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Looking for excellent "Californian" menu ideas

We have some friends from France coming to visit in a couple weeks. They've wined and (home-cooked) dined us on regional specialties when we've stayed with them, and now we'd like to return the favor.

What kind of dinner menu would you Chowhounds put together to try to showcase delicious, seasonal California foods? We're in Northern Cal so are leaning more in the direction of wine country / Chez Panisse / Zuni style meals. Vegetable-heavy, lots of herbs, fresh, etc. Definitely some Cowgirl Creamery cheeses and regional wines.
But we know that Southern Californian styles--especially w/Latin American flavors--would be newer and probably more interesting (challenging?) to them. (I know they can't handle much heat in their foods..)

Any ideas?? How would you showcase the Golden State's bounty?

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  1. Given that it is spring, I would have to include either roasted or grilled asparagus! Maybe a Zuni roasted chicken as well along with fingerling potatoes? Beautiful farmer's market greens dressed with local olive oil to go along with Cowgirl Creamery cheese. Strawberry shortcake for dessert--using James Beard's (or Marion Cunningham's) cream biscuits. Yum!

    1. avocados are in season... make guacamole.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jaykayen

        Maybe Avocados in three styles?

        Common Guacamole (served in the Avocado shell)
        Pureed Avocado with Avocado Leaves or Fennel Seed (served with shellfish)
        Tempura Avocado with a light creamy, chipotle sauce

      2. It seems to me that California loves Tri-tip. I don't usually see it anywhere but in California.

        1 Reply
        1. re: primebeefisgood

          Mmmm...Santa Maria tri-tip steak. (wipes drool from lip...) There are some butchers there who will sell you one already in a delicious marinade. Tri-tip is slowly making it's way East thanx to ATK and other food shows that have featured it. So lucky to live in the Bay Area (he sighed, smugly.) adam

        2. This is may seem a little silly, but whenever I'm in California I love the huge salads they make at my parents golf course: bed of lettuce, sliced avocado or papaya half and all sorts of other fruit and veg. Maybe a scoop of tuna salad. Perhaps not the most elegant thing ever, but such a good lunch on a hot day and definitely not European.

          1. I would try and use ingredients that are quintessentially California. Artichokes, almonds, olives, figs, strawberries...

            1. So Calif cuisine with an emphasis on Mexican flavors....... I would suggest seafood like lobster, shrimp, scallops marinaded in a citrus blend..... garlic, cumin, lemon/lime/orange, olive oil, cayenne... then grilled and served with sopa seca (Mexican rice), refried beans, homemade tortillas, guacamole, salsa and salad greens. Garnish with jicima, radishes, green onion..... or something like that!

              2 Replies
              1. re: janetms383

                Hmm.. Great ideas here, folks. You're giving me a lot to chew on.. thanks!

                1. re: janetms383

                  Take that citrus blend, subtract cumin, subtract cayenne add an herb... then you have something

                  Don't serve with common sopa seca... do a Veracruz style Arroz Verde using lots of fresh California greens in the sauce (in Mexico it can include Romaine, Watercress, Mint, Hoja Santa, Cilantro, Flat Leaf Parsley etc., in various combinations... so there is flexibility there to adapt whatever the current CA bounty)

                  Serve with some lightly poached Chayotes

                2. I like a roasted asparagus and gruyere crustless quiche for a side dish, some roasted fingerling potatoes. A fresh spinach, avacado and grilled fennel, mint with a citrus honey vinaigrette. Fresh seafood also with a white wine and citrus sauce with fresh herbs

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    Would you share your recipe for the asparagus and gruyere crustless quiche?

                    1. re: whatsfordinner

                      Sure let me look it up, I will be home a bit later this evening. At a friends right now house sitting.

                      1. re: whatsfordinner

                        Found it ... Mom used to make it with swiss and mushrooms and asparagus growing up. With a garden we had plenty of asparagus and had to come up with lots of uses.

                        This is still my favorite recipe. You can add some roasted red pepper strips for some color, a few mushrooms or leeks, or even scallions, but I still like just the asparagus and gruyere best. I have even added some parm a few times for a little zip. This is also great warm or room temp which is why I like it so much. I usually a sprig of tarragon on the top or a few whole asparagus to make it look pretty.

                        1-1 1/4 lb asparagus (I prefer the thick for this) cut in 1" sections on a angle, they look prettier. I like to roast them in a 400
                        degree oven for 5-10 minutes with just a little olive oil, s/p (very little), blanching will work too. Pencil thin doesn't work.
                        2 medium shallots thin sliced
                        1 teaspoon butter to grease the pie plate (9" deep dish works best)
                        1 cup shredded gruyere
                        2 1/2 cups milk (not cream, I have found milk whole milk NO skim works best)
                        6 eggs large
                        1 tablespoon cornstarch, it helps stabilize the egg mixture
                        1 teaspoon fresh dill (tarragon also is very good if you don't like dill, a couple of my friends don't)
                        s/p to taste

                        Prepare your pie plate with butter, preheat your oven, roast your asparagus, but I let them cool on a paper towel so no extra oil gets into the quiche and then cool off. It helps so they don't over cook in the oven. Add the shallots to the pie plate, then add the cooled asparagus. Mix in a bowl the seasonings, eggs, milk, 1/3 cup of the cheese, and cornstarch. Pour over the vegetables and then top with the remaining cheese. Bake uncovered on the middle rack for about 30 min (dependent on your oven). Let cool for 5 minutes to set and serve.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          Hey K, you listed the milk twice (5 cups...). Is that right, or were you just re-iterating whole milk vs. cream or skimmed? adam

                          1. re: adamshoe

                            My apologies I was cutting and pasting from my recipe file and my pc kept freezing up, just 2 1/2 cups whole milk. I just prefer whole to cream.

