Three Cheers for Kohlrabi! - november 20, 2011

Kohlrabi is something I remember from my childhood. My mother presented it to us, my brother, sister, and I, in the kitchen. A strange, alien form she found either at the grocery store or in her garden. It was not purple then, but a pale greeny white, as though it might taste minty or sweet like a honeydew melon. She peeled it, cut it into cubes and then served it up with toothpicks. 

"It's delicious!" she announced, slurping her lips to let us know of her love for the thing. 

But it was not minty, or sweet. Maybe a little bit refreshing, in a watery sort of way, with a strong whiff of broccoli. Finding it all around objectionable, the three of us squealed in horror and ran out into the yard, never to touch kohlrabi again.

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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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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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A Bale of Straw and Some Sausage Salad - june 14, 2010

I finally figured out, after making a wrong turn on my way home from Berkeley last week, how to find Golden Gate Fields. This is where my friend Geoff, from the Edible School Yard, sent me to remedy my compost problems. My compost has been neglected for weeks now, growing slimy, stinky, and buggy, after running out of its only source of "browns" - a season's worth of dropped leaves from our ancient apple tree. 

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Joy of a Roast Chicken - may 3, 2010

Today was a near perfect spring day - fitting, since May Day was this past Saturday. We had no plans this morning, which allowed me to tidy the kitchen to near acceptable standards of cleanliness, something it hasn't achieved since early two thousand six. There was only one timeout for the kids while I swept and rinsed and scrubbed and sorted, they were largely good on their own, playing "camping" in the sunny living room by redesigning the sofa into a tent complete with special secret agent devices.

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Those are hot pink potatoes, not miniature salamis.  

Way back in the dot-com days I spent most of my evenings at restaurants in San Francisco.  One of my favorite memories is the fish and chips at an Irish Pubs in North Beach, though, sadly, I can't seem to remember which one.  O'reilly's maybe?  There was a big dog - a huge Irish Wolfhound, but I don't think it was Mad Dog in the Fog.  And the fish and chips - out of this world!  The ones I remember best were a combination of different types of fish - lightly battered nuggets of salmon, cod and something else.  But later, when I returned, they had changed.  Still magnificent, but more run of the mill - just one fish, slightly more batter.

So Sunset Magazine's "Healthy Fast Food" offering of grilled fish and "chips" caught my eye.  Especially since one of the best well loved foods in my house these days is the potato, oven roasted, which is pretty similar to a grilled potato. For the kids, I offered two tartar sauces, one from the recipe, and one from the fridge.  I'm not sure which they preferred.  With a salad from the garden this one is easy, healthy and a sure bet as far as taste.  How can you go wrong with grilled fish and tartar sauce?

Though I have to admit that grilling fish on a rainy evening is dedication. But with a raincoat and towel to wipe rain off the plate, its really not that bad.  Get's you out of the house.  Had it been a nice sunny evening I would have tried grilling the potatoes, but I wasn't about to wait around and test the doneness of more than one item in the rain, especially an unfamiliar one.  So those went in the oven.  But those potatoes, well, they were weird. 

We get all sorts of different colors in our CSA box - blue ones, pink "huckleberry" ones, yukon golds, yellow finns, and we've grown several kinds in our back yard - rose finn apple is my favorite (I'm willing to bet they were called "rose fir apple" when I ordered them for planting last year). This bag, however, I found at Mollie Stone's, along with yesterday's watercress, because Rainbow really didn't have any fingerling potatoes (long and skinny instead of round). I guess they must be out of season. In the bag they looked normal, but when washed and sliced in half, they were hot pink.  Really bright, almost purple. My kids couldn't believe it - and didn't want to eat them. I tried comparing them to the hot pink marshmallow bunnies they love so much, but no dice.  

Speaking of potatoes, I used to think it was kind of fun when rogue potato plants would pop up in my garden, due to a little tiny potato overlooked from the previous season's harvest.  Until  I read the section on blight in Mark Diacono's Veg Patch - one of a series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) introduced food books.  Potato plants that are not from reputable seed potatoes or were planted in soil that grew potatoes within the past two years are much more likely to suffer from blight, which rots the potatoes before harvest and is blamed for the death of 20-25% of Irelands population between 1845 and 1852.  So now, I dig out those cute little baby potato plants whenever I find them.  And next year I will do a better job of rotating my crops.


