Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Day

This will be my first picnic wedding. My Beloved's daughter Katie is getting married today. A year's worth of planning will result in a lovely ceremony with vows they wrote themselves, and a picnic on the grass to follow.

The clans are gathering and we'll have a house full. I'm sorry we couldn't invite you all but here's a pretty sort of picnic picture to keep you amused until I return to the usual food-related format.

Happy Day.

Friday, July 29, 2011

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Home again, home again

Kensington Farmer's Market, that is. I heard about a nice farmer's market, Mollie Katzen's favorite, up in the hills above BerkBanyRito, so My Beloved and I went up there to check it out.

And found another reason not to cross bridges for produce. We like the Marin market because it's so large and varied. We like the Berkeley market mostly for the interesting people. We like the Kensington market for three reasons - it's a Sunday market, which makes it a nice spacing from our own Point Richmond market; there is relatively easy parking; and they have good, organic vendors from relatively close by (within 100 miles, anyway).

If you are looking for meats, Marin Sun Farms is there with their pastured meats and they have fresh eggs as well. There's a cheese lady, North Bay Curds & Whey, who makes her own fresh and aged cheese from goat, sheep and cow's milks - she told me she studied at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese and that's credential enough for me. We snagged a wedge. Rumor has it that a chef from Café Rouge is starting his own charcuterie business and will sell at that market, but he either missed coming today or had sold out and folded up his tent by the time we got there.

We chatted with the Hugh from Star Dough who invited us to movie night at his house; bought a cotton flannel baby blanket for our grandson from a woman who calls herself the Harried Housewife (but who looked anything but harried when we met her); and chatted about the weather with a young Asian woman who had cantaloupes of divine fragrance to sell. It's a relatively small market but with lots of interesting booths. We will enjoy many a happy Sunday there, even if the fat pig got away.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Giving Credit

When you glean ideas from the interwebs,* sometimes it's hard to give credit where it's due. For example, I got this recipe from the divine Luisa, who not only recognizes a promising recipe when she sees it, she also writes about it and about her life in a lively and amusing style that I'd give my eye teeth to emulate.

She got this one from Pamela Sherrid who, no doubt, was inspired by yet another cook - and so on!

Whoever deserves the kudos, there is huge credit to be given here. Pamela Sherrid's Summer Pasta is one of the best meals I have made in my cooking life, one of those that goes directly into the recipe file and comes out time and again to become spattered and dog-eared from frequent use.

I don't normally think of pasta dishes as "light." Richly sustaining, yes. Flavorful and filling, yes. But, light? Maybe not. This one is light, believe me, despite the gutsy measurement of olive oil and the pillowy, unctuous fresh mozzarella. I made it when Cousin Jan came for a swim and a lunch - we both agreed it was delightfully summery.

For one thing, it isn't served piping hot. The time spent "resting" the pasta gives it time to cool off a teensy bit, so it doesn't heat you unduly on a hot summer evening.

I used two colors of heirloom tomato to pretty it up, and it needed salt and pepper at the table but, other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. I won't try to describe it because Luisa does a much better job than I could - go there and read what she says. I'm not being modest, folks, I'm just giving credit where it is richly due.

The only thing I would add is confirmation that Luisa is absolutely right about tipping up the bowl to get every last drop of the goozle this dish creates in the bottom - it is pure goozle heaven.

*Another example: I got the word "interwebs" from the ever-creative Cookiecrumb.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Classic

What else would I do with the baked bacon at this time of year?

BLAT, of course, on lightly toasted milk bread*. Crisp romaine lettuce, ripe summer 'matie, baked bacon, creamy avocado, a scrape of mayo and a drop or two of lemon juice.

Summer. Bring it on.

*I buy this bread in the little grocery down the hill. It's the best white bread I have tasted since Pepperidge Farm was sold to some huge conglomerate and the recipe changed drastically. This bread is baked in Berkeley (no bakery name on the wrapper) and has no preservatives, as you can see from the tiny spot of mold growing on the crust. If I don't freeze it or eat it up in a week, I am culturing cures for exotic diseases.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bakin' Bacon

Chief Banks passed away last week. He was a chief steward in the Navy when he retired to a long, happy after-Navy life with his beloved wife, Elizabeth, but we met him when my Dad was a brand new admiral and Chief Banks was a Seaman Third Class. We were stationed in Argentia, Newfoundland. He was green as grass, newly married, young, earnest and baffled by having been sent from his home in warm Virginia to cold Newfoundland to serve in the admiral's quarters.

