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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sierra Vista

Yesterday I went up to the foothills with my parents to attend a soiree (food and tastings) at Sierra Vista Winery. My parents have visited this winery many, many times and were among the first of their "club" members.

The nibbles were first-rate - excellent bread and cheese (an Affinois that was like buttah), grilled veggies, and quite tasty roast pork with aragula and aoili sandwiches on incredibly fresh and tasty rolls. And brownies for dessert.

The day was hot - over 90 in the foothills, which is quite unusual - but the lawn was shaded, so very pleasant on our picnic tables.

The wine was terrific too - the 2006 Cab is going to be quite a winner, with its rich berry overtones.

I've enjoyed the wines; it was nice to get to the winery, meet the winemaker, and have some yummy eats.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Basil update

The basil went in a sudden decline after our 90 F day Saturday. I checked it this morning and two of the three bunches (the two older ones) had noticeable die-back. I see pesto in my very near future!

I went to the Tuesday FM to avoid being basil-less next week (I will be leaving town before the market on Saturday) and got a bunch that was already rooted and so tall I need to keep it in my large blue pitcher (which is the one I keep for extra-big flowers like hydrangeas).

In a burst of Clean out the Fridge I made two individual size crisps out of the chopped peaches in the fridge. I had made the crisp topping on Saturday evening and fridged it uncovered. I put the topping on in two stages, like the Fine Cooking article taught me. And it was just divine. The topping tasted like a combo between Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies (always a fave of mine) and really wonderful pie crust. It was golden and sweet and buttery and crunchy. I am going to be at some pains to save the second one for breakfast. Because you know those things should be eaten right away ;).

oven baked fruity goodness


According to a friend of mine (and I haven't checked this out yet), Hershey has bought Scharffen-berger.

Remains to be seen what will happen as a result. In the best of all possible worlds, Hershey will not mess with the product, but it will open up its distribution channels.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Confession Time

It's Sunday, and I have a confession (food related) to make.

While I have been pimping out my favorite recipes and tricks for getting dinner on the table ... which in my case usually also means getting lunch to work with me ... I have just had a not-very-enthusiastic week in the kitchen and I just haven't really been practicing what I preached.

Bagging peach chutney in favor of peach crisp (with pre-made topping) was typical.

I barbequed a marinated flank steak last weekend ... only to not bring it to work for lunches, because I had neglected to provide myself with a vegetable side, unlike the week before, where I had made another round of the veggie salad I made on July 4 and ate cold steak slices and the veggie salad for lunch all week.

I did have a spectacular bowl of marinated tomato and goat cheese pasta, though, on Friday night.

I'm not sure how this coming week will turn out, as I got home late from church (being social and going out to lunch) and best friend called and wanted to go see a movie tonight, so I won't have a lot of time to cook.

I made a whole bunch of my favorite salad dressing (from the bread salad recipe) and plan to make Yet More Marinated Veggie Salad and some bread salad with all the tomatoes I have. And I bought a chicken, which I might be organized enough to cook either before I leave for the movie, or tomorrow morning.

"Antipasto" salad

Based on a recipe in Cooking Light Summer 2005

3 cups cauliflower florets (1 small head)
8 oz carrots (I use half a bag of the pre-peeled and quarter longways)
8 oz baby squash (cut pattypans in quarters)
1 lb green beans, topped, tailed, and cut in serving size pieces
12 oz jar marinated artichokes (you will have leftovers)
1 container cherry tomatoes
About 1 cup kalamata olives

Vinaigrette and chopped parsley

cook cauliflower and carrots in boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and rinse in cool water, then toss with some of the artichoke hearts (start small and add more at the end) and vinaigrette. Boil the squash for one minute; add to the previous mixture. Boil the beans for one minute and soak in cool/ice water, then add.

Toss with tomatoes, olives, and parsley. (Add more artichoke hearts till the proportions look good to you.) Refrigerate until serving time.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Farmer's Market Notes

Still going strong

The basil I bought at least three weeks ago from Terra Firma Farms is still going strong and looks much better off than the basil purchased after it, and stored under the same conditions (in my kitchen in a mason jar full of water). This bunch has definitely rooted, which is why I will, in future, buy my summer basil from TF.

