20120304-RisottoA Fun Thing To Do With Leftover Risotto
march 4, 2012

"Leftover risotto?" you ask, "why would I ever have that?"

For starters, risotto is an easy last minute dinner that is limitlessly flexible and requires little thought. It is the perfect solution to an overabundance of leeks, freezer space that needs to be reclaimed from bags of frozen shrimp, or a drawer full of green things preventing the fridge from closing.

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Indian Spinach - may 4, 2011

Sometimes dinner needs to be fast and furious, and a plan made in haste can go badly awry. But occasionally a crazed forage through the pantry yields exciting surprises, like last night. In this case, Nigel Slater's Indian Inspired Spinach and Potatoes were on the menu (from Tender, my second favorite kitchen garden cookbook), but after dumping my son in front of TV and gearing up for dinner, I found no spinach and only a single potato in the house. Luckily, we had some sweet potatoes leftover from a past CSA box, fresh chard, spring onions and green garlic, all of which remade a semi-traditional take on saag aloo into a delightfully Springy Californian version. For a little extra protein that the kids would eat I warmed some frozen chickpeas with a little bit of curry powder and tossed those on top.  

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Gnocchi Soup with Chard or Fun with Snakes - january 22, 2011

I may sound out of my head when I say this, but I had a great time making homemade gnocchi with my 3 1/2 year old son last week. It was the most enjoyable cooking experience I’ve shared with either of my kids so far. While I like to get messy and watch them engage their senses, I am not an unusually patient parent, so fully enjoying their help in the kitchen doesn't really happen very often. Anyone who has attempted cooking with young kids will probably know what I mean.

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Fideos with Greens - july 31, 2010 

I have the most helpful children in the world, today. After a trip to the Bay Area Discovery Museum with their Dad, they came into the kitchen to assist me with dinner. The pasta needed breaking, the onion needed skinning, and my 3 year old son even chopped the onion with a knife from his play kitchen. He is a chef in training, I can tell, I just hope he doesn't grow up to do coke and smoke cigarettes like Anthony Bourdain.

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Hash Browns with Greens and Sausage - july 6, 2010

We spent the holiday in Sonoma, soaking up sun in the pool of the house our friends rented to escape summer in San Francisco.  What a great idea - while July third and morning of the fourth were warm and sunny here in the city, we returned to a chill wind and fog billowing down the street on the fifth. Yikes. I love our city, but really, the summer is just absurd.  That said, we harvested our best strawberry yet from the garden on friday - nearly as big as a toddler's fist, it was candy sweet and red all the way through, unlike most store bought strawberries that are white and tasty as a sponge on the inside.

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 Quick Orecchiette with Green Things - june 28, 2010

Orecchiette is fast becoming my first stop lazy dinner, one step short of pesto with Trader Joe's dried tortellini, which is the one my kids will always eat under any circumstance. Pesto pasta is what we leave for the babysitter to cook, the one I am teaching my daughter to prepare for her little brother, or perhaps vice versa, as soon as he or she is old enough to operate the stove without needing to call the fire department. I recently taught my four year old how to turn the stove off - so she can quiet the tea kettle while I am indisposed - and consider that a major step toward dinner independence.

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Sesame Ginger Tofu with Greens - june 3, 2010

This is another old favorite from Deborah Madison that my husband and I have been making for years. We've tried many variations of the sauce, and often I'll make it without marinating the tofu ahead of time, simply because I don't get around to mixing it up before I need to cook dinner. Even then it is delicious. Often it serves as an end of the week produce clean up, just about any vegetable can go in, clearing out the fridge for our incoming Eatwell box. I've made it with pretty much every sort of green we've had - stir fry mix, spinach, chard, kale, mustard (one of my favorites, with a simplified marinade). It is good with turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, always snap peas if we have them and sometimes carrots, though I can usually find a better use for those.

