Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In For A Pound

We ate too much.

We definitely ate too much.

Even though I didn't eat half of my pulled pork sandwich, determined to save room for dessert, I still felt too full as we left the dining room at the SRJC Culinary Café.

The dessert menu was simply too tempting. How does one choose between upside down apple tart, peach shortcake, and a hazelnut gelato sandwich?

With growing awareness of our increasing middles, we decided to split a dessert. It was still truly piggy, but we couldn't resist.

This is just half, believe it or not, of our Peach Shortcake with Crème Fraiche and Fresh Berries. Oh, and Raspberry Coulis. Don't forget the raspberry coulis! This little beauty is shown on a saucer, so it's not as completely decadent as you might otherwise think but, believe me, it was still at least a venial sin.

The shortbread part was actually surprisingly light, with a consistency more like a pastry shell than true shortcake - in a good way. The fresh peaches and berries with the vanilla bean crème fraiche were plenty rich without a heavy shortcake to boot.

But, we still ate too much. Fuel for the tour of Luther Burbank's house and garden, and a good excuse for a long nap when I got home.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Pizza Art

I'm sorry this photo turned out so meh, because the pizza was anything but. Cousin Jan ordered this from the menu at the SRJC Culinary Café - it was spectacular!

The crust was one of the best I've ever tasted, crisp but not dry and very light and tasty. The toppings were goat cheese, thinly sliced ripe figs, ham and potatoes that had been sautéed before being added to the pizza. Jan hesitated before ordering what seemed like a rather strange combination but was hugely rewarded for doing so by one of the best combinations it has been our pleasure to discover.

Salty, savory, tangy, sweet - it was all there and it was all delicious, rivaling the pizza over at Rosso (also in Santa Rosa), and that's really saying something!

I may try making this combination at home. It's like a that Picasso sculpture of the bull's head made from a bicycle seat and handlebars - once you've seen it, you could make it yourself, but you have to acknowledge the genius who thought of it first.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Red Dot Pork

Cousin Jan and I had a play day recently. We drove to Santa Rosa to tour Luther Burbank's house and garden and to get all the inside gossip about his mother and his wives from the docent who obviously relished the human side of an icon. We took a lot of photos of beautiful flowers, learned what pawpaws look like, enjoyed a day of absolutely perfect weather, and had lunch at the Santa Rosa Junior College Culinary Café.

At the Café, all the cooks, prep cooks, bakers and servers, except three instructors, are students. They have a bakery case at the front of the store with temptations from the students who are learning to bake breads, cakes, cookies, etc., but you can also sit down to eat lunch there.

The front room is lively, with a view of the kitchen and lots of coming and going. We were ushered into the much quieter back dining room and seated by the window. The menu contained several tempting offerings as well as the welcome note at the bottom that Senior Citizens enjoy a 15% discount on their meals, a little reward for getting so darn old.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and Cousin Jan ordered a pizza. The student waiters were charming, with lots of smiles and earnest effort. Two days into the semester, service was a little ragged but I expect they will both earn A's by the end of the term. They brought lemon-scented water and iced tea to drink, were prompt about refilling our glasses, checked back with us to make sure everything was good, and generally did as good a job as many professional waiters do.

Here's the plate they brought me - overflowing, as you can see, and served open-faced with twice as much pulled pork as I could eat on a very soft bun, with hand cut shoestring potatoes and cole slaw made with a curly cabbage. The pulled pork had a pot of mango barbecue sauce on the side, just in case I needed more. It tasted simply sweet at first, so I asked for some hot sauce and our waiter brought out not one, not two, but three brands for me to choose from. I chose the sriracha; those are the little red dots you see decorating the sandwich.

If you're looking for an inexpensive outing for lunch, I'd recommend the Café. Almost all the heads in our dining room were gray - it's clearly a place where Senior Citizens gather, a sure sign of value for the buck. Even their steak is only $9.50 and that's before they apply the 15% discount for us old birds. Plus, it makes me feel young when almost everyone else in the room is older than I.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

Because, after 63 years of life on this planet and nearly 15 in the Bay area, I was actually naïve enough to believe the weatherman when he said we were in for a week of hot summer weather and because I can't face hot stoves, ovens or even barbecues when it's really hot, I started cooking in the early morning cool to get a few hot-day meals ahead.

I had cold chicken the first night from my cheater chick and prepared a nice shrimp salad for the second day. Here's what I made, anticipating Day Three of a heat wave.

Salmon laid gently into barely-boiling water with lemon for a few minutes, then cooled in the fridge. Molly Wizenberg's Dad's shockingly addictive potato salad. Curry-flavored deviled eggs and a little cup of cornichons and radishes.

Of course, on Day One-and-One-Half, the fog rolled back in through the gate and there was no more need for warm weather foods. That's what I get for believing the weatherman. However, it's still summer and the ingredients are still wonderful, so what the heck. Even if I'm wearing a sweater to dinner with the fuzzy flip-flops my sister sent me when she heard about our cold summer, it's still a nice meal. Especially that amazing potato salad.

