Gone to Seed - june 11, 2010

"It's just gone to seed", my mother would say, shaking her head and referring to areas of our town she no longer liked, when they had passed out of fashion or become unacceptable.  "Don't touch anything, its so seedy!" She would shout about an untouchable location, like the public bathroom at the playground. Now my lettuce and arugula plants are going to seed. They are bolting, shooting up and flowering. After dinner tonight I can tell you for sure that they are no longer good to eat. Tougher, less flavorful, a little more difficult to chew than I like my salads to be. But they make a nice bouquet.

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Happy Mothers Day! - may 10, 2010

I know, its a day late, but I like to drag things on. It gives me more time to enjoy. My family gave me the greatest Mother's Day gifts yesterday. Naturally, they revolved around food, so I have to share them here.

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Doughies! - april 23, 2010

These little lovelies are something sweet my friend Steph reminded me of long ago. Steph and I go way back, before even high school, and today we still try to get together to cook and eat dinner frequently. For many years it happened once a week and often featured chicken pot pie, but now that we have three children between us, not nearly as often.

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I started building a bean teepee with the kids today.  We stuck the ends of some eight foot sticks into the ground, then lashed them together at the top with string.  The plan is to plant beans - scarlet runner and trionfo violetto - at the base of each stick so that they climb and make a tent for the kids to play in and beans for us to eat.  This will be our third year teepee, though last year's was a bit of a dud.  

Of course we didn't finish today, just like years past.  But this year I've solved my problem of bean seeds rotten from too long in their pre-planting soak or dry and dead from too long out of it.  After soaking them in water for a few hours, we put our seeds in a little plastic cup and covered them with a wet paper towel - pre-sprouting.  Now we can take our seeds in and out of the house without planting as often as we want, as long as the paper towel stays damp.  And when we finally get around to planting them in the ground, hopefully they'll be ready to go.  

Dinner tonight was a really simple soup from - you guessed it - Canal House Cooking.  This is a good one to make a few days ahead, because it reheats well. We only had a pound of beets, so I had to sub in an extra potato (neither of which were russet).  It was fine, but I think more beets would be better.  And I happen to know that waxy potatoes can make things gummy, so stick with a russet if you have one around. Red beets would probably be better too. Our soup was just a bit...pale.  Salad was on the side, essentially the same Niçoise-esque item from last week.  My kids turned their noses up at the soup, but they did eat the tuna, deviled egg and leftover pizza on their plates.  

In other news, I found a wonderful book today while stopping by Crissy Field to check out the early evening light.  Its called Back to Basics: Traditional Kitchen Wisdom and is a collection of old school how-tos (garden building, food storing, canning, winemaking, beekeeping) edited by Andrea Chesman, who I don't think I've encountered before.  She writes books, and a blog, all about seasonal cooking and making things easy for Mom - right up my alley!  Most of her books are about vegetables and grains (read vegetarian) and she has even got one containing 255 recipes for squash.  I'm so excited!  

However, my favorite part of the book so far - without having read it - are the beautiful watercolor illustrations.  I guess they are paintings by Bernard Chau, who is credited as "illustrator" on the copyright page.  I just can't find anything in the book that attributes the watercolors to anyone.  Is this what happens when you do work for Reader's Digest?  On his webpage, I see that Mr. Chau has more images of "crime" in his portfolio than "food". Huh.  Well, I guess thats work for hire - the art editor probably just set him up a still life and said "paint this".  I suppose I shouldn't be too broken up over it, I can't expect all artists to be Patricia Curtan, can I?


Beet Soup (adapted from Canal House Cooking volume 3):

4 beets (2 pounds)

4 Tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped

rind from 1/4 preserved lemon (scrape out the fruity part inside the rind)

4 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and bake until tender (1-2 hours).  Unwrap the beets, and when they are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins.  Coarsely chop the beets and set aside.

While the beets are baking, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until they are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, beets, preserved lemon and three cups of the stock.  Cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about an hour.  For a really smooth soup, let it cool and puree it in small batches in the blender.  (Really, you must let it cool.  Otherwise it will blow the lid of your blender and hot soup will blast into your face and all over your kitchen.  Its happened to me, its happened to the Canal House authors).  If you, like me, are a more impatient type who cannot be trusted to wait for the soup to cool, then just stick a hand blender in it for a while and call it good. If the soup is too thick, add the remaining stock in small amounts until you're happy with it.  Serve hot or cold.