I was twelve. Chief Banks helped to raise me. He was with our family, on and off, for twelve more years. He saw me off on dates, gently scolded me when I sassed my mother (those were sassy years, I'm afraid), gave me good advice about boys, and even recognized my first husband before I did. He told me later that as soon as he met Jim, he thought, "That's the one she will marry." He came to my wedding but gently refused to come to the reception in the Officers Club - despite my urging, he said it wouldn't be fitting.

When, after many years of trying, Chief Banks and his wife realized that they would never have children of their own, they flew to Korea to adopt a little girl of about two - no one knew exactly how old she was. Kwon was the sweetest child ever. At the orphanage, they warned Ben and Elizabeth never to take food away from her as she had had to compete for it in the orphanage; but within two weeks, she was offering us all food from her plate. She knew she was safe and loved. For those few years, she became like a baby sister to me - her little hand offered trustingly just melted my heart.

One day, I arrived in the kitchen in Japan, where we were stationed at the time, to find Chief Banks lifting out of the oven a big pan of bacon. Bacon? In the oven? I didn't know one could bake bacon. He explained that he fried bacon in a pan for our family because that's what we were used to but, for his own family, he baked it. They liked it better that way.

This week, with a heavy heart, I baked a batch of bacon in his honor. That may seem like a paltry way to say goodbye but, for me and Chief Banks, it was fitting.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Italian Kick

I seem to be on an Italian kick, probably because I adore Italian food but also because I have a long coil of Italian sausage to use up. We made a boatload of that kind since everyone loves it so much.

I made spaghetti sauce. Nothing unusual, really, except subbing in the spicy Italian sausage for the usual ground round in my recipe. I made a huge batch, part of which we ate one evening for dinner. I froze the rest in two square plastic treasure chests that will emerge later in the year when I don't feel like cooking.

My sauce is easy to make: all you do is sizzle the crumbled sausage meat (I slit the casing to release the contents - probably 1.5 pounds) in olive oil, then add chopped onions, shallots, garlic, mushrooms, a big can of crushed tomatoes, a smaller can of chopped tomatoes, a couple of cups of red wine, three or four bay leaves and a big handful of herbes de Provence. Sometimes, I add black olives and/or artichoke hearts, as well. While that bubbles on a low flame for an hour or two, you are free to do something else.

If you are a person of titanic self control, you can stop there and save the sauce for the next day. It will be even better if you wait. I promise.

In any case, when the sauce has filled your house with irresistible smells, start the pasta water. When the pasta is ready, spoon a little of the sauce into the bottom of your pasta bowl or plate, such that the drained pasta goes into a puddle of sauce before covering it with another big spoonful - you want every bit of that pasta to be coated. Be generous - Italians are.

At table, grate a little fresh Parmesan cheese over the mound and, picking up fork and spoon, twirl your way into spaghetti nirvana.


Sunday, July 24, 2011


I have told you about these duck legs before, so I won't go into great detail about them, but I wanted to add two words of caution.

First, it's worth it to go looking for the lemon grass and the ginger - they add a lot of flavor.

Second, be careful when the recipe says you can walk away for two hours once the duck legs are in the oven. The first time I made the recipe, that was fine; the second time, I nearly burned the legs and the mirepoix was definitely toast - toast that stuck like super glue to the bottom of the roasting pan and resisted even 24 hours of soaking.

Next time, I'd start checking at 1.5 hours. I wouldn't have eaten those fat-soaked veggies, anyway, but if they had burned they would have made a mess of the legs and, as it was, the legs were a tad on the dry side.

Still a fine dinner, however, so go ahead and make it. Just be cautious.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Italians Have Great Ideas

I have only been to Italy twice, both times many years ago when I was in boarding school in southern France. On a weekend pass, I went with friends just over the border to Ventimiglia where they had a wonderful covered market. We paced the aisles admiring the wide variety of goods from ripe fruits and beautiful veggies to clothing. Being 15, I was more interested in the clothes than the food. I bought a marine blue sweater that smelled of wooly comfort.

The second visit to Italy occurred during roughly the same time - my mother took me to Genoa to meet my Dad's ship for a brief weekend. At a restaurant that evening, I tried what for me seemed an incredibly exotic combination - prosciutto e melone - and learned why Italians are justly famous for their food. I had never thought of eating meat with fruit but I also have never forgotten how good it tasted.

Every summer, when the melons begin to smell ripe from a yard away, I buy one and twist a strip of prosciutto around the slices. It is the best first course or the best lunch that life offers, bar none. The sweet fruit and the salty meat love each other with a lasting passion. Some day, I hope to return to see more of Italy; Italians have such great ideas.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot Lips

Left over from our sausage making venture was some very spicy and very salty Italian sausage. (By the way, I figured out why it turned out so salty - I used regular table salt instead of kosher salt and the grains are smaller, hence they pack closer and add more salt to the mix).

