Monday, July 27, 2015


Welcome to the most serene dining room in the Bay Area. That's how I always feel whenever I am treated to dinner at Rivoli on Solano Avenue in Albany/Berkeley (the border between the two towns is unclear to me). I love the smooth, matte wooden tables, the gorgeous Heath pottery of the table settings, the wood ceiling with square apertures for the soft round light fixtures, the soft browns of the walls and seats, and most of all the huge glass window that looks on to a secret garden.

To get to this room, you must traverse a narrow passage past the kitchens and the wine racks. As you enter, the maitre d' calls "Guests in the hall!" to alert the servers that there are novices on the way down. You get a tantalizing glimpse of gleaming bottles and busy kitchen before the passage opens up into this calm, inviting dining room. Whoever designed the restaurant understood that juxtaposition of busyness and peacefulness, and how it sets the mood immediately for leisure and relaxation.

This time, we were seated in the far corner away from the window in a comfy corner banquette, which I really loved, as My Beloved was close and we had the whole view of the dining room to enjoy. We were walk-ins this time but even when we make a reservation, I will ask for that table. We arrived early on a Wednesday evening, but by the time we left every table was filled and the hum of conversation was lively. One of the pleasures of the dining room is that all the tables are well spaced - no shimmying through to sit down, and conversations can be private if you like.

The menu is all about what's fresh and local today. I won't bore you with a complete rundown; suffice it to say that every entree featured something summery, and likely it will have changed by the time you go, anyway. 

I chose the gougères as my starter, since I can't seem to make them well at home. They were light as a cloud and oozing a little Gruyere cheese, resting on a pool of sweet corn mornay sauce. Subtle flavors, but perfectly complementary, and beautifully cooked.

I chose chicken, shrimp, clam, and mussel adobo with paella rice as my main dish, but the "salad" that came in between was truly the highlight of the evening. Nothing was wrong with the adobo - it was wonderful and the portion so large I had to bring home half - but this salad of fresh green beans, lightly roasted marcona almonds, and ripe peach slices was simply perfect. 

The green beans had just a little crunch left in them before they were tossed with a tart-but-not-overwhelming vinaigrette. The almonds were roasted (I suspect) with just the oil they come in - there is something about toasted almonds and green beans that just sings! Add to that the slices of yellow and white peaches, perfectly ripe and sweet, and resting on a little puddle of today's ricotta cheese. Oh.My.God. This salad is something I will make at home for guests - it's easy enough, and it would make a satisfying lunch all by itself. The genius was in knowing that these ingredients would all work so well together, and in preparing each element perfectly.

Let me digress for a minute to tell you about My Beloved's gazpacho salad. I had trouble deciding between it and the peach salad but, happily, he chose the gazpacho and gave me bites. Actually, to say he gave me bites is to neglect to tell you that I commandeered his bowl after the first bite and scraped up the last little bit, it was so good. I'd have licked that bowl if I hadn't had my mother's ghost on my shoulder whispering "Remember your manners!" 

That's another dish I will try to replicate at home. The gazpacho was puréed finely and poured into the bottom of a soup bowl, then large chunks of heirloom tomato, cucumber, pickled red onion, and garlic toast were placed on top. We loved the contrast of pureed soup and chunky bites on top, and the whole dish was so fresh and "now" that I'd swear everything was picked that morning.

I asked for a menu as a keepsake, but the truth is that I didn't want to forget a single ingredient when I try to replicate those two salads at home. 

As if those weren't good enough, the sommelier actually found good wines to go with dishes as diverse as these salads, a fish course, and chicken adobo - a rosé for him and a light red for me.

If you live in the Bay Area, or are coming for a visit, I can recommend a trip to Albany/Berkeley to sit in that lovely dining room and consume a wonderful meal. And, on the way out, don't forget to stop in the hallway by the kitchen and tell the young chefs how delicious everything was. Their faces light up with smiles of true delight, almost as wide as the smile on your own face.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Liver Lover

So, if you are one of those who wrinkles her/his nose and says, "Ewwww" at the word "liver," stop reading now and come back another day. This post is for liver lovers.