Burg's Potato Salad (with all due respect to Molly's Dad, Burg, this should be called Crack Potato Salad, it's that addictive) from A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

1-3/4 pounds red waxy potatoes, scrubbed (I used the small ones so they cook faster)
4 large eggs
8 scallions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

For the dressing:

3/4 cup of mayonnaise, preferably Hellman's/Best Foods, or homemade
4 Tablespoons bottled Ranch dressing, preferably Hidden Valley brand
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds (optional)

Molly gives a more exacting preparation method than I used and hers is surely much better for it, but I'm an impatient sort of person, so I skipped a couple of steps. Here's what I do; if you want the real story, buy her marvelous book, "A Homemade Life." You'll be glad you did.

But, for the lazy woman's version:

Cover the spuds and the eggs with about 1" of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat so the boiling continues but isn't furious. Test after about 15 minutes; if the spuds are easily pierced with a knife, they are ready. Drain and cool. I put the eggs under cold water to cool them faster. Once the eggs are cool, peel them under cold running water, chop coarsely and put them in a bowl large enough to hold all the finished salad. When the spuds are cool, chop them into 1/2" pieces and add them to the eggs.

In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, Ranch dressing, dill and salt. Add the scallions and pour the dressing over the potatoes and eggs, stirring to coat thoroughly. Taste and add more salt if you need it. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

Yields about 6-8 servings.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

True Summer

We don't get much true summer around here. Our weather is generally very even, winter to summer, and it's rarely warm enough to raise a sweat. We who live here like the cool weather and suffer when it's really hot.

It was hot earlier this week. Really, really hot.

So hot that we broke records. So hot that Cora was lazy all day. So hot that washing the deck with a hose was the only work that made sense - so I could spray myself from time to time.

So hot that shrimp salad seemed like the perfect true summer meal. With some lovely butter lettuce and ripe yellow tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and a handful of summer's best berries alongside the avocado hidden beneath the tumble of shrimp. Everything cool and crisp and tasting richly of the summer season.

I was particularly pleased with the shrimp salad, which had a healthy slug of lemon juice to thin the mayo and a hint of licorice in the finely chopped chervil. The crunchy celery, the unctuous shrimp and the pizzazz of lemon were just the right complement for the delicate, sweet chervil.

Our natural air conditioning, the famous San Francisco fog, has come back to cool us down again. But, I'd make this again in a heartbeat, if and when true summer returns.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010


Luckily for me, it's not too hot for my supermarket to cook, even if the temperature nearly reached 100 in my neighborhood on Monday.

To heck with pastured, organic and local - if these guys will roast a chicken for me in their air conditioned kitchen, I'm buying it. It means I don't have to turn on my oven or even brave the barbecue to feed My Beloved.

I probably blew my carbon footprint all to hell with this one but I also hung out my wash the same day. I hope that balances out but, if it doesn't, I'm cheating anyway.

P.S. Not as good as home-roasted.

P.P.S. The fog has returned so no need for cold meals now. Timing is everything.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Olive Oyl's Supper

While Popeye was out eating canned spinach and beating up on Bluto, perhaps his girlfriend was at home making this Cornish hen for dinner. If so, she ate far better than he did.

She'd have started by browning over medium high heat
in a wide pan the hen in a combination of oyls, olive (of course) and black truffle with a soupçon of butter. When the hen was nicely browned, she'd have added about ten peeled shallots to the pan, along with two peeled, seeded and roughly chopped tomatoes, a couple of hefty pinches of Herbes de Provence, a splash of rosé wine and a handful of picholine olives.

She'd have covered the pan, lowered the heat to simmer and let it cook gently for about 30 minutes, removing the lid to concentrate the pan juices for the last 10 minutes or so, then served the hen heaped with the pan's contents.

Oh, Popeye! You don't know what you're missing!

P.S. Olive Oyl might have wished she had some mushrooms to brown along with the hen and add to the overall deliciousness, but her crisper was empty. Boo-hoo.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wretched Excess, Nautical Style

Just cresting our home hill on our way back from Grass Valley, I looked out to the bay and spied, 'way off in the distance, a strange looking, almost submarine-shaped white boat anchored off Sausalito. What in the world is that?

Our little spyglass does a pretty good job of bringing far things in, so when I got home, I managed to find the off-center "A" on her transom. A quick Google search, and there she was, the mega-yacht of some Russkie billionaire and his supermodel wife, both of whose names begin with the letter A.

We couldn't resist a closer look. On our way home from the city the next day, after seeing the marvelous Impressionists show at the deYoung for the second time, we drove down through Sausalito, stopping at an overlook to join all the other gawkers who were lined up taking pictures and exclaiming to each other, instant comrades united in our gaping.

