Food & Wine

'Machos': Middle Eastern nachos ideal for Super Bowl

Photos Courtesy of Blanche Shaheen
Blanche Shaheen, above with her brother Issa, shares her Middle Eastern take on nachos – ideal for a Super Bowl party. Shaheen’s “Machos,” right, feature feta, tahini sauce, Persian cucumber and Kalamata olives.


The nacho obsession in my family began when my siblings and I were in grade school at a sports spirit rally. Like most children, we didn’t really have high culinary standards, so salty, crunchy chips drowning in a fake cheesy sauce hooked us immediately.


Chipotle chili adds spice to game-day feast

Courtesy of Rita Held
Chipotle Black Bean Chili boasts Angostura bitters and adobo sauce for a smoky-bitter flavor.

Nothing sounds better than a steaming hot bowl of chili on a cold winter day while watching the Super Bowl.


A walk on the Wildcide: Local man makes good (cider)

Courtesy of Aurum Cider Co.
Cidermaster Dan Gordon of Aurum Cider Co. poses with his new Wildcide cider.

Three things are readily apparent when talking about brewing with former Los Altos resident Dan Gordon: his palpable passion for brewing, his encyclopedic knowledge of every technical aspect of the brewing process and his obsession with the purity of the ingredients that go into his products.


Try this: Bakerita's Nutella-stuffed hazelnut chocolate chip cookies


We explore kitchen cooking projects in this month's food issue – read the full story here: 5 reasons to bake with your kids

Ready to get cooking as a family? Writer and food blogger Rachel Conners – also known as “Bakerita” – dreamed up a Nutella-stuffed cookie recipe that makes a decadent and flashy treat yet sticks to the basic skills of baking.

Loaded with dark chocolate and crunchy, toasted hazelnuts, then sprinkled with sea salt, these cookies combine chewy oatmeal texture with oozing chocolate. You can find more pictures at


5 reasons to bake with your kids

Above Photo by Megan V. Winslow/ Town Crier; Right Photo Courtesy of
Baking projects – like the one at Los Altos’ Camp Shoup in November, above – lead to more than just bounty such as the chocolate hazelnut cookie recipe featured here.

In our hectic lives, it often seems a lot easier to grab a box of ginger snaps at the store than to bake cookies the old-fashioned way. Is it really worth the time to stand in a kitchen, making a mess, stirring and slaving over something you could just buy?

Yes, yes it is.


Drink warms winter with a sweet twist

Blanche Shaheen/Special to the Town Crier
A cup of sahlab gives coffee serious competition. The warm beverage, a Middle Eastern staple, can feature sweet, spicy, crunchy and fragrant elements.

For many, drinking coffee is a ritual that comforts all of the senses, especially on a cold, wintry day. The sound of the percolating espresso machine triggers excitement for the energizing drink to come. The warmth of the coffee cup defrosts brisk fingertips. The flavor is tailored to each person’s preference – rich cream, a sweetener of choice, perhaps a touch of cocoa or spicy cinnamon. The elements of sound, smell, touch and taste work in tandem to transform a simple drink into an all-encompassing experience that many require to start the morning.

While Arabic coffee is popular in the Middle East, there is a hot, sensuous beverage that gives coffee serious competition – sahlab (also known as salep). A cup of sahlab is sweet, warm, spicy, creamy, crunchy, chewy and fragrant all at once.


Brewer on a mission: Mission Creek's Guy Cameron

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Guy Cameron.

Mission Creek Brewing Co. opened in December 2014 as the second brewery inside a Whole Foods Market in the U.S., with brewmaster Guy Cameron at the helm.

After serving as assistant brewer at Campbell’s Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, followed by several years at Russian River Brewing Co., Cameron has appreciated the new experience as brewmaster.


Classic cookies transform into an uncommon cake

Photos courtesy of Blanche Shaheen
Ma’amoul Cake, above, draws inspiration from the not-too-sweet celebration cookies cherished by Christian and Muslim families in the Middle East.

Once a year I get to indulge in Middle Eastern buttery cookies, so time-consuming to make that my family must form an assembly line to work on them for four hours. Arab Christians eat the cookie – ma’amoul, a semolina shortbread pastry filled with either dates or walnuts – during Easter and Epiphany, and Muslims eat them at night during Ramadan and on the Eid al-Fitr holidays. You can also think of them as a cosmopolitan spin on the Christmas cookie, given this combination of delicate short bread and dried fruit.

The cookies, popular in Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf States, are shaped like domes or doughnuts. They can be decorated by hand or formed into patterned wooden molds. Some say the wooden molds symbolize Jesus’s cross, the sugarless crust refers to the sadness of Christ’s death and the filling is sweet to symbolize the Resurrection.


Tasting parties bring joy to the world and wine to your friends

courtesy of Christine Moore
Conceal the labels on bottles and invite guests to rank their observations at a wine-tasting party that combines food, drink and a dash of viticultural education.

Familiar faces and places and jolly evenings spent in good cheer – it truly is a wonderful time of year. With plenty of reason to gather with cherished friends and family, how about introducing a new way to celebrate?

A wine-tasting party is fun and interactive. To set up a wine tasting, you’ll want to provide the following items.


Five Christmas beers brighten winter nights

Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram
Celebration Fresh Hop IPA features aromas of pine and citrus.

Brewers celebrate the holiday season with special annual releases designed to bring comfort and joy during the dark, cold nights of winter.


Thanksgiving recommendations: Savoring seasonal wines, memories and music

Christine Moore/Special to the Town Crier
Local wine experts have a story and memory for every pick this Thanksgiving – from aperitif to dessert.

As we roll into November, I have excitedly begun to relive my most adored Thanksgiving memories. I turn them over in my head and bask in them.