I thought some veggies and some pasta would help to even out the salt and the spice, so I boiled some vermicelli and chopped a bunch of veggies to add to slices of the sausage.

First, I browned the sausage pieces in a little olive oil, then added the chunked veggies - mushrooms, sweet peppers, broccoli, onion, garlic - to the pan to sauté quickly in the sausage juices, then added a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to stir around and make a quick "sauce" before plating.

It worked! Fast, tasty and economical, it made a lovely dinner with wonderfully summery colors. Not adding any salt to the mix tamed the overly salted sausage. It was still very spicy, but we like having hot lips.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Agua Fresca

Watermelon agua fresca at Joe's Taco Lounge. Worth it for the wonderful pink color alone, but it was delicious and wonderfully thirst-quenching, too, after a long hike. Goes great with Mexican food.

Shame on me never to have before tried any of the aguas frescas! I'm a convert now.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fairy Godmother

My dear friend, Wenirs, has two children. They are wonderful "kids," now in their mid-twenties and all grown up, with responsible jobs and independent lives, but every now and then they check in with me and it always makes my day/week/month. They are as close to a son and a daughter as I have.

I have even changed their diapers, once upon a time, so you know my love for them is complete and selfless.

We have always had such fun together - learning to juggle, taking glass blowing lessons, baking cookies or making eggs in a frame, dressing up to go to the theatre - just a few examples of the memories we have over their lifetime.

They have always called me "Aunt Pam" although I'm not any blood relation to them. For years, we struggled to define with an easy term the calabash relationship we have always enjoyed. Yes, I am a friend, but really more than that. No, I'm not a godmother, as none of us is religious in any accepted sense. Then, one day, out of the blue, probably while we were watching some Disney fantasy, popped the term "Fairy Godmother."


That's what I am to them, their Fairy Godmother. I swoop in every now and then, bringing presents and laughter, then swoop away again while they return to normal life. If I'd had more money, I'd have been like Auntie Mame.

My Fairy Godson is named Mark. He lives in Los Angeles but every now and then he braves the chill of the north to visit us, as he did last week. We had a marvelous week; we swam together in the Plunge, shopped and poked, yakked and watched TV, hiked the Tennessee Valley trail and, after the hike, stopped in Mill Valley at Joe's Taco Lounge. We were ravenous at 2pm, neither of us having had breakfast before starting the walk to the sea. (By the way, if you have never done that walk, put on your beetle crushers and go - it's a gem!)

Joe's wasn't too busy at that time of day, with just a few other diners in the joint. We placed our orders and sat outside in the shade of their big tree, reviewing the wonders of the hike as we waited for lunch. I had two tacos, one carne asada and one carnitas. Mark ate most of a giant burrito. Mark introduced me to Cholula hot sauce; I unscrewed the wooden cap and sprinkled it sparingly on my tacos. The first bite was wonderful - it has some heat and more flavor but it's not overwhelming. It's now my go-to when I want hot sauce.

Pleasantly tired, we stopped at the Mill Valley Market for dinner provisions, knowing that dinner would be late after such a filling lunch. All in all, a lovely day and a super week for a fond Fairy Godmother.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Along with my plate of sausage, paté and cheese at The Left Bank came this drink, a watermelon and cucumber "fraîchement" in a tall glass. Although I had never heard the term before, and secretly thought it a little self-consciously frou-frou French, it really did refresh and it's a drink I will try to make at home if the weather ever turns truly summery.

The pink is watermelon, puréed, I suspect, in a blender and the green is cucumber chunks suspended in the pink. Perhaps they added some of the cucumber innards to the purée, because the taste was subtly there amongst the watermelon. There was a very slight fizz to the drink, too, as if it had been blended with some soda water.

Lovely stuff. I'm inspired to try making fruit drinks from all this wonderful summer fruit that is flooding the markets. Even if I don't call them fraîchements.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Spoiled Rotten

I've always counted myself among the luckiest people on earth; I was born in the postwar economic boom in the United States, I had good parents, a good education, dear friends, a fun working life, good health (and good health insurance for the few times I needed it), a happy love life and relative affluence. What more could I ask for? Every now and then, however, I get even more royally spoiled.

This past week was one like that. My Fairy Godson was up from Los Angeles visiting us and My Beloved came along when we went to the little town of Larkspur for lunch and a poke through the shops. I am blessed with menfolk who actually like poking through shops - how many women can make that claim? See what I mean about being lucky?

