Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tortilla (In No Time) Flat

If you can think of something that gets dinner on the table quicker than having tortillas in the fridge, please tell me what it is. Even a stir fry takes 20 minutes, since good rice takes that long to cook. But tortillas are ready to go (if you use store-bought ones like lazy me) and prepping fresh ingredients for a rollup like this is the work of a minute.

We made chicken tacos the other night, when both of us were hungry but neither of us was much in a mood to fuss. My Beloved walked the dog, set the table and poured the drinks while I chopped half a tomato, minced half a small onion, sliced an avocado and a chicken breast, and chopped some lettuce and cilantro. I had bottled salsa in the fridge and hot sauce, so we were good to go.

After shaking some fajita spice over the chicken strips, it only took about five minutes on the grill to cook it to juicy perfection while the tortillas warmed in a wide frying pan over low heat.

When it's time to assemble, all you do is lay a stripe or a drizzle of hot sauce, according to your preference, down the middle of the tortilla, pile in the other ingredients - a bit of this and a handful of that - fold up the bottom first to catch the drips, then both sides overlapping and you've got a handful flavor in no time flat.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I know I have shown you this before, but I couldn't resist the retelling. 

I was wandering around the interwebs yesterday and came across Mark Bittman's video of Jamie Oliver bashing a chicken breast with the bottom of a heavy frying pan and was reminded how very good the resulting chicken was.  So, I made it again since, amazingly, I had all the ingredients in the house or outside in my herb pots. 

Then, just a day or two later, I made it again!

Go watch the video, then head for the store if you don't have all the things you need to make this delicious, easy, and frustration-venting dinner. It's gonna feel good to WHAM! that chicken.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


We like jumbles. We like food that has been tossed around together in a pan, sharing flavors. I make a lot of dinners that look vaguely like this one - just a jumble of veggies and meat. They are always delicious but they always look a little untidy like this, too.

Zucchini squash from Dr. Biggles, half a tomato from the farmer's market, alliums (whatever were in the fridge), herbs (whatever I was hungry for that day), Italian sausage, pasta (whatever shape I had in the pantry).

While this looks a bit as if I phoned it in, it was carefully prepped and cooked, with each ingredient being given loving attention as it went into the pan. Things were sliced, chunked or minced carefully, browned or sautéed or simmered to bring out the best flavors. But when ingredients are this fresh and seasonal, they really don't need fancy sauces or elaborate combinations of tastes. The textures, the colors and the flavors speak for themselves.

Even when they are all jumbled on the plate.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Friendly Neighborhood Tart

For the past month or six weeks, ripe plums have been rolling down the hill from one of my uphill neighbors. They have two plum trees and this year the branches are so loaded with fruit that six or eight ripe ones drop off the trees and tumble down the hill every day to be squashed by passing cars. 

I finally remembered to ask that neighbor if she minded if I picked some of the fruit before it became road kill and she gladly assented. These two trees make far more than even her family of five can consume.

So, one pretty morning, Cora and I walked up there, let ourselves into their back yard while they were at work, and picked a nice tart worth of little round, blushing plums.

I use Star Dough for most pies and tarts. I know how to make pie dough and for years I made my own, but I was converted as soon as I tasted Star Dough. I love that it's easy and delicious, made with fresh ingredients and, by the way, made locally. The company headquarters is right here in Point Richmond. Star Dough comes two to a package, all rolled out between two sheets of clear plastic, enough for a covered pie, or two tarts. Here in the Bay area, you can usually find it in the freezer section near the other frozen doughs.

So, unrolling and fitting the dough to the tart pan with a removable bottom was the work of a minute. I put the shell back in the fridge to stay cold while I halved, pitted and sliced the fruit. 

This pretty way of slicing the fruit was suggested to me by a post on the blog La Tartine Gourmande. I didn't follow Bea's recipe since we don't have to eat gluten free, but I loved the way her tarts look, like those big, fluffy chrysanthemums that women used to wear to football games back in the '30s and '40s, so I stole that idea. All you do to achieve that effect is cut each plum half almost in half again, keeping a connector at the bottom. When placed in the tart shell, it will naturally separate into "petals."

I pulled out the tart shell, sprinkled about a tablespoon of coarse blond sugar evenly over the bottom, then placed the fruit and sprinkled about a teaspoon of vanilla sugar over the top. Into a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes and what emerged was beautifully tipped with black in places. I let it cool, then cut generous wedges.

