Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter! Chocolatey Nutella Meringue Berry "Nests"

Last week, I was wandering through World Market, procrastinating doing some necessary shopping, and stumbled upon Nutella. I hadn't really thought about Nutella since I invented my own vegan version last year, but it's one of those items (like Fluffernutter or this Easter egg beanie for a cat) that, when I come across it, I kind of have to buy it.

So buy it I did. I also picked up some meringue "nests" because they were on sale and I was getting in the crafty spirit of Easter (not long after the crafty spirit of Valentine's Day had worn off). I was going to invent an Easter treat involving Nutella and these ridiculous meringue "nests," but I didn't know how.

While perusing the farmers market this morning, it hit me: Nothing says "Happy Easter" like Chocolatey Nutella Meringue Berry Nests! ... Right?

So I picked up a basket of blueberries from the Chuy Berry Farms stand ($5) and two baskets of strawberries from Peter Desales at the Goleta Valley Farms stand.

Peter Desales runs his small, 10-acre farm in Goleta with his two brothers; it's been in their family for three generations, since 1950. He gave me a deal on my strawberries: 2 baskets for $4! I took my berries and hippity-hopped home to get to work.

Chocolatey Nutella Meringue Berry Nests

Here's what I started with:

Blueberries from Chuy's Berries in Arroyo Grande (distance from me: 79 miles)
Strawberries from Goleta Valley Farms in Goleta (distance from me: 9 miles) Meringue "Nests" from World Market
Chocolate chips (melted in the microwave for 40 seconds)

You could also make your own meringues, if you're so inclined. Here's a recipe.

Once I had all the ingredients set, the creation of these little nests was pretty easy and went quickly. First, I coated the bottoms of the nests in the melted chocolate chips. I just plopped them into the bowl and slowly rotated them with my left hand, holding the spoon in my right hand to guide the melted chocolate around the bottom of the nest. Then I put them on a pan covered in parchment paper to dry:

The next step was to add a dollop (I love that word!) of Nutella in the center of each nest. I could have used Fluffernutter as a substitute - anything yummy and sticky for the fruit to sit on would work.

Finally, I added one quarter of a strawberry and three blueberries to each little nest. Adorable. This dessert is perfect because of its small size - each serving has about 100 calories.

It's also a great alternative to creme-filled chocolate Easter eggs, especially if they're delivered by THIS GUY:

I'm sorry. Happy Easter!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Delish & Nutrish (Is the "Ish!")

You might read my blog sometimes and think to yourself, "How nice for Meghan that she has the time and energy to go to farmers markets and experiment with ingredients to come up with healthy meals! But unlike some people, Self, you have a life, and also you don't care that much." Well, tell your Self not to worry - if you live in the Santa Barbara area, I've found a solution. You're welcome.

It's called Delish & Nutrish and, as they say in radio edits, it is the "ish." It's a meal delivery service owned and operated by Nina Tafarella, who uses local ingredients and strives to create healthy, fun meals, personalized to fit her clients' dietary needs. For instance, any meal can be vegan-ized, vegetarian-ized, low-sugar-ized, de-spicified (for me!), de-glutenized, etc. She even caters to raw foodists, who can participate in the Delish & Nutrish 7-day raw food cleanse every month.

Nina bought the company from Sunshine Wellness Meal Delivery three years ago - at that point, there were only 15 clients and she had to rent kitchen space to prepare the meals. Now she serves about 100 clients, using only word-of-mouth marketing, and owns a small industrial kitchen in downtown Santa Barbara. She says her clients are mostly busy people who want to eat healthy and/or lose weight but don't have the time or knowledge to prepare their own meals.

Nina works at the kitchen two full days and two half days a week. She has the help of two chefs, Justin Reed and Danny Kempton, and a high school intern through Partners in Education named Suzie. I stopped by last week on Sunday, one of their delivery days, and found Nina and Suzie making and packaging pear, gorgonzola, and edamame salad with balsamic dressing:
Nina gave me some delicious juice and orange slices to snack on while she told me about her dreams for Delish & Nutrish. She had originally wanted to open a cafe, but with two little children at home, it made more sense to stick to the food delivery service. She just got her first catering job and hopes to expand in that area, but she told me that her first priority is to help people. She cares more about doing a service to the community and maintaining a fun, positive work environment for her employees than about growing the business.

Nina drives to farms in the area to pick up cases of produce herself, rather than running around to farmers markets. John Givens Farm in Goleta is her go-to for most veggies, and she supplements meals with fruit from Lassen's, Lazy Acres Market, and Tri-County Produce. She gets all her from Kanaloa Seafood and the Santa Barbara Fish Market.

All this sounded awesome to me, so obviously I wanted to try out Delish & Nutrish for myself. I got to choose either the Healthy Weight Loss plan, which limits carbs and includes mostly proteins and non-starchy veggies, or the Balanced Lifestyle plan, which is just as much food as they can fit into each container. I thought about it for, oh, four seconds before choosing Balanced Lifestyle. Duh.

So I got five dinners delivered to my front door in two batches: three meals on Sunday and two meals the following Wednesday.