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Pasta with Greens or the Easiest Dinner Ever - april 19, 2010

We had a busy day. In the morning we watered the garden and searched for pig wire and garden rocks, with no luck. In the afternoon we looked for a pinata for my son's birthday party and walked around our local mountain, Mount San Bruno. Later we rode bikes at Crissy Field and visited Baker Beach.

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Stir Fried Mushrooms, Spring Leaves and Lemon Grass - april 15, 2010 

This morning I realized our butter was rancid, but only after I'd taken the first bite of my bagel.  I also realized that the whole wheat bagels I've been buying and pawning off on the kids are just downright nasty too - like a combination of chaff and what I would imagine Metamucil tastes like, and not the pink lemonade or berry blast flavor either. It was that kind of breakfast. Luckily, because we eat so many vegetables and fruits, I don't need to worry about things like Metamucil. At least I'm feeling good about that.

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CoffeeCake  I came across this recipe when looking through Jesse Ziff Cool's Your Organic Kitchen, thinking it was one I had made in the past and loved, but really I had something else that uses sun dried tomatoes in mind.  I'll have to find that one and try it out.  Chicken and Orzo stew is a good one for using up some greens and serving some pasta.  Its quick to make - my husband cooked it up while I shuffled about doing some other terribly important thing - and tastes pretty good, though I think I would leave out the wine if you're cooking for kids. At our house, at least, wine in food just seems to be a flavor they don't enjoy. So of course, neither of them ate it. We finally managed to convince them that the chicken wasn't so bad if removed from the stew and accompanied by a cream cheese sandwich.   

Early this afternoon I was lucky enough to have some culinary adventures of my own, in one of my favorite neighborhoods - Hayes Valley. I love the grassy green space filling the Octavia Boulevard's esplanade, especially for the really big art installations that change every year or so.  I love the sunflowers and black eyed susans that grow at its edge and the kids' climbing structure just beyond. We refer to it as The Spider Playground. On sunny afternoons I like to take my kids and stop at the Blue Bottle Coffee kiosk on Linden, then savor my coffee at the playground.  Next we cross Octavia Boulevard and pop into Miette for a treat to have after lunch and then continue on down the block for lunch and a loaf of bread to go at La Boulange.

But this morning, I was on my own.  I stopped for some beans and an iced coffee at Blue Bottle, and also picked up a tiny coffee cake made with Magnolia Stout from Magnolia Brewery.  Magnolia has been on the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, in the upper Haight, for many years. Back in its early days my husband and I dined there weekly. Magnolia's brewmaster Dave Mclean makes really great beer and is an all around nice guy - so the cake was too great an opportunity to pass up.  Blue Bottle's pastry queen, Caitlin Williams Freeman, baked my little treat, and I'm told she and her husband, Blue Bottle founder James Freeman, are really nice too.

So back to my cake.  It was good - nutty and spicy and genuinely unusual with its caraway seed finish - but just begging to be eaten with a hot cup of coffee and not an iced one.  So with much anticipation, I'm saving it for tomorrow morning. 

While puttering about over there, I came across something else I haven't encountered before - Project Homeless Connect's Community Garden. Community gardens have been popping up like mushrooms lately, partially due to the Mayor's Healthy and Sustainable Food Directive of last year, I suppose. Which is all good and well - I am a huge fan of community gardens. However, its hard not to look at them with a more critical eye, simply because there are so many. They're just becoming too trendy for their own good. 

But this one is different - its focused on connecting homeless people and housed people, in an attempt to create community. Its a really intriguing idea. I can think of many reasons why homeless and housed people might not want to connect at all. Can a garden bring them together?  I'll be checking in on their website to see what develops.


Chicken, Orzo and Greens Stew (adapted from Jesse Ziff Cool's Your Organic Kitchen):

6 oz orzo

1 1/2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips

1 red onion or shallot, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine (I wouldn't add this if you're trying to feed young kids)

2 cups chicken broth

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

1 pound greens (chard, stir fry, spinach, whatever), thinly sliced

Parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated

salt & pepper

Cook the orzo according to the package directions, drain and place in a large serving bowl. 

