Monday, April 30, 2012

Does Spinach Pasta = Green Veg?

Last week, I found a package of spinach linguine in my cupboard. God knows how long it had languished there. Thank heavens pasta doesn't spoil.

We had spent 2.5 hours shoveling out My Beloved's office. He's an incredible pack rat and a hopeless filer, so every six months or so I have to crack the whip and he reluctantly throws away two or three hundredweight of accumulated paper while I file the stuff that's important to keep. I was bone weary, not only from the physical work of schlepping multiple full trash cans to the recycling bin but also from the psychological work of being the cleanup police, not my favorite role. Dinner needed to be quick or it simply wasn't going to happen.

Oh, that blessed spinach pasta! Locally made pasta from Eduardo's of San Francisco. And thank heavens I remembered to thaw a chicken breast that morning! And, look!, there's some Swiss chard in the fridge. And Parmesan cheese. I'm saved!

While the pasta water was coming to a boil, I sorted through the Swiss chard, which had clearly been in the fridge too long, cutting out the thick stems and throwing away the nasty bits. I briefly considered not using it at all but I was pretty sure that spinach pasta, as hard as I might wish, does not equal a green veg. When the water boiled, I threw the Swiss chard in first briefly to blanch, then scooped it out into a warmed, buttered bowl to wait before adding the pasta to cook.

While the pasta boiled, I sliced the ginormous chicken breast in half sideways into two nice, leaf-shaped fillets and sautéed them in butter and lemon juice.

I tossed the pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese, then piled it onto plates, topped it with the Swiss chard, and crowned it all with the lemony chicken breasts. We ate ravenously and I left him to do the dishes, slinking away to collapse on the bed.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lamb And Rice

Every now and then, I give Cora a raw bone from the butcher. She loves them and works diligently at cleaning out the marrow and gnawing off every single scrap, which helps to keep her teeth cleaned and her mind busy.

There is a down side to this practice; if I don't remember to take the bone away after an hour or so, it's rich enough to give her a case of the collywobbles. For a day after the bone, she will need to go -ahem!- to Poop Heaven frequently. Enough said.

Whenever she has tummy troubles, inevitably the vet recommends "Lamb and Rice." I'm not sure what's magical about that combination, but he swears by it and so far he has always been correct. There's even at least one manufactured dog food now that is labeled "lamb and rice." I guess the word has gotten around.

All this as prelude. I'm not sure how appetizing it is to talk about collywobbles in a food blog; I just wanted to show you that we practice what we preach. To wit, last Sunday's dinner.

The lamb chops are from a new vendor at the Kensington farmer's market, a young family bouncing a baby in the booth. I have forgotten the name of their business and it's not on the vendor list as yet, but if you stop by you can't miss the beautiful baby - s/he is plump and round and rosy. They sell grass-fed beef and lamb. I have to reluctantly admit that I found their beef to be relatively tasteless but, oh, baby! the lamb is really lovely.

The rice is good old Basmati, my favorite for its nutty taste and wonderful scent. And the asparagus - well, at this time of year, they simply can't be beaten for simple, deep-down deliciousness, especially paired with Lamb and Rice.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Present From Afar

I'm going to tell you a love story. 

My friend Sari, whom I have known for 15 years, was single. None of her friends could understand that, because she is without a doubt the warmest, loveliest, funniest, goofiest and most lovable person I know (other than My Beloved, of course).

But Sari is very choosy about her dates. And she had very definite criteria, ones that to my mind the demographics of which more or less ruled out the possibility of finding Mr. Right. I even questioned to myself whether she really wanted to find the right guy, or was she putting impossible standards in the way to keep her heart safe?

Then, one day an acquaintance of hers called her up with a strange proposal. The acquaintance said: "I work with a great guy. He meets all your criteria. I introduced him to my sister but it just didn't work out. Would you like to meet him?"

Sari is, in addition to all her other great qualities, courageous and optimistic. She agreed to give the guy her email address. Sari was very busy at the time, taking care of her father who had just had a hip replacement and holding down a very demanding job, so she didn't immediately respond to the eventual email, and when she did, she put off meeting the guy for a few weeks. When they met, they dated for a few months and found they had a lot in common. And - ta-dah! - at New Year's Eve dinner at our house, they shared their first kiss at midnight as the skyrockets went off across the bay in San Francisco.

Apparently, skyrockets went off within them, too. They have been inseparable ever since, delightfully giggly and sweet together, truly a couple of love birds. All of Sari's friends are thrilled.