I took that photo last week, but it still looks good. (Yes, I am planning on using up all that basil Real Soon Now, but at this point I want to see how long it will last!).

In other farmer's market notes, one of the family that runs Blossom Bluff Orchards stopped me on my walkabout to say "Hey, I read your blog. I recognize you from your picture. Thanks for the appreciation." I thanked him for his interest (it was flattering) and for hauling the best stone fruit at the market up from Fresno for my enjoyment. (I didn't say, because I didn't remember to, that my old stomping grounds in the Valley was peach country as well as tomato country, so I am a sharp judge of peaches.)

Unfortunately the wonderfully peachy and tangy (not sugar bomb like far too much stone fruit these days) Sun Crest peaches (subject of the book Epitaph for a Peach) have reached the end of their brief season, so I got some Sierra Ladies from BB instead.

I'm debating whether to make pie or crisp out of the stone fruit I've got, but that was a nice moment.

Here are a couple of pix of some of Blossom Bluff's finest, one of the things that make me remember it's really July even when Berkeley is socked in with fog, taken a couple of weeks ago:

Stone fruit heaven

Nectarines and plums

All Purpose Crisp Topping

I'm still looking for a no-fail-for-me pie crust (must try the Kitchen Aid method again ... maybe next time with Plugra to reduce the water content), but in the meantime, there is summer fruit to be consumed.

Occasionally our Feeding the Multitudes exercise at the church gets fruit (I have to ask if it's from the food bank or it gets bought at Costco like the milk, butter, and salad greens), which is usually handed out at the door for the guests to have for "later". Sometimes there is some really battered produce that isn't good enough to hand out, but it's still good for cooking, and I take it home and do something with it.

This month it was nectarines. I washed them and put them in the fridge. I told the high school volunteers that I was going to make me some PIE. I cut up butter for pastry. Then I got the idea of peach chutney and I asked on the LJ Food Porn community for recipes, and went around getting jars and supplies.

But after a wacky week at work that tired me out, I realized on Thursday night, as I started up the hot water bath and started chunking the peaches, that I didn't want to deal with chopping and simmering. I needed to simplify.

So I heated the oven to 400, got out my "single serving" French White casseroles, and pulled out the extra streusel that I had made during July 4 week for fruit buckle (cherry on July 4, blueberry after) to top the fruit with.

The streusel was too sugary. I had one for a (lateish) dessert last night and couldn't get to sleep because of the sugar buzz. So with the remainder, I'm going to make up some all purpose crisp topping, which I modified slightly from a master recipe in Fine Cooking. It has more flour in it, which would have helped. And it's a nice homey dessert (good with fruits of all seasons ...) that goes together really, really fast.

Fruit Crisp


1 stick (4 oz) butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed (I think it was 1/4 in original)
1/2 cup white sugar
Pinch salt

Variations: add some oatmeal, nuts, or spices to your preference and depending on what kind of fruit you have ... two "extras" maximum keeps it simple.

Cut softened butter into 8 pieces and mix in with dry ingredients till it is well-integrated. Fridge till you are ready to put it on the fruit.


6-8 cups prepared fruit
Sugar (amount depends on specific fruit ...)
1-4 TBS cornstarch, dissolved in juice of one lemon (amount depends on specific fruits)

Preheat oven to 400 F. When ready to bake, toss the fruit lightly with the sugar, put in an 8 by 8 pan and then drizzle cornstarch over it.

Top with half the topping (there will be gaps) and bake 20 minutes. Put remainder of topping on (it will be crisper this way) and bake till fruit is done (again, this depends on the fruit ... watch it).

Edited to add photo of individual-sized crisp:

fruity goodness

Friday, July 22, 2005

Summer Weeknight Special


I love tomatoes. I have High Tomato Standards because I grew up in the southern Sacramento Valley, where a lot of commercial tomato-growing happens. My mother, who taught me a lot about produce, knew all the farm stands on her regular routes and was always stopping to get some.

Several years ago I discovered heirloom tomatoes at the Farmer's Market and was transported back to the sun-ripened 'maters of my childhood. Those things tasted like Real Tomatoes, not red rocks.