It was sweet and tart at the same time - I love how these plums have a tang almost like apricots. I cut a couple of slices for my neighbors, too. I'll be back to pick more plums before summer ends and they are all gone for another year.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chunky Chicken Chili

I'm very fond of chili but My Beloved is only lukewarm on the subject. He thinks of chili as a plain old bowl of beans and, as you must know by now if you read this blog, he likes his meat. So, how to satisfy my craving for chili while satisfying his meat tooth?

The answer is this chili, which I am calling Chunky Chicken Chili just for the alliterative fun. I had some leftover zucchini cooked in tomato sauce with onions and garlic, so I used that as a base for making chili. I added more onion and garlic sautéed in olive oil to a large pot, then added a can of black beans, tomato sauce, a fresh tomato cut into chunks, chili powder and a dash of hot sauce to liven things up. All measurements were approximate - to taste, as they say.

That all simmered together for an hour or so to meld the flavors. At the end of the cooking time, I chunked a large chicken breast and added that to the chili to simmer just until it was done. Cheese might have made a nice topping, but I didn't think of it at the time. Served in wide bowls with a couple of wedges of my embellished corn bread on the side, it was hearty enough for my carnivore and tasty enough us both.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Not having warm Southern roots, I rarely think of making cornbread. I actually really like cornbread, too, so it makes no sense. I wish I thought of it more often. When I came across a package of corn bread mix in my pantry, I couldn't remember even when I bought it - that should give you an idea of what a novelty it is in my house.

Thinking to use it up before the expiration date, I pulled it out, read the simple directions, and decided that it needed a little embellishment to make it perfect.  The package suggested adding fresh corn kernels and that definitely appealed, but I thought also that some sliced green onion would give extra flavor and interest. 

It was so pretty that I just had to take a picture of it. The little green flecks were still bright after baking, since corn bread doesn't take very long. And the corn kernels added a little moisture and texture. 

Another thing the package suggested was to heat a well-buttered iron skillet in the oven and pour the batter into that, which I did. The result was a nice, crusty bottom to the bread. Next time, I'd add just a bit more butter to the bottom, too.

All in all, a nice success and so easy! I'm not above embellishing a packaged mix - are you?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Is Of The Essence

I'm not usually in a hurry these days, but now and again it's nice to have a couple of meals up my sleeve that I can whisk out and have on the table in half an hour. This one with pork tenderloin medallions is just that kind of dish.

Pork tenderloin is just about my favorite kind of pork - it's almost always moist and flavorful, even though it's pretty lean. And, if I slice it into 1.5 inch thick medallions, it cooks up very quickly. This one uses a simple pan sauce, too, that just adds to the flavor.

After browning the medallions quickly in butter, I set them aside in a warm oven to continue cooking a bit using the residual heat. Into the sauté pan, I swirl a little more butter (I need this little bit of extra fat as the pork is so lean), then add sliced shallot and chopped mushrooms to lightly brown, deglaze with a tad of Courvoisier (or brandy, if I have it), then add plain yogurt and mix that in.  When the pork comes out of the oven, it will have released some juices, so I pour them back into the pan sauce to combine, then add the medallions again just to heat through.

Served with the pan sauce ladled over, it makes a nicely elegant entrée without much fuss. It's delicious, even when time isn't of the essence.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Zoomie's Zucchini

I didn't plant zucchini this year so, unlike many others, I don't run and hide when someone offers to give me zucchinis and summer squashes. I'm delighted to receive all gifts of garden produce since the green beans I planted were eaten as soon as they emerged from the seeds by the plague of gophers we've been experiencing in our neighborhood and my two tomato plants are shivering in the foggy cold - they have set fruit but it refuses to ripen when fog blankets the sky for half the day. Even the Early Girl is pouting.

So when Dr. Biggles brought me tomatoes and squashes from his garden, I was more than happy to accept.  The cherry tomatoes barely lasted until the end of the day. They were numerous but so sweet and flavorful that we snapped them all up like the vegetal candy they were.  I still had some larger tomatoes and the squashes, so I decided to make a sort of squash stew, useful as either a side or a main dish.

I sautéed onions cut lengthwise in some olive oil, then added chopped shallot and garlic until all three had softened and the onion was just starting to brown.  Add two or three chunked squashes, a big shake (perhaps two tablespoons) of dried herbs (almost any kind you like - I used Herbes de Provence for convenience sake), salt, pepper, and two chunked tomatoes. You can add a can of crushed tomatoes, if you like, or just tomato sauce. I used a splash of white wine just to get the juices going and brought it all to a boil before covering it and lowering the heat to simmer for an hour or so. 

