Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sky Fire

Here's another form of light to savor on these short winter days. Here in northern California, our summer sunsets are clear, so we have little interplay of light. The sun just goes down in a cloudless sky, and often so far north that we get just a lingering glow where we live. 

That's lovely, too, but not as dramatic as our winter sunsets when the sky, the clouds and the water are on fire with brilliant color. My Beloved and I often take a few minutes to stop at this time of day to admire a spectacular sunset and to be grateful for the sky fire.

In summer, the temptation is to fill all those bright hours with activities; in winter, we give ourselves permission to stop and savor - it's cold outside, anyway, so why not hunker down inside and relish Mother Nature's changing canvas.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winter's Pleasures

If you're looking for reasons to like the long dark evenings of winter, sometimes they are hard to come by. It's chilly and often wet, and it doesn't get light until late, then it fades to dark again early. We miss the bright, long days of summer. We feel better when the sun is high and the air is warm.

Happily, there are substances in the world that have stored that light and warmth for you and will give them back in a gentle glow. Candles. This is the time of year for candles. In full summer, I feel foolish lighting candles at dinner time, because the sun is so strong that you can barely see the flames. But in the winter, candles come into their own. 

You don't need fancy ones - we get votives in bags of 50 at the import chain stores and they last very well. A simple shell or dish on the table can make a pretty holder for a votive candle (or several, for even greater effect), or you can delve into your cupboards looking for those candle holders I know you have and make a really elegant showing of tall tapers.

Either way, you have just elevated even your dinner of leftovers to a higher plane. The light is softer, kinder, prettier, and not only you but your dinner will look better bathed in it. It's a small reason to relish long winter evenings, but a potent one with a promise of brighter days to come. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Grand Canyon Provisions

My two Friends-For-Life, sisters Wendy and Cricket, hike in the Grand Canyon every year. Sometimes they go twice a year. They go by themselves with nothing but 20+ years of experience and fifty-pound packs on their backs to find the adventure, serenity and beauty that only the Canyon seems to give them.

In between hikes, they love reveling in all that equipment; the packs, the tents, the cookstoves, the hiking boots. They love researching and evaluating all this gear, deciding finally on the very best stuff regardless of price. They know their lives may depend on each piece of equipment they take with them. On one of their trips, they shared their tent with a young man who had hiked into the canyon without proper gear for rain and cold - he might actually have perished if he hadn't had them to bail him out.

Everything they carry down there, from butt wipes to paperback books to mattresses no thicker than a yoga mat, must be brought back out, so they have become obsessive about the weight of everything they take. They bake biscotti and dehydrate foods for the trip. They weigh the value of a full tube of toothpaste vs. saving a few ounces. Because they go for two weeks at a time, the weight of every item really matters.

So, when I made kale chips for the first time last week (the last food blogger in the world to do so), I immediately thought of Wendy and Cricket. Nothing could be lighter than kale chips, and they would provide much-needed greens to their diet, plus the bonus of salt to replenish that lost through sweating. They do a lot of sweating down there.

I made mine with lacinato kale, that darkly green, wrinkly kind that looks like it came off the hide of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. In fact, I made two kinds, one with sea salt and one with garlic salt; both were inhaled. My Beloved and I enjoyed them very much so I served them to a guest and she liked them, too. 

Making kale chips is a little time consuming, as you must use your fingers to spread the olive oil evenly all over the chips, but once you get the feel of it, you don't really even have to look at the work - you can tell just by texture if every little pocket and cranny has found its coating of oil.  Then lightly sprinkle with salt, or flavored salts, and into the oven for a few minutes.  The leaves emerge even darker green and crisp, lighter than a feather.

Another important tip is to be sure you have thoroughly dried the leaves before oiling, or they won't crisp up as well and likely won't keep as well, either. They are very crumbly; I put mine gently into a dish and put the dish into a plastic bag to keep them crisp - Cricket and Wendy will have the enjoyable task of researching the perfect container for their kale chips, one that protects them but doesn't add much to the weight of their packs.