While the orzo is cooking, place the mustard seeds in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant.  Add to the bowl or orzo.

Heat the oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until browned and cooked through.  Remove with a slotted spoon to the bowl or orzo.

Add the onion to the skillet and cook for 4 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the wine, broth, oregano and greens.  Cover and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the greens are wilted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and add to the bowl with orzo.

Toss to blend and garnish with cheese.


OysterSauce  I am not one to normally use pre-made sauces and ingredients.  I'll admit they taste good. I know they are handy and could save my sanity. But for some ridiculous reason, I just can't do it.  So I hesitated a bit at Nigel Slater's oyster sauce creation. If this weren't a recipe from my current favorite diarist and king of vegetables, I would have glossed it over and gone on.   

But Nigel Slater is just so fantastic.  I really can't rave enough about him - his writing is beautiful, his garden is magnificent and he takes the time to cook wonderful food every day. Plus most of what he cooks is quick and easy, and, as far as I can tell, he doesn't have a personal assistant or live in maid, he is just a regular guy.  Who lives in a spotless house full of stylish crockery. With no kids. And no responsibilities other than shopping, cooking, eating and writing.

So, I take my cues from him.  He is a big deal in Britain, having just won Food Personality of the Year at the BBC's Food and Farming Awards (but I'm not sure exactly what that means, since his name is in small type at the end of the list).  He has written a weekly column for the Observer since 1993,  published two memoirs and eleven cookbooks and although he seems to invite us into his life in his writing, apparently refuses to discuss details of it with the media. Check his article and resulting discussion in Wikipedia if you're interested in getting gossipy on that. 

I am really excited for the second half of his huge and wonderful tome Tender to be published, sometime in 2010. But back to the matter at hand - what is in oyster sauce, anyway?  From the Kikkoman website:

Water, Brown Sugar, Salt, Oyster Juice Concentrate [Oyster (Molluscan Shellfish), Water, Salt],     Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce (Water, Wheat, Soybeans, Salt), Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Caramel     Color, Fermented Wheat Protein, Vinegar, Xanthan Gum.

Most of those look like food to me, except for a few of the latter. I would like to look them up in Marion Nestle's What to Eat, but I cannot find my copy.  It has magically disappeared from my bedside stack. So in my search of the web I have discovered the USDA's EAFUS, which stands for Everything Added to Food in the United States.  But sadly, its quite cryptic and not very helpful.  I've also found a site called Nutrition Data, which identifies "modified starch" as a gelling agent or thickener, "xantham gum" as one or all of the following: Bodying Agent, Bulking Agent, Emulsifier, Foaming Agent, Gelling Agent, Stabilizer, Suspending Agent, Thickener, Whipping Agent, and does not list "fermented wheat protein". Its not so helpful either. I guess I'm really wondering: what is xantham, and where does it come from?  Where do they get the food starch and how is it modified?  Why is the wheat protein fermented and not just left as regular wheat?  This site just makes me think about whether a whipping agent is something I want kept in my pantry.

Oh well.  Xantham gum aside, I enjoyed my dinner tonight.  Nigel Slater's pork free version would have been better, but now that my daughter has ceased eating all protein sources beyond peanut butter and yogurt, I'm offering up as many as I can find. Both kids ate their rice, a single 2"x1" piece of pork, and drank their milk.


Pork and Greens with Oyster Sauce and Ginger (adapted from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries):

2 cups rice (cook it in the steamer, or however you like to)

1/2 bunch coriander (aka cilantro), chopped

2 stalks of spring garlic or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 

a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons canola oil

1 bag or bunch stir-fry greens, rinsed and large stems removed

4 Tablespoons oyster sauce

2 boneless pork chops, cut into bite-sized pieces

Mr. Slater actually calls this Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce and ginger, but then goes on to say that you can make it with just about any broccoli or spring green, which I think means young green.  So in my case, a bag of stir-fry mix from our produce box works perfectly.  Along with some pork, to buff up the greens that my kids won't eat.  I serve it with steamed rice, leaving out the cilantro for the kids but adding it for grown-ups.