After a pretty productive shopping trip, we stopped at The Left Bank for lunch. It was warm so we sat in the shade outdoors on their patio with light traffic rumbling by and enjoyed attentive service and, for me, a simply delicious lunch.

At the Left Bank, they have plates of patés and sausages or plates of cheese but if you smile and ask nicely, they will mix and match them. They seemed to be in to spoiling me as well. I chose their country paté, slices of sausage, and a Brillat-Savarin cheese that was absolutely swoony it was so rich and slightly stinky. The waiter brought me plenty of thin, crisp toasts in an immaculate white paper cone and checked back later to make sure I had enough. Plated with a nice grainy mustard and chunky chutney, some cornichons, olives, and radishes, it was perfect - enough to share bites and still satisfy my post-shopping peckishness.

We sat and chatted for quite a while, l'il ol' me, replete and sandwiched between two handsome men. As I said, spoiled rotten.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

And While We're On The Topic Of Zucchini...

When my sister and I were little children, before we learned to read for ourselves, our parents read to us each evening. A special treat was to be tucked up in our parents' bed, one of us on either side of our mother while she read to us and we enjoyed the pictures. Being pressed against her warm shoulder was a wonderfully contented sensation.

When my Dad read to us, it was very properly on the couch. He often brought home books for us when he was on one of his bookstore shopping sprees. My mother would roll her eyes when she saw him bringing yet more hardbound books into the house, which inevitably had to be jettisoned before each successive Navy move, but he never could resist a bestseller. And when he saw a children's book that he liked, he scooped that up as well.

Mom loved A.A.Milne and Rudyard Kipling; both authors brought an almost British inflection to her voice as she read with very precise diction and lively presentation. She preferred to be called "Mummy" as mothers in those books were. Dad favored books with rhyming texts, such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Madeline." He always did love rhymes and limericks, quoting them with relish. Ogden Nash was a favorite of his.

The other day, my sister sent me a colorful postcard from North Carolina and, on the reverse, she had copied a little limerick that she found in the Christian Science Monitor. Reading it was Proustian for me - I was carried back to those days when my parents read to us. Nancy seems to have absorbed the love of rhyming from them, too.

Zucchini, by Ann Carranza

Consider the humble zucchini,
Some huge and others quite teeny.
Try some of both
And never be loath
To serve them with fresh tortellini.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011


The day after we got back from Grass Valley with the fridge virtually empty and our appetites leaning away from serious protein for a while, I scrounged around in pantry and refrigerator for dinner fixings and came up, magically, with one of the best meals ever.

I had four eightball zucchinis in the fridge, cute little ones no larger than a billiard ball, a single, cooked, four-inch length of the Italian sausage we had made over the Fourth of July weekend, an onion, some garlic, three kinds of Italian cheese, a small head of broccoli and half a box of fancypants pasta. Add a little dried basil and you've got dinner.

First, I sautéed half of the chopped onion and three cloves of crushed garlic in olive oil in a wide pan, then added the sausage, finely diced. After the sausage was heated through, I set the pan aside to cool while I sliced the tops off the zucchinis and scooped out the innards with a small spoon. When the sausage mixture was cool enough to handle, I stuffed it into the zucchinis, placed them in a small roasting dish and slid them into a 400 degree oven until they were just soft but not mushy, about an hour.

While the zucchinis roasted, I boiled salted water for the pasta and, cut the broccoli into florets. This pasta takes about 20 minutes to cook; when it was nearly done, I threw the florets in the water to cook until it was bright green, perhaps two or three minutes.

While the pasta was cooking, I grated about a cup of half Romano and half Parmesan cheeses into a large bowl with olive oil and the basil, mixing that together into a paste. When the pasta and broccoli were scooped out of the water, I dumped them into the bowl and added about a quarter cup of the pasta water, quickly mixing it all around until the cheese melted over the pasta and broccoli. A tablespoon or two of butter added a little more richness as I stirred it around.

When the zucchinis emerged from the oven, I lifted the tops and laid a triangle of provolone cheese over the filling, then replaced the tops to help melt the cheese.

Plated in pasta bowls with a nest of the pasta surrounding the zucchini, it made a pretty presentation. When we cut into the zucchinis, releasing the spicy, juicy, flavorful contents to mix with the pasta, the result was truly ambrosial. This is one of those meals that proves that meat makes a great condiment - just a little is needed to punch a dish up from good to great, and it doesn't have to be the main event. That one small link fed three people amply.

It was perfect after the Giant Steak Weekend, to ease us down off the meaty high.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Not To Mention The Tortellini

As if the asparagus lovingly bathed in balsamic reduction and the dino-sized steaks weren't enough, Jeff also made tortellini with his own brand of pesto sauce, adapted from Marcella Hazan's recipe. That's it, in the big bowl Irene is tipping toward the camera.