I took this photo when a sailboat chugged past the A. The sailboat was probably about 35 or 40 feet long, and she was dwarfed by this escapee from a James Bond flick. I could just imagine Sean Connery using the open swim platform (the dark spot near the stern) to make another attempt at killing Blofeld, accompanied by some bosomy starlet. This boat is even larger than the much-photographed Maltese Falcon that sailed into the bay a couple of years ago.

I can't say I admire her lines but, hey, she's unique! And fun for us gawkers.


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Happy Apple Kitschen

Our pal Irene is famous among her friends for finding great places to eat, so when she suggested the Happy Apple Kitchen in Chicago Park, California, we went along happily with that idea. We headed off in tandem along the twisty back country roads toward lunch.

The decor inside the restaurant is pure country kitsch, with
checked tablecloths and wooden paper napkin holders hand decorated with apples. A local artist's pretty paintings of orchards in bloom adorn the walls with discreet price tags announcing their availability for purchase. A counter by the cash register offers whole pies for sale as well as an assortment of jams and sauces. The service is direct, friendly and leisurely.

It was another feather in Irene's cap. I chose fried chicken, which had a thin, crisp coating on the outside, juicy on the inside - just as fried chicken should be. It came with forgettable fries and a green salad but there was so much chicken that it was probably a good thing I wasn't tempted to finish the fries. I needed to save room for dessert because the Happy Apple Kitchen is famous for their fresh fruit pies.

They make pies seasonally when the fruit is perfect. The day we were there, looking out at the peach orchard where some of their pies originate, the menu offered apple, French apple, peach and blackberry pies. My Beloved ordered French apple and Irene and I shared a slice of blackberry.

All I can say, is the Happy Apple Kitchen is justly famous for their pies. The berry flavor was so rich as to be almost like Concord grapes and the crust was flaky and tender. My Beloved ate his French apple down to the very last bite.

I doubt we will ever be back that way at mealtime but, if we are, we know just where to stop for a good country meal and a fat slice of delicious pie to top it off. Irene always knows.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Country Eggs

As we were driving back with Irene and Guy from playing in the river near Grass Valley, we spied a hand painted sign by the roadside - "Fresh Eggs $3.50."

Someone said, "Fried egg sandwiches" and the car turned itself into the driveway.

We were greeted by a beautifully aged red dog (turns out she is nineteen years young). We knocked and inquired - the dog's owner provided a dozen of the prettiest assortment of eggs you can imagine and recounted proudly his dog's age and charms. We all gave the old lady a pat, which she received with gentle grace, and piled back into the car with our loot.

The next morning, we turned half the eggs into fried egg sandwiches on buttered and oven-toasted sourdough bread. The yolks were so bright a yellow as to be nearing orange, standing tall and round in the pan. Guy squeezed fresh orange juice and My Beloved helped make strong coffee. Irene and I toasted and flipped, sliding substantial breakfasts onto plates for eager eaters.

Was the the country air, the sunny morning or the multicolored eggs that made our appetites so good?


Saturday, August 21, 2010


Last weekend, I had a peak experience.

On a deck in Grass Valley as the sun was setting on a warm, bright afternoon. Of course, My Beloved was there. So were our friends Irene and Guy.

Kinky? No, burrata.

Fresh mozzarella cheese with a soft middle like smooth ricotta. In a salad with the ripest, sweetest yellow and red heirloom tomatoes I have yet tasted this summer. A quick chiffonnade of basil and a drizzle of Dijon vinaigrette.

Everything was at it's peak. Memorable.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

The Dog's Dinner

Whatever Lola wants.

Lola gets.

In this case, Lola is an elegant black Great Dane of shiny coat and intelligent eye, who sneaked into the kitchen while we were toasting our friend Guy's birthday at his and Irene's baronial Tudor weekend home outside Grass Valley, and silently, stealthily ate nearly two pounds of Black Dragon tri-tip off the cutting board.

Invited to join the housewarming-and-birthday party at their new weekend home, we had come armed with goofy birthday presents and two beautiful tri-tips from Baron's Meats in Alameda to celebrate the end of the long purchase process and, of course, the birthday boy. The house is lovely, their dogs are friendly, and it was great spending some two-on-two time with two of our most intelligent and generous friends. We played in the Wolf River nearby, sitting in the chilly water and skipping stones as the afternoon whiled away. We toured the property and admired the setting and the house. We cooked dinner together in the companionable kitchen and caught up with each others' doings.

Guy grilled the two Black Dragons to perfection on his space-age grill - one very rare and one medium rare, to please all the eaters. We had taken slices off the two and settled in with our plates of savory meat, grilled corn, steamed green beans and tomato-and-burrata salad out on the deck as the sun set - it was still warm enough to sit outdoors in our short sleeves. Heaven. The meat was as delicious as I had remembered - spicy on the outside, succulent on the inside. Everyone was "oohing" as they took their first bites, and complimenting the chef.

