Thursday, December 27, 2012

Brussels Sprouts For Me and You

I grew up hating brussels sprouts! The texture of those mushy, boiled, smelly little cabbagey orbs was unendurable. Thank goodness we seldom had them. My revelation that they could be delicious happened in a restaurant in Berkeley (the name escapes me). The sprouts were shredded, sauteed in brown butter and anointed with lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste, of course. On the way out I stuck my head in the kitchen and talked to the cooks, as I am prone to do. They cheerfully gave me the above rundown.

So I had this great idea for Christmas dinner this year: brussels sprouts shredded, cooked in rendered pancetta fat and not only anointed with lemon juice but bejeweled with coarsely chopped hazelnuts. Oops, I forgot the L.J., as I was stressing over the fact that my hand made puff pastry sank into my beef pot pie (it was still delicious). Please don’t forget the L.J., the acidity will help cut the richness of your main dish. Anyway, here’s how I did it. Ingredient amounts are loosey goosey. Cook with your eyes as well as your taste buds!

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

About 1 ½ lbs brussels sprouts, stem ends sliced off
2-3 ounces pancetta, cut across into ¼” lardons (slices)
¼-ish cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped with a knife
salt and pepper to taste
fresh lemon juice

In a large saute pan over medium heat, brown your pancetta. Remove pancetta, reserving rendered fat in pan. Meanwhile If you have a food processor, using the slicing disc, drop sprouts into the feed tube, and push through (while running of course).

Cook the shredded sprouts until you are getting caramelized spots and you like the texture. You will probably have to add olive oil to the pan, as for some reason pancetta, which is unsmoked bacon, doesn’t release that much fat. This will take just a few minutes.

Add the pancetta back in along with the hazelnuts, salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze in some lemon juice, just enough for brightness. Enjoy the deliciousness.

Note: be sure to have your vent hood running to help minimize permeating your house with brussels sprout smell.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Potato of Another Color

I have been working on my Christmas dinner menu and am continuing my rebellion against turkey. You see, growing up we always had turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas as well. My father loved it so there we were. I only liked to gnaw on the wing, although I admit the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven is heavenly. And that golden crispy skin is delightful. However, I am all grown up and recently realized I can cook whatever I want, within reason. Last year I made Beef Wellington Pot Pie, which was a big hit (it’s on my blog) and I am going to make it again. This year, though I’m skipping the mashed potatoes and making potato galettes, thinly sliced potatoes layered with two cheeses and baked until tender and dark golden. I tried it out yesterday and it was a hit, so it’s a go! So just in case you want to try something new, you can cook these potato galettes.

You will need a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom, as well as a mandolin or equivalent for thinly slicing the potatoes. I used Manchego because it has a little more flavor than parmesan, and Comte because I don’t like gruyere, but you can use gruyere if you prefer. Heck, go wild and use any cheese you want!

Cheesy Potato Galettes

Serves 6 as a side dish

1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
1 ½ lbs Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled
2 tsps fresh thyme
Kosher salt
2/3 cup finely grated Manchego or other hard cheese
1 ¼ cup finely grated Comte cheese

Gently cook shallots and oil in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Soften, don’t brown the shallots (about 2 minutes). Let cool.

Heat oven to 400° and rub inside tart pan with oil.

Slice potatoes 1/16 inch thick with the mandolin and toss potatoes with the shallots, thyme and oil in a bowl to thoroughly coat.

Cover the bottom of the tart pan with potatoes, overlapping slightly. Lay them down in concentric rings, starting from the outer edge of pan. Salt the first layer, then sprinkle ¼ of the cheeses evenly over the potatoes. Repeat to make 4 layers, ending with salt and cheese.

Bake galette for up to 50 minutes, until potatoes are tender and cheese is reddish golden brown. Let the galette cool in the tart pan for 10 or 15 minutes; gently remove from ring. Cut into wedges and serve, gently removing with a thin metal spatula (a fish spatula works great).

You can also make in a square tart pan and cut into squares to serve as appetizers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do You Know The Way to Santa Fe?

Every year Paul and I like to go on a trip if possible to celebrate our birthdays, which are two days apart. Since he’s limited to taking only one week off at a time in his current job we can’t go too far. I have made noises over the years that I’d like to go to Santa Fe, NM and even though he isn’t enthused about New Mexico he offered to take me. I accepted; how many chances will I get? The entry point is the Albuquerque airport, from their all adventures abound.