It would have made a wonderful meal all on its own with perhaps a salad and crusty bread but I'm convinced that this was part of his ploy to assure that he wouldn't be eating any telephone books that weekend.

Intentional or not, it worked.

The tortellini may actually have been my favorite part of the meal. I do love nice, thick, medium rare grilled steaks and asparagus is as close to vegetable heaven as its possible to get, but OMG those tortellini! Be sure to make some for yourself before the basil is gone for the year.

Jeff's Pesto Sauce, adapted from Marcella Hazan

2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
3 Tablespoons almonds (Jeff likes almonds because they are less expensive, for their unique flavor and for the health benefits)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Salt to taste
2 Tablespoons of pasta water

In a food processor, pulse/chop all ingredients until relatively smooth, adding the olive oil as you chop. Fold in cheese by hand to retain its chunky texture. Once the pasta is cooked, add 2 Tablespoons of the pasta water to the mixture, folding it with a rubber spatula.

Toss with the pasta of your choice. Ours were cheese tortellini.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tactical Asparagus

Lest you think that the only thing on our plates at Grass Valley was beef, take a gander at the grilled asparagus Jeff prepared and served with a balsamic reduction.

I had never made a balsamic reduction before so when Jeff asked me to oversee his while he was tending the steaks on Guy's ginormous gas grill (it doubles as an aircraft carrier in time of war), I was initially a little anxious.

Turns out I needn't have been - all you do is gently boil balsamic vinegar until the bubbles become large and shiny and the vinegar thickens a bit.

Poured over the asparagus, the tangy vinegar, made sweeter by the reducing, complemented the bright, earthy asparagus perfectly. This enormous platter of green was all but gone by the time dinner was over.

I think it was a clever ruse to keep us from finishing our steaks - how could we resist? Having made that rash bet, Jeff needed to ensure that he could keep his honor without having to make good on the promise to eat the Manhattan phone book. Feed 'em lots of lovely asparagus and a side of pesto tortellini and you'll win your bet for sure.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Serious Beef

About three months ago, we organized a getaway weekend with two other couples to the Grass Valley weekend home of pals Irene and Guy. We have to plan that far ahead as everyone except me has a busy schedule. The weekend finally arrived and we organized the food with a series of silly emails back and forth.

On Friday night, I cooked the sausages we had made and froze over the Fourth of July and was astonished to see that every single bite was joyfully consumed with hardly even a little juice on the platter left for Lola and Dell, the household hounds, to lick. These friends are serious eaters. We all dined heartily while discussing other great meals we have eaten and other great restaurants - a fairly typical dinnertime conversation with this group.

During the email barrage and the subsequent in-person teasing, Jeff had made the daring bet that he would bring steaks that no sane person could possibly finish - two inches thick and about a pound apiece. I remarked that he shouldn't dare us like that - he's fairly new to the group so he's a little naïve. He's a bold soul, however, so even after my friendly warning he rashly promised to eat the Manhattan phone directory if we could each finish our steaks. Sari, his girlfriend, promised to butter the pages for him; she has known us for a long time.

So, come Saturday, Jeff unwrapped the steaks. Looking more like aurochs than beef steaks, they truly were immense and so heavy that he could barely hold the platter long enough for me to snap this picture. Seven monster grass-fed rib eyes for seven hearty eaters.

Needless to say, Sari didn't need to butter any pages. Only Guy, who is about 6'5" tall and built like the Scottish caber tosser he is no doubt descended from, could finish his steak. The rest of us were slowing down at the 1/4 mark and defeated soon after. We all wrapped our leftovers and I was able to feed three people well the next day from mine.

We did do other things besides eat - shopping in Grass Valley for skirts (the women) and black powder (the men) for Jeff's little cannon, which we shot off each evening as we took down the flag; wading in the Yuba River near the longest span covered bridge in existence; playing cutthroat Scrabble; yakking; petting the dogs; and toasting our twelfth wedding anniversary with champagne - but when each of us looks back on the weekend, I'm pretty sure what will come to mind is that serious beef.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Refreshed Anyway

You'd be surprised at how much fun a middle-aged couple can have showing their godson around the Ferry Building in San Francisco. My Fairy Godson is up from LA for a visit - he quit his job recently (yes, brave in this economy, but he knows when enough is enough) so he is able to spend a happy ten days with us.

We rode the ferry across from Larkspur Landing to the Ferry Building on a gloriously warm day (except just in front of the Golden Gate, where the wind whipped the waves and chilled the air), just for fun. We stayed topside all the way across and looked for seals, seabirds, scenery and wind surfers.