                            Sorry about that I fixed it.

                            1. re: kchurchill5

                              Thanx! I'd have probably made it w/ all five cups and had very sloshy custardy something and be cussing you out. (Just kidding; it's all about ratios, but that's a whole 'nother topic!) I've done the same thing when transcribing recipes too. Tomato paste...and then MORE tomato paste dammit!!! It's just a Freudian (or typing) slip. adam

                              1. re: adamshoe

                                Just think of it as scrambled eggs with asparagus :)
                                Yeah, Damn computer was freezing so I had to cut and past and cut and paste from my file and missed the dupe milk. Maybe just had scrambled eggs on the brain.


                      2. Dungeness crab! Avocados, artichokes. Those are California, and different from what your French friends eat. I would get a fresh crab and cook it and make a beautiful composed salad with the crab if I wanted to have a big main course, But, I think it would be more fun to have an array of Ca food, not a meal in the classic sense, but something they will remember. Artichokes cooked, cooled, served with an aioli or plain old mayo. Dungeness crabs to pick and dip into whatever sauces they want. The best bread and butter you can buy and some good wine. Some good cheese and the best local fruit you have in season. Why do asparagus or quiche or something they can probably do better?

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: MazDee

                          Leaning wtih the dungeness crab. I make a Mexican version with crab, avocado, cilantro, lime and tomatoes,
                          I think they might appreciate a California take on crepes? Usiing Dungeness Crab, Artichokes, Avocados - made a nice avacado cream sauce last week. Or shrimp too!

                          Today, I've already prepared my crepe batter for later on, and I'm leaning towards crab or shrimp with fresh spinach. The crepe batter recipe is my nephew's who lives in France, and Toronto. It's a truly wonderful crepe batter that I make both savory and sweet crepes with. I have blackberries and strawvberries for dessert. and I'll use the usual suspect flavoring, Grand Marnier for the berry crepes.

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            Would you be willing to share the crepe batter recipe?

                            1. re: alliebear

                              oh sure! got it right here,
                              1 1/12 Cup of milk-whole
                              1 cup flour
                              1 egg
                              1 egg yolk
                              1/4 to1/2 tsp ground sea salt
                              1 T melted butter -salted

                              Sift the flour with the salt into a bowl. Make a well in the center, add the egg and yolk. Pour in the milk, slowly stirring constantly and when half is added stir in the melted butter. With a whisk, beat well until smooth cover and let stand at room temp 30 mins. Better- let sit overnight in the fridge, covered. The batter should be the consistency of light cream. Add more milk if yours is too thick.
                              When cooking, tilt the pan so that the batter spread evenly over the bottom. Cook until golden brown, turn and repeat.
                              makes 18 crepes
                              I store my batter in a pyrex pitcher with a snug top. Works great, no refrigerator smells get to the batter.

                              Just wanted to add a quick note, it's key to let this batter "rest". Not something to make on a whim.
                              so many fillings to choose from, but a few are;
                              Fontina, spinach, mushrooms shrimp, crab. tomatoes, tarragon, make a bechamel sauce for savory crepes.
                              Creme Anglaise or a light custard sauce for the sweet.
                              OMG, I can't wait until tonight!

                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                Thanks a bunch. I'll have to try this out next week. I've never made crepes before but I love eating them. I'll probably end up making a sweet and savory. Hmmmm.

                            2. re: chef chicklet

                              I make a FL crab recipe, lol

                              Almost as good, but love to know yours too

                          2. Here are two recipes from last month's Food & Wine...

                            Crab-and-Avocado Toasts

                            Asparagus-and-Ricotta Toasts

                            These recipes were part of the "Napa Cabernet Now: A State-of-the-Grape Lunch at Beringer" article. For your perusal, there are other recipes associated that you might find of interest. The strawberry crumb cake would be a beautiful finish to a meal like this!

                            1. Cioppino, with San Francisco sourdough.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: BeefeaterRocks

                                awwww... sourdough. you can't forget the sourdough!
                                we were in san fran last summer and i must've eaten a loaf a day!

                                1. re: raygunclan

                                  Unfortunately for us old-timers, the sourdough mostly available in stores in SF doesn't measure up. We find the best is from Truckee Bakery which is about 200 miles away. Go figure.

                              2. Serve salmon - grilled with a orange vinegar glaze. Wild or red rice. Search for asian influences in food - things that would be rare in France.