Fava Hummus - may 10, 2013

I am certain that the super-powered seeds Jack (of the beanstalk)’s mother threw out her kitchen window were favas. While some might question the wisdom of trading an entire cow (even if she is old, like me) for a handful of beans, there is real truth to this tale beyond the giants, gold, magic hens and beanstalks of unusual size: legumes can be a delicious source of protein and some varieties are really easy to grow, in the right location.

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Fava Bean Tagine - may 18, 2010

I love the way that rolls off my tongue - fava bean tagine. I bet if I made it into a little song and dance, while I served dinner, my daughter would repeat it all day long - just to annoy me. But would she eat it? Well, yes, under duress. I spoon fed her all the fava beans (which she enjoys raw, but not cooked) and sweet potatoes, in exchange for a bowl of super sugar clifford crisps, or some other fake-healthy organic sugar cereal. The chicken and cous-cous she ate on her own. My son refused the vegetables outright, but that is nothing unusual.

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Polenta and Blood Orange Sorbet - may 9, 2010

Polenta is a rather intensive affair, when cooked at home from dry crunchy grit. The traditional recipe calls for near continuous stirring, for half an hour to fourty-five minutes. Deborah Madison offers a more modern walk-away version, but it needs to sit in a double boiler for an hour and a half, after two separate pots of water are brought to a boil, one at a time, on top of each other, all before the grit even comes into play. At my house, a cooking time that long and with that many steps could only be accomplished with very well orchestrated planning, which is not my forte.

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More Pasta and Veg - may 3, 2010

We had a busy weekend, as usual, with one of the highlights being Urban Sprouts' Greens, Eggs & Jam brunch on Saturday. My husband, kids and I rode our bikes along Golden Gate Park's panhandle bike path over to Ida B. Wells High School in the Western Addition for the party. The greens and eggs were fabulous - lots of yummy food from NOPA, Radio Africa & Kitchen and Contigo Restaurants, and the bluegrass band was fun. My daughter was stumped when asked to identify their instruments - "a violin and three guitars" she told me. But it was actually a fiddle, mandolin, banjo and one guitar.

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No eggs for egg salad today, after yesterday's debacle.  

I love fava beans.  To me, they are the harbinger of spring.  Yes, they are a pain to prepare - first you shell the beans, then you boil them really briefly, then you skin the beans - but I find it a reasonable tradeoff. Favas start showing up at the market around the same time as shelling peas, asparagus and lilacs. Lilacs are my absolute favorite, except for  Lily of the Valley, yet another springtime superstar of the garden. I would gladly trade a year's worth of chocolate to get both of those to flower every spring in my yard.

Pasta Primavera, on the other hand, I have mixed feelings for. It is one of those foods usually more fatty and salty than good, and can range anywhere from comforting to frightening, depending on who makes it for me. But this one is from Canal House Cooking again, and is both a joy to cook and to eat. Like the name implies, it actually uses young spring vegetables, not old crufters you might find at the grocery store in January.

Its ham and spaghetti appeal to kids and manly meat eaters, and the veggies aren't too hard to separate out, should someone deem them unfit for consumption. The only caveat to easy assembly are the favas and peas. I recruit my kids to help shell them. Its the one time I encourage them to shred food, so they don't mind helping out. Getting started on those early on in the day is a good idea, they can sit out on the counter just fine and will benefit from a few minutes of attention here and there.

Today was the perfect spring day - I made dinner with the kitchen doors open to the deck and wandered down to pick mint from the garden. Lots of sun, not too hot. Hopefully tomorrow I'll make it out there again to start some seedlings, but that is looking doubtful. I hope the weather holds until Thursday. 

My bad decisions of yesterday were replaced by plain old bad luck today.  We managed to make it to the Garden Railway at the Conservatory of Flowers, which was very cool - a miniature railroad featuring city landmarks all built of recycled trash - but the fog machine was broken, so the 11:15 fogging I had promised the kids didn't happen.  Instead, we identified and counted the kitchen gadgets used to build the Ferry Plaza building. Then this evening at dinner, I managed to break two corkscrews while attempting to open a bottle of riesling.  Luckily, I found my old swiss army knife while cleaning out my top dresser drawer this past weekend - and it did the job just fine. 