I had planned for us to spend the night in Albuquerque and head for Santa Fe in the morning. I love to ask the locals where to go and how to get there and a really nice lady in Trader Joe’s gave us some tips. We settled on taking the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe rather than sticking to the freeway. There’s a little town named Madrid on the trail; turns out that is where part of the movie Wild Hawgs with John Travolta et al was filmed. It is cute with plenty of cool shops but I have a sanitation issue with that burg. We went in a shop where they also serve hot food and decided to order some green chile stew, which was more than edible. When ordering I noticed a gigante bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter. I should have been suspicious. When I asked about a bathroom they pointed to a porta potty out the side door. And there was no running water for washing hands! I declined and decided to wait to use the public restroom I had seen earlier, which, it turns out was a hole in the ground with no running water! Ugh! Considering there are homes and businesses in Madrid is it too much to ask for sanitary facilities??? I think the laws must be different in NM, yes?


I had reserved what I hoped was a nice B&B in the historic district of Santa Fe and we weren’t disappointed. Las Palomas is a wonderful spot; I had reserved a studio and they upgraded us to a one bedroom casita with a fireplace and kitchenette. The room was spacious and the bed comfortable. The breakfast was delicious, with a choice of omelet or waffles and other goodies at the buffet. Not only was coffee available but lattes and cappuccinos! Heaven!

Las Palomas

I’m sure there are many great restaurants in Santa Fe but we only experienced one really exceptional one: La Boca, a Spanish tapas place. We love small plates and are becoming hooked on Spanish dishes. The Marcona almonds (from Spain) fried and rolled in smoked pimentón (paprika) were wonderful but I would have liked them served hot. The chef is Italian American, not Spanish, but he seems to have mastered Spanish cooking. I bought his first cookbook, El Farol, and there is some great looking food I intend to cook pretty soon.

La Boca

We moved on to Taos and I was really wanting to eat my birthday dinner at Byzantium, a restaurant with a fabulous looking menu, but boo hoo, they weren’t open on Wednesday. So we went to Lambert’s, one of those fancy restaurants that has been around for decades. Sometimes venerability is not a great thing, but in this case it was a-okay. My fillet mignon was tender and delicious and Paul’s halibut was perfectly cooked. I must say I’ve heard a lot of rumors about how great Taos was but I wasn’t impressed. That being said, there is a pretty drive, the Enchanted Circle that starts in and circles back to Taos.

Fillet Mignon at Lambert's

On my bucket list since childhood was a visit to Carlsbad Caverns, and we had to go despite the incredibly long drive from northern New Mexico all the way to Carlsbad in the south. So we went. We stopped in Santa Fe on our way south for lunch. We wanted to eat fast and go and thought Taco Bell (the only fast food place I can abide) would do the trick. Unfortunately my gps sent us in circles with no Taco Bell to be found. We spotted Los Potrillos, an actual Mexican restaurant, and decided to try it. I spied a dish I had never heard of – Chiles Nogada – and ordered it. What heaven! It was large poblano chiles, stuffed with ground beef, raisins and walnuts, and smothered with a sweet creamy gravy. Eating the two tastes together was a revelation; I wish I knew how to make it. Paul had a plate of enchiladas and said they were exceptional. Don’t hesitate to try Los Potrillos!

Chiles Nogada

Not surprisingly, we didn’t find any great food in Roswell or Carlsbad, but I really was there for the Cavern. I took the self guided tour after riding the elevator 750 feet down into the bowels of the earth. I was a little anxious at first but settled in and enjoyed myself. It was absolutely beautiful and am grateful I got to see it. I bought a dvd about the caves and a pair of bat socks to commemorate my visit.

Inside the cavern

We headed back to Santa Fe after leaving the cavern (you have no idea, I’m sure, what a long boring drive it is – think Interstate 5 to Southern Cal. It’s worse) and had one day left to visit some museums. May I recommend the International Folk Art Museum on Museum Hill. It was great fun, and the Café on Museum Hill was very nice with a great view. The Governor’s Palace and Museum in historic downtown is fascinating and the rich history of NM was a surprise. There are lots of cool art galleries on Canyon Rd and Caffe Greco is a nice stop. I had a fruit filled empanada which left me wanting more. All in all I really fell a little bit in love with Santa Fe and left a piece of my heart there.