Now that heirlooms have gotten all talked up in the food press, you can occasionally see them for sale off-season at exceptionally well-stocked produce departments (I've seen them at the Berkeley Bowl in January). But this is just wrong. Real Tomatoes have a season, during which one should stuff oneself silly on them, and when it is over, one should go on to other things (including canned tomatoes) and Wait Till Next Year.

And, oh, I surely do love to see the jewel-like displays at the Market during tomato season:

July at the market

cherry tomatoes

I have a favorite weeknight supper during Real Tomato season which is simplicity itself to put together and very, very good. (I've blogged this before, but now I have peectures.) It's based on Janet Fletcher's recipe in Pasta Harvest - check out that cover photo - but I usually just eyeball quantities.

I really like making this with a mixture of colors and types to celebrate the abundance of the summer season.

Pasta with Marinated Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

For each serving (adjust to taste)

Equivalent of one extra-large tomato - sliced extra-thin or chopped
1-2 cloves garlic (or to taste), finely chopped or mooshed
2-3 ounces soft goat cheese
2-3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon capers
Small (or large!) handful fresh basil leaves (they gotta be fresh for this)
2-4 oz dried pasta (original recipe was for spaghetti; I prefer farfalle, rotelle, and penne)
Salt and pepper

Start water to boil for pasta. Take the goat cheese out of the fridge, if you haven't already. Slice or chop tomatoes (slices should be extra-thin) into a serving bowl, add the garlic, drizzle with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss. Allow this to marinate while the noodles cook.

Tear the basil leaves roughly or cut in chiffonade, depending on how much effort you want to put into it.

Just before the noodles finish, dot the tomatoes in the dish with about half the goat cheese (crumbled into usefully small bits).

Drain the pasta when done, add to the bowl, and immediately top with the rest of the goat cheese (also in small bits). Toss the pasta to melt the goat cheese on it. Add the basil and capers and toss to mix and serve it forth.

I will admit to craving it occasionally before real tomato season, in which case it's actually quite good with roasted Romas, but to me that's a second best. It does, however, satisfy some of those It's May But There Aren't Real Tomatoes Yet late-spring cravings.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Society for Getting Dinner on the Table

When I come home from work, I've usually had a day full of solving other people's problems, I'm tired, and I don't want to spend too long on my feet cooking. I also don't want to eat too late, as I find that I start gaining weight when I do so consistently.

I used to resort to take-out and plain (butter and cheese, or store-bought pesto sauce) pasta a lot, but have expanded my weeknight horizons considerably thanks to the concept of moving beyond the idea of recipes to concentrate on technique and principles. I love reading, but if I have to stop and do more than cursory research, dinner isn't going to happen.

The book I got that really opened my eyes in this direction was Pam Anderson's How to Cook without a Book. (Yeah, it is a book, but bear with me here.) In it, Pam (who used to run the test kitchen at Cook's Illustrated) gives basic formulae for Suppers in Under 30 (except for the chicken, which in my wimpy oven really does take 45-50 ... but the others come in to time in my experience, unlike someone else who publishes "30 minute meals").

Three Things I Learned From Pam Anderson:

1. Searing meat and making a very simple and quick pan sauce makes "plain" meat seem special. I particularly like the red wine-Dijon sauce with steak or burgers because it reminds me of my mom's Bordelaise. (1/4 cup red wine, 1/4 cup chicken broth, teaspoon mustard, tablespoon butter to finish after it's reduced to about half). I will, however, state that I will never sear salmon in my kitchen again.

2. Cutting the back out of a chicken and roasting it flat at high heat (450 F) knocks considerable time off the process. Seasoning it UNDER the skin makes it really tasty. A chicken makes leftovers for me, but if you have a bigger household, cook two at once and make something with cooked chicken in a couple of nights.

3. Keeping high-quality crushed tomatoes in the pantry makes it possible to put together a tasty tomato sauce in less time than it would take me to drive to the store or to Genova Deli, park, purchase some tomato-mushroom sauce, and drive home.