My earliest memories are of my Aunt Mimi and Uncle Larry’s hillside home. On Thanksgiving, it so brimmed with various relatives and collected friends that folding chairs filled every corner. A pingpong-table-cum-dining space became one of my all-time favorite places to eat. I think of those meals each year when I set my table.


Blend luscious berries with autumn's apples

Courtesy of Rita Held
Brown sugar and apples’ natural sweetness balance the bite of berries and balsamic in the recipe for Berry Balsamic-Baked Apples, a relatively virtuous seasonal dessert.

The blending of berries and balsamic vinegar is a culinary superstar. Berries and balsamic with apples? Luscious.

Autumn apple varieties are deliciously plentiful. My go-to choices for apple crisp or apple pie are usually tart, firm apples, yet my recipe for Berry Balsamic Baked Apples uses sweeter apples to balance the tart balsamic vinegar.


Give thanks for delicious beer pairings fit for a turkey feast

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Medal-winning St. Florian’s California Common Lager is flavorful enough to pair with roast turkey and stuffing but light enough to avoid filling you up.

With the variety, richness and sheer volume of a Thanksgiving meal, craft beer lovers have a panoply of choices for beer pairings. Whether you’re seeking light and crisp brews or big, intense flavors, you’re sure to find the perfect pairing for your Thanksgiving feast.

For your consideration, I’m suggesting four very different California craft brews you might enjoy this holiday season.


Better biscuits with bitters

courtesy of Rita Held
Whether they’re dropped or rolled, homemade biscuits welcome fall with a savory/sweet blast of warmth from the oven.

Hardly anything is more satisfying than homemade biscuits warm out of the oven – except perhaps those made with the addition of Angostura bitters.

Angostura adds a subtle yet striking flavor nuance similar to what molasses might add. It’s not the same taste as molasses, but an enticing flavor boost that makes the biscuits stand out from the routine.


From Firestone Walker to Lost Abbey, a personal list of California's best beers

Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram
The Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale gets custom-blended in a new form each year.

In honor of my 25th column for the Town Crier, I thought it would be fun to share my top 25 California-brewed beers.

As with any such list, it’s quite personal, and I will likely leave off many readers’ favorites. For one, my tastes skew more toward dark, barrel-aged beers and sour brews than toward IPAs. There are a few hoppy beers on the list, but world-famous Pliny the Elder does not make my top 25, though other Russian River brews do. Most of these beers are released at least once per year.


Autumn visits the seaside at Cetrella

Courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
Cetrella’s seafood emphasis includes grilled marinated Spanish octopus with avocado purée, fingerling potatoes, romesco sauce, charred lemon and micro cilantro.

As summer markets close and autumn’s hard squashes and root vegetables begin to arrive, braises and comfort foods are starting to appear on executive chef Mike Ellis’ menu at Cetrella.

Ellis – known from Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Kitchen – arrived at Cetrella’s Half Moon Bay location in January, where he redid the menu at the Mediterranean-inflected restaurant from top to bottom. He brought the same seasonal, seafood-rich theme to Los Altos when Cetrella opened this summer.


The story behind rogan josh, an authentic Indian lamb curry

Courtesy of Amber India
Rogan josh lamb curry pulls passion from its whole and powdered spices, but not too much heat.

Rogan josh is a type of Indian curry distinguished by its thick, flavorful red sauce and tender meat.

“Rogan” means clarified butter or oil in Persian, or “red” in Hindi, and “josh” refers to passion – fiery or hot – so this dish is all about cooking in an oil-based sauce with an intense heat.


Unique Cleophus Quealy brews pair well with diverse local cuisine

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Cleophus Quealy co-founders Dan Watson, left, and Peter Baker enjoy their new brewery venture.

San Leandro’s Cleophus Quealy Beer Co. opened in November 2014 in a light industrial neighborhood not far from Drake’s Brewing Co. and has produced 48 batches of unique craft beers on its seven-barrel system in the past eight months. In fact, Cleophus Quealy beers are not named other than being given a batch number and a style descriptor, such as Batch 36 Cherry Sour.


Seasonal spotlight: Reap the harvest

Photo courtesy of Cetrella
Tomatoes from local growers are inspiring dishes like Cetrella’s gazpacho.

Local tomatoes have kicked into high gear by this week, and beans and peppers are reaching their peak.

A Thursday afternoon tour of downtown Los Altos can take local residents from farm to table, with growers selling at the State Street Farmers’ Market from 4-8 p.m. and new restaurant Cetrella, 400 Main St., buying from some of those same growers for its September menu.


Trips with sips: Enjoy a winery getaway, picnic included

Courtesy of Christine Moore For those who enjoy wine tasting Livermore wineries offer nearby picnicking potential.

With vacation season upon us, wine-loving citizens from around the world make summer pilgrimages to California for our glorious weather and wine. Whether you’re entertaining a couch-camping second cousin, hosting a college roommate reunion or helping the in-laws explore, I’ve got some thoughts on how you can make this the best wine vacation they’ve ever had.

A wine welcome

Kick off your guests’ visit with a casual wine-tasting evening at your home. Road-weary visitors might not want a big feast. Serve instead a Tuscan-style meal of cured meats, cheeses, breads and salads for a tasty welcome dinner.


Grandma's meatballs help net $70,000

Photos Courtesy of “Food Fighters”
Los Altos resident Amber MacDonald’s spaghetti earned praise – and prize money – on the reality TV show “Food Fighters.”

Los Altos newcomer Amber MacDonald netted a total of $70,000 last month competing on NBC’s cooking reality TV show “Food Fighters.” She shared one of the family recipes that helped earn her the win – spaghetti and meatballs, à la her Sicilian grandmother.

“I know that my grandmother’s traditional recipes are going to knock the socks off them,” she said before facing off against British “bad boy chef” Brendan Collins.


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