We could have chosen to eat daintily at Boulette's Larder, or Orientally at the tea house that serves great dim sum, or fashionably at the Slanted Door but we were in an American mood, it being the Fourth of July weekend.

We arrived just in time for lunch so stopped quickly at what would in another time have been called "Taylor's Refresher" but which has now changed to Gott's Roadside. If you've ever driven up the Napa Valley (and who hasn't?), you surely noticed on the west side of the street the long lines of people waiting patiently to put in their orders at Taylor's - it has been an institution there for years. It changed hands and names fairly recently and a new locations opened in the Oxbow Market in Napa as well as at the Ferry Building.

It's still good chow, with a popular downscale menu of burgers and dogs, salads and sandwiches, but made with decidedly upscale ingredients. This is my hot dog, 100% grass fed yadda yadda, artfully buried in mustard, ketchup and relish, along with the onion rings My Beloved ordered and a coffee shake. They take your order in a semi-chaotic atmosphere and give you one of those little electronic devices that call you with flashing lights and attention-getting vibration when your order is ready - theirs are marked "Come and Gott It" on the top. I'm not making this up.

The food all around was quite good - burgers, fries, dogs, rings - it was all well made and well cooked. If my dog was a little too buried in condiments, it was easy enough to scrape off a pound or so of the extra. No problem.

Thus refreshed, at the used-to-be Refresher, we sallied forth to drool over the mushroom selection, the cheese, wine and meat shops, and the satellite store of the Heath Ceramics works. I'm still dreaming of the wide blue-green bowl there.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Low Guilt Pie

There I was reading Cookiecrumb's latest tirade against the twin evils of white sugar, refined flour and fat, and I thought, "She's right! Summer fruits, when they are ripe and perfect, don't need the sugar embellishment. Let me try a pie with no sugar whatsoever."

So, I cut up one big peach, two or three nectarines and a small handful of strawberries, seasoned them with nothing but freshly grated nutmeg, and encased them in a Star Dough pastry. The entire prep took about 10 minutes, no more.

Slid it into a 375 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, until the crust browned and the fruit softened and was artfully tipped here and there in black.

I cut a slice of galette as soon as it emerged from the oven and cooled enough. It did taste fresh but I have to admit that I missed that sweet hit. For me, it was like low-fat cookies, sort of a letdown. I agree with Cookiecrumb that you don't need to embellish fresh fruit but, given that you are going to cook it, I'd say go ahead add a driz of honey or a spoonful of sugar. This galette would have benefitted from just one tablespoon of sugar, adding a hint of sweetness without masking the fresh ripeness of the fruit.

Our strategy is to give at least half of what I bake away to the neighbors, which promotes good neighbor karma while we get a taste of the goodies without the calories of eating the whole thing. I'm going back to Full Guilt Pie - in moderation.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Happy Weekend

We are going away for the weekend, driving up to Grass Valley to be guests at a splendid weekend castle in the foothills.

Rather than leave you to read and re-read the same old stories, here's the prettiest picture I have taken this year.

Salad greens with flowers at the Berkeley Farmer's Market last weekend.

Have a fine weekend and check back on Monday for something new.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Adorable Dorie

Dorie Greenspan. I've never met the woman but she's my new best friend. She taught me, via Orangette, how to make shortcakes that are not only perfect with berries, they are the berries!

The part I can't figure out is how shortcakes made with so much rich butter and heavy cream end up being as light as a summer dress. They are so delicate that one must have care cutting them open to insert the berries and cream, or they crumble apart in the hand.

They are simple to make, easy to bake and utterly perfect with macerated strawberries or blackberries. I can only imagine that raspberries would be over the top in these and Molly's suggestion of peaches just about made me swoon. There's a bonus, too - they fill your house with a delicious light scent of baking that lasts all day.

So, Dorie, wherever you are, know that you are loved and admired and honored and shamelessly copied.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

You Don't Want To Know

We made sausage. Man, did we ever make sausage! On July 4, 2011 we flew the giant American flag I bought at a garage sale and declared our independence from store bought sausages by making our own.

Pals Sari and Jeff (the cutest new couple on earth, by the way) lugged Jeff's wonderful KitchenAid mixer over to our house, along with pounds and pounds of meat, natural casings (which is a polite term for animal intestines) and extra fat for making sausages. I had the requisite spices and herbs on hand so we went to work while Cora and Jeff's rescued greyhound, Katie Bugs, kept close tabs on the proceedings.