Pam also has some worthwhile tips on other weeknight dishes - stir-fry, frittata, and soups - that are worth checking out. I have a personal repertory of sauces for stir-fry (this peanut sesame one would be very good for a weeknight as it goes together FAST) and can make certain dinner-worthy soups (especially minestrone and curried lentil) on autopilot, so I haven't played with them as much.

This has been supplemented by Fine Cooking's occasional "Cooking without Recipes" series, where a formula for a particular type of dish is given, parameters are set, and then the cook is pretty much free to go. If you do these often enough, it becomes second nature. Two of these articles that I can do on autopilot now are the pasta-with-LIGHT-cream-sauce and fruit crisps. (I forget which issues ... sorry!)

The pasta sauce is especially good for those of us who like non-tomato pasta dishes - boil up the noodles separately, cook the vegetables and aromatics in "order", add some broth and something like Marsala to simmer, put the pasta and quick-cook veggies like frozen peas in, reduce the liquid some, and add the cream last, coat, and serve. I like bacon/pancetta-onion-mushroom-peas with marsala.

For extra speedy, if not exactly fancy, food I make tacos (which I find a great use for leftovers of various descriptions - if you hate canned beans make up some on a weekend, or while other stuff is cooking, and fridge the results - and save up for a pressure cooker) and my other big Last Minute Standbys, Cheese on Toast - goat cheese or cheddar on sourdough, with whatever else I feel like having with it, and Cheese in a Tortilla (quesadillas!).

I also, since I have a small household, do the "cook in quantity" thing; I'll cheerfully spend much of the evening making enchiladas (although the food processor with its cheese grater cuts down the time!) because I'll eat them for more than one meal.

Somedays I still want take-out. And a fair number of days are the really simple options. But I've really increased my options by moving beyond recipes and into the autopilot zone.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Good Fast Food (for Biggles)

I got the idea of purchasing Italian-style olive-oil packed tuna from the estimable Meg formerly of ba.food, rec.food.cooking, and the like. She stated that she had it in her earthquake supply kit, because if she was going to have to eat cold food from cans, she wanted it to be good.

One summer day I got the idea of opening up a can as the centerpiece of a salade nicoise, and the rest was history.

Now I keep a supply around for "just eating". I appreciate that it makes mighty tasty tuna salad without mayonnaise; both better for you, and easier to keep under uncertain temperature conditions.

It forms the basis of one of my favorite emergency lunches, both of the "I need to take food to the office" (there was a period where if I didn't bring my lunch, I had trouble getting out to get it), and "If I don't get some protein NOW I might hurt something". The method couldn't be simpler: Dump the tuna into a container, add capers (I love capers and always have a big jar of them in the fridge), whatever else is around the house and compatible (cherry tomatoes, olives, and marinated artichoke hearts are good) and mix. Actually one of my all-time favorite combos was when Trader Joe's briefly carried an "Italian-style" salsa of tomatoes, olives, artichokes, capers, and basil; that was completely "spoon and go".

For dinner, the tuna-and-capers could be the centerpiece of a composed salad of some sort: nicoise-style with cooked green beans (cook the beans for 1-4 minutes, blanch, and dress with vinaigrette - some fresh basil in the vinaigrett), tomatoes, olives, and other items as desired, would be just grand.

But the photo is of my two-minute slap-together portable lunch I made today just before I went off to the regular Feed the Multitudes exercise at the church hall; I wasn't hungry when I left, but knew I would need something well before the finish, and knew there was no microwave for heating something else up. And I made it right in the travel container:

Lunch to go

(Tuna, marinated artichokes, capers, Sungold cherry tomatoes and a lot of basil; an interesting combo of tastes and textures.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I'm still here!

Plans to catch up on blogging (including putting some pictures on entries now that I got a new camera cable) have been foiled by a couple of things. Will try to catch up soon.

In food news, this week has been remarkable so far for two things:

1. Went out with Ayse on Tuesday night to Angel Fish, which was The. Best. Sushi. Ever. And now I can find the place again (it's on Bay Farm Island, so is way off the beaten path). The fresh crab was divine in the crab nigiri and the California roll, and the toro was Like. Buttah.

