Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Late Bloomer

I've always been a late bloomer. I didn't get interested in boys until well into my teens. I didn't learn to drive until the summer before college. I didn't finish college until I was in my late thirties and I was forty before I earned my Master's degree.

Perhaps this will explain why yesterday I was roasting a nice head of cauliflower to nestle alongside our summer grilled pork chops.

I think of roasted cauliflower as the quintessential winter veg but spring had passed and summer was upon us before I got around to using this one.
Luckily, cauliflower keeps remarkably well in the crisper. I used Molly's tried-and-true recipe; simplicity itself, it always delivers cauliflower that I just can't stop eating, even chasing the smallest bits around the plate with my fork.

Late bloomers are great, once they get around to (cauli)flowering.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Turkey? In June?

Perhaps it seems like a madcap, crazy thing to those of you who eat turkey only at Thanksgiving or in dynamited and pressed form in a sandwich, but My Beloved and I love turkey all year 'round. One of our favorite ways to prepare it, since we are only two in the house (not counting the ever-eager Cora), is to put half a free-range turkey breast on the kettle grill and let the charcoal do its magic.

Before committing it to the flames, I place the turkey on a square of tripled aluminum foil folded to the size of the breast, just to protect the bottom from the full blaze of the heat. I usually smear or sprinkle stuff on the skin - this time, some olive oil, a sprinkling of garlic powder and a dusting of rubbed sage, plus pepper, of course. I slide the foil-backed breast onto the grill and clap on the cover.

As the smoke swirls out the holes in the lid, I prep whatever veggies we are eating that day - in this case two of our fresh Pezzini Farms artichokes steamed - set the table, pour the beverage and by the time I'm finished, so is the turkey. It takes about 40-45 minutes for a large one at roughly 300 degrees (our Weber has a thermometer built in to the lid). You'll know when it's ready if the juice runs clear when pierced in the thickest part; be sure to check often toward the end of the cooking as it's a small window between "perfect and juicy" and "white and dry."

We serve it with cranberry sauce even though it's summer; call us nutty, but we think this is a summer meal fit for a king.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chops on the Barbie

A simple, pasture-raised pork chop, grilled on the kettle grill over glowing charcoal.

Not really a recipe, just a reminder that the smoky, caramelized flavor is not to be missed while summer holds sway. Go get one and welcome the summer season.


Saturday, June 27, 2009


The first of many fresh fruit platters we will enjoy this summer, we collected the makings for this one on our way home from Monterey at farm stands along the way. This is our favorite summer dessert, a selection of the best seasonal fruits simply washed and arranged on a plate - they need no embellishment. At this halcyon time in the year, you can find ripe Bing cherries, strawberries and white peaches all at the same time.

The cherries are firm and richly flavored, paired on their long, lime green stems. The peaches are honey-sweet and beautiful - we even enjoy the gently fuzzy skins. The strawberries anchor the plate with their fragrant, seedy bounty.

As the summer evolves, the peaches and cherries will be replaced by other fruits but in California the strawberries are the stalwarts - they will continue to give us richly scented fruits until the end of October, as each different variety becomes ripe.

But that first plate full of goodness is always special, a small celebration of the start of summer.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 26, 2009

Wayne Thiebaud

When I first moved to California about 13 years ago, I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and was introduced to some of the most delightful artists I have ever encountered. Diebenkorn, Bechtle, Arneson and my personal favorite, Wayne Thiebaud. Often playful, their work seemed infused with the laid back air of California, either in the light they captured or in the subject matter. I fell in love.

Unfortunately for me, so did the rest of the world - their smallest works were so far out of my price range as to be laughable. I settled for postcard images and posters. My kitchen has two Thiebaud reproductions in it and, as much as I love the images, they bug me, too. They simply can't convey the rich way he uses paint - almost like icing - the true playfulness of his color use, and the depth of his expertise. However, they do serve as a daily reminder of what I will do with my first $500K when I win the lottery.

Just returned from North Beach where Cousin J-Yah and I were treated to a lovely show of works by Mr. Thiebaud at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery, 645 Chestnut Street. The show will only be open until Saturday. If you can get there, go and spend an hour with Thiebaud. You'll come away smiling.

*I borrowed the image from
www.csus.edu/.../fall2002/images/36thiebaud.jpg. My thanks to them.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Upscale Artichokes

One of the many pleasures of a getaway weekend to the Monterey Bay area is driving through the farm fields and inspecting the crops as you whiz by. I'm always interested to see what's growing and how far along it is. Watching the workers in the fields, too, I get a heightened appreciation for the hard physical labor that goes into producing my food.