Recently, they decided to put their two-year relationship to the ultimate test by traveling together. Anyone who has traveled with a friend, even a dear friend, knows that traveling points up the worst side of anyone. Sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, sore of foot and differing in interests but yoked together by politeness, traveling together can be a deal breaker. They decided to go to Paris together.

While they were in Paris, they found this delightful little cheese grater as a gift for me and My Beloved. Made by Pylones, it not only reminds me of a wonderful trip to Paris that Sari, My Beloved and I took four years ago, it also grates cheese better than any of my other graters, even the fancy-schmancy one I purchased at Sur La Table a few years ago. I love it.

And they loved Paris. And, even after traveling together, each other. They just rented a house in Alameda and will be moving in to their shared place in mid-May.

Ain't love grand?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I don't make my recipe for Vegetable Lasagna very often. I love it, and so does everyone else, but it's a bit of a production to put together and I'm usually in and out of the kitchen pretty fast.

However, when my friend asked for a veggie dish to tempt the waning appetite of her huz, I immediately thought of this. Even little kids like this lasagna. Even though it's made with spinach.

So, off to the store to find lasagna noodles, with a stifled sigh for all that boiling, cooling, layering and baking.

Traditional lasagna noodles, what with boiling a huge pot of water and cooking them a long time, are a big part of the time it takes to make lasagna. When I got to the pasta aisle, however, my eye was drawn to a new-to-me concept in pastas, oven-ready lasagna noodles. It seems that all you do is layer the unbaked pasta between your strata of sauce and filling, throw it in the oven and it softens and cooks all by itself. What genius thought that up?

I still cooked the sauce and made the filling but the assembly step took no time at all. The bonus is that these noodles are also thinner than standard lasagna noodles, so the finished lasagna is lighter and the veggies come to the forefront rather than the pasta taking a major note. I could taste no real difference between the oven readies and the traditionals - in this case, pasta is pasta.

I'm not a big consumer of convenience foods - I've plenty of time to cook - but here's one that I will purchase and enjoy many times over.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Job Hunting

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that My Beloved had been summarily fired (and via email, the low, slimy cowards!) from a line he had advanced by 10-20% every year he worked for them. He was Rep of the Year for this company year before last. Well, that's business in America for you - it's a cutthroat world.

Anyway, enough bitter ranting about those turkeys!

We have some good news to share for a change. Some of the industry friends who took the time to call him and commiserate had leads on other lines that he could apply for. He met last week with the head of one of them, and came away with not one but two offers, with a possibility of a third!

So, enjoy this shot of My Beloved in his robe and slippers, leisurely reading the daily paper. He won't be doing this much longer - he has lines to rep, people to meet, and a great big smile on his face.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chef's Relief

Having cooked all day for my friend, making a veggie lasagna for her freezer and a tarte flambée for supper, when dinner time rolled around, I was less than enthusiastic about cooking.

We talked about going out, but I was too tired to change from my food-spattered outfit. We considered ordering pizza or Chinese, both of which can be delivered to our door, but neither seemed interesting. Finally, My Beloved suggested one of his go-to dishes from when he was briefly a bachelor before I came along, pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese.

That sounded good, plus easy and quick, but his mother's spirit would have haunted me if I had not offered him a green veggie with dinner; Sally was just like my mother about insisting on eating one's vegetables. So, we settled on adding a generous handful of green peas to each serving to pacify the family ghosts.

Capellini takes less time to cook than the water does to boil, so we had dinner on the table in record time. I had softened the butter in a big bowl before hand so I drained the pasta except for a few drips of water, tossed it in the bowl, and added the lightly-cooked peas. At the table, we each grated the right amount of cheese over the pasta and tossed again with pepper.

We thought all we'd need was the four P's for dinner - pasta, Parm, peas and pepper, but it wasn't until we added the S word, salt, to the bowls that it truly became Dinner. We happily twirled our pasta and stabbed our peas, content with a very low-key dinner and our own good health. Knock wood.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

News Flash! New Bacon!

It is well established that bacon is its own special Food Group. There are grains, veggies, fruits, dairy, meat - and then there's bacon. In a class all by itself.

So, when my regular supermarket, Andronico's, lovingly known as Astronomico's, offers a new brand of pastured, organic, (relatively) local bacon, I'm all over it. Llano Seco, a ranch in Chico, CA, has been offering pork products, mainly chops and spare ribs, at Andronico's for quite some time, and I've been happy to purchase them there, but the bacon is new to me. I snagged two packages on my way out.