Apparently, Lola was "oohing," too, back in the kitchen. To be fair, her nose is easily counter-level and the meat was just too much temptation. In her five years of life with Irene and Guy, she has never done anything so unladylike so we took no precautions, but the Black Dragons at eye level... well, what would you have done in her situation? All that was left of about two pounds of perfectly cooked meat was a smear on the cutting board.

She didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed. She just licked her elegant chops and laid down on her bed for a nap.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sweet Treat

What sweeter treat could there be than having a delicious dessert concocted before your very eyes in your own kitchen? That's what happened when our young friends Naomi and Sam came for lunch last weekend.

They wanted to contribute to the meal but were afraid to transport the finished product in their bicycle baskets all the way from Emeryville so they brought the makings, eggs and all, and Sam whipped them up in my kitchen just before lunch. Sticky Date Pudding, compliments of Nigella Lawson's site, where Allan posted the recipe. Naomi is English and she wanted us to have a typically English dessert.

All I did was watch and point out where various implements were kept while Sam danced from counter to sink to oven in his delightfully loud socks, making a glorious, gooey mess of chopped dates and cake ingredients. We tasted the batter as it went in to the oven - runny cookie dough, with all the right ingredients to increase our greed.

We repaired to the deck for a chat while the cake baked - we knew it was finished even before the timer dinged just by the wonderful aroma wafting out from the oven. I did the hard part - pricked the cake with a toothpick to confirm what our noses were already telling us, then rested on my laurels.

We set the cake to cool while we ate our lunch, then Naomi whipped up the divine toffee sauce while we stood around the stove drooling. Any sauce that is made with roughly equal portions of brown sugar, butter and heavy cream... need I say more?

The cake was sliced, the sauce was poured over it, soaking into the sponge. The first bite was simply amazing - I literally exclaimed! How often does food, even dessert, cause you to exclaim? The cake was light with lots of air holes, perfect for soaking up the maximum amount of sauce. The sauce was simply out of this world, buttery and sweet and transporting.

I must admit to a little skepticism while I was watching the pudding go together, thinking it would be overly sweet. And it was very sweet, but not too sweet, if you know what I mean. The richness of the butter and cream balanced the sweetness of the sugar. Sam even managed to eat a second helping, proving that he is a world-class trencherman.

When the kids climbed back on their bikes for the 10-mile trek back to Emeryville, My Beloved and I repaired to our bed where we spent an hour or so in food coma. We lay there reminiscing about the lunch and remarking about how much we enjoy these two young people and what a sweet treat a visit from them is.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Raspberry Ripple

Okay, who remembers Ripple? Even back in my youth, it was considered laughable, but we drank it anyway and thought we were pretty darned sophisticated because we knew the difference between Ripple and serious wines like Mateus and Lancers.

Which has nothing whatever to do with the frozen yogurt dessert I made last week in my trusty, if crippled, Donvier ice cream maker, except that I made peach FroYo with raspberry coulis ripples.

Béa gave me the recipe at her site, La Tartine Gourmande. She made popsicles with it and so did I, but I had quite a bit of peach base left over after filling my diminutive popsicle molds, so I stirred in my leftover raspberry coulis and popped the rippled results into a freezer container, thinking I'd scoop it like ice cream.

Think again.

It's a better texture for a popsicle. As a scoop, it's too icy and not creamy enough, although the flavor was good. Just sayin'. Some of my best ideas are not.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pop Art

I had fun drizzling my raspberry-sherry vinegar coulis down and around the sides of my colorful new molds to create pop art for the taste buds.

The recipe comes mostly from Béa at La Tartine Gourmande but her version of the coulis is different than mine. She gets credit, however, for the idea of peach FroYo popsicles with raspberry coulis. Go here for her recipe.

The texture of these is more like creamsicles than popsicles, with a little lingering tang from the yogurt. The coulis is nearly purple and the peach froyo is a soft melon shade, beautiful all by itself and when complemented by the bright colors of my popsicle molds, they were a feast for the eyes.

And, wonder of wonders, the sun appeared before noon. I don't want to complain that this has been a remarkably gloomy summer, but it has been a remarkably gloomy summer. So, sunshine before noon was a good reason to pop open one of these and indulge in a summer treat.


Monday, August 16, 2010

I'm Sartain

I'm on a roll. When I find a happy new ingredient, I tend to go all out, using it in several different ways. This has happened to me with Sartain's Menu sauce - I'm trying it on everything.

The latest success was with a spatchcocked Cornish hen, slathered with Sartain's and baked for about 45 minutes. It emerged from the oven as black as a banker's heart but it was scrumptious and toasted up a wonderfully tasty skin. It couldn't have been easier, either - just paint it on and leave it for about 15 minutes, then roast in a 400 degree oven. I even put the eightball squashes in the same pan so the dinner dishes were simplified.

Do I like this sauce? Sartainly!