Caffe Greco


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

All Jammed Up With Tomatoes

On the vine

I’ve been interested in making tomato jam for a while now and I recently overcame my inertia and actually looked for a recipe. I found one in the Food In Jars blog and it intrigued me, but looked awfully sweet and hot so I rejiggered it and I must say, it turned out great. It is a wonderful condiment for chicken, fish and pork and a great substitute for catsup on your oven fried potatoes. It’s a little sweet and pretty spicy yet not burning hot, with the exotic flavors of cinnamon and cloves. Please use good home grown tomatoes or tomatoes from the farmer’s market. Tomatoes like Romas or my homegrown San Marzanos are meaty and best for jam and sauces. Don’t use juicy tomatoes, they will take longer to cook down.

Boiling the jars

Yield: about 5 cups

5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped (I pulsed them in my food processor)
2 cups organic sugar
½ cup lime juice, about 6 ½ limes
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon red chili flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to just a simmer. Stir occasionally until it is greatly reduced and thick. This took me 2 to 2 ½ hours.

When jam has cooked down, fill canning jars that have been washed in hot soapy water and boiled for a few minutes. Leave ¼ inch head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in boiling water canner for 20 minutes. I use a steam canner.

When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a rack or a kitchen towel. Listen for the happy “pop” of sealing lids. Make sure all lids are sucked down in the sealed position and store in a cool dark place.

Cooking down the jam

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Let Them Eat Greek Cake

When I was a kid we ate Greek food occasionally, with lamb and feta cheese being favorites. My grandma Kaloutsis was well known for being a first class cook – I can still taste her garlicky, tomatoey clams and rice. I need the recipe stat! Besides baklava, the standout dessert was a sour cream cake with walnuts, soaked in simple syrup. My mother actually found this recipe in a Greek cookbook years ago and it was always a hit. Oh man, it’s moist, rich and delicious and easy to make. I’d kind of forgotten about it, but I’ve been asked to make a dessert for a posthumous birthday party and we’re going kind of Greek. Guess what I’m bringing?

Sour Cream Cake

2 cubes unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, well beaten
1 cup walnuts chopped fine
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp baking soda mixed in ¼ cup wine, whiskey, brandy, or orange juice
2 cups flour

Melt butter and allow to cool slightly. Beat butter and add sugar gradually, beating thoroughly. Add eggs slowly while continuing to beat. Add walnuts, sour cream, soda, wine, flour, and cinnamon and beat well. Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake in 350° degree oven for 1 hour.

While cake is cooling make a simple syrup: boil 2 cups sugar with 1 1/3 cups water to form a syrup. Pour slowly over cake while warm. Feel free to poke holes in the cake with a toothpick to facilitate syrup soakage. Serves 15-20.


I think this time I’m going to throw a cinnamon stick in the syrup while it’s boiling and then cooling. This cake is really rich; resist the impulse to top with whipped cream. You don’t want to gild the lily with wretched excess.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yummy Lowfat Eggplant Lasagna

In addition to growing tomatoes in the summer, Paul insists on planting eggplant. He loves it and his favorite dish is a panang curry dish that I concocted. As much as I love coconut milk, I can’t justify making it too often for obvious fatty reasons. However, I was inspired by Hungry Girl’s eggplant lasagna recipe. I’m not a fan, exactly, as I don’t use fat free cheese or fake food items of that ilk (except I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter spray), but she did give me an idea to run with. So this morning I picked our Asian eggplants (the globes aren’t producing yet) and made a delicious, low-fat, rich-tasting eggplant lasagna. I may be on Weight Watchers, but I insist on eating really good food.

If you have read my recipes before you may have noticed I cook a little loosey goosey. A recipe is a guideline and I often change ingredients a little bit, based on my mood and what’s in my pantry. The only time you need to goose-step is when you are making pastries. I use lite provolone here for the rich flavor but if you must have mozzarella, by all means do. This time I’m using Trader Joe’s Turkey Bolognese, which is delicious, but you can use your favorite bottled meat sauce or make your own (I often make my own). This recipe serves 4-ish in my house as we are light eaters, but realistically it will serve 2, maybe 3. You can easily double or triple the recipe.