Chicken livers are a favorite of My Beloved and, every now and then, I like them, too. Whenever I roast a chicken, I pan fry the liver for him as an appetizer - his face lights up when he sees what's on the little plate.

Preparing them for the pan is a drag - even my rather strong stomach is tested when I remove the connective tissue - but the final result is worth a little "ick" time.

Inspired by the idea of the classic liver, bacon and onions, I found a recipe on that used calves' liver, but it sounded good, so I adapted it for chicken livers. 

Each of the ingredients is sautéed separately, so the bacon gets crisp, the onions get nicely browned in the bacon fat, and the livers are still a little pink inside. You use the same pan for all those steps, keeping each ingredient warm as you go, so the pan has a nice layer of extra flavors at the bottom by the time you add the mixture of chicken broth and sherry vinegar to make a pan sauce by swirling up all those flavors into the sauce as you reduce it a bit. Pour the sauce and top the livers with bacon bits and fresh parsley and you have a classic.

The vinegar brightens what might otherwise be a very heavy dish, and I liked the tang it added, but next time instead of an equal chicken-broth-to-vinegar ratio, I'd cheat in favor of the chicken broth so it was 3-1, instead of 2-2. 

Still, for liver lovers like us, it was a solid A-, and we'd happily make it again. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Homemade Romance

Four days after our sixteenth wedding anniversary and I'm still high on the success of the celebratory dinner I made!  Such are the little pleasures of life. 

My Beloved had been working hard the two days previous, so I offered that rather than go out to a restaurant or our usual anniversary weekend getaway, I would make a "romantic dinner at home." He assented with some reluctance, not because he doesn't like my cooking but because he does like spoiling me. I like that, too, as a general rule, but it just seemed like a good reason to have some homemade romance.

My most beautiful china came out of the cupboards, along with crystal for water and champagne. I even unearthed my "real" silver from its nest of silver cloth and dug around in drawers for the sterling bottle coaster that is the prettiest one we own. Set out lacy placemats and embroidered napkins, the ones that must be ironed. They are a pain in the neck but nothing else makes such an elegant showing.

I thought and thought about what to make. Courses, for sure! Shrimp cocktail with a fiery sauce, a perennial favorite for us both. Green salad after the main course with a tangy vinaigrette, since there's always room for salad. And a fabu dessert, my mother's killer chocolate mousse. But, what to do for the main course?

Happily, I had another package of pheasant breasts in the freezer, thanks to my pal Ray and his hunting buddies - yes, of course! As if they weren't special enough, I wanted to embellish them, just as I did the table. A little research on the interwebs turned up a fair number of recipes that sounded good but not quite it. Improvisation is more fun, anyway.

So, I made pheasant breasts with a bacon/mushroom/shallot/sage cover and topped with a slice of Brie-style cheese, baked in a puff pastry crust. All we could say was, "Wow!"

We rolled our eyes and made little soft moans of pleasure at the first bite, nodding emphatically over our pretty plates as the tender breasts and flaky pastry yielded to our forks. Easily the best thing I have ever "invented." And the champagne was a lovely accompaniment, a little astringent to counteract the buttery crust and sumptuous ingredients.

I made four of these bundles but we couldn't possibly have eaten more than one each, so I hustled the other two next door to our neighbor, as I couldn't imagine them being any good heated up the next day. I am gratified to report that they, also, had the moan-and-nod experience over their plates.

It will also be a great dinner to make for a dinner party, since it can all be done ahead and just baked in the last few minutes before serving. I can hardly wait to make it for friends. I may need to appeal to my Michigan pals for more pheasant breasts, but I expect you could make it with chicken instead. It would turn ho-hum chicken into something romantic and sexy, just right for a celebration.

Pheasant en Croûte, serves 4

4 pheasant breasts, skinned and "tenders" removed. (Save the tenders for other meals)
10-12 crimini (brown) mushrooms, minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
2 strips smoked bacon, cooked but not browned, and minced.
8 leaves fresh sage, minced
2 Tbs butter
4 slices Brie-style cheese, about 1/4" thick
1 package puff pastry (I use DuFour brand, as it is made with real butter) thawed in the refrigerator
Salt and Pepper
1 egg + 1 Tbs water for egg wash
A baking sheet lined with parchment paper

In a wide pan, sauté mushrooms in the butter until well browned and reduced. Add shallots and garlic and sauté until shallots are clear, taking care not to burn the garlic. Set aside.

