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cod filet

1 large eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 portabella mushroom, chopped (or 1 cup sliced mushrooms)

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ tsp. paprika

1 lemon

1-2 T olive oil

cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add onions, and sauté until translucent. Add eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, cayenne. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the ratatouille is cooking, salt and pepper the fish. Squirt on juice from half of the lemon. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the cod for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it has a nice brown crust and flakes easily with a fork.

Just before serving, salt and pepper the ratatouille to your taste, and stir in chopped basil. You can also add other fresh herbs to this dish, like parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.

Serve the cod on top of the ratatouille, squirt the other half of the lemon on top of the cooked fish, and enjoy!

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Cooking with Corneal Abrasions: Italian Moussaka


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My mom just celebrated her 50th birthday this past weekend. I agreed to throw her a party, as I do every year. She invites about 15 of her friends to my house, I make a variety of food and order her a nice bakery cake, and we drink wine and laugh the night away.

Well this year, she wanted to go big. A “memorable” party for her big 5-0…because apparently my previous parties for her weren’t memorable enough. So she invited about 50 people, forcing me to find a venue to rent for the party—and a strategic way to prepare and store crazy amounts of food in my fridge.

In Filipino culture, the worst, most tragic, embarrassing, shameful thing that could ever happen to a party host is to run out of food. So when I host parties for about 20 people, I prepare enough food to feed 30-40 people. I leave out Ziploc bags and aluminum foil, and Filipino women happily pack up the leftovers to bring to their husbands.

So this year, knowing 50 people were on the guest list, I planned a menu for an army. I shopped at one of those grocery stores that are designed for restaurant owners and left with a 19-pound pork loin, 18 pounds of chicken legs, 5 pounds of ground turkey for tamale casserole, 4 bags of rigatoni and giant aluminum catering serving pans.  I even asked people for HELP—which I rarely do.

Friday night before the party, I started prepping all the food. As I was chopping onions, my eye started burning like I rubbed jalapeno into it. I figured it would go away in a few minutes, but it continued through the evening. I woke up with a red eyeball, twitchy swollen eyelid, blurry vision and tears uncontrollably streaming down my face.

My plan was to shake it off, power through the day and hope it would just go away. But my boyfriend convinced me to go to urgent care, and I found out that I gave myself a “corneal abrasion,” a scratch on my cornea from rubbing my eyes too much with my contacts in. I spent the rest of the day twitching my right eyelid while trying to maneuver around the kitchen practically blind, cooking and transporting ridiculous amounts of food.

Despite this setback, once the numbing eye drops and ibuprofen kicked in, everything went well. The food was good, my mom had a good time, and best of all—the party is over!

The next day, my abs were sore and my body felt bruised from lifting the serving pans. My eye still isn’t 100 percent, but at least I didn’t lose it.

Somehow, after all that, I was able to get myself back in the kitchen again. I’ve been craving moussaka, a traditional Greek dish, that I make not-so-traditional. So I’m calling it “Italian moussaka”…or maybe even “Greek lasagna.” It’s basically a lasagna made with eggplant and potatoes in place of noodles. And, since I’m dairy free, I made a non-dairy béchamel-type sauce. I was nervous about how it would turn out…but it turned out well, and I will make it again! It takes some time to prepare, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a quick weeknight meal. You can also make it a day ahead.

Italian Moussaka

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Feeds 4-6

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium eggplant

2 large red potatoes

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 small cans tomato sauce

1 cup spaghetti sauce

1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine

2-3 T chopped parsley

1 pound ground chicken sausage

Bechamel-type sauce

3/4 cup vegan cheese (I used Daiya)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 cup non-dairy milk (I used plain almond)

1 egg white

5 oz. silken tofu

3-6 T soy sauce

pepper to taste

1-2 T dijon mustard

fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Cut eggplant into 1/4- inch thick slices. You can leave the skin on or peel it off, it’s up to you. Spread eggplant slices out on a tray, in a colander or on cutting boards. Sprinkle generously with salt, and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can see the liquid pool at the top. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and try to squeeze out excess liquid. This is supposed to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant.

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While you let the eggplants sit, chop onion and garlic. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they just start to caramelize.

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Add the ground chicken sausage and saute until browned and cooked through.

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Add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and wine. Turn down heat and let the sauce simmer until it’s time to assemble the moussaka. Stir in parsley.

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To make the bechamel sauce, add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor, except the vegan cheese. Blend until creamy. Stir in the vegan cheese, and set aside. *Note: If you sample the sauce before cooking it, it won’t taste very good. Once it’s baked it tastes good, haha.