In Gilroy the air wafting through the car windows smells of garlic as you pass the neat green rows. Around Watsonville the scent changes to ripe strawberries at this time of the year. In Castroville near the ocean, artichoke fields take precedence. Coming home from Monterey, My Beloved and I noticed a roadside sign advertising Pezzini Farms fresh artichokes for sale. We both love these thistle buds so it was easy to cajole him into turning off the highway.

Artichoke plants are funny, untidy things with long, floppy, gray-green leaves and a serious case of bedhead. Because the artichoke field is immediately adjacent to the farm stand, we were certain of their freshness. The farm offered 'chokes ranging in size from petite little buds that you might use for pickling or eating whole to prickly behemoths that could play the lead in Little Shop of Horrors. We chose the middle-of-the-road size that would fit comfortably on a dinner plate next to the filet mignon we discovered at our local market.

Steamed and served with melted white truffle butter, an extravagance that we heartily recommend, they were a fitting ending to a splendid Father's Day.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bravo Breakfast

Not being a huge breakfast fan (unless it's served around lunch time) I wasn't sure what to order when we joined our new friends Sandi and Jim for breakfast at the Red House Café in Pacific Grove.

Oh, the Red House had plenty of offerings on the menu, eggs and French toast and such, but the only thing that really got my attention was called Breakfast Crostini. Ovals of fresh Italian bread spread with marscapone cheese, topped with raspberries and blackberries, and very lightly drizzled with honey and dusted with a puff of powdered sugar. The crisp crust of the bread complemented well the soft gooeyness of the cheese and the sweet-tart berries.

It was so good that I was mentally filing the "recipe" away even before I finished my breakfast; this is a treat I will serve to future house guests. It was light and fresh, sweet without being cloying, really a lovely choice for breakfast with enough ooomph to fuel a mile or two of walking in the breathtaking Point Lobos State Reserve later that morning.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Red House Café, Pacific Grove, CA

On a getaway weekend to the Monterey peninsula, My Beloved and I stopped into the Red House Cafe in Pacific Grove for lunch. We had previously enjoyed Toasties in that same charming town, but were in the mood for a change. What a good idea that turned out to be!

Sand dabs lightly breaded with panko and drizzled with a light lemon-buerre blanc sauce. This tender and mild little local fish really needs a simple preparation like this to bring out the best of its flavor - these were done to a turn and as fresh as one could ever wish. Sprinkled with lively chives and a small dice of red pepper and flanked with a fresh green salad, it was one of the very nicest lunches I've eaten in a long time.

Another pleasure of the Red House Café is that whoever designed the interior of this charming little place thought of everything. The cottage decor is lovely, from the charming china right down to the lighted pillar candles in the fireplace, the vintage aprons worn by the wait staff, and the painted clothespin that holds the check. The colors are restful yet cheerful and the furniture completes the homey atmosphere. They even play an eclectic mix of music in the background - no need to shout over it to be heard. Our servers on both visits were equally cheerful and professional - the whole experience was fun, relaxing and delicious.

I'd happily return - so we did - the very next morning for breakfast!

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wallflower Fish

I tend to overlook halibut. Like the wallflower at a dance, halibut doesn't grab my attention with sexy color like salmon or beautiful curves like shrimp. It has the virtue of being one of the sustainable catches these days but it's just white. Plain white. Nothing very fancy.

When I remember to ask it to the dance, however, it's great - versatile and friendly to lots of other foods. This time, I served it grilled with a very quick sort of salsa spooned over it and it tasted like the essence of summer.

The salsa was nothing but an ear of raw sweet corn cut off the cob, half a ripe tomato, a couple of slices of red onion and half an avocado, all chopped to roughly the same size. Over that I squirted half of my last wonderful lemon from Patty and Momo's garden, mixed it all together and added it to the grilled fish. By themselves, all these ingredients might have been yawn-producing but together they really woke up our plain, white fish and did a little jig on our tongues.

I won't be overlooking this lovely fish in the future; it reminds me of that song from my youth, "Let the little girl dance."

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Special

Most of you are just beginning your Father's Day celebrations while ours is already history. My Beloved's two daughters will both be in France on vacation so they planned a dinner to fête him before they leave.

His present arrived in a big, purple Pampers™ box - his Boston daughter is the mother of a two-year old - so we carried that to our dinner at Dopo on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland to open it with his Oakland daughter.

My Beloved took some gentle ribbing from the wait staff about his diaper box - he loved it! - as we waited for a table; Dopo doesn't accept reservations. It's a cheerful, noisy spot with an interesting menu of unusual dishes, seemingly attractive to young couples as at least two of them had blessedly well-behaved babies with them. The tall host has a wonderful way of making one feel warmly welcomed.