Eggplant Lasagna

½ tsp oil
1 lb eggplant, sliced ½ inch thick
12 oz package Trader Joe’s Turkey Bolognese
4 oz sliced reduced fat provolone cheese
1 oz grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Brush oil in a baking dish about 9 1/2x8” and set aside. Using a silpat or parchment paper in a half sheet pan, brush on a little oil. Bake eggplant until tender, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently heat the turkey bolognese in a covered saucepan until it has thawed and is hot. Place a layer of eggplant in the baking dish and cover with half the sauce and provolone. Add another layer and top with grated Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes or more until cheese is melted and bubbly. Lowfat cheese doesn’t brown as well as full fat, so don’t look for it.

Really delicious!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Few of My Favorite Spots on the Oregon Coast

Paul and I decided to travel up the Oregon Coast to celebrate our 25th anniversary. We hadn’t made that trip in a few years and we were excited. The route taken was highway 12, working our way to Petaluma, birthplace of Snoopy. There is an Italian restaurant in Petluma, Giacomo’s, which Paul loves, so we decided to have dinner there. But first, since it was a little early we decided to cruise downtown Petaluma, where we made a fab discovery: The Seed Bank! We just had to go in, and we found an old bank building stocked with heirloom seeds. Paul is going to plant a winter garden this fall and he bought lettuce as well as root vegetable seeds. I found an Italian pepper I’d never heard of; in fact I tried planting 6 seeds when we got home. I couldn’t resist! I highly recommend going in The Seed Bank if you are in the area and are interested in Non-GMO, better tasting produce. They also have a website:

On to Giacomo’s: Paul had been swearing that their chicken saltimbocca (pounded breast with cheese and prosciutto) was incredible so we decided to split a dinner. (We split dinners frequently; it saves calories as well as money. The trick is reaching an agreement.) So, the upshot was, the whole dinner was delish, the salad, the bread, the saltimbocca. I can’t speak to the rest of the menu, but in general I have to recommend it. Giacomo’s is right on the road entering Petaluma, just google it!

Giacomos 4

The next day we jetted on up to Eureka, with a few side trips. There are many small towns up the 101 corridor, and it’s kind of a shame that so many have been bypassed, though 101 frequently stops being a freeway and worms through towns like Willits and Crescent City. There is a historic downtown area in Eureka that is full of shops and cafes and it just so happened that the monthly art walk was happening that Saturday night! The shops were open and bands were playing everywhere; our favorite was Funk Pilot, playing an R&B mix, and funking very well at that. There are lots of good looking restaurants in Eureka; we went back to the Sea Grill, one of those old establishments that serve good food and plenty of it, so we split our clam dinner. They were very generous and gave us extra clams. Despite sharing we were pretty full when we left. Someday we must try the Ethiopian restaurant on the main drag. I promise.

Sea Grill Eureka

On the way into Eureka we stopped in Ferndale, an historic town loaded with Victorian buildings. One of my favorite stops was the Blacksmith Shop. They had forged knives made from recycled, high-carbon Swedish saw steel (I suspect from the sawmills of Humboldt County). I was salivating over those knives, but there were so big I wasn’t sure they fit in my knife block. I have since learned that high-carbon steel rusts unless you immediately clean and dry your knife. Whoops, better not!

The first town across the Oregon border on 101 is Brookings. We absolutely have to stay at the Best Western Motel in the harbor. Brookings is up on the cliffs, the harbor is down below. The motel is on the beach and every room looks out over the beach. Absolute heaven.

We were told about a new restaurant in town, Superfly Distillery. The biz started out as a boutique vodka distillery (distilled three times) and a small restaurant followed. I must confess I had two cocktails, both made with fresh fruit; a watermelon as well as a kiwi martini. Both were delicious, and the vodka was very clean tasting. I didn’t feel a thing the next day. Yippee! The food offerings are small plates, nothing over $10. We shared a dish of mussels in broth. I wish they had grilled the bread and I told them so, but the mussels were very good. The wedge salad was amazing with lots of blue cheese and bacon. Please go there if you miraculously end up in Brookings.

Wedge Salad at Superfly

On up the coast is Bandon. They used to make cheese there but that’s all gone now. We did have a nice little lunch at the Port O’ Call in the historic downtown area, but the surprise was Coastal Mist. This place had really gorgeous chocolate truffles and drinking chocolate. We tried a couple of delicious truffles, comparable to the ones you would find at Recchiutti Confections in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. In other words, pretty bitchen! They also sold big hunks of Callebaut, a high end Belgian chocolate, but I passed.