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Nutritional Yeast

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The sauce has a pretty color here….but once it’s cooked it looks weird and brownish green…

Slice potatoes as thinly as possible. Lightly salt each slice.

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To assemble, spray a coat of non-stick spray in an 8×11 pan. Spread a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan.

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Top the eggplant layer with about 1 cup of the chicken sausage tomato sauce mixture.

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Spread on a layer of potatoes.

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Top with a cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you run out of eggplant and potato. Finish with a generous layer of the tomato sauce.

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Bake the moussaka for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Pour the bechamel sauce over the top. You may not need all of it, I had about a cup leftover that I will use later for mac n’ cheese. Bake another 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the bechamel sauce is set. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to let the casserole firm up, and it won’t be a runny mess. Cut into slices and serve with a side salad, or roasted brussels sprouts. Or enjoy alone, it’s a complete meal!

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It’s not very pretty since it’s not real cheese…but I promise it’s good!

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Italian Moussaka Recipe:

Cut eggplant into 1/4- inch thick slices. You can leave the skin on or peel it off, it’s up to you. Spread eggplant slices out on a tray, in a colander or on cutting boards. Sprinkle generously with salt, and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can see the liquid pool at the top. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and try to squeeze out excess liquid. This is supposed to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant.

While you let the eggplants sit, chop onion and garlic. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they just start to caramelize. Add the ground chicken sausage and saute until browned and cooked through. Add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and wine. Turn down heat and let the sauce simmer.

To make the bechamel sauce, add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor, except the vegan cheese. Blend until creamy. Stir in the vegan cheese, and set aside. Note: If you sample the sauce before cooking it, it won’t taste very good. Once it’s baked it tastes good, haha. 

Slice potatoes as thinly as possible. Lightly salt each slice.

To assemble, spray a coat of non-stick spray in an 8×11 pan. Spread a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan. Top the eggplant layer with about 1 cup of the chicken sausage tomato sauce mixture. Spread on a layer of potatoes. Top with a cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you run out of eggplant and potato. Finish with a generous layer of the tomato sauce.

Bake the moussaka for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Pour the bechamel sauce over the top. You may not need all of it, I had about a cup leftover that I will use later for mac n’ cheese. Bake another 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the bechamel sauce is set. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to let the casserole firm up, and it won’t be a runny mess. 

 

Undoing ‘over-doing’ with: Dal (lentils)


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I recently came to the realization that I’m an over-doer.

The past month, I’ve been battling a hamstring injury that resulted from “over-doing” it. After a few lazy weeks, I felt inspired to get a jump-start on my marathon training with a 12-mile hilly run (after doing a 9-mile run two days earlier). Followed by a 4-mile walk on the waterfront, and dancing the night away in strappy heels.

On Christmas Eve, I hosted a “small” brunch for 13 friends. While people were still mingling over mimosas, I was in the kitchen whipping up coffee cake for my boyfriend’s family–one of six baked goods I planned to bring them for Christmas dessert. Why six things, not one or two? I have no idea.

And last year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day three times, for three entire days.

Three.

…Birthdays, anniversaries and promotions are celebrated the same way.

So I’ve decided to simplify things–starting with this simple lentil dish, dal. It’s so simple, it only has 3 letters (sometimes 4, daal). It’s as simple as simple can get: lentils, water, onion and spices.

It’s not exactly an authentic Indian recipe, but I’ve adapted this recipe from how my Persian boyfriend and his mom prepare it. You can serve it as a side dish, or eat it as a vegetarian main dish over brown rice with a side of roasted veggies of your choice.

This is as simple as it will get for me…my mom’s 50th birthday party is this weekend, 50 people are coming, and I will be over-doing it. So at least for today…I can just breathe. Ahhhhhhh.

Dal

Serves about 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish

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2 tsp. cooking oil

1 cup imported red lentils

1 cup yellow split peas (optional, add 1 more cup of lentils if you omit these)

6 cups water

1 large onion, diced and/or chopped (I like to do half diced, half chopped in bigger chunks or strips)

2-3 T turmeric

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)

1/4 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

*Note* If you don’t want to buy a bunch of different spices, you can buy curry powder from the grocery store and omit all the other spices, EXCEPT the turmeric. Use about 1 to 2 T.

Use imported red lentils. I get these from my local middle eastern grocer. You might also be able to find them at a regular grocery store, either in the bulk aisle or the ethnic foods aisle. They’re smaller and flatter than regular lentils, and they become creamy when cooked. I also like to use yellow split peas for texture, but you don’t have to. Just add an extra cup of red lentils if you choose to skip the split peas.