Recipes for kale chips are so ubiquitous over the interwebs that I won't print one here. Just Google "kale chips" and stand back. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Paramount Lights

Sometimes it's not about the food at all, just about delight. The best $5 bargain in the Bay area is a ticket to see a classic film at the Paramount movie palace in Oakland. Ignore every scary thing you've ever heard or read about Oakland (it's mostly TV news hype and BS anyway) and go. The Paramount is a delight from start to finish.

The restored Art Deco theater is simply over-the-top gorgeous. The organ concert alone is worth the price of admission. Then, there's the Deco-Win game, delightfully kitschy, not to mention a cartoon and a newsreel, as we always enjoyed in back in the day. As if that were not enough, there's a full-length, big screen, classic movie to enjoy.

We saw "Singing in the Rain" recently and loved it all over again - "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon" are coming up. You just gotta go.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Petaluma Beckons

Oh, boy, do I have good news for you!  Rosso has a new branch Petaluma! No longer must I drive clear up to Santa Rosa to enjoy their wood-fired pizzas, killer daily specials, friendly and expert service, and wonderful chicken salad.

Their menu is more extensive than that, but I tend to be one who sticks with a favorite, and those are my favorites so far. 

This time, cousin Jan and I split the chicken salad and a sausage and goat cheese pizza. You could call Rosso's food predictable - it's always so very good!  The pizza has the thinny-thinnest crust, blistered in places and delicious all over, and the combinations of ingredients are always a little surprising.  Our Ducati pizza had smoked chicken sausage, ricotta cheese and roasted tomato sauce.

The chicken salad is one of my all-time favorites, made with really fresh lettuce, real roasted chicken (not that strange, rubbery stuff you sometimes get on salads), toasted almonds, Point Reyes blue cheese crumbles, roasted pears, and pear vinaigrette.

I will be returning frequently, not only to see cousin Jan who lives in Petaluma, but also to enjoy the daily specials. As I write, tonight's special is fried chicken with creamy smashed potatoes. My mouth is already watering, even though I had planned something else for dinner. I may have to call Jan and see if she's up for a return visit already. I surely am!

**UPDATE!  After a busy day of tutoring and errands, I caved in to the brilliant idea of driving up to Petaluma again to let Rosso make our dinner. It was Thursday, Fried Chicken and Creamy Smashed Potatoes night on their Daily Plates menu.

We called Jan again to see if she wanted to join us for a spur-of-the-moment dinner, drove on up there, and all three of us ordered the fried chicken. Luckily, we went early, because our server predicted that they would soon run out.

There's a reason for that - this was easily the best fried chicken it has ever been my delight to consume. Crisp with no hint of a greasy taste, it was moist inside and boneless (but not dynamited - these were simply boned pieces of chicken) with a sweet-salt glaze of bacon lardons and maple (I think?). The spuds were thinly sliced in a creamy-cheesy sauce that reminded My Beloved of his mother's au gratin potatoes. It was a generous serving and yet we all finished the plate without feeling stuffed. They don't serve dessert at Rosso - I guess they have learned that no one has room for it.

The second perfect meal in a week from Rosso. Go up. You will be glad you did, I promise. Petaluma Beckons!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Still The One

Our favorite Mexican restaurant is just across the bridge from us, over in Marin county. We have been going there ever since we were dating (My Beloved has been going there even longer than that) and have always loved it. We love the story behind the restaurant, too - how  back in the '60s a young woman went to Mexico on a vacation and came back with a gorgeous Mexican husband/chef in tow. He has been there, turning out delicious food, ever since, and she manages the front of the house.  They have two beautiful children and, if they haven't already, they are soon have their first grandchild.  Happy ending for all.

Especially for the patrons of Las Camelias, still the best Mexican restaurant in my world. Last week, we stopped in for lunch after meeting with a lawyer to start the process of writing our wills. If you can think of a more depressing subject, I'd like to hear it, but needs must, right?