I cooked one up to make a tarte flambée for a friend whose husband is terminally ill - yes, the bad news just keeps coming this year. Her husband loves goat cheese, so I knew just what to make. And you get the benefit of a review because, of course, I tasted a piece or two of the bacon as I put together the meal.

This is very thick-cut bacon, perhaps the thickest I have ever seen. It renders slowly and resists crisping - the ends were still flexible when the middle was ready. The taste is lively and fresh with sweet and salt flavors, light on the smoke. It worked like a champ on the tarte flambée, playing a savory symphony with the caramelized onions and tangy goat cheese.

I have the other pound in the freezer, which we will enjoy at a later date. For all the good reasons that well-produced meat offers, I can heartily recommend this bacon. The other Food Groups are fine, but bacon is the best.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Unemployment Chicken

Stretching a pastured chicken, thanks My Beloved's recent job loss, has become more of a necessity than it was just a couple of weeks ago. Don't get me wrong - I'm always pretty frugal with food - but when my sweetie, through cronyism (hiss! boo!), loses about two thirds of his income, my tightwad gene is energized.

I don't mean to scare you - we are very fortunate people. We will still have money to pay the mortgage, the taxes, and the monthly bills. It's more the dinners out and the splurges on chandeliers that we'll scale back for a while.

Of course, we still want to eat the good stuff.

So, I will invent more dinners like this one, which turned out remarkably well. I had half a can of leftover chopped tomatoes from this dinner, and half a very small pastured chicken from another dinner, and that seemed like a good basis for a pasta sauce. I added chopped onion softened in olive oil, minced garlic, a bay leaf, some fresh thyme and oregano from the pot on our front steps, a light sprinkle of red pepper flakes to wake things up.

I took the meat off the carcass but didn't add it until the very end, along with a handful of thawed peas, so that when it went into the sauce it didn't cook, just gently warmed. Ladled over the pasta and served, we didn't even need bread to make a filling and frugal meal.

My Beloved has had many, many heartening calls from his industry friends, all saying "Are they crazy to let you go?? You're the best rep they ever had!" and offering him leads on other lines that he can pursue. That has soothed his bruised feelings a bit and given him the energy to start applying for different jobs. He's a buoyant personality and I know he will bounce back from this hit.

Just don't ask me to be polite to his former boss, who let my husband go just to put a crony of his (more hisses! louder boos!) in My Beloved's place.

Friday, April 13, 2012


When I turned the screw cap of this unoaked Chardonnay, it literally blew the cap off the bottle. Like an impatient genie, it wanted OUT! and shot the cap halfway across our kitchen.

All through dinner, it kept making tiny bubbles that drifted up slowly through the wine. Not vigorous, champagne-style bubbles, just quiet, lazy little orbs of light that twinkled their way gently to the top and popped with a minuscule hiss. The wine was crisp with acid but very fruity; it wasn't spoiled or vinegarish, just very lightly fizzy.

I'm an almost complete dunce when it comes to wines, so I emailed my older brother, who isn't, and asked for his opinion about why the pétillance? He didn't know, but he supplied the French word for it.

I went to the Morgan website to see if it was intentional, but no mention was made of that in the wine's description. We speculate that there were residual sugars in the wine that did their own second fermentation in the bottle after it was sealed. We don't know, but if you do, we'd love to know your opinion.

In the meantime, I'm finishing off that bottle and hoping the pétillance lasts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fish Fiesta

If I tell you about any more dishes from M. Pépin's "Essential Pépin," I'm going to have to start paying him royalties.

Luckily, this dish was inspired by him but not copied from him. I wanted to make the recipe as he recommended but, as often is the case with me, I didn't have all the ingredients. So I winged it. So sue me.

Jacques calls it "Halibut Antibes-Style" and it sounded delish to me, but I was missing kalamata olives and fresh basil. I did have picholine olives, however, so I subbed them in, cutting out the pits before adding them to the dish. Also, M. Pépin is willing to broil his fish and then add separately made sauce; because I'm too lazy to dirty a second pan, I just pan-poached the fish right in the sauce.

Halibut is a mild fish and one that is easily overcooked, leaving it dry and pretty darn tasteless, but if you cook it just right, it's seafood heaven. If I do say so myself, this time I got it right. The fish divided easily along the curved muscle lines, but was still wonderfully moist. No question that I will make this again and again. It was not only delicious but the colorful sauce was as cheerful as a fiesta.