You know it's ready when the squashes become transparent and the scent from the pot is richly tempting.  If it's a little watery, you can leave the top off for the last half hour of simmering.  Then, spoon it into bowls, pass the cheese if you want, and dig in. We did without cheese on ours and it was nicely filling anyway. I made a big pot so we have had it as a side dish for two dinners and as a light lunch on the day following the pig-out at the Porkhouse.

When vegetables are this fresh, picked right out of the garden, the taste is simply out of this world. I was astonished, myself, by the remarkable difference, even though I shop weekly at our farmer's market and get my veggies straight from the farmers. Still, Dr. Biggles' tomatoes and zucchini were even fresher and even richer in flavor. It's a billboard for growing your own. 

Maybe next year...

Friday, September 14, 2012

You Should Go

And now we come to the grand finale of our lunch at the Best L'il Porkhouse, my lunch of French fries topped with pulled pork barbecue. All the offerings at the Porkhouse have picturesque names: the BLT is called "I Smell Bacon"; the nachos are "Macho Pig Nachos"; and my basket of goodies is called "Piggy Back Fries."

We all got to taste each other's lunches - that's the fun of dining with people you really like and whose personal hygiene you trust - so the others sneaked a few of my fries and pulled pork, as I had sampled each of their meals.

At $6.00, this basket was a bargain; there was plenty and it was über rich. The waist of my jeans was tight for two days after this feast. But it was pure pleasure. We will go again, I'm sure, although probably not immediately. It takes some serious swimming for me to even the scales when I've eaten a lunch like this. 

But you should go. You should definitely go.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Disappearing Salad

Okay, meat lover though I am, even I have had enough posts about the Porkhouse, so I'm taking a break before showing you my own lunch there. Instead, here's a little salad that I found on the web and now can't recall where. A great end-of-summer salad that is easy, quick and uses the ripe produce of summer.

I was serving hamburgers for dinner - pretty boring - and needed something a little jazzy as accompaniment. I had two ears of corn in the fridge but the two we had eaten the night before were a little starchy rather than sweet, so I knew these would not be the very best. How to disguise less-than-optimal corn?

The answer is to combine it with other really perfect ingredients in this little salad. I used halved cherry tomatoes that my friend from Meathenge had brought me (by the way, these were so sweet and flavorful that they made a mockery of even ones purchased at the farmer's market), chunks of ripe avocado and the fresh, raw corn kernels cut off the cob.

For dressing, all you do is squeeze half of a juicy Meyer lemon (gift from Garden Girl) over the ingredients and drizzle them with olive oil. Salt, pepper, toss together and you have a nifty little side dish. The lemon gives tang and the oil magically mixes with the avocado to make a light green coating for everything.

It disappeared in record time.

Monday, September 10, 2012


At the Best L'il Porkhouse, they make a BLT. Not surprising, really, BLTs are a staple in America. You could almost dub them America's National Sandwich. Now, I have had plenty of BLTs in my day and I have loved every one, but this was easily the most generous BLT I have ever seen. 

First, it actually used ripe tomatoes - imagine!  And the lettuce was crisp, fresh and plentiful Romaine. It was made with two slices Texas toast, thickly sliced white bread that is grilled on the flattop rather than toasted. But the pièce de résistance was clearly the bacon.

Six strips. Six!

There was so much bacon that My Beloved, generous guy that he always is, offered a rasher to me and cousin Jan - he said he had plenty. We demurred but I did nibble on the part that fell out of the sandwich when My Beloved took a huge bite, and I can attest to its crispness and flavor. Imagine actor Andy Griffith saying this: "Goooood bacon. Good bacon." That's what played in my head.

Goooood sandwich. Good sandwich!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My Kind Of Salad

Continuing on with our cavalcade of meaty delights, cousin Jan ordered a salad topped with brisket for her lunch. She could have had pulled pork or barbecued chicken as her topper, but she was in a beefy sort of mood. Clearly, cousin Jan was the only one in our group of three with any kind self-restraint - she actually chose to eat green stuff at the Porkhouse!

She gave me a taste and I have to admit, it was very good. Not only did it have several nice, tender slices of brisket daubed with a tangy barbecue sauce, it also sported fresh mixed greens, ripe tomatoes (how long has it been since you actually had a ripe tomato in a restaurant salad?), red onion, and artichoke hearts.