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Behind The Eight Balls

I should try to grow these. Every summer, I look forward to these little round zucchinis and only find them every now and then. There's something playful and funny about the shape - it's really the only difference between these and the long ones.

Normally, I cut off the tops, remove the innards, mix said innards with other tasty things and stuff them right back in. This time, a neighbor had given me a small summer squash and a tiny new zucchini, so I used those instead of the innards to make a stuffing.

Cut the top quarter off the eightball squashes and hollow out the body with a spoon, leaving about 1/2-1/4 inch thickness in the walls and bottom. Chop a small zucchini and a small summer squash (crookneck). Mince garlic a couple of cloves of garlic and about half a small onion, lightly sauté in olive oil with Italian herb seasoning warming in the same pan. Add the finely chopped squash cubes and cook for about five minutes, until the zucchini is even brighter green and the summer squash is still a sunny yellow. Off the heat, add a handful of grated ParmReg and stir it around to mix it in, then stuff the mixture into the hollowed eightball zucchinis. Top with the stem end caps. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about an hour, basting once with butter or pan juices; I usually stick them in the oven with a chicken and they finish roasting at about the same time.

Of course, you can play around with the stuffing - next time, I'm going to add some Sartain's Menu sauce for fun. Italians would probably add tomato sauce or the tomatoes themselves. Some like to mix in bread crumbs or cubes. You might want to try different cheeses. Zucchinis are so bland that they lend themselves to embellishment and experimentation. Knock yourself out.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goody Two Shoes

I'm not exactly a fashion maven - in fact, I basically hate to shop for clothes and I always choose comfort over style. I order most of my clothes out of catalogs to spare myself the trip to the dreaded (shudder) shopping mall. I like loose fit, cotton fabrics and flipflops almost all year 'round. When bluejeans came into fashion for more than gardening back in the '60s, I embraced them with a glad cry, liberated at last from having to make fashion choices.

But, how could I resist Blue Suede Shoes? How could anyone of my generation resist blue, blue, blue suede shoes, Bebbeh? I grew up listening to Elvis but had never seen an honest-to-goodness pair of blue suede shoes before cruising on the Toms website.

Not only are they inexpensive, comfortable and a total kick, they also did some good. Toms' business model is organized such that the company gives a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair you purchase. Is that a great idea, or what? I ordered some for my sister's birthday and another pair for myself, happy in the knowledge that somewhere three little kids just got new shoes.

I don't think of myself as a do-gooder, but these are definitely goody two
(blue suede) shoes.

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Friday, August 13, 2010


When you're one of those folks who doesn't really like soapwort (my derogatory name for cilantro, referencing its taste), guacamole can be a challenge. I love the greenness of the cilantro in good quac, it's just the soapy flavor I don't care for. I had a breakthrough when I remembered the little plastic box of chervil I had in the fridge - why not sub out the cilantro for chervil?

I was actually a chervil novice, never before having tasted it - I really just bought it out of curiosity - so I tweaked off a little leaf to taste and enjoyed the green and lightly licorice flavor. It seemed like the perfect substitute to me. I chopped up a small handful and added it to the avocado, lime juice, minced onion, pressed garlic, chopped tomato and dollop of hot sauce. Mashed together, it made a lovely, textured guacamole that My Beloved and I devoured for lunch.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brilliant Idea

This looks kinda gnarly but it was brilliant. First, I had the bright idea to order two to-go portions of Rosso's daily special while we were eating our dinner there; that way, I wouldn't have to cook the following day, either.

Because we were there on a Saturday, the special was smoked and braised beef short ribs. I don't know how they do it, but the beef was perfect, falling softly off the bone and lightly smoky, succulent and rich. When I first opened the box, I was a little bummed to see polenta as an accompaniment - I'm not a big polenta fan. It just sort of lays there. However, I thought, if anyone can make good polenta, it's probably Rosso, so I plopped a spoonful on my plate next to the meat, drizzled it all with the goozle in the bottom of the box and zapped it in the microwave, adding my own steamed green beans later.

Wow, that polenta was tasty! Chewy and cheesy, it had been infused with some kind of amazing blue cheese; it was the perfect complement to the short ribs. Rosso does it again! Brilliant.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

After The Fair

When we left the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, a little footweary and sunburned after trekking all over the place for a few hours, we fetched up at a favorite eatery in that town, Rosso.

We took a table in the dappled, late afternoon shade on their outdoor patio, ordered one of their fizzy lemonades, and began to think about dinner.

My Beloved was already pretty hungry, so he ordered this to share - soft, fresh goat cheese with preserved lemon and lemon-infused oil, surrounded by a heaping handful of roasted garlic cloves and served with an order of herbed flatbread. Simply lovely, the cheese was creamy and the garlic was sweet.