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Dice or chop your onion. I failed to grocery shop so I ended up having to use half of a red onion and half of a yellow onion. Doesn’t really make a difference. I like to dice half my onion, and chop the other half in bigger chunks. Just adds texture, but it’s ultimately up to you!

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Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add onions. Saute until slightly softened. Add spices to onion, mixing to coat onions with the spices, and saute another minute.

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Add lentils and split peas to the onion and spices, and mix well.

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Add about 3 to 4 cups of water to the pot. Cover and let simmer about 10 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on the pot because the lentils will soak up the water, and the lentils could burn to the bottom of the pot (You may have to add more or less water than the 6 cups this recipe calls for, depending on how quickly your lentils soak up the water. Turn down heat if necessary.). Add remaining 2 cups of water and simmer another 15-20 minutes on low to medium-low heat.

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The lentils should look thick and creamy like this when it’s done. The split peas take longer to cook than the lentils, so taste one of the split peas to check if it’s done. It should be soft! You can always add more water if it seems too thick, or if the lentils seem to be sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

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Serve over brown rice with roasted veggies to make it a meal! Or, serve as a side dish. I ate it with lemon saffron chicken that Novin made…recipe to come, later!

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Enjoy!

RECIPE

Dal

2 tsp. cooking oil

1 cup imported red lentils

1 cup yellow split peas (optional, add 1 more cup of lentils if you omit these)

6 cups water

1 large onion, diced and/or chopped (I like to do half diced, half chopped in bigger chunks or strips)

2-3 T turmeric

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)

1/4 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

*Note* If you don’t want to buy a bunch of different spices, you can buy curry powder from the grocery store and omit all the other spices, EXCEPT the turmeric. Use about 1 to 2 T.

Use imported red lentils. I get these from my local middle eastern grocer. You might also be able to find them at a regular grocery store, either in the bulk aisle or the ethnic foods aisle. They’re smaller and flatter than regular lentils, and they become creamy when cooked. I also like to use yellow split peas for texture, but you don’t have to. Just add an extra cup of red lentils if you choose to skip the split peas.

Dice or chop your onion. I failed to grocery shop so I ended up having to use half of a red onion and half of a yellow onion. Doesn’t really make a difference. I like to dice half my onion, and chop the other half in bigger chunks. Just adds texture, but it’s ultimately up to you!

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add onions. Saute until slightly softened. Add spices to onion, mixing to coat onions with the spices, and saute another minute.

Add lentils and split peas to the onion and spices, and mix well.

Add about 3 to 4 cups of water to the pot. Cover and let simmer about 10 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on the pot because the lentils will soak up the water, and the lentils could burn to the bottom of the pot (You may have to add more or less water than the 6 cups this recipe calls for, depending on how quickly your lentils soak up the water. Turn down heat if necessary.). Add remaining 2 cups of water and simmer another 15-20 minutes on low to medium-low heat.

The lentils should look thick and creamy like this when it’s done. The split peas take longer to cook than the lentils, so taste one of the split peas to check if it’s done. It should be soft! You can always add more water if it seems too thick, or if the lentils seem to be sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Serve over brown rice with roasted veggies to make it a meal! Or, serve as a side dish. I ate it with lemon saffron chicken that Novin made…recipe to come, later!

Quitting TV with: Teriyaki Salmon and Asian Cabbage ‘Slaw


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It’s 17 days into the new year, and I’ve been completely TV-free. NO Modern Family, no Happy Endings, no New Girl, no Mike and Molly, no Two and a Half Men, no Two Broke Girls, no Whitney, no Big Bang Theory, no local newscast at 4, 5, 6…and….WOW…I could go on….but it’s just now hitting me that we had a bit of a TV problem.

Giving up TV wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t really my vice either.

It was my boyfriend’s.

It all started when he got the ability to record TV shows. One-by-one, he added shows to his queue whenever a new one came out that looked interesting. Once we started watching them, he felt the need to watch EVERY episode and keep up with them weekly. When his queue started to fill up, he’d panic. If we didn’t watch all the recorded episodes and delete them, the queue would fill and stop recording new episodes. Tragically, we’d miss out on all the new episodes and have to watch them on Hulu…with commercials. Oh, the horror!

(*Novin, if you’re reading this: the next time you get the urge to start watching TV again, take note of how ridiculous this all sounds and refer back to this blog post regularly. Please and thank you.)