Anyway, after 90 dry and lowering minutes contemplating our mortality, we were hungry for a good lunch. 

We ankled on over to Las Camelias and ordered first their delicious margarita to dispel the thoughts of certain death, then perused the menu. My eye was caught by their California Zincronizada, a wonderful mixture of Dungeness crabmeat, tiny bay shrimp, cheese, avocado, peeled tomatoes, chipotle chile and cheese in a lightly grilled flour tortilla. It can be served with a green salad but I do love the way they treat their white beans, so I opted for the rice and beans instead.

As the margarita took effect and the delicious zincronizada (isn't that a wonderful word?) filled the empty places, we began to feel distinctly more mellow. 

Whenever we go to Las Camelias, I am reminded that it is Still The One. Over the years, they have won many times the label of "Best in Marin" and that hasn't changed. The friendly waiters still greet us with a hearty, "¡Ola!" and, each time, they teach me another word or two of Spanish. The food is always superior, the artwork on the walls is ever changing and always interesting, and the service is quick and friendly. 

Next time you are thinking about your advancing age, I can recommend a lunch at Las Camelias as a pick-me-up.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

By Any Other Name

When I read the word "rumbledethumps," it was a forgone conclusion that I would have to make the dish. I mean, really, how could you not make a dish with a name like that? So Harry Potterish!  I loved it on first hearing.

A little research taught me that rumbledethumps is a Scottish dish, a mixture of boiled potatoes, cabbage, onions and cheddar cheese. Now, those are all ingredients dear to my heart, so I was eager to try it for two reasons, the delightfully rolling name as well as the imagined tastes.

So, I bought and cubed my spuds, boiling them just until tender, shredded my cheese and cabbage (I used purple cabbage for color and because I had it in the fridge), and sliced my onion. I sautéed the cabbage and onion together in a little butter, mashed the potatoes and mixed them in with half of the cheese and the rest of the ingredients, packed it into a gratin dish and topped it with the rest of the cheese. Into a 350 degree F oven until the cheese bubbled and browned slightly.

And sat down to a tasteless disappointment. 

Even My Beloved, who normally can be counted on to take seconds of just about anything I make, held up his hands defensively, palms out. No, thanks. And, of course, I had made two batches.

Rather than throw away the rest, I decided to tart it up a bit. When I heated the second batch, I added butter and more salt and pepper. Enriched with the butter and zinged with salt and pepper, it was a whole different dish. The salt woke up the other flavors and the pepper added some spice, while the butter added a layer of richness that the original recipe lacked. Now, it was a very nice side dish or, in my case, a warming winter lunch.

I'm convinced that rumbledethumps by any other name wouldn't be nearly so much fun.

Doctored Rumbledethumps

3 russet potatoes
6 Tablespoons grated cheddar cheese, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 head purple cabbage, shredded
3 Tablespoons butter, plus 1 Tablespoon for sautéeing the onion and cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and cube the potatoes. Boil them in water until a sharp knife slips in. Drain and mash with the 3 Tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/2 of the cheese and mix together until the cheese begins to melt.

While the potatoes cook, sauté together in the 1 Tablespoon of butter the cabbage and onion. When the potatoes are done and mashed (as described above), add the cabbage/onion mixture and press it all into a gratin dish. Top with the other half of the shredded cheese and bake for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, until the cheese bubbles and browns a little.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


We have been watching a lot of TV recently. We discovered, three seasons after the rest of the world, the delights of a whodunnit show called "Castle." We are catching up on all of their back episodes and getting a big kick out of the ensemble cast. We can't decide which of the five main characters we like the most.

As a result of our new obsession, sometimes dinner is late and gets short shrift. I throw something together in a hurry, impatient to get back to Becket and Castle.  

A couple of nights ago, however, despite my hurried state, I stumbled onto a combination so good that I felt I had to let you know about it. The rich sausage is perfectly complemented by the slightly bitter greens and the garlic acts to meld the unlikely ingredients. The tomato will make a nice little sauce in minutes and add color to the plate as a bonus. Best of all, it only took about the time to boil the pasta and we got right back to watching the next episode.