We made three kinds - spicy Italian-style pork sausages with fennel seeds, lamb sausages with rosemary and juniper berries, and chicken sausages with curry flavors. While we had Jeff's grinder attachment going, we also ground some beef for hamburgers, but the main event was the sausages.

Someone wise once said that it's better not to know what goes into making sausages; ignorance is best. I guess that's true if you don't make your own. Once you actually see what goes in, it's easy to understand how unscrupulous people could add just about any scary thing to the mix. But when you grind, season and stuff your own, it's comforting because you know exactly what went in. No fillers. No mysteries. Just good ingredients, carefully handled.

That's not to say there isn't a positive disgust factor, not to mention a certain amount of schoolboy hilarity, as the makings are forced into the casings. Scatological and sexual innuendos aside, it's an interesting process that we all enjoyed. We got our hands messy, we all took a turn at all the stages of the process and we all giggled uncontrollably at the suggestive noises and double entendres, proving that none of us has a sophisticated sense of humor.

The recipes for the lamb and Italian sausages are here, thanks to National Public Radio's Kitchen Window feature. I will say that the 3 Tablespoons of salt* called for in the Italian sausage recipe may be too much for your taste - it certainly was for ours! That sausage will make the base for some future pasta sauce to dilute the salt. Other than that, it was really delicious and quite delightfully spicy.

The lamb sausage recipe is just perfect as written - deeply flavorful with a wonderful tang from the rosemary and juniper berries. Jeff flew by the seat of his pants on the chicken/curry sausages, so you'll need to be brave to imagine how to replicate those but it will be worth the risk - that curry/chicken sausage might have been my favorite of the three.

We are ridiculously pleased with ourselves, as well as replete with wonderful sausages. We grilled all three kinds and feasted on the fruits of our labors after freezing at least half of our product for a later day. It made for a memorable and scrumptious Independence Day.

*I figured out why ours were so salty - I used regular table salt instead of kosher salt and the smaller grains=more salt in the recipe. Use kosher salt, or reduce the salt in the recipe when you make them.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Made A Mess

A big mess. Even though I used parchment paper, the baking sheet and the bottom of the oven were a total mess after baking this galette.

Three peaches - peeled, sliced and tossed in a combination of about 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of corn starch and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg whisked together. I added the blackberries on a whim just because they were there on the counter and I thought the colors would be fine together. Piled into the middle of a rolled out DuFour puff pastry crust and wrapped up the ends around the fruit. Slid into a 375 degree oven for about 35-45 minutes until the crust puffed and browned beautifully.

The peaches were so fresh and brimming with tangy flavor, the blackberries were sweet on the outside but tart to the bite and the pastry was light as summer clothing. Easy to make, nothing heavy or cloying, just sweet summer fruit with a little twang on the tongue at the end.

Unfortunately, the pastry puffed open during the baking, spilling peach juice out two sides to stick to the baking sheet and glue itself to the bottom of the oven. I'll need a putty knife to scrape up that mess but it was totally worth it.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All The Best

When I went to make this version of tarte flambée, I was lucky to have in my fridge all the best ingredients.

DuFour brand frozen puff pastry. Goat cheese from Laura Chenel. Pre-cooked Italian sausage from Fra'Mani. Organic yellow onions. Fresh mushrooms. Fresh organic broccoli.

It was easy, quick and out of this world. Every ingredient complemented every other one - I made two small tartes on purpose to keep us from eating too much of what I just knew was going to be a terrific dinner.

California Tarte Flambée

1/2 package DuFour brand puff pastry
1/4 pound Laura Chenel plain goat cheese, crumbled
10 large mushrooms, sliced
2 Italian sausages, sliced (precooked from Fra'Mani)
1 large onion, sliced

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

In a wide frying pan, brown the mushrooms and onion over medium heat in a tablespoon or two of butter.

While they are cooking, roll out 1/2 of the pastry, reserving the rest for another use. Roll out the pastry to about an 8" x 10" rectangle and, using the tip of a sharp knife, incise a line about 1 inch in from the edge all the way around the four sides. Transfer carefully to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and prick with a fork all around the inside of the line.

Crumble the cheese onto the tarte on the inside of the line, then top with sausage slices, mushrooms and onions. Slide the tart into a 325 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes, checking every five minutes after 25 minutes until the pastry rises to make a crust around the fillings and browns. Serve warm.

All the best!


Monday, July 4, 2011

Lettuce Be Thankful

Hamburgers and summer go together. I make burgers all year 'round but, like tomatoes, they just taste better in the summer. We set the table on the deck in the dappled sunshine under our little madrone tree during those lovely warm evenings when the sun won't set for another two hours or so and we just bask in the fresh air and the sounds of children playing up the street.