So anyway, he resolved to stop watching TV during the week and instead use his evenings to work on other projects, and learn! It’s working out quite nicely, even for me. For one, I have much more free time for cooking special meals…and blogging! And we actually sit at the table while we have dinner and….talk! Converse! What a concept! Even our cat joins us at an empty seat.

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Said cat joining us for dinner.

We get to enjoy every bite of the meal in front of us….sloooowly. Well, I eat slowly. He finishes several minutes before me then stands on the heating vent, or takes a couple laps around the kitchen until I finish dinner. Ha.

Here’s a recipe for my teriyaki salmon and cabbage slaw, one of the meals we had time to prepare together because we weren’t watching TV!

Teriyaki Salmon

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Makes 2-3 servings

Ingredients

1 pound salmon (we kept skin on, but you can remove it if you want)

½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

½ cup mirin (can be found in the vinegar section of Asian grocers)

2 T sugar

1 T rice vinegar

1 garlic clove

2 thin slices of fresh ginger

salt and pepper, optional

green onions to garnish, optional

To make the sauce, add soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic clove and ginger to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, while stirring. Turn down heat to low and simmer the sauce another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should begin to thicken (When you remove it from heat it will continue to thicken). Remove the garlic clove and ginger chunks.

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Lightly brush your salmon with sesame oil, and lightly salt and pepper your salmon on both sides.  Heat a pan (preferably cast iron) to medium-high heat. If you are using salmon with skin on, put the salmon in the pan with skin side down first. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip over to other side. Brush salmon with a little bit of teriyaki sauce. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so. Your cooking time will vary depending on how thick your salmon is.  Rule of thumb is to cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

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Transfer the salmon to a plate as soon as it’s done cooking so it won’t over cook, then brush a desired amount of the teriyaki sauce on top. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

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Asian Cabbage ‘Slaw

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Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

½ head cabbage, shredded or finely chopped

1 to 2 carrots, shredded

1/3 cup red onion, finely sliced or diced

2 to 3 T toasted sesame seeds

1 to 2 T sesame oil

½ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup water

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne (optional)

green onions to garnish, optional

In a small bowl, whisk vinegar, water and sesame oil.

In a large bowl, add shredded/chopped cabbage, shredded carrots, 1 T sesame seeds and red onion. Mix in dressing. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to your taste and mix well. You can also add more sesame oil if you like that strong flavor. Garnish with 1 T sesame seeds and sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with teriyaki salmon and brown rice for a complete meal!

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ENJOY!

Teriyaki Salmon

1 pound salmon (we kept skin on, but you can remove it if you want)

½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

½ cup mirin (can be found in the vinegar section of Asian grocers)

2 T sugar

1 T rice vinegar

1 garlic clove

2 thin slices of fresh ginger

salt and pepper, optional

green onions to garnish, optional

To make the sauce, add soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic clove and ginger to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, while stirring. Turn down heat to low and simmer the sauce another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should begin to thicken (When you remove it from heat it will continue to thicken). Remove the garlic clove and ginger chunks.

Lightly brush your salmon with sesame oil, and lightly salt and pepper your salmon on both sides.  Heat a pan (preferably cast iron) to medium-high heat. If you are using salmon with skin on, put the salmon in the pan with skin side down first. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip over to other side. Brush salmon with a little bit of teriyaki sauce. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so. Your cooking time will vary depending on how thick your salmon is.  Rule of thumb is to cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Transfer the salmon to a plate as soon as it’s done cooking so it won’t over cook, then brush a desired amount of the teriyaki sauce on top. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

Asian Cabbage ‘Slaw

½ head cabbage, shredded or finely chopped

1 to 2 carrots, shredded

1/3 cup red onion, finely sliced or diced

2 to 3 T toasted sesame seeds

1 to 2 T sesame oil

½ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup water

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne (optional)

green onions to garnish, optional

In a small bowl, whisk vinegar, water and sesame oil.

In a large bowl, add shredded/chopped cabbage, shredded carrots, 1 T sesame seeds and red onion. Mix in dressing. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to your taste and mix well. You can also add more sesame oil if you like that strong flavor. Garnish with 1 T sesame seeds and sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with teriyaki salmon and brown rice for a complete meal!

Detoxing from Vacation Food Crimes with Chicken Lettuce Wraps


 

My boyfriend and I recently celebrated our five-year anniversary. Five years seems like quite a long time so we decided to plan something exciting to celebrate. A friend of mine suggested we take a mini road trip down to Jacksonville, a cute little town in Southern Oregon. She mentioned wine tasting, a steam shower and champagne brunch so that was enough to convince us. We packed up our bags, arranged a kitty-sitter and headed south.