Cook 2 strips bacon until just lightly golden. Remove and drain on paper towels before mincing. Add to mushroom mixture.

To assemble, unfold and cut thawed pastry into four equal pieces along fold lines. In the middle of each square of pastry, sprinkle 1/4 of the mushroom mixture, lay a thin slice of the Brie on top, then sprinkle with 1/4 of the fresh sage. Lightly salt and pepper. Lay a pheasant breast on top of the sage. Fold up the pastry, gently stretching to fit and pinching to seal the seams. Turn over so the seams are on the bottom.

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet a few inches apart. Brush with egg wash and put into the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for about 20 minutes (or longer).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F while the bundles chill. Slide baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 25-40 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Great with sugar snap peas!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Summer Reading

When I was in college, I couldn't afford the time to read anything but my biology and chemistry textbooks. The rest of my classes were easy enough to do well in, but the science was just plain hard. Of course, they were also the most compelling and fascinating of my classes but, brother, were they ever demanding!

So, because I'm a lover of novels, and particularly "women's fiction," I'd buy those books as I found them and stash them up in my top closet shelf, just waiting for the last exam to be written and the last grade posted. Then, like a kid sneaking up to the cookie jar, I'd haul down my summer reading cache and wallow in the stories and people and imagination rather than the facts and figures. They weren't just easier reading, they were also more human stories, stories with warmth and humor, stories that appealed to my non-science side.

In the same way that I still love following the advances of science, I still love women's fiction and I guess I always will. But, I do like to sprinkle through my light and solid reading books that are in the middle - well-written and filled with interesting science-related ideas as well as compelling characters and stories. For this reason, I love Michael Pollan's books, especially the one on architecture, but all of his are interesting to me.

Orchard House another such book. It's a great summer read, in that it's accessible and open, but it also is filled with interesting people to whom I think everyone can relate (unless you had an Ozzie-and-Harriet family life) and scientific ideas such as agriculture and permaculture. It's about gardening, but it's also about cultivating a family. 

Tara's lyrical prose is a delight - her  descriptions remind me a little of John Muir when he rhapsodizes about his First Summer in the Sierra. Her stories about the work it takes to cultivate both garden and family are real - they don't flinch from the sometimes-tough parts of being in a family. And her openness in sharing her stories is inviting.

This summer, when you find a little time to snuggle into a window seat or lie in a shaded hammock, make sure you have a copy of Orchard House nearby. Tara won't mind if you spill a little homemade lemonade on the pages.

P.S. Sorry about the sad cellphone photo, snapped at Book Passage (wonderful independent bookstore in Marin) during Tara's warm and funny book talk.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Fish Tale

Have I told you about this before? I have a vague memory that I wrote about this salsa that makes fairly bland fish into a feast, but I can't find the post, so here we go again.

Browsing the seafood offerings at my local market, I spied some fresh, wild swordfish with the green tag that means it was sustainably caught. Because swordfish is one of my very favorites, I snagged a big piece for dinner that night. I broiled it since the weather was not conducive to grilling outdoors, and topped it with this fresh, light salsa that, to me, is the essence of summer cooking. 

I found this recipe on a million years ago; it's a perennial favorite. It enhances any mild, white fish and flips it from boring to happy in an instant. The cucumber lends a juicy, crisp crunch, the onion a savory layer, the mint a hint of summer, and the vinegar-sugar a sweet-tart vibe that dances on the tongue. It's cheerfully colorful, too, which is an improvement over plain, white fish.

Oddly, I think it might be good on  grilled pork tenderloin, too, and maybe even lamb chops; gonna try that soon. Stand by.

Mint Cucumber Salsa, adapted (stolen) from

3/4 cup peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber (the easiest way to seed cucumber is to slice it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon)

6 Tbs minced red onion

3 Tbs fresh chopped mint leaves

1 Tbs white wine vinegar

1.5 tsp olive oil

1.5 tsp sugar (or less - I usually use just 1 tsp)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside to "mingle" for a few minutes. Can be made up to 2 hours ahead, kept at room temperature.