We decided to share everything and we had, in the same meal, bites of crostone of clams, squid and mussels; housemade firey lamb sausages with figs and arugula; pigeon on thin, thin sliced porcini mushrooms; an enormous pork chop; pasta with game hen ragu; pizza with speck; and roasted beets with fennel. Only the seafood, sausages and pigeons are shown in the photo.

My Beloved opened his gift, a lovely framed photo of his girls, and his goodie bag from our granddaughter with drawings and Father's Day cards before we moved on to dessert. We shared the espresso panna cotta (OMG) and the lemon ricotta zeppole (similar to beignets) and enjoyed every bite.

My Beloved left feeling truly loved and appreciated - and full of interesting food, as well! A splendid Father's Day celebration for a great Dad.

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chiffonade To The Rescue

Sometimes, things just work out for the best. Last Sunday, it was fully noon before I remembered that I had not taken anything out of the freezer for dinner. Nothing edible in the fridge; there weren't even eggs in the house.

I could have faked it by announcing brightly to My Beloved that salad with canned tuna on top is the latest foodie rage. I could have batted my eyelashes and asked to be taken out for dinner.
I could have had a shower and gone to the store for provisions. Instead, I rummaged once more through the freezer drawer and ¡hallelujah! I found a lovely, local rack of lamb hiding underneath the soup stock containers.

Rack of lamb, in addition to being on My Beloved's All-Time Hit Parade of Favorite Dinners, thaws in just a few hours. *Whew!* I browned it in a wide frying pan before roasting it for about 30 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Perfectly pink and juicy after letting it stand for the five minutes it took to warm the last of the leftover beans and to cook the peas.

Diving into the fridge for a snack before dinner, I found a rib of celery and happened across some fresh mint, too, so I made a quick chiffonade of celery and mint leaves together to complement the lamb (worked with the peas, too). There it is, nestled at the top between the two chops.

As I said, sometimes, things just have a way of working out for the best.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 19, 2009

Stir Crazy

Been baking again. I visited a new-to-me blog, When Harry Met Salad, (clever title, huh?) and Megan was making Jamie Oliver's Rhubarb Stir Cake - boy, that looked good!

I didn't have any rhubarb, however, so decided to try substituting the plums that were still in my fruit bowl awaiting inspiration. I figured that the sweet-tart plum skins would give some of the same jazz to the cake that the sour rhubarb does, so I chopped up three cups of the little purpley-black beauties and added them in place of the rhubarb.

It worked like a champ, although I have to admit it probably wasn't as zingy as I'd have liked. My plums were very ripe; next time, I'd figure out a way to add some lemon juice if I was using pretty sweet fruit. I think you could change this up with peaches, apples, cherries - it's clafoutish although less eggy and more cakey than true clafoutis. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, it was still crazy good!

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pot Pork, Take Two - Or Is That Take Three?

Making a hash of things is my specialty. Oh, not the mess that the figure of speech implies - in this case, real hash.

The final act for the pot pork was to make a nice hash with chopped onion and cubed potatoes, draped with a fried egg "over easy" and a big blob of spinach nearby. Not bad for a pork roast that weighed just about three pounds before cooking. And I still have some of the goozle that I think I'll use as a basis for soup. I'm lucky that My Beloved doesn't object to leftovers, as long as there is a little variety in the presentation. While it was delicious in all its various forms, I have to admit I'm not sorry to see the final take!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Daily Bread

I'm never buying hamburger buns again. Nor hot dog buns. I may also refuse to buy white bread. All of those have been replaced by our new daily bread, Acme Herb Slab.

The Herb Slab is a sort of focaccia-like bread, about the size of a placemat and an inch thick. It's made of white flour but has big air pockets and herbs so it's lighter than most breads and full of flavor.
If you live outside of Acme's sphere of influence, any herbed focaccia will probably substitute well.

We first had it as the bun for lamb burgers at daughter Katie's birthday party and since then I have used it to make garlic bread as well as for hot dog and hamburger buns and sandwiches. You just cut off the right size and shape from the slab, slice it in half between the crusts, and there you have a really flavorful covering for your sandwich, or whatever!

Maybe this won't be the foodie innovation of the year but for me it has been a delight to find an easy and delicious substitute for those tasteless rolls that fall apart on the first bite and add nothing but calories to a burger. I also like that it's firm but relatively soft, not like trying to bite through a French roll, which no one but Joe E. Brown could do.

Wonder™ may indeed wonder where their sales have gone once everyone switches over to the marvelous herbed substitute. Give us this day.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Also Sweet

He ordered the Flavour Shaker™ for me, too.