Voila! Salad Nicoise (or a salad with something for everyone - serves 4-6):

4 oz spring mix salad

1 7oz cans of tuna (chunk light if you like less mercury)

assorted olives 

4 to six eggs

cherry tomatos (if they're in season)

1 avocado

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoons champagne vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

salt & pepper

For starters, hard-boil the eggs.  If you don't already have a favorite way, try this one:

Put the eggs in a pot, cover them with water.  Bring the water to a medium boil (thats not wimpy, but not hard enough to crack the eggs).  Let them boil for a full minute.  Turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit in the water until it is cool.  I've been told that adding vinegar to egg water makes them easier to peel, but I haven't tested this.  I have found that fresher eggs are harder to peel, so I like to stash some away in the back of the fridge to age for easier peeling.  I think too, that aging an egg for a day or two after boiling it makes the peeling easier.

When the eggs are cool, peel them, slice in half and put on each plate.  If you have kids who like deviled eggs but not plain old eggs, scoop the yolks out of the kids' eggs and, in a bowl, mix them with a bit of mayonnaise - usually one teaspoon per yolk.  Peel and slice the avocados, add some to each plate.  Add some olives, then some tuna.  Be sure to leave room on the plates for the lettuce, in the middle of all the other items. Slice the cherry tomatoes and plate them too.

Wash and dry the salad, then let it rest in the fridge while you mix up the dressing.  In a small jar, add the oil and vinegar, then a big pinch of salt and some pepper.  Put on the lid, shake it up.  Pour over the salad and toss it.  If it seems too dry, sprinkle on some more olive oil.  Its handy to keep some in a cruet just for situations like this.  Grind some more pepper over it, add it to the plates, and serve.  Be sure to put salt on the table for this one - I like to sprinkle it on the egg and avocado.




Mega Minestrone - march 15, 2010

Phew - that was a nice vacation!  A little sledding, a little skiing, lots of snow and lots of kids. Now we're back and ready for spring. It's especially lovely that San Francisco has been sunny and 65 degrees the two days since our return - it is so liberating not to need a thousand layers of clothing to go out the door. And better yet, the kids sleep longer in the morning and now five o'clock is late afternoon instead of evening. Hooray for springing ahead!

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SpinachPastaA                           My "spinning" cheese grater!

Two months into the year and I'm making good on my new year's resolution to blog about my garden and what comes out of it (or doesn't). I like to eat, and I like to eat what I grow, so there you are. But I know that most people who have jobs and families are busy, and thus not interested in hearing me blather on about slugs and weeds. So, I offer a trade. I'm going to blog about what we eat in exchange for you reading about what we grow. Hopefully the two will meet up at some point.  

My husband, Jason, and I have been members of a CSA (aka community supported agriculture or farm share or whatever you want to call it) for more than ten years.  We make just about everything from scratch (not bread, because we have two great local bakeries, cheese, coffee, or mayonnaise, at least not usually).  So I like to consider the two of us pretty knowledgeable about cooking seasonally and locally. 

We have two young children who are pretty particular when it comes to food, and neither of us have much time, which means we're always searching for recipes that are delicious to us, edible to the kids, easy to prepare and use the ingredients we have. 

So you see the value of my proposition - I will blog our nightly recipe and hopefully it will meet all of the above qualifications.  If not I'll let you know, though you'll have to read tomorrow's post for its taste rating. I have to admit, I actually schedule dinners a week in advance once I know what is going to be in our produce box, so if I can figure out some way to pre-blog the recipes I will, in case anyone cares to cook along in real time.   Otherwise, I'll just put them up day by day.  I have a feeling many cookbook authors are not going to want me scanning and posting their recipes, but since I'm not making money off this blog, I'll go ahead and do it until they ask me to stop.  And of course, you are all welcome to go out and purchase the referenced book. 

Today's recipe is from Donna Hay's Off the Shelf: Spinach and Ricotta Baked Pasta p 22.

Its spinach season!  And boy do we have a lot of it.  So this is great, though its really a pain to blanch and squeeze the water out of spinach ahead of time.  This recipe also requires that you cook the pasta ahead, which is fine for me today since I have two kids at home with fever. Its amazing what I can accomplish when a dose of tylenol and Dora the Explorer keep my kids sitting on the sofa for more than thirty minutes.

The amount of rigatoni and spinach-cheese this recipe makes is daunting, so I divided it up into two sections, one to freeze in a couple of ziplocs.  I also used a spinning grater for this.  I have no idea what it is really called , but grating cheese is a pain in the ass without one of these for hard cheese or a food processor for medium squishy types.  Cook this until it smells good and starts to brown around the edges, it seems to act more like a flat souffle or dry quiche than bubbling and cheesing like a lasagne.

As for my garden, nothing exciting to report.  I weeded a bit today, then the kids scattered some seeds for red clover and planted a few fava beans, but later I remembered the area we planted gets no sun until mid june.  Why will weeds grow when there is no sun?

SpinachPasta001 SpinachPasta002

Photo by  Con Poulos

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