I have an idea that, like "Castle," the rest of the world may know about this combination already but, just in case, here's the recipe.


1/2 package angel hair pasta
2 6" spicy Italian sausages
1 ripe tomato (if you are lucky enough to find one), roughly chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems trimmed and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced

In a wide frying pan, brown little meatballs of the sausage by squeezing dollops out into a hot pan slicked with a little olive oil. Lower the heat and add the minced garlic, tossing it in the oils in the pan for a few moments to soften. Add the chopped tomato and the Swiss chard rags, with the water clinging to the leaves from washing, tossing all together to meld the flavors. Cover with a lid and steam until the chard has wilted. Lift the lid and add the pasta water if the sauce seems too thick or not enough to cover the pasta. 

Boil a big pot of salted water and add the angel hair pasta. Cook by package directions and drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the pan of other ingredients, and toss.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aunt Sally's Side Dish

On these gray winter days, you gotta add all the color you can, whether it be in bright placemats and napkins, or bright food on the plate - or both. 

Last year, my Aunt Sally Hyland passed away. She was 98 and had had a good, long, happy life. While we will miss her, we are grateful for her life.  She was always kind to me and my sister - she even hosted Nancy's wedding in Washington, DC while my parents were stationed in Japan. 

She was a California girl, born and raised, and she always made the most wonderful tossed salads filled with all kinds of unusual things (in those days) like marinated artichokes, tangy pickled beets, and big, golden-green chunks of avocado. Sally was the personification of the old-fashioned term, "homemaker," and she was the best one I ever knew.  She knitted her kids' sweaters, cooked like a dream, and even waited to do dinner dishes until the next morning when all were at work or at school so she could spend her evening hours with her family. She was plump and pretty, with soft, unlined skin to the end of her life, and sparkling eyes.

She surprised us once at dinner with purple cabbage sautéed in bacon fat. I think she added bacon bits, too, but I didn't have those when I was deciding how to add some color to our dinner, so I just used the bacon fat I had in the fridge.

This isn't even a recipe, really. You just melt bacon fat in a wide pan over medium-high heat and sauté thinly sliced or shredded cabbage in it for a few minutes. You want the cabbage to retain some crunch, so it only takes a short time. The taste is nutty, the color is gorgeous and the bacon fat gives it another layer of flavor and a little richness, which is always welcome on a gray day.  Nothing exciting, perhaps, but very welcome on these chilly winter evenings.

Every time I make this, I give a little nod to Aunt Sally.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Christmas Dinner

2012 was a stinker. Too much heartache and too much loss. My Beloved's girls lost their mother 'way too early, among other tragedies. They weren't feeling the traditional Christmas spirit at all, so they decamped to Florida's beaches.  Luckily, we have cousins in the area, delightful ones named Sherry and Jan, and we all spent time over the holidays together.

Sherry threw a party for a bunch of her gal pals - an ornament exchange that resulted in lots of laughter and fun. Jan invited us to her annual stocking party - we all brought stocking stuffers for each other's stockings and chuckled as we opened all the silly little gifts after a delicious dinner served at a beautifully set table.

They also came to Christmas dinner at our house, along with an old pal of mine whom I met in boarding school in France when we were high school kids. We weren't in the mood for turkey or roast beef, the traditional kinds of meals. But it was chilly and pouring cats and dogs, so we all wanted something warming. I remembered a recipe for stuffed shells that I got many years ago from an Italian friend and it seemed perfect for the occasion.

My favorite part of just about any meal is setting the table, and this time was no exception. I had seasonal flowers as a centerpiece, candles in pretty crystal candlesticks, and red silk Christmas roses as napkin rings on the snowy damask napkins. I used my mother's gold-rimmed bone china and my real silver - it was lovely, if I do say so myself.