Roughly chop the cilantro and fold it into the rice, which should be kept warm while you cook the rest. Warm the oil in a wok over high heat (or large pan over medium heat if you don't have a wok) .  Add the garlic and ginger, stir it for about thirty seconds, then toss in the pork and stir them around for five minutes or so. Then add the oyster sauce and stir it in.  Next,  add the greens and 1/4 cup of water.  Stir it all around, then put the lid on halfway for a few minutes, until the greens are as tender as you'd like them to be.  Serve the pork and greens over the rice.




Green on greens.

I realize the calendar listed "bean stew with herbed pesto" for tonight's dinner, but when I went to soak the beans this morning, and happened to check the recipe, I realized we had no chicken stock.  And while most of the time I would just sub in water, I bought special beans that look like little cows for this one, so I didn't want to mess it up. 

Instead, I put a chicken out to thaw and finally got around to using the greens from last week's CSA box. I've been so taken with the first asparagus and shelling peas this spring that I've let some of our more ordinary workhorse items - leeks and greens and green garlic and spinach - fall to bottom of the fridge.

This recipe is an oldie but goodie - we've been eating it for years.  Usually we make the sauce and greens with tofu and rice, but when I need chicken stock, it only makes sense to eat some so that I have leftover bones to simmer all night.  Either one is good. At our house the kids won't touch tofu unless it is completely tasteless and floating in a bowl of broth. So usually, if we have languishing greens, we'll eat the tofu version for a late supper after the kids are in bed.

Any kind of greens will work, what we get are actually called stir-fry greens, and are made up of young leaves of chard, kale, spinach, mustard and all sorts of other leafy green brassica-like things.

I managed to make it in to Omnivore Books this afternoon, to pick up a copy of Gordon Edgar's Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge.  He has been working at Rainbow Grocery's cheese counter since 1994, which is only one year longer than I have been shopping there. According to Omnivore, he is "witty and irreverent, informative and provocative".  I can't wait to read his book. I also can't wait to see him speak at Omnivore this Saturday, at 3:00 pm.  How could you not want to hang out and hear the dirt on cheese?


Greens and Tofu/Chicken Stir-Fry (adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone):

1 large bunch stir-fry greens (or any other sort of greens)

12 oz firm tofu or 2 chicken legs (thigh and drum included)

4 large garlic cloves or 4 green garlic stalks, finely chopped (depending on the season)

a two inch or so piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 Tablespoons dark sesame oil

4 Tablespoons sesame oil

8 teaspoons brown sugar

6 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Before you do anything else, start a rice cooker with a couple cooks of rice in it. Next, pull the leaves off the stems of the greens, then wash them in a salad spinner.  Spin dry, and put them aside.  If using tofu, slice into 1/2 inch x 2 inch pieces.  If using chicken, cut the meat off the bone and into 1 inch square or so pieces. 

Mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oils to make the sauce. Put the vegetable oil in a wok, and heat it up.  The whole point in stir-frying is that the pan is so hot, the food just needs to be stirred around for a brief period of time - so crank up the heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the tofu or chicken.  Stir it around for a minute or two, then add the garlic and ginger.  Let the garlic and ginger soften, but not color or burn.  When they are soft, add the tofu or chicken, and stir-fry.  When the meat (or tofu) looks done (slice open the biggest piece you can find to make sure its not pink inside), dump the greens on top of the chicken/tofu, and stir-fry them as well.  When the greens are wilted, pour the sauce over the greens and chicken/tofu.  Stir it all together and turn off the heat.  Serve over rice!