Every time we go to Rosso we are impressed with the service and the excellence of the food. The restaurant was virtually empty when we arrived and I had a sad thought that perhaps they weren't thriving. By the time we left, however, almost every table was full and the air buzzed with excited conversations - clearly, they are doing just fine. And so they should - it's a marvelous place. Next time you are in Santa Rosa, do yourself a favor.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oh, Fudge!

My good friend, Wenirs, lives in Michigan. We love visiting her there and are thoroughly bummed that this year we are missing the trip Up North with them to their cabin on Manistee Lake. Wenirs is there this week with her husband and new black lab puppy, Harvey, plus my Fairy Goddaughter and her friend Christina. And I'm stuck here on jury duty. Phooey!

So, you can imagine our delight when at the Sonoma County fair we spied a booth selling Mackinac Island fudge. No, it's not Burdick's (the gold standard for fudge) but we bought it anyway as a connection to the festivities we are missing Up North.

So, Wenirs, have a little whitefish paté for me and some fudge. Maybe we can make it next year.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Fair Food

When I mentioned to pal Sari that the Sonoma County fair was on in Santa Rosa, she immediately abandoned our earlier plans in favor of the fair. Turns out Sari loves county fairs. Since it was her birthday celebration, we happily went along for the ride.

We had a splendid time enjoying the goat judging, seeing baby pigs and chickens, photographing polished cows as they were paraded around the ring, admiring gigantic work horses and watching splash dogs and performing house cats. The flower pavilion was an amazing burst of color and the Elvis impersonator was convincingly fat and glittery, thank you vera, vera much.

Fair food is not good for you. Most of it is fried, or sweetened to the max. So what? It's fun and we enjoyed the sin food vera, vera much. For example, the chocolate-covered bacon, which Chilebrown had alerted us to. I have to say, I'd probably not eat it again but, what the heck, it was an experience. Chewy bacon slathered with dark chocolate - what's not to like?

On the ever-so-slightly more healthy side, we enjoyed some fresh lemonade from a stand shaped like a giant lemon with three giggly high school girls squeezing fresh fruit for us, and these pulled pork sliders from Johnny Garlic's, a Santa Rosa institution that had a stand at the fair. Guy Fieri's flamboyant self was not there but his image certainly was.

The weather was perfect, the crowd was cheerful and we were birthday mode. A perfect day at the fair.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Attitude Adjustment

Tiger-striped with sweet-hot sauce, this salmon was a wonderful soother for My Beloved, who had dragged in from The Week From Hell at work, starving and frustrated and ready to call it quits.

While I would be happy to have him cut back or even retire fully, I don't want him to do so on such a sour note. So, when he called from the road to explain what a crappy day and week he had had, I was glad I had some lovely salmon on hand.

Cousin Jan introduced us a while back to Sartain's Menu Sauce, a locally made sweet-hot sort of sauce that works equally well on chicken, meat and fish. I liberally painted both sides of a fillet of salmon and set it aside for about half an hour while I prepped the rest of the meal, then grilled it, non-skin side down first, on the Jenn-Air (I have despaired of having a summer this year so didn't haul out the barbecue and brave the 60-degree, windy evening). After about five minutes, I flipped it to the skin side and let it rip for another five minutes or so, until it was sizzling happily where the skin meets the flesh. My Beloved likes his fish rare, so I cut it down the middle and slid his off the skin, leaving mine to obtain near-opaque perfection.

By the time he had worked his way through grilled corn, tiger salmon, green beans and cherry tomatoes, his attitude had swung back toward the cheerful again. He's a resilient soul.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010


You'd never know I strained out more than half the seeds before cooking this raspberry jam - it's still mighty seedy. In fact, I was amazed at the amount of seeds that three little boxes of berries could produce. Never mind, I still love raspberries almost as much as I do strawberries so I was eager to turn my boxes of fresh, ripe fruit into jewel-toned jam.

Some of my best discoveries happen when I come a cropper in the kitchen. This time, it was the lemon juice I wanted to add to the raspberry purée along with the sugar. When I sliced open my lemon, the whole inside was a nasty, spoiled mess, completely unusable and a different kind of seedy. Desperate for just a little tartness, I thought of the bottle of very expensive sherry vinegar languishing in my cupboard, an impulse purchase long ago that I had never even opened.

So, I opened it. Poured just a drop on a spoon with some of the raspberry purée just to confirm that the reality tasted as good as I imagined it would. It was terrific, complementing the raspberry flavor and cutting through some of the sweetness of the sugar. Home run.

Out of three little punnets of dark, tiny perfect raspberries I got two small jars of jam. I used 2 cups of raspberry purée, 1 tsp of sherry vinegar and 1/4 cup of sugar; if you want to know my method, go here. What didn't fit into my two little jars became a coulis that I forced through a much finer strainer, leaving all the seeds behind that time. I wrapped it carefully and put it in the fridge. It is the seed for some other delicious as-yet-to-be-invented dish. I wonder what it will be?