And the shells were delicious, so good that everyone ate a little too much of those and Sherry's Caesar salad, as is proper on Christmas. The cheese filling was both rich and fresh with parsley, the tomato sauce deeply flavorful and studded with nuggets of spicy sausage.

We ended up having a super time, toasting with champagne our newest family member, who was born on the 21st, and getting a little giddy. Nice to have something positive to celebrate at the end of that crummy year. We set up the camera on a tripod and took a picture of the celebrants: My Beloved with his harem.

McBride's Italian Shells

12" spicy Italian sausage
olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
30 oz can tomato sauce with bits
30 oz can tomato puree
Fresh oregano, chopped
Italian herbs

1 package large shell pasta

16 oz ricotta cheese
l egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
1 Tbs of Italian parsley, chopped
salt, pepper

This is one of those approximate recipes, where you can add or subtract as you like. You can use more or less parsley, more or less garlic, etc.  Go with your gut.

Squeeze out small, bite-sized dollops of sausage from their casings into a medium-hot frying pan slicked with olive oil. They will make their own rendered fat, so you don't need much oil to keep them from sticking. Brown thoroughly, turning to brown all sides.  Add the garlic for a quick sizzle, then the tomato sauce and puree, and any Italian herbs that you like - I used fresh oregano. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

In a big pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until it is nearly "al dente," but don't overcook or they will be harder to handle and may break apart. Drain and let cool a bit, separated so they don't stick together.

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella and parsley together until evenly distributed. Taking a tablespoon at a time, stuff into the shells so they are full but still curling over the filling. Set aside. You will use most of the box, as some will be broken.

In a large oven pan, slick the bottom with a thin layer of sauce, then place the shells, open side up, in the pan side-by-side. Pour the remaining sauce over them all and bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 30 minutes, covered with foil. Uncover for the last 10 minutes. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year's Resolution

To de-clutter my overcrowded kitchen counter was one of my New Year's resolutions this year. I don't have a lot of counter space in any case, and when it's full of things like lazy susans so full of spices that they are continually falling out, there's not a lot of room left for maneuvering. 

So, one rainy afternoon, I undertook the task of labeling the tops of all my spice jars and arranging them, more or less in alphabetical order, in a drawer, jars to the front and bags tucked in behind.  

It was going well until I realized that I have several repeats, extra jars of various spices or herbs that I purchased because I couldn't find the one I already had hiding in the middle of the bottom layer of my lazy susan.  

Precious space in the drawer was taken up with these duplicates, and spices lose their potency if you don't use them up regularly, so I had this idea - why not give the extras away?

So, if you find you could use any of the list below, let me know and, if you live in the San Francisco Bay area, I will get them to you. It may take a little while, as I would drop them off as I was going by on my way to somewhere else, but I range widely in the area and would be happy to bring them. We could have a cup of coffee and a chat, too, if that fits into your schedule but, if not, I'd just be pleased to find homes for my dupes and am happy to leave them on your doorstep.

Here's the list.  Let me know which, if any, you can use by leaving a comment about which one(s) you want:

Bay Leaves (both regular and California Bay Laurel leaves)
Cinnamon Sticks
Cinnamon, ground
Tarragon (got LOTS of tarragon)
Curry Powder
Whole Nutmegs (LOTs of these, too)
Herbes de Provence (I use this mix a lot, but I have a boatload to share).

Happy New Year!  Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nutty Risotto

Here's a nutty idea - use brown rice to make risotto!  I read about this on the Facebook page for Massa rice, and thought it was interesting if non-traditional. Massa rice is so good, so fresh, so flavorful you can enjoy it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all on the same day, but risotto? Hmm... gotta try it to be convinced.

I used the usual technique for risotto except I warmed 2 cups of lamb broth instead of chicken broth to ladle in as the rice cooked. We had some leftover  browned lamb stew chunks in there, too, but the main ingredients were roughly chopped mushrooms browned in butter with garlic mince, carrots and broccoli florets, the latter two added at the end just to soften and brighten.