I thought this time we'd make one of those lettuce wrapped burgers without a bun, since good buns are hard to come by and I had run out of that Acme herb slab bread that I usually substitute for buns. I used soft Boston lettuce, not a good choice - it tasted good but it had little structural integrity and oozed hamburger and tomato juice down our wrists and dropped our sautéed mushrooms out onto the plates until we resorted to the niceties of forks and knives.

Still, one can't but be grateful for beautiful warm summer evenings. Lettuce be thankful for summer weather, for hamburgers and for a bunch of rowdy malcontents who started our country 'way back when.

Happy Independence Day.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Another Squashed Sandwich

I'm on a roll with these squashed sandwiches. This time, I was looking for something a bit more like the Pan Bagnat that Julia and Jacques made, but with some California twists.

I used Camembert cheese from Marin Cheese Factory because I had some, and slices of the first really ripe heirloom tomato that found its way to our farmer's market, plus locally and sustainably caught sardines (from a can), lovingly hand pitted (by me) Tuscan table olives from McEvoy Ranch, some marinated artichoke hearts, a flounce of soft lettuce and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette on the bread.

Press that puppy for half a day in the fridge under a heavy weight and you have a sandwich too filling even for My Beloved. We saved our second halves for the next day. Highly recommended.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Swiss Cooperation

Is there any way to improve on pork chops and onions? I would have said a heartfelt "No!" before tasting this one-pan dinner, my favorite kind both for saving dishwashing and for multiplying flavor.

When you cook all the ingredients for dinner in the same wide frying pan, nothing of the flavors is lost - it's a sort of exponential thing - and when you use Swiss chard as a cushion for oniony pork chops, you get flavor to the power of ten.

This dinner started with slowly caramelizing two kinds of onions, the Egyptian walking onion and a yellow onion, with a little butter to grease the skids. When the onions begin to brown and smell like the open gates of heaven, push them aside to continue cooking at a slower pace and lay the pork chops in the oniony, buttery bottom of the pan over the same slow heat. The slow heat is important for keeping the chops juicy. When the chops are deeply, richly, mouthwateringly browned on both sides and just pale pink inside, remove them and the onions to a plate to await the rest of the magic.

Into that same buttery sorcery, add three nice minced cloves of fresh garlic, stirring them around before adding about ten Swiss chard leaves that have been washed, tough stems removed with a sharp knife and coarsely chopped, and cook just until the water clinging to the leaves evaporates and the chard melts down into a wonderful, wilted dark green puddle, about three minutes. Toss it a few times to be sure that all the chard has gotten introduced to that garlicky goodness, then plate it and top it with a fat pork chop, which in turn gets topped with the onion melange.

This is dinner magic. The slightly bitter greens both enhance the rich meat and cut through the sweetness of the onions to do a happy little tap dance on the tongue. In turn the buttery alliums rescue the chard from astringency. You can't go wrong when you have pork chops and onions in the house but you can reach the heights when you have cooperation from the Swiss chard as well.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Mama's Got A Brand New Bag

One day, my trusty little five year old point-and-shoot camera, with which I have taken most of my blogging photos, was fine and the next day it was dead. Gone. Kaput. Finito. It kept all the previous photos I had and would happily display and transfer them but take a new one? No can do.

I tried to resuscitate it by charging its dependable little battery, taking it to the geeks for help and even pleading but nothing worked. It was just tired after taking thousands and thousands of our photos, so it laid down and died.

I loved that little camera. Small and light, portable and pocket sized, it took fine snapshots and was simple to use. I owe whatever photographic quality this blog boasts to its handy little self. You see, unlike many food bloggers, I don't pose and plan my photos while my dinner gets cold, carefully plating and accessorizing before photographing with a high-priced, super duper, whizzbang camera. Most of my shots take less than five seconds to frame and shoot. Sometimes I get My Beloved to stand and make a shadow across the plate - it improves the image - but even that takes less than ten seconds and the camera is set aside while we're sitting down to eat. I rely on the camera to make up for my haste at getting to the main course.

I miss that little friend but - needs must - off we went to the local big box purveyor of all things electronic where I considered the sexy blandishments from about fifteen other options. Zoom this. Closeup that. Megapixels to the max vs.10X zoom. Whatever.

Finally decided to replace my beloved camera with the next iteration of the exact same thing. Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS Digital Elph, whatever that means. While I mourn the passing of my earlier Elph, I welcome the features of this newer model and I hope there will be at least another five years of happy collaboration. I think of it simply as "Elf," a small, friendly being possessed of a certain amount of magic. I kept the old leather case that has housed two generations of Elphs so far; I hope the new Elf will be happy living there.