I had been to Jamie Oliver's website looking for the Flavour Shaker™ since it looks so handy in the series but, mysteriously, it doesn't appear to be available there. My Beloved found it on Amazon, however, when he ordered the book.

The little white ceramic ball is surprisingly heavy - no wonder it's good a crushing herbs and spices! I used it yesterday to bash up the rosemary and thyme I spread over my chicken before roasting and I expect it will be wunderbar for making small amounts of vinaigrette, as well as for so many of the recipes in Jamie Oliver's books.

Fun stuff for a foodie's kitchen.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Sweet! From The Sweet

Ever since I learned about Jamie Oliver from a fellow food blogger, My Beloved and I have watched his show and enjoyed it very much. We like how simple yet flavorful his dishes sound and how casual he is about making them.

We chuckle whenever he flips a leftover carrot top over his shoulder into the garden, or refuses to be prayerful about chopping ingredients. While he is clearly a master chef, we like that he doesn't try to sound like one and makes dishes that even I can duplicate with great results.

So, I was tickled pink when My Beloved surprised me by ordering the companion book to the TV series as a surprise present. Sweet! Now, we can delete all those saved shows on the VCR - I used to watch them two or three times and take notes before attempting the dishes. Now, I have the recipes all neatly bound in a lovely book that will shortly be covered with spatters.

Sweet! That man is so sweet!


Friday, June 12, 2009


When I was about 20 years old we lived in Japan for two years. My father (aged about 50 then), younger brother (aged about 12) and I all climbed Mount Fuji one summer day, along with a solid line of other climbers, guides and suppliers.

It was physically the hardest thing I have ever done. Fuji-san is covered with loose volcanic rubble - for every two steps forward, you slide back one. I don't think any of us would have made it to the top if we hadn't been so stubborn. You can rent a horse that will take you part of the way up but we waved aside those offers at the start of the climb; halfway up, we were all regretting that decision as wealthy pilgrims brushed past us on horseback. However, we persevered. I was thinking, "Jeez, if baby brother can do it, surely I can do it." Dad was thinking, "If she can do it, surely I can do it." And, little bro was thinking, "If the old man can do it, I can do it." None of us wanted to be the first to give up. In other words, we made it to the top based largely on steadfast pride; that may be emblematic of my family.

Dad purchased a Fuji stick for each of us, a light wooden walking stick to help keep us from sliding backwards on the golfball-sized volcanic rubble. At each of several "stations" on the trail, for a small charge one has one's Fuji stick branded with the altitude as proof that one attained that height; at the summit, the brand is red. The guides started a chant that was supposed to give us a pace by which to climb; I know it can't be true but, to this day, I remember it as the Volga Boatmen's song.

Sadly, in those days, Fuji was liberally covered with trash dropped by generations of climbers and, at higher altitudes, it never decomposed. I have heard that more recently they have cleaned it up. The benjos were pretty bad, too. We climbed from about 2pm to 7pm, then stopped for dinner at the least comfortable inn it has ever been my discomfort to endure in Japan. Dinner was Spartan and the wooden shelves (literally) on which we slept three-wide were unpadded. Shortly after we fell into an exhausted sleep, Little Bro had a nightmare about being trapped and woke up shouting and panting.

Our guide woke us again about 2am and we climbed the rest of the way - the idea was to arrive at the summit in time for the summer sunrise. We struggled to the top with several hundred other pilgrims and awaited the blaze of the sun. When it rose, all the discomforts were forgotten and forgiven - it is an amazing sight. We stood in silent awe amidst a hubbub of clicking cameras and murmured exclamations.

The trip down took less than two hours - one more or less "skates" down on the volcanic rubble. We were greeted - dirty, sweaty and tired - by my elegant mother who had elected to stay in the very luxurious hotel at the bottom to have a massage and await our return. We adjourned to the showers and then to lunch in the restaurant. I don't recall what we ate but I never have Japanese food without thinking of that memorable trip. We all kept our Fuji sticks and I still have mine, proudly branded in red.


Fuji Japanese Restaurant, Petaluma, CA


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pork and Beans and Beans

Take Two on the Pot Pork.

I cooked up a pot of Full Belly beans à la Jamie Oliver from his book Jamie at Home (how's that for name dropping on the bean and recipe sources? I'm becoming such a food snob) and piled them into a bowl with some pork, some goozle and some green beans.

Man, it was good!