Pasta Primavera (adapted from Canal House Cooking volume 3):

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup diced smoked ham (if you have kids who will like this part, double it)

1 cup fava beans, shelled, then dropped for 30 seconds into boiling water, then peeled. 

1 cup shelled peas

1 bunch chopped thin asparagus

1 stalk green garlic

1 pound spaghetti

1 Tablespoon tomato paste 

A few finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Grated pecorino romano cheese

For starters, you can prep the fava beans and peas in advance.  The peas just need to be shelled.  The favas need to be shelled (the easiest way is to break the end off the bean pod, squeeze out a bean, then break it again to get to the next bean, squeeze it out, and so on).  Then drop them for 30 seconds into a pot of boiling water.  Drain them and dump them into a bowl of ice water.  Then peel them (the easiest way is to pinch a bit of the skin off, then just squeeze the bean so it pops out of the pinched spot).

When its time to make dinner, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over medium heat.  The pasta takes about ten minutes to cook, so don't start it until fifteen or so minutes before you want to eat.  Instead, turn the heat down to simmer once it boils, so that your water is ready to heat up quickly when you are ready for it.  Put about two Tablespoons of olive oil in a large, low sided pot or pan over medium-low heat.  When it is hot (it will shimmer, but should not smoke) add the ham.  Stir it around for a couple minutes until it starts to brown just a little bit, then throw in the green garlic and peas.  Add about 1/2 cup of the boiling pasta water, stir it up, and let the peas simmer in it for five to ten minutes, until they seem done to you. Then add the favas and asparagus and cook it for about five minutes more.  Remove the pan from heat and don't put a lid on it.  

If you haven't already, put the pasta on to cook.  Turn the heat back up so that the water boils vigorously, then pour it in and mix it up right away, to prevent clumping.  When it is done, drain it and then put it back into the pot.  Add the tomato paste and about three more Tablespoons of olive oil and stir to coat.  Then add the vegetables and ham, along with any pan juices, to the spaghetti and stir it together.  Salt and pepper to taste. Serve into bowls, sprinkle with the fresh mint and grate some cheese over the top.




Sometimes we turn to last minute alternatives.

The kids and I spent the morning visiting the doctor,  investigating my son's complaints of tummy aches and other intestinal issues that have been carrying on for the last few weeks.  I figured his GI problems were due to the fourteen days of antibiotic he'd ingested to treat an ear infection back at the beginning of the month, in addition to the seven days of antibiotic he'd taken for a staph infection about a month before the ear thing. But when his eyes got goopy and he started barking like a seal I figured I should take him in.  

"Hrm..." the doctor said "his tummy feels fine, but he has a really big ear infection".

Well imagine my surprise that he'd been able to foster a new, nasty infection so quickly in the same ear. But, it turns out, its the same old infection, just bigger and badder, and now identified as antibiotic resistant.  So he gets another fourteen days of a new antibiotic.  And when the doctor confirmed my suspicions that the stomach problems were probably a result of the antibiotics, she asked me about my son's diet.

"Gus is kind of like a bat.  He eats mostly fruit." I told her.  And she thought that was fine, but recommended that he (which of course means we) start eating lots of "white, starchy things".  "Don't feed him any whole grains", she said.  And with that she was gone, leaving me with a blindingly white prescription flapping in my hand and two insane children groveling at my feet, shredding the exam table paper and rubbing themselves all over the clinic floor.  

Yikes.  No whole grains?  Thats like, all we eat.  Aside from fruit and vegetables. Perhaps that should clue me in to why my son has such active bowels.  But I took it in stride and realized we had a wonderful opportunity to have white, processed grain pasta with our scheduled dinner. 

Except that my kids wouldn't eat it.  In fact, I wouldn't even eat it.  When the recipe asked me to simmer the leeks in chicken broth I got a little nervous, and in hindsight I wish I'd gone with my gut and sauteed them instead.  Even my husband, who actually ate the pasta, was surprised that I hadn't.  He thinks that will fix any problems, but I'm not planning to test his theory.  This one won't make it into my three star and above archive - which, by the way, I'm planning to put up sometime soon, in printable 4x6 notecard format - get your recipe boxes ready.