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Freezy Fun

This summer's fruits have been an inspiration. Of course, I have gobbled down my share of fresh fruit with no more embellishment than a rinse of fresh water under the tap, but I have also been motivated to make frozen goodies. This seems to be the summer of popsicles.

Here are my latest creations - ice cube mini-popsicles. Made in ice cube trays and pierced with cocktail picks, they are a really pretty shade of strawberry pink, slightly tangy from the Greek yogurt and sour cream but with a hint of sweetness, too. They make a quick and tasty little snack partway through the afternoon or for a light dessert. They are easy to make - minimal fuss - and fun to eat, a little icy and crunchy but melting on your tongue to smoothly creamy. The next hot day we get, I hope you have some of these in your freezer to enjoy.

Strawberry FroYo Popsicles (makes 2-1/2 ice cube trays)

2 cups fresh strawberries
1-1/2 cups Greek yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sugar (or more if your fruit is not very sweet - you need to taste as you go)

In a blender container, combine all the ingredients and whirl at low speed until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze for about 30 minutes. (The seeds will have settled to the bottom, so you might want to pour those last few popsicles through a fine sieve to remove the seeds). When mixture is partially frozen and thick, set toothpicks or cocktail picks in at a 45 degree angle, to give you more leverage when removing the popsicles from the ice cube trays. Freeze until hard, several hours or overnight.

When popsicles are firmly frozen, remove them from the trays by very briefly running the bottom of the trays under hot water to loosen the popsicles. Using a levering motion, pull out each popsicle and quickly put them into a plastic freezer bag or freezer container (you can leave them in the trays if you have room in your freezer) and return them to the freezer until ready to serve.

It would be fun to vary the recipe and make several fruit flavors, serving one of each flavor as a special dessert.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hot Dog Heaven

When I ordered my '49ers all beef hot dog at Show Dogs, I asked for relish. I got RELISH. That's okay, I can always tip out the excess.

I was called back from happy retirement last week to help out my former colleagues at a crunch time, so I found myself in San Francisco again. Walking down Market Street in the morning, I noted a new eatery on my route, Show Dogs. Being a lover of a good tube steak, I couldn't wait to return for lunch.

They have an extensive sausage menu at Show Dogs and they offered me all kinds of toppings from sauerkraut to onions but I consider myself a purist. A squeeze of mustard, a stripe of catsup and a tumble of relish are all I need to transport myself to hot dog heaven.

Right away, I knew I was in for a treat when the cook fished out a fat dog from its water bath and laid it on the grill to brown up. Another good sign - when the dog length generously exceeds the bun length. And the bun was toasted crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and sprinkled with sesame seeds. There is a little snap when you bite into a good hot dog, followed by a rush of salty, juicy flavor; this was a good dog.

The atmosphere in Show Dogs is a little funky - after all, it's in mid-Market. However, the black-clad, deathly pale waitress with the skull-printed kerchief artfully draped in the back pocket of her jeans was efficient, checked back once to make sure all was well, and even gave me a little existential smile when I complimented the cook. The music is too loud and the beat is too heavy, but I found myself tapping my toe to the hip-hop sounds. The place itself is clean and wonderfully bright from the wraparound windows - perfect for lunchtime reading. And, somehow, even though they offer fried foods, too, the place doesn't smell of frying oil, a bonus.

Show Dogs is a little pricey but that's possibly a good thing as it probably discourages some of the more colorful denizens of mid-Market. The diners around me were clearly either tourists or working folks like me enjoying a respite from sightseeing or salt mining. Ten dollars for a dog and a drink is probably excessive but I'd happily spend it again if I was called back to work again.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Again With The Coffee?!

Again with the coffee??

Well, uh, yes. We've been doing all kinds of experimenting with our coffee essence, from desserts to main dishes to quick breads as well as iced in a glass. Coffee, it's not just for breakfast anymore.

This is a lamb loin roast, marinated for about five hours in thinned coffee essence, 2 cloves worth of minced garlic and a big pinch of mixed dried herbs. Then thrown on the barbecue grill over gray coals for 10 minutes on the first side and 6 on the second side. Let it rest for an additional 10 minutes before slicing.

It was amazing. The temptation to overeat was palpable - I had literally to leave the table and go into another room while My stronger-willed Beloved put it away. He may have snagged an extra taste on the way to the fridge, too.

Rich and deeply flavorful, we could taste the garlic but not really the coffee. It was there as an undertone but didn't intrude - a well-dressed bouncer at an upscale night club that you don't notice until the patrons get rowdy and you need the muscle. To say we recommend this method of preparing meat is a gross understatement. Try it. You must try it. Try it now. You can thank me later.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Groaning Board

Believe it or not, this is what was left over after I had dinner at Toast in Novato.  We had gone there with pals Janie and Jack for an early dinner after a fun swimming afternoon at their nearly-private pool.  I can't say I got enough exercise to warrant a hearty meal - it was more of a float-and-chat sort of swim - but I got one anyway.