Jamie Oliver's Humble Home-Cooked Beans

11 ounces dried cranberry or cannellini beans, soaked in cold water for at least 12 hours
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (got them out of my garden)
a sprig of fresh rosemary (ditto)
3 bay leaves
1 stick celery, trimmed
1 small potato, peeled and halved
2 cherry tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar
a few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 slices of sourdough bread (he serves his beans on toast)

Drain the soaked beans and rinse with lots of cold water. Put them in a deep pot with everything except the oil, vinegar, parsley and bread, and cover them with cold water. Put on heat and bring slowly to a boil; cover with a lid and simmer very gently for 45 minutes or until beans are soft. (Here, I added the goozle left in the bottom of crock pot when I made the Pot Pork recipe and then just enough water to cover the beans - good move!)

Drain beans in a colander, reserving enough of the cooking liquid to cover them halfway up when put back into the pot (I saved all the cooking liquid - kept the rest for some other future meal and filled the bean pot as Jamie recommends). Remove the garlic, tomatoes, celery, potato and herb stems from the beans; discard celery and herb stems. Squeeze out the garlic and tomatoes from their skins onto a plate with the potato and mash together with a fork, then stir them back into the beans. Season well with salt and pepper, pour in three good glugs of olive oil and a few splashes of vinegar.

Steam some fresh green beans. In a wide soup or pasta bowl, ladle in a nice helping of dried beans and liquid, top with Pot Pork and surround with fresh beans. Dig in. Oh, baby!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Progress Report

Last year, I planted two tomato plants and got a total of two tomatoes from them. Discouraged.

Somehow, over the winter, my optimism returned so, again, I planted two this year. Already, my Juliet has fruit set, five little oval cherry tomatoes, one even yellow on its way to red! The plant itself is already twice the size of last year's plants, and still growing like crazy.

Paul Robeson is the variety of the heirloom plant I bought. He's both weightier - he's three times the size of Juliet - and waitier - he's just now coming into flower and has yet to set any fruit. However, he has already reached impressive size, sending out clusters of flowers and dwarfing all the herb plants I set around his base in the pot. Things are looking good in the tomato department this year. Can't wait for a taste of my homegrown beauties, fresh off the vine and warm from the sun.

Progress indeed!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pot Pork, Take One

The first experiment with my splendidly funky new crock pot was a pork shoulder roast I found at El Cerrito Natural Grocery, one of the gems of living in the East Bay. This pork roast was local, organic and pasture-raised.

Not finding on the interwebs or in my crockpot cookery book exactly what I was looking for in a crockpot recipe, I was tempted toward experimental theater once again. Taking a few tips from the book, some others from the interwebs and yet more from what was extant in my fridge, I combined them all and dumped them in the crockpot with the roast for 8 hours. The result was sweetly spiced, falling apart Act One, as tasty cold as it is hot. I kept the goozle in the bottom for use Act Two, when I have leftovers already planned. It was enough for the present to have rich chunks of pork to nestle alongside my green beans and garlic herb bread.

Pot Pork, Act One

1 boneless pork roast, about 4 pounds, tied
2 teaspoons Chinese 5 spice for a rub
1 cup lemonade
1/4 cup apple sauce
4 Tbs catsup
1 cup black tea (brewed)
3 fresh plums, depitted
2 Tbs. rice vinegar
1/2 head garlic, top cut off to expose the cloves
Sesame oil for browning the roast

Rub the roast with Chinese 5 spice and brown in sesame oil in a deep pot to contain the frying spatter. Remove and reserve the roast. Add the lemonade to deglaze the frying pot, then pour into the crock pot so you don't lose any of that flavor. Add the rest of the ingredients exept the plums and the garlic, stirring to combine. Add the roast, then drop the plums and the garlic head alongside the roast.

Cook on low setting for 8-10 hours, until the roast is literally falling apart; remove to a plate. Remove the plum skins and discard; squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and mix the garlic into the liquid goozle in the bottom of the pot, discarding the skins. Remove excess fat with a shallow spoon and discard, continuing to dip the spoon until the clear yellow fat is gone, or pour the liquid into a fat separator and pour off the fat. Serve the roast in chunks (you won't be able to make orderly slices as the meat is too soft) with a nice splash of the goozle over the top. Save the rest of the liquid for another meal - it tastes better even than the roast!

Labels: ,

Monday, June 8, 2009

Block Party

I have said before that we have terrific neighbors - we are blessed - but yesterday really confirmed that for us. We threw a block party for the 10 houses on our little dead end street and these folks came prepared to have a fine time.

They loaned us charcoal grills, benches for guests and long tables for food setup. They brought dishes to pass - mango salsa with black beans and chips, Mediterranean pasta salad with Italian sausage, beet and feta cheese bruschetta on grilled raisin bread, pesto pasta with chicken. Everyone contributed something to the fun.