Grill or broil (or even steam) firm-fleshed white fish such as mahi-mahi, swordfish, halibut. Top with salsa and serve. Easiest recipe ever, and it's a winner!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Tough Cookie

It seems to me there are two kinds of food blogs - the ones like mine which are, to put it kindly, homemade, and the ones where the blog owner has done her/his homework to produce professional quality photographs and scintillating text.

To defend mine a bit, I started the blog with the dual goals of keeping up my writing skills after retirement and of assembling all my favorite recipes online where I could access them from anywhere. My photos take about five seconds to plate, compose, and shoot - and I'm afraid that, with few exceptions, that's how they look. I like my dinner to stay hot.

The professional ones, however, are truly a pleasure to encounter. From the edgy vibe of "Thug Kitchen" to the stylish look of "Orangette" to the gorgeous, deliberate photography of "La Tartine Gourmande," they all have their appeal. I tend to stick with the ones where the writing is the best, but I can be seduced by food porn, too.

I have a new favorite, "The Tough Cookie."  The author, Nila, makes mainly desserts that are so beautiful that I rush right out to purchase the makings. Sadly, mine don't always end up as pretty as hers, but I have a fine time trying. When I made the brown butter cake from the last post, it was such a big hit with us that I shopped again the very next week for the makings and, this time, added the raspberries that Nila recommended in the first place.
Nila was correct - always make it with the raspberries. It's a whole different animal and much, much better. It was so good, it disappeared before I had time to photograph it!

That time, I made extra brown butter, as I had also read on her blog about a sort of cinnamon-brown butter spread for toast that is reminiscent of the cinnamon sugar your Mom probably put on your toast, only taken to a whole different level. Nila added a big pinch of salt to the combination of cinnamon, sugar, and brown butter, so you get that whole sweet-salt thing going in your mouth. Big wow!

For pure nostalgia and laziness, I still love good old cinnamon sugar on my toast - brings back memories of my Mom showing me how to mix them thoroughly before sprinkling - but if you are looking to ramp up your breakfast offerings (or it would be great with toast and tea at teatime), you really should try this stuff. The recipe makes enough for several days' worth of sweet-savory mornings. And check out The Tough Cookie while you're there. It brings food blogging up a notch, too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Cake Walk

I've been good. I've been very good. Ever since we lost Cora, I have resolved to keep walking in her memory, as she was the one who got me into the habit of walking once or twice daily. She always looked so forward to her forays out of the house, but she was never willing to go it alone. Even on the days when I felt I couldn't face another walk around the neighborhood, she would patiently wait and her very patience was what guilted me out the door. So, when she went to heaven, I decided that I needed to keep going - literally as well as figuratively.

I have several different routes to take, some more challenging and hilly, some easier and flatter, but I get out each day, no matter what. I find that I actually like walking by myself, too. After the first several poignant days when I missed my furry companion greatly, I realized that when I walk without a dog, I can pick up the pace and swing along, rather than stopping every few yards to let her sniff a bush or leave her own pee-mail. My lungs expand and my stride lengthens and my heart pumps - it feels very good!

And, when I get home, I feel that I have earned a treat. Let them eat cake!  Not rich cake with icing, but rather this lovely cake that I actually learned about while listening to a podcast of Spilled Milk as I walked!  How's that for elegant?

The particular episode I was laughing along to was about brown butter - how to make it and possible uses for it. Molly and Matthew referenced their website, which mentioned a blog called The Tough Cookie  where there was posted this recipe for Brown Butter Nectarine and Raspberry cake, which was adapted from yet another source. Do we live in an amazingly connected world, or what?

Anyway, the idea of making a cake with brown butter just sounded so good that I walked on home and began the prep. The trickiest part is making the brown butter as the window between brown and burned is brief and a little fraught, but I managed it with the instructions from the Tough Cookie, and so can you. The rest is, as they say, a piece of cake.