Grilled Fish and Chips (adapted from Sunset Magazine, April 2010):

2 striped bass filets (about 1 pounds)

1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes

1 Tablespoons capers

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/3 cup mayonnaise

olive oil

salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°. Lay out your fish in a glass dish, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze half of it over the fish.  Sprinkle a Tablespoon or so of olive oil over the fish, then salt and pepper it - about 1/8 teaspoon of each. Let the fish marinate while you prepare the potatoes and grill. Wash and slice the potatoes long ways, then toss them in a big bowl with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer them to a cookie sheet, then put them in the oven for 30-45 minutes.

To make the tartar sauce, chop the capers and add them to the mayonnaise, squeeze the other half lemon and add it and the zest to the sauce.  Mix until creamy.

About 20 minutes into the potato cooking time, heat up the grill to whatever temperature you use for fish - our grill is particularly wimpy, so I blast it up to high.  When the potatoes are done - soft inside and crispy outside - turn off the oven and let them sit inside. 

Lay your fish, skin side up, on the grill.  Close the lid and leave it for five minutes or so, then check to see if there are nice grill marks on the fish. If so, flip it over onto the skin side. If not, let it cook longer and keep checking until the grill marks are there.  Once the fish is skin side down, shut the lid again and come back in five minutes to check for doneness.  I think the easiest way is to take a sharp knife and slice into the thickest part of the fish. When it is opaque inside, it is done. Serve the fish right away with potatoes and a salad on the side.




Cook ahead potatoes!

As usual, today was very busy.  So I needed a simple dinner that used spinach, since yet another bag arrived in our produce box today.  Lucky for me, I love spinach.  But I don't like to eat the same thing week after week, as you may have noticed. 

Nigel Slater helped me out with another super easy recipe from his book Tender.  For this one I make the potatoes ahead of time, so that cooking dinner takes about fifteen minutes, plus the time for rice in the cooker.  All you need to do is put some water on to boil, scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks, then plop them in the water until they are soft, twenty minutes or so.  This is the kind of thing I like to do after the kids have gone to bed, or while they're eating breakfast and I'm scarfing a bagel and coffee at the counter.  Then just pop them in the fridge until you're ready to cook dinner.  The spinach can also be trimmed and rinsed ahead - the spinach we get from the farm still has its roots on so I just pinch off each leaf before the stem starts, then throw it in the salad spinner, fill it with water, and swish and drain a couple times.  Then I spin it dry.  You can put it in a tupperware with a paper towel (to absorb extra water) and leave it in the fridge over night, or for a day or two.

I didn't expect the kids to eat this, since the main ingredient is spinach, so I plugged in the rice cooker and made rice with indian spices, their favorite.  The key is to mix in lots of butter and a fair amount of salt after the rice is cooked, until it tastes good.  They gobble it down, and I'm saved from another night of starving children.  Because its so healthy - spinach, potatoes, onion - I feel fine eating their portions myself.


Indian Inspired Spinach and Potatoes (adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender):

1 1/2 pounds  potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-2 inch chunks

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (canola is best)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 inch chunk of ginger, minced

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 big bag of spinach (about 2 grocery bunches), washed with stems trimmed off

1/2 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the potato chunks until they are tender, drain and set aside. Warm the vegetable oil in a large pot, and when it shimmers add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, just starting to color. Turn the heat down if they start to brown too much. Add a bit of salt, the garlic and ginger, mustard seeds and turmeric.  Stir them in and cook for a couple minutes more, stirring to make sure they don't stick to the pot.

Add the cooked potatoes and a wineglass of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for five minutes or so, then turn up the heat until the liquid bubbles away and the potatoes are starting to take on some of the color and flavor of the spices.  Then add the spinach.  Season with more salt and a bit of pepper.  Once the spinach has turned bright green, squeeze the lemon half over it, stir, and taste for salt.  Serve with indian bread (naan) or rice.



Rice with Indian Spices:

2 cups basmati rice

five whole cloves

one cinnamon stick

three whole cardamom pods

3 Tablespoons butter


In your rice cooker, add the rice, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom pods.  Add as much water as your rice cooker requires, and start it up to cook about thirty minutes before dinner.  When the rice is done add the butter and about 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Stir it up until the butter melts and is distributed throughout the rice. Add more salt to taste, if needed.





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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