Jacksonville is about a 5 hour drive from Portland, Oregon and just 20 miles from Ashland and the award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was the first town in America to be named a National Historic Landmark, founded in 1851 following a discovery of gold deposits. Naturally, the town has an “old west” feel, with a corner saloon and a gun shop. Adorable! But I must say I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Jacksonville is an outdoor, wine, food, music and art lover’s paradise. It is home of the Britt Festival, a summer outdoor music and performing arts festival, where you can bring your own picnic, beer and wine! Countless vineyards and wineries are just minutes from town, with several tasting rooms just steps from our hotel.

Wine tasting at Red Lily Vineyards, just 10 minutes from downtown Jacksonville.

We were lucky enough to stay in one of the 8 rooms at the Jacksonville Inn. We stayed in the Patrick J. Ryan room, the only one equipped with a steam shower. I had no idea what a steam shower was before I came to the inn, and let me tell you, the experience changed me. Imagine…a steam room…in a shower. You can shower…and steam! At the same time! In the mornings I enjoyed runs with views of vineyards and farmland, then came back to the inn for a refreshing steam shower. In the evenings after a long day of hiking, eating and wine tasting, I would unwind and prepare for sleep with another steam shower.

This was my view on my morning runs! Then afterwards…I drank wine at this vineyard!

Mr. Steam is his name! My best friend.

Each morning until 10 a.m. the inn provided freshly baked biscotti, hot coffee, and tea, so after my morning runs we spent the remainder of the mornings before breakfast laying in bed, reading magazines and watching cable TV while enjoying our coffee and biscotti.

Every morning should start this way.

A delicious made-to-order breakfast was included daily in our stay, with options like belgian waffles, breakfast skillets, omelets, blueberry pancakes, croissant french toast and more. On Sundays the inn serves a special brunch menu with free flowing champagne, assorted pastries and fruit.

Smoked Salmon Frittata

Smoked Salmon Benedict

Denver Omelet

Me getting excited for assorted breakfast pastries!

Jacksonville

I love when my toilet paper rolls are made into roses.

View from the summit of Lower Table Rock in Central Point, just 15 minutes from Jacksonville.

Just a 15-minute drive from Jacksonville is Table Rocks in Central Point where we burned off our breakfasts on a one hour round-trip hike up Lower Table Rock to a breath-taking view of the Rogue Valley. Then following the hike…I piled the calories back on with this mondo slice of chocolate mousse cake at the Jacksonville Inn…which I ate by myself and thoroughly enjoyed.

The rest of our trip was enjoyed this way…with lots of good, local wine, delicious food (Including the best burger of my life) and relaxation. Needless to say…I am now on a ‘diet’ after all the food crimes I committed…detoxing with healthy food to undo all the damage of vacation…starting with Chicken Lettuce Wraps!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients

1 pound chicken, diced (I used boneless thighs, but you could also use chicken breast)

3/4 cup celery

1 small onion, diced

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup diced bell pepper

1 cup diced mushrooms

1 cup diced water chestnuts

3/4  cup chopped green onions

2 to 3 T light soy sauce

2 to 3 T oyster sauce

2 to 3 T hoisin sauce

2 to 3 T rice vinegar

2 to 3 T sambal oelek or chili sauce (optional)

3/4 cup dried black fungus (optional-can be found in Asian grocers. Soak for about 5 minutes in boiled water.)

1 head red leaf, romaine or bibb lettuce

1 large spaghetti squash, roasted (optional but highly recommended)

Instructions 

Chop up vegetables. If using spaghetti squash, poke holes in squash using a sharp knife. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds. Scrape out the flesh using a fork; it should come out fairly effortlessly. If it’s too hard to scrape out put back in the oven for a few more minutes. The squash will look like spaghetti noodles! Set aside squash for serving.

Dice chicken into small, bite sized pieces. The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be to wrap and eat out of the lettuce leaves.

Heat about 1 T of oil in a skillet over high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned. Add onion and garlic and saute for a minute or two. Add the remaining vegetables (except spaghetti squash) and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t overcook the vegetables or the lettuce wraps won’t have that nice “crunch.”

Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chili sauce. You can modify the sauce amounts to your taste…If you like it saucier, add more of each ingredient. Pluck off whole lettuce leaves from the head, wash thoroughly and shake off excess water. Pat down with paper towels if necessary. Add chicken mixture to lettuce leaves, top with spaghetti squash, wrap up and eat!

 

Enjoy!