I didn't have raspberries and a visit to both of our little markets in town yielded no raspberries - not even frozen ones! - so I just subbed in more nectarines. I think it would be even better, and a lot more colorful, with the sweet-tart and rich red berries, but it was lovely even as is. The cake part is light and airy and mildly sweet with just a little depth of extra richness from the brown butter. People, it crisps just a tad on the buttery edges; those swoonworthy edges! 

The nectarines cooked down into the batter a bit, and grew soft and syrupy with just a little resistance from the skin to keep it real. The recipe said to serve with vanilla ice cream (didn't have) so we settled for a puddle of creme fraiche to dip our forks into, and the slight tartness of the creme was the perfect foil for the lightly sweet cake. 

It made a lovely dessert served warm out of the oven and, the next morning after our walk, it was a lovely mid-morning snack.  

Before we put on our walking shoes, My Beloved set up the coffee while I put our slices and coffee mugs into the warming drawer; the cake was just warm when we returned. He touched off the button on the coffee maker and in minutes we were sitting down to hot, creamy coffee and light, fresh cake. Have I mentioned that I love, love, love the warming drawer?

You can find the recipe by following the link above to The Tough Cookie and using the recipe roster to find the cake. The only thing I would add to it is that it took fully 30 minutes longer to bake than the recipe said. If you make it, check at the time stated in the recipe but don't be surprised if it takes longer for your cake tester to come out clean.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Briny Brother

When my Hawaii brother was here to celebrate My Beloved's birthday last fall, we rode the ferry over to the Ferry Building in San Francisco where we purchased a couple of killer brined pork chops. They were simply amazing, moist and flavorful and wonderfully porky, but with undertones of salt and sweet and herb.

Apparently, that bro has been thinking about them ever since because, last week, he sent me his recipe for brine to try. I followed his recipe to the letter; after two days of brining, I seared the chops in a pan and finished them in a 350 degree F oven.

Maybe it's because this brother lives in Hawaii, but both My Beloved and I thought the chops had a sort of mild teriyaki vibe, not as sticky and sweet, nor as gingery and garlicky, but just suggesting palm trees and soft, warm breezes with every bite. Ono!

I'd happily make these again, and next time I'd add an herbal note adding to the brine a bay leaf, or perhaps some thyme. They were delicious as is, but I'm a tinkerer by nature.

So, while the clouds hang heavy over the bay, brine up some chops and send a mental "Aloha!" to my briny brother as you dream of sandy beaches.

Whiting's Brined Pork Chops

6 boneless loin pork chops (I used bone-in, as I think they have even better flavor)
2 cups water
1 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup rock salt (I used kosher)

About 2 teaspoons butter

Mix water, cider, syrup, and salt in an airtight container or plastic bag, making sure the salt has dissolved. Add the pork chops and brine in the fridge for 2 days, turning them occasionally to redistribute the brine.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt butter in a hot pan and sear the chops on one side until nicely browned. Flip them and put the pan directly into the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, until they are done but still  lightly pink inside. Serve with pan juices poured over the chops.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Spur-Of-The-Moment Scones

One of the best things about scones, aside from their adaptability to a wide variety of ingredients, is that you can think of scones one minute and be eating them less than twenty minutes later, hot and fresh from the oven. 

That's exactly what happened to me the other morning. We awoke to a blue sky - yes, people! Blue! - and that set the mood for the whole day. We tumbled out of bed and into the kitchen to make coffee, to sit and admire the blue sky and even bluer bay water out the windows. 

And I thought, "This would be perfect with scones."

So, while My Beloved made the coffee and put mugs and plates into the warming drawer, I pulled out Molly Wizenberg's wonderful book,"A Homemade Life," and turned to page 174 in the hardcover edition for her scone recipe. I had some sadly flavorless nectarines that needed eating, so I decided to use them in place of the ginger, and to enhance their lacklusterocity with some allspice and brown sugar.

I made the scones by Molly's recipe, but before adding the chunks of nectarine, I tossed them in a combination of brown sugar mixed with allspice so the sugar and spice coated the fruit. The tactic was a success - my sadly flat fruit was jazzed up and, in the oven, it made little pockets of juicy, sweet, spiced goodness.

Molly's recipe makes medium-sized scones, just right for a mid-morning snack, rather than the huge, heavy ones you get in most coffee shops. Next time you awake to a blue, blue sky, consider making some spur-of-the-moment scones.