On this gloriously beautiful day, we had neighbors ranging in age from 80-something to about 8 and perhaps the most fun were the teenagers who mingled with the grownups during lunch, then clustered out on the deck together, filling the house with laughter and liveliness. Everyone brought their own favorite grillables and were their own grill chefs - all we did was light the charcoal and stand back. I made Molly's Dad's potato salad (from her book, A Homemade Life) and a green salad, plus the makings for "Make Your Own Sundaes."

Make Your Own Sundaes is great fun. With a selection of ice cream flavors (vanilla, chocolate and coffee this time), you provide flavored syrups (raspberry, caramel and chocolate), nuts, sprinkles, whipped cream, maraschino cherries - whatever you like, really - and the guests create the most amazing confections based on their own special dreams. I have a theory that you can tell a lot about a person based on the sundae s/he concocts. The teenagers ate with abandon, piling on the whipped cream, using more than one flavor of sauce, and delighting in the unearthly red of the cherries. Other folks were more circumspect, adding just a dab of cream and a drizzle of sauce with perhaps a spoonful of nuts. MYOS brings out the kid in you, if kid there be.

Our oldest neighbor said there had never been a block party before; she has lived here since 1932 when she and her husband built their house, back when she was a young bride and it was the only house on the street.
Cora welcomed the other neighborhood dogs - even funny little Bob, a puggle, who used the opportunity to abscond with her rawhide bone - she seemed to enjoy having her friends over as much as we did. The talk flowed from topic to topic, there was plenty of laughter and ribbing and, happily, talk of repeating the event every year, now that it has gotten started.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Spring Chickens Soup

My friend Maria and I are no spring chickens, although she still looks like one. She is petite and pretty with a blonde pageboy and long black lashes, a cute up tilted nose and a ready laugh. She's a girly girl, always stylishly dressed. Her husband calls her Chica; it suits her.

We got talking the other day about recipes and she mentioned a dish that her family begs her to make from time to time, a recipe from her homeland, Chile, called cazuelas. I found myself getting hungry as she described the soup made with chicken thighs and fresh vegetables, all swimming in a light paprika/garlic/onion broth so I begged, too, for the recipe.

I looked up "cazuelas" on the interwebs, hoping to flesh out the recipe she told to me, but it seems the term refers to earthenware cookware in Spain so I could find no additional information about the Chilean soup. Here's what I made by following her directions. It was surprisingly flavorful given the amount of time it took, under an hour from ingredients to greedy slurping, and I'm not a very fast chopper. I tend to dream along when prepping ingredients, musing that Cookiecrumb would probably recommend steeping the pea pods in the soup (which I did), wondering if two cloves of garlic would be better than one (decided it was), mentally trying out camera angles for the blog photo, and planning the order in which I would add all these things to the soup. Even with all that going on, it is a quick preparation.

The recipe is for two but you can make this for any amount of people; just add another chicken thigh and a serving of each of the veggies for each additional person. Maria says you can vary the ingredients, too, depending on the season, and she has even made it with other meats. Cazuelas is the only dish I can recall where you need all the dining utensils, plus fingers, to eat. With all the spring vegetables in it, you'll want to get every drop.

Cazuelas á la Spring Chicken (or is that Spring Chica?)

2 Chicken thighs with bones and skin intact
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tablespoon mild paprika (or more, to taste)
1 ear of corn on the cob, cut into quarters
4 small red potatoes
2 small carrots, sliced
15-20 fresh English peas, shelled and pea pods reserved
10 green beans, sliced into bite-size pieces
Fresh cilantro* (I just remembered that Maria mentioned cilantro, too. Chop and add if you like - to me it tastes like soap so I probably repressed the memory!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the chicken thighs in olive oil in a large soup pot. Add minced garlic, chopped onion and sliced carrot to soften. When soft, add paprika and cook briefly until the paprika is giving off a nice scent, then add potatoes, the pea pods (keep the peas themselves for later addition) and water to cover, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are easily pierced with a knife. Remove the pea pods and discard. Add fresh vegetables (peas, corn quarters and green beans) and continue to simmer until veggies are tender. Serve in bowls with a chicken thigh, a potato or two, a piece of corn, some of the veggies and a generous helping of broth.

*Later: I checked out the websites that NamasteNancy left in the comments section and this version is very similar to those, although those mentioned somewhat different herbs (oregano instead of cilantro, for example) and usually it contains a piece of orange squash, too. I'll have to try it again in the fall when the squashes are a their best.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 5, 2009

Minihen Pheromones

My Beloved is very fond of minihens - Cornish game hens. I'm not sure why they are so special to him since, to me, they taste just like chicken, but he gets a kick out of them so every now and then we share one.