It took a bit longer to cook, as brown rice does, but not terribly much longer - maybe 10-15 minutes more of ladling and stirring. It's actually rather contemplative, leaving me lots of time to ponder and enjoy the process.

The rice was chewier and less starchy than traditional risotto, but the nutty flavor and springy texture were actually an improvement, not a detriment. The lamb broth made for a deeply, richly flavored base for the chunky meats and vegetables.

It may be a nutty idea, but it was a winner. I'd make this again and again. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Oh, The Places You'll Go

Many years ago, I did a six year stint as a florist. My first husband and I had just moved to Rochester, NY where he was going to work for Kodak, and I was at loose ends, having given up my job at Stanford University to go with him. Rockcastle Florist, a local business, was opening a branch right near our apartment. On a whim, I went in to leave my name and suggest if they needed help I was eager and cheap. When the owner got back from her honeymoon, she hired me.

Ellie Blum was one of the best bosses I have ever had. She worked as hard or harder than any of her employees, and she was never above sweeping the floors or scrubbing out flower buckets. She had a vision for what her business could be and she made it happen. She was fair, mentoring, and funny. Thanks, Ellie, wherever you are!

At first, I swept the floors, dusted the shelves, watered the plants, took orders over the phone, and put away the flowers when they arrived from the wholesalers. In those days, many flowers came from California and some from Central America. I'd strip the thorns off the roses, cut their stems diagonally with a sharp knife, and place them in bleached water to keep them fresh. Some flowers needed their stems mashed, others lasted better when cut with shears.

The reasons that people come in to a florist are many, and the vast majority are to make someone else feel good. It's a nice business, to be surrounded by floral beauty, heady scents, and good intentions all day. It's not all beer and skittles, however. Florists have a higher incidence of arthritis than almost any other career - in and out of coolers with hands dipped frequently in cold water and standing on one's feet for 8-10 hours daily is a recipe for arthritis.

And the days are often long, and always longest just when you'd like to be with your own family - Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, summer Saturdays when weddings happen, etc. When your product is perishable, not much can be done ahead. 

In my sales capacity, I'd show the FTD book full of colorful examples to customers and discuss with them any changes they'd like to see, take their payments, and post the orders for the designers. I mourned with those who came in to make funeral arrangements, gently dissuaded a cuckolded husband from sending his wife dead roses, helped giggling high schoolers to choose the corsages and boutonnieres for their prom dates, soothed nervous brides as I fluffed their trains on the way down the aisle, and rejoiced when someone sent flowers to a new mother.

As I grew in knowledge, I decided I wanted to design flower arrangements as well as sell them. I learned on the job in several weeks of frustrating lessons. The senior designers showed me line and proportion, color and shape, flower and greens choice over and over - I was not a natural. 

But I loved it and I still do. At weddings, I notice the flowers more than the bride's dress. I like to use fresh flowers whenever possible on my dining table. I decorate the outside of my house for the changing seasons with a wreath or a potted plant. I'm a good floral customer, even years after I left the business.

Every year, we would watch the Rose Parade from Pasadena on television, watching to see the FTD float, which usually won a prize for the most beautiful, and the Kodak float, out of loyalty to my husband's business. At Rockcastle's, we could never get any flowers to sell after Christmas - only potted plants and dish gardens, as seemingly all the other flowers in the known universe went to Pasadena to decorate the floats.

I had always wanted to see it in person. This year, having no family in town, My Beloved and I decamped after Christmas to drive down the beautiful Highway 101 through central California to the Rose Parade.  

The theme of this year's parade was "Oh, the places you'll go," from the Dr. Seuss book of that name. We watched the parade itself on television again this year but went to the "Float Viewing" where they park the floats along the avenues in Pasadena and thousands upon thousands of people stroll by to marvel at the design, the artistry, and the bounty of flowers.