So instead, we had a cheese plate and toast.  Havarti and Cheddar from Say Cheese, where we'd stopped after the doctor, luckily. Thanks guys, for saving the day!


Creamy Leek, Pea, and Chicken Pasta (adapted from Sunset Magazine, April 2010):

8 oz spaghetti or other pasta

1 cup shelled peas

1 bunch leeks, sliced (about a cup)

1 green garlic, sliced

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup coarsely shredded chicken

1 cup cottage cheese

salt & pepper (about a teaspoon of each)

Cook the pasta in salted water, following package directions and adding the peas to the pot for the last few minutes. Drain and put it in a large serving bowl. Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a boil and cook the leeks and garlic in it.  When the leeks are soft, add the chicken and pour over the pasta.  Stir in the cottage cheese and salt and pepper.





 What is a home without tequila?  As I found this afternoon, perfectly fine, as long as there is vodka around. The margarita recipe I posted last friday works well with either one.

Today I had the honor of meeting Novella Carpenter, author of the book Farm City about her adventures in urban agriculture in Oakland, CA.  She was great, even more Farmy than I had imagined she'd be.  As she likes to explain in her book, she is not the first to raise a garden and livestock in an inner city.  Its not that uncommon in other countries, and even some parts of the United States. Today, I'm told, Detroit has the most active urban farming community in our country.  Nonetheless, her story of breaking ground for a farm in Oakland's Ghost Town neighborhood where she raises poultry, rabbits and pigs is pretty impressive.  

As for my garden, I took the big step of planting our pre-sprouted bean seeds today.  if you remember from a day or two back, the seeds have been growing in paper towels as my efforts to settle them into the ground were thwarted by uncooperative children.  Today I finally dispensed with my need for family planting and planted them by myself.  Naturally there was much shrieking and rending of garments when my children learned the fate of their seeds, but luckily I had a few left for them to drop into holes in the ground.  And now, thank goodness, it is done.  

For the second time this month we ate an asparagus and pea salad, from Canal House Cooking's spring issue. It is so good that I plan to make it again before the season ends.  We also grilled salmon, my college pal Jenny Nelson's recipe, that Jason and I first ate years ago on the east coast in their wonderful garden. This spring pairing is great, and for the kids (there were five - my friend Shelley and her munchkins joined us for dinner) there was also a side of buttered pasta, some sort of twisty noodles they were very fond of. I had some too, really not a bad addition to the meal.


Asparagus and Pea Salad (adapted from Canal House Cooking Volume 3):

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 bunches thin asparagus,  sliced crosswise after tough bottoms have been trimmed off.

1 cup fresh peas, shelled

4 skinny spring onions, thinly sliced

1 small head butter lettuce, washed and chopped

8 pieces cooked bacon, chopped

1 handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

pepper & salt

Bring a pot of water to boil, and toss the peas in for two minutes, then the sliced asparagus.  Boil for two more minutes, then dump the pot into a colander in the sink.  Then immerse the vegetables in a big bowl of ice water to stop them from further cooking.  Put the lettuce, onions, mint and bacon in a salad bowl, then add the peas and asparagus when they are cool.

Put some water on in a kettle to boil, keeping it warm until the rest of your meal is almost ready.  At that time, heat the water back to a boil and mix 1/4 cup of hot water with the parmesan and olive oil.  Whisk it until smooth.  Add the pepper and some salt.  Pour this dressing over your salad, toss it and serve.



Jenny Nelson's Grilled Salmon:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 Tablespoon dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon butter

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 teaspoon honey

fresh wild caught salmon filet for four

Put the olive oil, soy sauce and brown sugar into a teeny-tiny pot over low heat (I use a metal measuring cup).  Bring it to a gentle simmer, then add the butter, ginger and honey. Stir it all together, then let the sauce simmer until it thickens, so that it is not terribly runny any longer. Remove it from heat.

Lay each piece of salmon skin side down on a sheet of tinfoil, and fold up the edges to make a sort of boat around the fish. This will hold the sauce in place, so the tinfoil edges should be close to the fish edge, and at least as tall.  

Heat the grill, and when it is medium heat, put each fish boat on the grill, and brush the sauce on with a pastry brush.  Try to divide it equally among the fish pieces.