Nectarine and Allspice Scones, thanks to Molly Wizenberg

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons (2 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more for glazing
1 large egg

2 nectarines, pitted and cut into 1/2" chunks
2 Tablespoons brown sugar (less if your nectarines are sweet)
1 teaspoon allspice

Mix the allspice and brown sugar together in a small bowl with a whisk until well combined. Toss the fruit chunks in the mixture and set aside while you make the scone dough.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour mixture, squeezing and pinching with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and there are no butter lumps larger than a pea. Add the sugar and whisk to incorporate. Add the nectarine chunks and toss with your hands to distribute more or less evenly.

Pour 1/2 cup half-and-half into a small bowl or measuring cup and add the egg. Beat with a fork to mix well. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture, and stir gently to just combine. The dough will look dry and shaggy, and there may be some unincorporated flour at the bottom of the bowl. Don't worry about that. Using your hands, squeeze and press the dough into a rough mass. 

Turn the dough, and any excess flour, out onto a board or countertop, and press and gather and knead it until it just comes together. You don't want to overwork the dough; ideally, do not knead more than 12 times. Pat into a rough circle about 1" thick. Cut the circle into 8 wedges and plates them on your parchment-lined baking sheet. 

Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the scones with a thin coat of half-and-half to glaze. Bake for 10-14 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, but serve warm, with butter, if you like.

They can be wrapped airtight for a day or two but for longer storage, freeze. Before serving, bring them to room temperature, then reheat briefly in a 300 degree F oven. Best served warm.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Food To Mourn By

My cooking for the past several weeks has gone to pot. I have done quick and easy, not long and careful, ever since we lost Cora. So, there wasn't much to show you or to talk about for a while there. But, it helped to babysit our neighbor's dog, Sandy, for a few days while she took her mother away for a long weekend of girlie fun and, slowly, we are starting to expect a quiet house with no ecstatic greeting when we return home. It's a cliché, but life does go on.

We have been having a series of cool, windy, overcast days when the fog clears only briefly in the early afternoon. I'd normally bitch about that but it suited our mood, so what the heck. It gave me an excuse to dive back into comfort foods when we really needed comfort. One of the best I made was Jacques Pépin's White Bean and Ham Stew. Called "garbure," it's a hearty dish from Southwestern France. The link above will take you to the real recipe - I made some changes since I didn't have all the ingredients nor the energy to go out and get them. I think M. Pépin's original recipe, which I used as an outline for how to proceed, would probably be better than mine, but even my bastardized version is tasty and deeply satisfying.

I started with dried beans and, seeking to dispel some of the inevitable gas, soaked them in two changes of water over two days before composing the stew in my crockpot. I had a ham hock in the freezer, so I thawed that and used only the one in a large pot of stew; happily, it flavored the entire pot with smoky goodness. 

I wouldn't have thought of adding potatoes or root veggies to a bean dish, but we liked all the bland flavors and varying textures. Tasty, but not challenging, it is good food to mourn by.

White Bean and Ham Stew with Cheesy Toasts

1.5 cups small white beans, such as Navy beans, sorted and rinsed, and soaked for two days (If you don't have two days, just cook the beans longer in more water)
1 smoked ham hock
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 large onion, cut into wedges through the stem end
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2" chunks
8-10 radishes, large ones halved
6-8 small round potatoes, large ones halved or quartered
Salt, pepper

Rustic bread, toasted
1 clove garlic, cut in half sideways
Swiss or gruyere cheese

After soaking the beans for a day or two, pour off the soaking water and add the beans, the ham hock, and water to barely cover to your crock pot. Cook on high until the beans begin to be tender - mine took four hours - then remove the ham hock to a cutting board, peel off the skin and discard, and chop the meat into small, pieces, discarding bones and gristly bits. Return the meat to the bean pot with the vegetables and continue cooking until the beans and veggies are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toast slices of a rustic bread such as Pain au Levain, rub with cut side of the garlic, and top with cheese. Place them on a baking sheet and run them briefly under the broiler to melt the cheese. 

Scoop the bean stew into shallow bowls and serve with warm toasts.