Here's what I got:
Organic mixed green dinner salad to start.

Thai peanut pasta with chicken and roasted leaks and sugar snap peas.

Salmon burger with a mint pea puree and carrots over quinoa

Grilled turkey breast with sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli

Pan-seared trout with coconut curry, lentils, and roasted bell peppers over brown rice.
There was one other meal - steak piccata with white wine caper sauce, pasta, and roasted snap peas - but David ate the whole thing before I got home. I was not pleased.

Because these meals were not only nutrish, they were... you guessed it (I hope)! Delish. The veggies and meats tasted fresh and flavorful. My favorite was the salmon burger - I've been trying to figure out how to make it myself, but I'm not sure I could pull it off.

David loved the chicken, and that's saying a lot, since he's kind of a chicken expert. Seriously, every time we go out to eat at a fancy restaurant, he'll turn down all kinds of house specialties for the simplest, most boring thing on the menu: chicken. He knows his chicken, needless to say, and he wouldn't stop praising the texture and taste of the Delish & Nutrish meal.

The cool thing about the Delish & Nutrish meal delivery system is that each week, you get a sheet of paper with a description of each meal and a little box next to it, where you can "grade your meal from A-F." Nina can then use that feedback to inform her sixteen rotating menus, which are posted on the website.

I'm in the middle of grading my undergraduate students' final exams from winter quarter, and let me tell you - I was pleased to be able to give somebody an A+, even if that somebody was a salmon burger. (Students, if you're reading this, I'm half just kidding - some of you did quite well.) (But some of you didn't.)

Since Nina uses only word-of-mouth marketing, here are some words from my very satisfied mouth: "Yum!" Also: "Delish!" (and "nutrish").

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Here's the Scoop (or Double Scoop, or Triple Scoop)

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I participated in my first opera training program in Siena, Italy. Since I spent a good portion of my days there nearly getting hit by tiny cars as I waltzed through the narrow city streets for miles at a time, being lost exploring – and since most of my college days for the months leading up to that summer had been spent lazing around on the banks of the Charles River with assigned reading in one hand and a solo cup of beer in the other – I assumed I was burning some mad calories.

As it turned out, I was gaining weight. That’s because, without fail, my excursions around the city included at least one stop for gelato. Per day. Frankly, I blame it on the Italian stallion who worked the counter at the gelateria on my block. He shouted all sorts of romantic things at me as I passed by, beckoning me in with calls of, “Ciao, Bella!” and other incredibly personal salutations. I mean, how could I resist?

I’ve since kicked my gelato habit, simply due to lack of supply. But while my family was visiting me here, I discovered a little gem hidden downstairs in a Montecito courtyard. It’s not just a gelateria, it’s a sorbeteria – that’s not a thing, is it? Well, they serve gelato and sorbet.

Here’s the scoop on Here’s the Scoop (see what I did there?). Ellie, who owns and operates the shop with her husband, Bob, was working the counter. She didn’t shout “Ciao, Bella!” at me, which was disappointing, but I went in anyway.
So many flavors!
Ellie was delighted to tell me how she and Bob opened Here’s the Scoop nine years ago after working at fast-paced, high-paying jobs. They wanted to stay in town for their daughter Alex’s sake and they both really liked fancy ice cream alternatives, so they went for it and opened their own gelato/sorbet parlor. The sorbet is totally dairy-free: it’s just local fruit, sugar, and water. The gelato is, of course, quite dairy-dependent, made with certified organic milk and cream.

Ellie let us sample all the gelato we wanted, and we wanted a lot of samples. We’re talking Thin Mint made with girl scout cookies, lemon chiffon, and honey almond pistachio, just to name a few. I was transported back to that summer in Siena spent stuffing my face with every flavor imaginable (but mostly stracciatella, which is like vanilla chocolate chip if the vanilla was crack and the chocolate chips were also crack).

So it wasn’t surprising to learn that Ellie and Bob had traveled to Italy to do their gelato research and to buy a huge gelato-making machine, which they now use on the premises. After an embarrassing number of samples, I finally settled on strawberry sorbet in a chocolate waffle cone (which was also made by hand, in-house):
The best part about Here’s the Scoop is that Ellie makes all the sorbet with fruit from Shepherd Farms in Carpinteria. Almost all her fruit flavors change depending on what’s in season. Next month, she and Tom Shepherd are debuting a new flavor: carrot cake gelato, made with Shepherd’s Farms carrots.

I felt a little bad bringing my family to Here’s the Scoop. It seemed a bit like I was rubbing it in their gelato-and-sorbet-stuffed faces (faces that are currently wrapped to the eyes in wool scarves as they brave another Boston blizzard) that here in Santa Barbara, we have fresh local fruit all year round. And wonderful people like Ellie and Bob to turn it into sorbet.

I’m glad Here’s the Scoop is doing so well, and I’m also glad it’s all the way down in Montecito. Otherwise I’d fall right back into my old habits, grabbing a two-scoop cone to start my day and wandering through the streets of Santa Barbara, singing opera to myself like a crazy person, stopping every measure or so to eat a bite of gelato.