Close the grill lid and wait five or ten minutes.  Then check on the fish - it will be a paler pink color and opaque looking when it is ready.  You can cut into the middle of the fish with a knife to see how its done and judge for yourself.  Bright pink is undercooked, but you don't want to cook the fish so much that even the middle is overcooked, so a completely opaque middle section is too cooked.  When the fish is ready, you should be able to scoop it off the foil, leaving the skin behind, with a spatula.




Mmmm...spicy peas. 

How exciting that the San Francisco Chronicle answered my quest for a homemade energy bar in their Sunday food section this weekend!  Thanks Mr. Hearst, I promise I'll stop threatening to cancel my subscription whenever your delivery boy throws the paper through our window.  I'll test the Cherry Chocolate Energy Bar recipe out later this week.

Yesterday we dined at my friend Laure's house.  She served a delicious salt cod dinner and we brought a pea and asparagus salad from a recipe in the latest Canal House Cooking. I'll have to make the salad again soon, it was really tasty.  

Tonight I made a tagine with chicken and sweet potatoes. My Moroccan friend Khadesia showed me how to cook this, so its really her recipe. She usually makes it with frozen peas, but today I picked my first harvest of snap peas from our garden, so I'm putting those in at the last minute instead.  The best part of this dinner are the sweet potatoes.  They cook on top of the chicken, so basically are steamed over spices.

Today was a great day in the garden.  First of all, we finished planting the strawberries.  Sixteen of them (a few are leftovers from last year) in a terraced rock garden that should get enough sun, if I can find an arborist to lop a couple branches off our ancient apple tree.  I'm determined to have great berries this year so that my kids can feed themselves (I'm also planting a dozen raspberries). I'm debating whether or not to mulch with black plastic, then coconut hulls or straw on top. I'd love to hear about your strawberries, if you have any.

As for the peas, they have been growing like crazy over the sides of our deck.  I have to reel in the vines that hang down over the railing to pick the peas, as though I'm bringing in lobster traps.  Unfortunately all our pea plants have powdery mildew right now, so I'm planning to pull them as soon as their current flowers have turned into peas and are ready to eat. The mildew seems to start at ground level and then travel outward, so the newest growth is fine, while the part in the pot look horrible.  From now on I'll be more careful to buy only mildew resistant seeds. 

Now, back to the tagine.  One of the spices I use is a bit of a mystery to me - it is on the far right of today's photo. My friend Laure brought it to me from Cambodia.  It is labeled Imit or maybe 1mit.  It calls itself Khmer Safran and has a picture of a rootish thing, that looks like what turmeric comes from, basically an orange piece of ginger.  Khadesia called it "colorant", which appears to be a typical ingredient in a moroccan tagine, but she said it is not the same as turmeric.  My friend Laure told me it was "safran" and left it at that. I think it smells similar to turmeric. Wikipedia tells me that turmeric has been called Indian saffron in the past and used as a replacement for saffron (the kind from a crocus), so maybe that is why what appears to be turmeric is labeled safran. Go figure.  I'll  list it on the ingredient list, but good luck finding it.  Your tagine will probably be fine without it.  

You will need, however, the proper cooking vessel - a tagine. My favorite is the Emile Henry version, in red. Its kind of pricey.  I served this with cous-cous, which I made really quickly in a regular old pot. Khadesia tells me that to make couscous you need a couscoussiere to cook it properly, and would probably be horrified to see my instructions below.


Khadesia's Chicken Tagine:

1 chicken, cut into parts

4 medium sweet potatoes

1/2 cup peas (or snap peas)

2 slices preserved lemon

1/2 bunch cilantro

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 largish pinches saffron threads

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon colorant (safran)

salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a tagine - be careful not to turn the heat up too high (I use a medium low setting) because you can crack the tagine .  The temperature is about right before you hear a lot of sizzling. Sprinkle a little salt on the chicken, then arrange it in a single layer in the tagine. Add the preserved lemon to the chicken - on top is fine. Sprinkle half the spices (1 pinch saffron, 1/2 t coriander, turmeric, paprika and colorant) on top of the chicken, salt and pepper it and add half the cilantro. Put the lid on the tagine and cook over  for about twenty minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, wash, peel and slice the sweet potatoes into long slices (I usually cut them in half, then half the halves longways).  Wash the peas.  When twenty minutes have passed, flip the chicken over, then sprinkle the remainder of the spices and cilantro on top. Lay the sweet potatoes on top of the chicken.  Cover and cook for another twenty to thirty minutes.  For the last few minutes, add the peas.