2. Used a "new" pie crust recipe and the last of the cherries from my tree to make a cherry-berry pie. More on that later when I actually dig in.

I have been enjoying summer produce most heartily. Tomatoes and peaches and berries, oh my.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Glorious Fourth

For me, July 4 is not about the fireworks ... it's about the food.

The old rec.food.cooking guard has a potluck.

So it's cook, cook, cook all morning and eat and drink all afternoon.

I made the cherry buckle. It was well recieved (as it should have been ... I had the Quality Control piece shortly after I arrived).

I also made something suggested in a piece about Thomas Jefferson's garden in the latest Cooking Light. It was called "antipasto salad" but was your basic marinated-vegetable salad. It called for fresh artichokes, but I had a big jar of marinated, so I used it instead: artichokes, carrots, cauliflower, pattypan squash, and olives in the recipe, to which I added French filet beans and cherry tomatoes. All veggies except the tomatoes briefly cooked (3 mins for the carrots and cauli, 1 min for the squash and beans). It looked a little better than it tasted IMO but it was fine.

good summer salad

I finished cooking an hour before the party, which was enough time to load the dishwasher and remember to put my clothes in the dryer (oops). NPR's Talk of the Nation had a segment on "what are you having for July 4 and what makes it American", which I considered calling in for but I was in the middle of snapping beans at the time.

There was lots of other excellent food, including burnt-butter brown-sugar cupcakes and home cooked carnitas. Yum.

Now to see if Little Miss is okay around firework noise. (Someone let off a large one in the street at the party. I didn't see the very friendly house cat after that!)

Hope all my readers had a wonderful one!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Change of Season

With all the summer produce just bursting around here, what did I have a strong jones for yesterday afternoon and go to the store for milk for?

Scalloped potatoes, that's what.

Okay, I've been thinking about them to go with the last of the ham for a couple of days.

No real recipe - slice potatoes and soak in a mix of butter, milk, cheese, and cream of mushroom soup because that's how my momma made them - although I should have looked up the oven temp in JoC. I pulled them out after 45 min and they were not tender yet. So back in.

I had them for a late lunch (in my standard "weekend" style ... at 3 pm) and napped pretty hard afterwards.

(I have some green beans if the potatoes run out before the ham does.)

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Right Under My Nose

Or, "I need to get out more".

It was bad enough that I learned of Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe through Stephanie, who lives in Chicago for Gawd's sake, when I used to live pretty near College Avenue myself. OK, so Stephanie used to live here, but still.

Clara from the church was the one who told me that the cafe at University and Acton (for you non-locals, that's really close to my house) was the all-new Bread Workshop. I didn't know that either.

I seem to have been a bit closer to the curve with the latest local foodie pheeeenom, Bake Sale Betty. The fabulous Serene mentioned her about the time I actually checked my KQED Bay Area Bites link and there she was. I also heard about her from the gang at Blue Bottle Coffee this morning at the market (their roastery is very close). She's taken over the storefront at 51st and Telegraph, where Merritt Bakery was for a short time. I had noted activity at that location recently, so it's glad to know something cool is there. I will definitely stop by.

Today as I was decluttering the front porch, I found an East Bay Express with a cover article about the chocolate revolution, so of course I had to read it. Besides the chocolate article (which covered Bittersweet and Cafe Cacao, another place I need to go, but knew about), there was a review of the new Bread Workshop ... they have meatball sammitches and other Real Food. As this does not involve a trip across town, I might stop by after church tomorrow. (They generously provide day-old to our Hot Meals program, so I'd like to be a semi-regular paying customer.)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Cherry Ripe

The cherries held on my tree pretty well over my vacation:


As is traditional, I will be bringing something cherry to a late-June/July 4 rec.food.cooking event.

This year I have enough that I think it will be a cherry version of Fruit Buckle. This will give me an excuse to finally use my birthday present to myself, the bargain Kitchenaid:

Ready to go

I consulted the LJ Food Porn community about struesel spicing, and one person suggested the combo of cinnamon, allspice, and cardamom. So off I will go to obtain cardamom. I think that folks will like it.

I will also be doing a variant on an "Antipasto Salad" published in the recent Cooking Light. I'm craving vegetables.