For dressing, she was offered several choices and, due to the nature of the Porkhouse, which has a Western theme, she chose ranch.  Good choice - it complemented the brisket well.

Jan was quite pleased with her choice and I had to admit that although I'm not a huge salad fan, this is my kind of salad.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Porkhouse Nachos

My Beloved and I enjoyed the Best L'il Porkhouse so much that we couldn't wait to introduce  cousin Jan to its delights. She drove down from Petaluma and we drove over from Richmond and met in the middle.

We ordered several new items, which you will see on succeeding days here, so if you aren't in to barbecue and bacon served in lots of different ways, you have my permission to bug out and come back after the meaty parade is over.

Our first course was barbecue nachos. Corn chips straight out of a bag were topped with cheese sauce (I suspect also industrial in origin), baked beans, pulled pork and bacon bits. Now, you might be thinking, "Heck, those aren't nachos!" and if you are thinking authentic, you'd be quite right.

But they were deep-down killer delicious. We shared the order and were scraping the bottom of the bowl for each little drip and morsel.  The combination was unexpected and seriously, sinfully good.

The Porkhouse has become so popular in the four weeks that it has been open that they are already researching a larger place. They must feel like they are drinking from a fire hose.The wait for our food was long - but we knew that going in. We elected to wait while a few others just gave up and left. If you are short on patience, I'd advise going at 11am or after 1pm. The lunch rush is a frantic time there.

We had no agenda, however, so we happily sat on our high stools waiting for the fun to begin. Those nachos were worth the wait.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Du Temps Perdu

Lady fingers!  Lady fingers!

I can't remember the last time I saw lady fingers for sale in the store. My mother used to make dainty little desserts using lady fingers for her "hen parties," back in the 'fifties, and we kids would filch a few when she wasn't looking. So, if only for sentiment's sake, I had to buy a package of lady fingers when I stumbled across them. They are to me as madeleines were to Marcel Proust.

Sadly, they weren't up to my memories of lady fingers, but they were pretty good. Top them with fresh raspberries, blackberries and strawberries and a splash of half-and-half and you have a nice summer dessert. 

I might have to go looking for a lady fingers recipe to see if they are easy to make. I know my mother bought hers, but she wasn't an avid baker, so they might be within my range. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the nostalgia.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


I have kvetched here frequently about our non-summer, so bear with me while I do it again. While our days usually end with sunshine, almost all of them this summer have begun with heavy fog that hangs around until late morning (if we are lucky) and even early afternoon (on the really crunky days). And it has been windy as well as cool. I've worn shorts exactly twice this summer and had only a handful of days when I could comfortably sit out on the deck.

The San Francisco Bay area is famous for its microclimates. It can be hot as the hinges of hell out in the Livermore Valley while it's overcast, blowing a gale and chilly here by the bay. My friends in Marin are wearing bathing suits and shorts while we put on sweaters and long pants, not 10 miles apart. One day years ago, My Beloved left his business in Novato when the temperature was in the 90s and drove home 15 miles, where the temperature was 60.

There is an up side to all this cool weather. One has only to read about the weather in our suffering Midwest to feel a little gratitude for our natural air conditioning. I can also remember the sticky, humid summers when I lived back east and I have no desire to experience them again. But, the best part about chilly summer is that you can happily eat more wintry fare.

This spaghetti sauce, for example. A Bolognese that has passed through my friend Meredith's imagination, who gave me the recipe. She adds unexpected ingredients such as ripe olives and cinnamon to her version and, since she taught me how to make bolognese forty years ago, I rarely stray from her recipe.

I didn't have spaghetti in the house, so used penne instead. It's still wonderfully flavorful, only easier (and not quite as much fun) to eat. You can save this until fall arrives for you, or make some now if you are living, as we are, in a chilly little microclimate.

Meredith's Spaghetti (with some embellishments)

1/2 cup chopped onion
(3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped)
1 pound ground beef
1 can chopped tomatoes (16 oz)
1 can tomato sauce (8 oz)
12 sliced mushrooms
1 cup red wine
2-3 Tablespoons Italian herbs (oregano, basil)
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf (if they are small, 2 bay leaves)
sliced ripe olives
(Cinnamon or allspice to taste)

Soften the onions in a little olive oil. Add the beef and brown thoroughly. Add the rest of the ingredients, mixing thoroughly, and simmer for about 2 hours. If it's too thick at serving time, add a little water. If it's too thin, you can thicken it with a little tomato paste. 

Serve over pasta and pass the Parmigiano.