Very crisp fried chicken on a volcano of real mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy in the caldera, with a nice side of cole slaw and a corn muffin with Parmesan melted on top.  Sounded good and it was, but when it arrived, the heaping platter was of a size that three people would have been very well fed.  And, in fact, three people were.  I ate one of the chicken pieces and some of the spuds and cole slaw for dinner, two smaller pieces for lunch the next day and even had a nice drumstick left to offer to My Beloved for a snack.  Neither one of us could finish the spuds and the muffin, although we did taste the muffin to make sure it was a good as the rest of the meal.  It was.

Based on a sample of one, I can heartily (and I do mean heartily) recommend Toast.  My Beloved wolfed down his rare, coffee-rubbed steak, cooked just the way he likes it.  Jack did justice to his crusted petrale sole and Janie raved about her Thai beef salad.  We had no room for dessert - and, by the way, that's saying something with Jack, who has the appetite of a great white shark.  We dithered over whether or not to order a cup of coffee, even, and finally decided we were just too full.

In addition to having very good food, Toast is very child-friendly.  Several tables were filled with families and everyone seemed to be having noisy fun.  The atmosphere is upbeat and peppy rather than soothing. One can still have a conversation without shouting there but it's one of those hubbub restaurants with an open kitchen, a casual air and fairly loud atmosphere.  

The little shallow fountain outside with brass duck sculptures and brass duck "footprints" embedded in the concrete is another attraction for the kids in the group - two little girls had shed their shoes and were ankle-deep in the water when we left the restaurant. Charming.

If you have a large family to feed, send one member to Toast for dinner and divide up the leftovers when s/he gets home.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Seeking The Belgian Grand Prix

Ever since My Beloved and I spent two weeks in Belgium several years ago, we have been Belgiumophiles.

We love moules frites with lemon mayonnaise. We swoon over Belgian chocolates - a single piece is enough to send you to heaven - even the imported kind that really aren't as good as the fresh ones they sell in La Belle Belgique. We are thrilled when we come across Belgian beers, or bottled water from Spa. We have longing memories of the Café Liègeois we enjoyed on our trip to Spa to see where the Belgian Grand Prix is raced.

And every time we see someone selling a supposedly "Belgian" waffle, we have to try it. We have stood in line at the waffle truck at the Marin farmer's market - pretty good, but not the real deal. The street food waffles we had in the Grand Place in Brussels were both richer and lighter at the same time. The search continues.

Fast forward to early last Friday morning when I was walking briskly down Market Street in San Francisco between Powell and McAllister, not the world's prettiest neighborhood to say the least, when the scent coming from the former loan shark storefront transported me in an instant back to the Grand Place. Waffles!

If you have experienced that particular part of the world, you will know that "mid-Market" is not in any way reminiscent of Brussels' stunning central square. The street people of mid-Market are likely to panhandle you, even at 8:30 in the morning. Or to shout obscenities at a woman in one of the apartments above who won't come to the window. Or to relieve their bladders against a newspaper kiosk in full view of the passersby. Mid-Market is its own little world, separate from any other part of San Francisco. As the charming young man baking waffles put it, "Welcome to mid-Market, where every day there is a full moon."

I almost walked on past the waffle kiosk but, oh, that smell! Vanilla and yeast and pearl sugar - it's simply irresistible. I doubled back and engaged the waffle guy in shared memories of Belgium while my waffle wafted fragrant steam around us. He had the urban grunge look down pat - black hoodie, black pants, black goatee, black hair - but the more we chatted the more he revealed about his travels and his clearly upscale background. We enjoyed a conversation of exclamations - "Moules frites!" and "Yes! Yes! and lemon mayonnaise!" and "Spa Reine water!" reveling in our mental fantasies.

I can recommend this as a way to start the work day. A fresh waffle, lightly dusted with sugar and heavily sprinkled with pleasurable memories sets you up for a great day. I may not have found the Holy Grail of Belgian waffles yet but this one came close and I know the real deal is out there somewhere just waiting to be discovered, if not in mid-Market then on a return visit to Belgium.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010


No, not the condensed marijuana, but pretty addictive anyway. My Beloved loves hash under his eggs, so I set out to surprise him with a new version last week.

I cut some yellow fingerling potatoes into small dice, chopped an onion, slivered a big clove of garlic and cut the kernels off an ear of corn. I had some prosciutto in the fridge, so I cut those slices into small pieces and sautéed them until nearing crisp in some olive oil, added all the rest of the ingredients except the corn and cooked them long and slow to bring out the sweetness of the alliums and to put a nice brown crust on the potatoes. A little fresh parsley would have been terrific if I had had it. In the last few minutes, I stirred in the corn niblets and cooked it all together for few more minutes before plating it with an egg on top, easy over as he prefers.

Not really classical hash, but it was homey and fresh at the same time. Definitely habit-forming.