They aren't kidding when they call it the Rose Parade. Every float was covered with thousands upon thousands of roses. Seeing them from afar on TV, I had always assumed that they took the roses apart and used individual petals to decorate the floats but, nope, they use the whole thing. In the photo of the goose, notice that she is surrounded by a full carpet of roses! And each float was like this, using thousands of flowers on each one. It was a florist's dream come true.  In places, the whole air smelled of flowers the way the inside of the cooler at Rockcastle's always did.

And, not only did they use roses, they used every conceivable kind of plant material. The photo above shows mixed greens, green apples, yellow roses, green cymbidium orchids, hot pink gerbera daisies and - what??? - purple cabbages! to decorate the Kaiser Permanente float with the parade theme, my favorite of all. The colors and the whimsy of that float resonated with me - I loved every aspect of its design and creation.

As we took the shuttle bus back to the excellent LA Metro system (how come we never hear about this marvelous system?), foot weary and a little sunburned, my head was full of images of the marvelous floats. In all the places I have gone and things I have done, this one will stand out in my memory as one of the most joyous.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Those amazing beans in the lamb and bean stew were too good to throw out, but we had had all we wanted of them for the meantime. I stuck the rest in the fridge, figuring I'd have it one day when My Beloved was out on business.

But, then we had a pre-Christmas celebratory dinner with daughter Katie and her hubz, a rack of lamb. I saved all the bones and made lamb broth with them (oh, yes!). Katie mentioned that lamb broth makes a killer risotto, so stand by for that post, but in the meantime, I thought I'd also make soup.

When the broth had simmered for several hours, long enough to get all the good stuff out of dem bones, I simply removed the bones, threw in the rest of that bean stew and added some fresh green beans and carrots, plus a couple of leftover roasted fingerling potatoes and parsnips. 

The deep-down goodness of the beans still stole the show, but the warm broth and fresh veggies disguised what would otherwise simply have been boring old leftovers. I could eat this every day for a year.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bean Heaven

Things got pretty darn chilly around here just before Christmas. Of course, our version of "chilly" may well be your definition of "balmy," but we Californians like to whine when the weather is less than ideal.

It was rainy as well as chilly, so hearty meals immediately came to mind. I read on "Cookblog" about a sort of ersatz cassoulet that Peter made, and it inspired me to simplify his recipe but to steal a couple of ideas from it.  I liked that he cooked the beans separately until almost tender in water, herbs and garlic to give them their own extra flavor boost, and I liked that he used duck goozle instead of confit duck legs to give a nod to tradition and additional richness.

I didn't have duck goozle, but I did have lamb/beef goozle and two lamb shoulder chops, so mine was all about the lamb.

I added bacon to the bean water (I used Navy beans, out of sentiment) as well as thyme and garlic - you simply can't go wrong with bacon. When the beans were nearing tenderness, I sautéed in a separate pan the lamb chunks in a little olive oil until they were nicely browned, and deglazed the pan with about two cups of lamb goozle and a little red wine and brewed coffee, using a rubber spatula to stir all the caramelized goodies off the bottom of the pan. Dumped the beans, the contents of the pan, and the bean water into my heavy enameled casserole and slid it into a slow oven for about four hours.

When it emerged, while the top was crusty and wonderful, there was still a lot of juice around the stew and I worried a little that I had added too much water. The first taste dispelled that concern - the bean goozle was richly flavored - I'd have happily drunk that from a glass. The lamb was rich and tender, the bacon just a kiss of a hint of a suggestion, and the beans!  Omigosh, the beans!  We have never had beans that packed such a wallop! They were deeply, warmly flavorful, heavenly beans.

I butter-steamed some Swiss chard with garlic to go alongside and that was also an inspired idea. The slightly bitter greens were a great accompaniment to the rich stew. This is ambrosia for some brawny, muscular gods who need a little warmth on a raw day up on Mount Olympus.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Good Riddance to 2012!

and a hearty welcome to 2013!  

Thanks for stopping by to read and comment - that's the best part of this whole enterprise!  Hope 2013 is your best year yet but not your best year ever.