1 cup cous-cous

2 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon olive oil


Bring the water to a boil in a teakettle or separate pot and keep it simmering.  Heat the oil in a large skillet (or low sided pot), then add the cous-cous and stir it around for a couple minutes until it browns just a little bit. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt and remove the skillet from heat.  Pour in the water, it will bubble up and make some noise.  Quickly stir it one time, then cover the skillet with a lid and let it sit for ten minutes. Fluff the cous-cous before serving.




Peas are fun to shell - especially when you are three years old. 

Last night's dal was, as usual, very popular.  The turnips were great - really good mixed in with rice. Jason thinks the turnip greens would have been a nice addition, as the meal was a bit monochromatic.  

Risotto is really simple to make, its great with all sorts of spring veggies and nice for evenings when I'm feeling brain dead, like tonight. And since its just about almost spring, there were shelling peas at the grocery store this week, so I bought some.  Green garlic and leeks were in our produce box, and we just happened to have chicken stock in the fridge.  The kids and I sat out on the back deck and shelled peas this afternoon. Then they loaded the pea pods into their toy dump trucks and delivered them around. Lovely!  

Also a salad, the same lettuce pomelo one from two days ago, especially if you still have 3/4 of a pomelo languishing in the fridge like I do.  A simple lettuce with vinaigrette will do too, if thats the case, I would add a half teaspoon of dijon mustard to the vinaigrette recipe - not so great with fruit, but good when its just lettuce.  A few sliced radishes would be nice as well, if you're not using fruit.


Very Early Spring Risotto:

2 T butter

2 cups arborio rice

2 leeks, thinly sliced

3 stalks green garlic, thinly sliced    

1/2 lb peas, shelled

1 quart chicken stock

salt & pepper

parmesan cheese

Heat the chicken stock to simmer in a covered pot.  In another large pot, heat the butter.  When the butter is melted and starting to froth, add the leeks and green garlic.  Cook them for about ten minutes on low heat, until they are translucent.  You don't want them to color, at least not much. Add some salt, if you're using unsalted stock, about a teaspoon or to taste. Add the rice, stir to coat it with butter and let it sit for a minute or so.  Add the peas. Next add a couple ladles of stock and stir the rice.  You'll need to stir frequently (but not constantly) until the rice dries out, then add a couple more ladlefuls of stock.  Continue on, adding stock, stirring the rice, letting it dry out, then adding more stock again, until the rice is done - it will be soft and a bit chewy, usually in thirty to fourty minutes.

When its done, add more salt if needed, serve and grind pepper over the top and grate some parmesan on top.  Thats it. Really, its that easy.



Chicken Stock:

1 big crockpot

Leftover chicken carcass

1 large onion   

2 stalks celery 

1 small carrot

We usually make stock the night after we roast a chicken, or cut the meat off for some other chicken meal.  Sometimes we just cut the meat off (two breasts, two thighs, two drumsticks) and freeze it for later, when we need some stock.

Put the meatless bird in the stock pot.  Trim the ends of the onion and peel the paper off, quarter it and put it in the crock pot.  Scrub the carrot and celery, then chop them into five or six pieces each and toss them in.  Fill the crock pot with water.  Set the crock pot to low, and leave it over night.  

If the chicken has a lot of leftover meaty bits on it, then after an hour or two pull it out and shred the meat off, then save it in the fridge for chicken rice (or noodle) soup.  Put the chicken carcass back in the crock pot.  

In the morning, strain the stock into a fat separator, and pour it into jars.  Let it cool for an hour or two, then put it in the fridge.  It freezes really well, but you have to use widemouth glass jars for that (a curved neck will crack when the liquid expands as it freezes).  You can also keep it in the fridge indefinitely, as long as you either use it within a week, or take it out and boil it for five minutes every week.


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