Last night's dinner was one of the best preparations I have made of this funny little bird. Usually, I just roast them but this time I had read about "spatchcocking" poultry by taking the back out and flattening the bird so I decided to give it a whirl.

All you do is cut down either side of the backbone with a pair of kitchen shears, then flip the bird and press down on the breast with the heel of your hand until it flattens out. Kinda prefer the term "butterflying," myself, but whatever - same idea - to make flat for ease of cooking that which is round.

It worked wonderfully. I put it skin side down in a wide frying pan and browned it in a drizzle of olive oil laced with a pat of white truffle butter, then flipped it and added shallots and half a fresh chopped heirloom tomato to the pan along with a healthy pinch of Herbs de Provence. I covered the pan and let all that goodness steam away together for about 15 or 20 minutes before serving with the pan contents heaped on top.

The scents drew Cora in from the next room and My Beloved up from his downstairs office, both sniffing the air and looking hopeful. Better than pheromones for attracting the loved ones.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

J-Yah Does It Again!

Been looking for a bargain crock-pot for some little time now. I have one but the liner isn't removable, so it's hard to clean.

I searched the town-wide garage sales on Memorial Day weekend and checked out several thrift stores without success until last week when cousin J-Yah and I were poking through a thrift shop after a yummy lunch of Carne Asada next door at Las Camelias.

I missed it entirely, immersed as I was in the mental argument about whether or not to purchase the ice cream maker I had spotted. My angel side reminded me that the last thing on earth I need is more ice cream temptation and more stuff to store in my already-cramped kitchen. My devil side was suggesting flavors. Happily, this time the angel won so I turned away from the shelf and didn't even notice this pretty crock-pot next to the ice cream freezer.

Luckily, cousin J-Yah was along - she has better concentration. So, I shelled out my ten bucks and we lugged it back to the car. After a little cleaning and a test of its heating capacity, it awaits the next slow-cooked masterpiece.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Seeking the Dream Crab Sandwich

Back in the '80s, My Beloved frequented a restaurant in the Ignacio section of Novato where they served what he thinks of as the Dream Crab Sandwich. He can't recall the name of the long-gone restaurant but the memory of the crab sandwich is still with him. Twenty plus years later, he searches still for one as full of fresh Dungeness crab on as tangy sourdough bread with a frill of fresh lettuce. His recollection is that there was no sauce and the bread was untoasted, just a heaping serving of the best fresh crab between two slices of excellent bread. It has proved to be elusive heaven - he has never again found one as dreamy.

In Sunol at Bosco's, however, he came mighty close. His fresh Dungeness crab and bay shrimp sandwich was grilled and the shellfish had a light dressing, but it was as fully sumptuous a serving as the Dream Crab Sandwich. The menu offered this combo with cheddar cheese as a melt, but he wanted just the seafood and he made a good choice. Topped with cheese, it would have been too rich - undressed, it was lovely. The accompanying French fries were done perfectly, crisp and golden on the outside, almost melty on the inside. We will happily return to Bosco's in the future - it's a major "find!"

We explored the Niles Canyon on the way home, noting that there's a tourist railway that offers rides down the canyon, an amusement for another day. The drive through the canyon is very scenic on a pretty little two-lane road that we shared with
a few other cars and brightly dressed bicyclists hunched over their handlebars.

My Beloved is still seeking the Dream Crab Sandwich so if you have leads to great crab sammies, please let us know. In the meantime, however, we can recommend a trip to tiny Sunol in search of the Almost Dream Crab Sandwich.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gray Day Getaway

We live close to the storied San Francisco Bay - sometimes that's a mixed blessing.

Oh, we love the water views and the constantly changing sky. We enjoy watching the ships sail by on their way from distant ports and the day sailors skimming the bay. We fall asleep to the sound of little waves breaking on the shore and sometimes awaken to foghorn music in the night. But, there's a dark side to the bay, too, and it usually arrives for a month-long stay right around the first of June. The (in)famous fog.

When we've had enough of damp, gray mornings that sometimes stretch into afternoon, My Beloved suggests a trip inland - just 10 miles or so makes all the difference. We drive out from under the low blanket of fog and out into bright sunshine and much warmer temperatures. Sometimes, we head to Davis for a taste of that college town's wonderful farmer's market and great restaurants, to Sonoma to picnic in the square or to Walnut Creek for some upscale window shopping. This time, we went to Livermore to deliver the lasagna, then went exploring to Sunol for lunch and a poke through the labyrinthine antique shop there.

The drive along Route 84 is true California picturesque with rolling golden hills dotted with dark green live oaks and scattered herds of cattle. The turnoff for Sunol is easy to miss and we did, but were treated to a glimpse of a baptism ceremony being held in the little river that runs alongside the road. All the celebrants were dressed in white, their attention focused on the rite being performed as we rode by.