Fiesta Fish, inspired by the great Jacques Pépin

2 portions of halibut, about 4-6 oz each (I used fillets, JP uses steaks)
1- 4 oz can chopped tomatoes (I'm not above using canned tomatoes when fresh ones are out of season; I'd far rather have a good canned one than a tasteless, cardboardy, unripe one)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme leaves (I left mine whole)
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, leaves only (this was my substitute for the fresh basil I didn't have)
3-4 Tablespoons water
10 picholine olives, pitted and sliced
salt, pepper to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil

In a wide frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat and quickly sauté the onion and garlic, until softened, just a few minutes. Add the herbs and cook until their scents rise to fill your nose with flavors. Add the chopped tomatoes and a little water, cooking all together for just a few minutes, tasting and adding salt and pepper to your liking.

When the sauce is a little reduced, push it aside and lay the fish, skin side down, in the middle of the pan. There should be some juice under the fish - if there isn't any, add a tad more water. Let the fish cook for just 2-3 minutes, then flip it while it is still firm and, sliding a spatula under the skin, remove and discard it.

Cover the pan with a tight lid and let it steam/poach in the sauce for about five more minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish, testing frequently for that moment when the sections separate easily but are still glistening with moisture inside, and the fish gives a little when pressed with a finger.

When the fish is ready, remove it to plates and add the olives to the sauce for just long enough to heat them through, then pile the sauce onto the fish and serve.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Breakfast For Lunch

I'm not a big breakfast eater - at least, not a breakfast time. I love eggs and toast, bacon and hash browns, but not when I first wake up, thank you very much.

When we returned from the wedding in 'Zona, I found to my dismay that we had never finished our corned beef from St. Patrick's Day. It was lurking in the back of the fridge. Eeek! I hate to waste food! A cautious sniff test didn't reveal any scary odors, however, so I took a little taste and, sure enough, the salty curing had preserved it just fine.

So, we had breakfast for lunch that day. I chopped the corned beef in a small dice, half of an onion, a large shallot, and some leftover roasted potatoes, and added nothing but salt and pepper with a soupçon of butter and canola oil to slick the bottom of the pan. I softened the onion and shallot first, then piled in the rest to warm and mingle.

I was sorry not to have a little parsley on hand - a generous sprinkling of fresh parsley would have made it perfect but, as it was, it made a delicious lunch with an egg on top. My Beloved likes his eggs over easy, to let the yolk run down into his hash; mine was cooked a bit more than that.

My recommendation is to eat breakfast for lunch more often - breakfast foods are often too rich for me early in the mornings, but are just perfect by lunchtime, when my stomach has had time to wake up, yawn and stretch a little, and get going.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shiny Sauce

I'm not a fancy cook. I am more "bistro" than "haute cuisine." But every now and then it's fun to jazz things up a bit with a new herb, a different technique, or a novel sauce.

For me to be tempted to make it, it has to be easy and quick. That's why you won't find me carefully constructing a delicate Béarnaise sauce, whisking madly while keeping the egg yolks from scrambling. My favorite Béarnaise sauce comes out of a blender.

But, check out this dark sauce for lamb - very tasty and so shiny that it actually reflected the lights over my dining table. It added a little drama to my otherwise fine-but-a-little-boring plate of fresh asparagus and egg noodles with grated Parmesan.

After browning the salted and peppered lamb chops in a combo of butter and canola oil, just a tad of each, you set them to rest in a warm oven (lamb fat congeals fast - if you don't do that, it will already look unappetizing by the time the sauce is made) while you quickly make the sauce. It's a good idea to have the chopping done and the ingredients ready before you begin - that's how fast this sauce comes together.

In the browning pan, throw in a clove or two of minced garlic, and cook very briefly, perhaps 10 seconds, before adding a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and cooking for about a minute, until most of the vinegar has evaporated. Add about 1/4 cup of water, a tablespoon of catsup, a splash of soy sauce and, if you like it, stirring in a few drops of sriracha to spice things up a little. Bring out your lamb chops and drain any accumulated juices into the sauce, stirring it all together before pouring it over the chops.

It is a bit like teriyaki, only a little richer in taste and smoother in consistency - like teriyaki's suave older brother. My Beloved approved with his mouth full and I loved it, too. I will make this one again and bless the book from which it came.

Jacques, again. Bien sûr.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I have been retired now for about four years. Four years ago, my work colleagues threw a little goodbye party for me and my favorite of them even went to Paris with me and My Beloved to celebrate my pau hana time.

The other day, when I went into the city to have breakfast with friends, I took the opportunity to do a little errand, see the Maharaja show at the Asian Art Museum, and eat a sandwich from the food trucks in front of the City Hall.

