This has been an unfortunate, yet necessary hiatus from posting for me, for personal reasons. Chaos in life does not always make for smooth blogging. But I just got back from such an amazing trip to Santa Cruz, full of delicious food and drink, that I couldn’t not blog about it.

Many of my favorite food memories center not around eating out, but eating in. Being around a table in a home, with good people and good conversation really can’t be beat for me. California in particular, with its eucalyptus trees and beaches and bouganvilla bushes just reminds me of my childhood in such a warm, comforting way. So when I have a chance to visit, I do. Close friends of mine (one of those just ridiculously well-matched married couples that secretly give you the warm fuzzies) just moved to Malaysia for a few months, and were spending their last few days stateside in Santa Cruz with her brother, a recent culinary school grad now working at a great winery called Bonny Doon.

One night we took advantage of the pork belly he had hanging around (as culinary school grads do) and made a simple arugula salad and roasted potatoes with Romesco sauce to accompany it. Paired with some amazing wines (including an excellent Tempranillo given as pay-in-trade with literally duct tape as a label — how do I sign up for that?) this was a meal that made me so glad that I took this last-minute trip, despite the obstacles. Not to get sappy, but this is why I love food and chose to blog about it. I’m going to try to approximate the romesco sauce recipe here — we added spices as we went so I’ve estimated an amount but then don’t be afraid to add a little more at a time until you’re happy with it. You want this to be spicy, smoky, tangy and bright.

I’m also pleased to announce that the leftover sauce was used on eggs and homemade pizza on subsequent nights — the gift that keeps on giving!

And, because it’s California, a pic of the excellent tacos I ate on my last day. So fresh!

Romesco Sauce

6 roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, seeded & chopped, halved
1 fresh pasilla or other mildly spiced pepper, seeded & chopped, halved (if you can’t find these fresh, use 3 dried pasillas, reconstituted in hot water, instead)
1/2 large onion, halved (so in quarters)
3 cloves garlic, left whole in their paper
1/4 c blanched almonds
6  large (2″) cubes of country bread, crusts removed
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
2 – 3 T. sherry vinegar
1/4 t. smoked paprika

Coat the vegetables with a bit of olive oil or vegetable oil and sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper. Arrange in a single layer with tomatoes and peppers cut side down. Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the vegetables are well caramelized in areas and the skin has cracked and peeled back from the tomatoes and peppers.

Remove the skins from all the vegetables, and add to a food processor or blender, along with any juices that have accumulated. Toast the almonds and bread cubes in some olive oil for about 2 – 3 minutes, or until the bread crisps up and the almonds just begin to brown. Add to the blender. Blend until smooth. Add the vinegar, spices and plenty of salt so that the flavors pop, to taste. Serve with almost anything.