Backtracking, we found a shady spot to park the car and went into Bosco's, named for a big, black dog who was once elected Mayor of Sunol and brought fame to the tiny town, now long since gone to doggie heaven.

We were greeted by a nice young maître d'hotel and probably the bubbliest, most personable young waiter we've met in a long time. She explained that the restaurant had recently changed hands, gave us good advice regarding choices and prompt, cheerful service. My teriyaki hamburger was huge and perfectly cooked to order, smothered in mushrooms and a light teriyaki sauce. I'd have liked a bit more garlic and ginger in the sauce, but the freshly formed burger and mountain of sauteed fresh mushrooms more than made up for the lack of pizzazz in the sweet-salty sauce. The accompanying cole slaw (fries, potato salad or soup were available options) was fresh and crisp, with raisins as a nice addition to the usual slaw. I'll write about My Beloved's shrimp and crab sandwich tomorrow.

The antique shop is a warren of interconnecting rooms filled with every conceivable object, from stuff from my childhood to things much older even than I. It made an enjoyable hour of poking. My Beloved found some fun vintage magazines; I purchased a pocket-sized copy of The Courtship of Miles Standish for four bucks. And home again in time for a nice nap.

We enjoyed our splendid gray day getaway and would gladly repeat the experience next time the fog rolls in.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 1, 2009

Supportive Supper

I had been dreaming of making vegetable lasagna for a couple of weeks when a young friend's emergency trip to the hospital gave me the perfect motivation - her family is vegetarian and needed some hot dish love.

I got the basic recipe from a student at Stanford when I worked there years and years ago. We compiled a fun little cookbook called The Mirrielees House Pocket Gourmet from recipes the students' mothers had given them. I did all the typing (no computers back then!), design, layout, art work, mimeographing and assembling of the book, so it is precious to me. My copy, however, is all spattered with years of cooking juices, especially the page with the recipe for veggie lasagna.

I can't say that I make this from scratch - I use packaged noodles, frozen chopped spinach, store-bought cheeses and canned tomatoes. To those, I add all kinds of veggies, depending on what looks good in the store, and lots of herbs. This lasagna is not as heavy as traditional meat lasagna - you can have a second helping without regretting it later. It's a bit of a chore to make but worth the effort once you are sitting down to a steaming plate.

The recipe in the book is pretty sketchy so I will flesh it out a little here but it's one of those where you can really add whatever you like in the way of veggies and herbs and it will still be delicious.

Mirrielees House Vegetable Lasagna

1 15 oz can tomato sauce (I sometimes add a can of chopped tomatoes, too)
15-20 small fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 large chopped onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 green (or colorful) pepper
any other vegetables (I typically use carrots, zucchini, pattypan or summer squash, cauliflower)
1 cup dry red wine
a big pinch of herbs de provence, and/or basil, oregano, thyme - whatever herbs you like
salt, pepper

16 oz ricotta cheese
8 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

1 package lasagna noodles (8 oz package to make a small pan of lasagna)

Grated mozzarella cheese for the top

Cut up the veggies in a coarse chop. Brown the mushrooms in olive oil in the bottom of a large pot. Once the mushrooms are browned, add the onion and garlic and soften them, then add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes or an hour, uncovered.

While the sauce is bubbling away, mix the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses with the thawed spinach. You can squeeze out the spinach if it's very watery - otherwise, I just mix it in. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add a little salt and the lasagna noodles and cook until they are pale but still firm. They will cook more in the sauce so you don't want to overcook them now. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to make them easier to handle and to keep them from sticking together.

When the sauce is ready, cover in a thin layer of sauce the bottom of your lasagna pan to keep the first layer of noodles from sticking to the pan. How big a pan you need depends on how much sauce you have made. Sometimes, I can fit it all into an 8" square pan - other times, I really need a larger one. I'd err on the side of one too large, rather than too small.

Lay in a layer of noodles, then filling, then sauce. Repeat until you have used up all your ingredients, ending with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella and cover the pan with foil, crimping the edges to seal. Can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour (30 minutes if you didn't refrigerate), uncovering for the last 15 minutes to allow the cheese on top to brown lightly. Remove from oven and let stand for about 15 minutes to firm it up and to cool it a bit - otherwise, it's too hot to eat.


I have it on good authority that even small children enjoy this lasagna, despite the spinach; my friend's young son had two big helpings. She is doing well, by the way, sailed through the surgery in fine style and was texting messages to Facebook within an hour of waking up. Happy ending for us, too, as we kept our own pan of lasagna to enjoy at home.

Labels: ,