As I sat down to eat my lunch, I looked up to find the student housing tower of University of California, Hastings College of the Law peeking out from behind the Asian, and I thought the scene emblematic of my retirement. While my colleagues were still hard a work at the base of that tower, I had enjoyed breakfast with my homies, done a quick errand, taken in a fun show, and ordered a novel lunch that I was going to share on my blog. The only part of retirement that was not represented was Cora - she who gets me out and walking every day - and swimming with my Masters swim team.

After that lunch, I'm gonna need more walking and swimming.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

City Day

I have said many times before that I had a happy work life before retirement and that I have loved my colleagues. I was glad that they liked me, too. So, when two of my current friends and former colleagues invited me to have breakfast with them at Boulette's Larder in the Ferry Building, I happily traipsed back into the city to meet them.

We had a good natter and delicious breakfasts, and I even met a woman, a friend of Irene's, who actually reads my blog and enjoys it. It's hard to imagine a better breakfast than Boulette's with two great friends and a friendly new admirer. Made my day, week and possibly month!

I did the errand I had saved for that morning, then headed over to the Civic Center to catch the Maharaja exhibit at the Asian Art Museum before it closes next weekend. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth making the time. You may have seen the cartoonish banners outside the museum and decided it wasn't worth the trip, but you'd be wrong. Sumptuous is the word that comes to mind. Not only the gleaming gold and silver, and sparkling jewels, but the exquisite, gem-like paintings and rich fabrics are well worth a visit, too.

When I emerged from the museum, it was past lunchtime but I noted that there were four food trucks across the street in the plaza in front of City Hall, so I ambled over to see what was on offer. Falafel, Indian food, hamburgers and a black truck emblazoned with the name of the company, Bacon Bacon.

My regular readers will have no trouble guessing which truck I chose. In my defense, I couldn't imagine how one could eat curry standing up, I was a little jaded with burgers, and falafel just doesn't float my boat. Bacon does.

They were out of several offerings but they still had grilled cheese with bacon and bacon jam. Never having had bacon jam - in fact, I had to ask what it was - still, I thought that sounded pretty good. I took my drink and my grilled cheese to a chair (I coulda had that curry after all!) thoughtfully provided by "Off the Grid," who organizes the event, and sat down to sample the fare.

Perhaps I need to explain that bacon jam is a combination of bacon, onions, maple syrup and a bunch of other stuff, simmered together for hours until there is nothing left but sweet, concentrated, gooey jam. Then, they put extra crisp bacon and sharp cheddar cheese between slices of sourdough bread spread with the bacon jam and toast it on the grill. The first bite is amazing - sweet, ever-so-slightly sour from the good bread, cheddar-y and bacon-y all at once.

The past two months have been sad ones for me, with death, serious illness and job loss all around, but days like that help to lift my spirits and remind me of the good things in life. Sitting on a chair with the partly cloudy sky above, a political harangue going on in a tent to my left in front of our incomparably gorgeous City Hall, and lovers snuggling in line at the Bacon Bacon truck, I was struck by how lucky I was to be there with a head full of glorious Indian images, a killer sandwich in hand, and a fresh breeze on my face.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Soupy Weather

For a while there, I thought we were just going to skip winter altogether. The sun shone day after lovely day and the temperatures were unseasonably warm, even for NOCA. The plants were looking a little dusty and I had to water my excuse for a garden a few times in December, January and February. As others fretted about the shortage of water, I put out the cushions on my porch furniture and blessed the weather gods.

Turns out, however, that winter wasn't missing, it was just late. Like me and my 8am college French class. My French teacher loved me, as I had lived in France and already spoke reasonable French, so she was somewhat tolerant of my tardiness when I'd give her the French salute - an expressive shrug - and say, "Pardonnez-moi, Madame, je n'ai pas d'excuse."

Now that the rains have begun, I have switched back from salads to soups and I'm loving this second chance at winter fare. All you need to make this soup is a couple of spicy Italian sausages, an onion, as much garlic as you and your loved ones can tolerate, a quart or so of chicken stock, a couple of stalks of celery, a generous handful of green beans, about 1/4 of a small kabocha squash and whatever herbs you like best. First, you brown the sausage in little bibbits for tiny meatballs, remove them and add the aromatics to soften and perfume, then add the broth, the veggies and the herbs. Simmer, simmer, simmer and serve. Simple as all get out and delicious to boot.

When you've got a big pot of soup on the stove, it can storm all it likes; you are safe inside with all those aromas. I still have to venture out to walk my dog in the soupy weather, but just knowing that pot is there gives comfort on a dreary day.