I was really looking forward to having a bite at The Blue Hen in Florence. They had great fried chicken, wonderful omelets for breakfast. Everything about that place was blue, with chickens. I was disappointed to learn that it was closed!!! Years ago!!! So we motored into historic Florence and had a great lunch at ICM, right by the water. At this point I am still trying to do minimal damage to myself and had a bowl of delicious clams for lunch. Really great food, Paul had really good clam chowder – yes I tasted it! There were, count’em, two kitchen stores, had to hit both. I needed a new garlic slicer and found a really nice one. Mission accomplished.

After spending the night in Coos Bay, with unremarkable food, we motored on to Tillamook. Actually, I must mention that an Italian place was highly recommended, which I wanted to try, but there was also a German place, the Blue Heron, and I compromised with Paul, who wanted schnitzel or some such thing. At the risk of slandering a whole cuisine, German cooking is so bland I really don’t care to eat it again. Paul did allow that this was subpar cooking, but I am not mollified. If you have resources for tasty German cooking I trust you will let me know.

So, on to Tillamook, a small farm town, with again, unremarkable restaurants, but the attraction is the Tillamook Cheese Factory, which is way cool. We took the self guided tour – absolutely fascinated by the worker bees packaging the cheese down below. I kept filming clips of the machines whirling around. We tasted cheese – why can’t we get Habanero Jack here? It’s heavenly. I had a bite of Paul’s chocolate ice cream - addictive. Why didn’t I know there was Tillamook ice cream?

After a great morning at the cheese factory and a visit to the Blue Heron Cheese place we decided to make our way to Portland. Did I mention that western Oregon is unrelentingly beautiful? It’s so green it’s like being in the land of Oz. So we blissfully drove on to Portland, stopping in Beaverton for lunch. Beaverton appears to be bustling and is probably a nice city to live in. We had delicious soup and sandwiches at Fresh Thyme. That is one popular place and we really enjoyed ourselves. I particularly enjoyed the sight of the tall white guy with braided dreads down to his calves. I wish I had thought to snap a picture.

We fooled around in Portland a bit and when I used my GPS to get us back to Interstate 5 and therefore our hotel, it meandered us through the historic Mississippi district, which reminded me of a combo of midtown Sacramento and a clean, non druggy Berkeley. We swore we would come back the next day for further exploration the next day, which we did.

But first, tapas at Toro Bravo for our anniversary dinner! Our foodie neighbor suggested it and since we love small plates we went for it. They don’t take reservations for small parties so it’s a good thing we got there by 6. We got to sit at the bar in front of the kitchen and watch the cooks work their magic. We had fried anchovies with aioli (a first for me) – delicious! Don’t forget to dip those little fishies in the flavorfulness that is aioli. We also had grilled asparagus with fried jamon and other delights, sauteed spinach with pine nuts and golden raisins and grilled flat bread with black truffle cheese and arugula. They treated us to salt cod fritters with aioli. It was all wonderful; oh did I mentioned the delicious cocktails – don’t remember what was in them except they had Tangueray gin in them and I felt perfectly fine the next day. (Notice a pattern here? I don’t drink cheap alcohol because I don’t like feeling like hell the next day. Plus I don’t drink often so when I do I want the good stuff. I don’t normally drink gin, but I’ve been told Bombay Sapphire is amazing so I will have to try it one day.) I got to watch my churros being freshly fried and man were they good, dipped in chocolate sauce. What a wonderful dinner. If you go to Portland – do not pass go, do not collect any moola, go directly to Toro Bravo. When we left at about 7:30 there was a crowd outside waiting to get seated, and sipping cocktails. So go early, unless you want to stand outside and sip cocktails, possibly in the rain.

Toro Bravo asparagus

The next morning we headed back to the Mississippi District, looking for a great breakfast. I had found Muddy’s online so we headed there. I found out Muddy was the owner’s dog, and that he went along on a trip to see the Pope back in 1983, so I figure Muddy is no longer with this. However, is spirit is in evidence – just look at the entrance. Muddy’s is in an old Victorian house and definitely has a homey feel. I had a flavorful bagel and lox and was in heaven with all the capers and onions and the toastiness of the bagel. Yum. Paul went traditional and was happy too. Go to Muddy’s.

Muddy's Cafe Portland 3

We walked up and down Mississippi and found Pistils, a nursery with its own chicken run. I was lured in by the sound of clucking and cackling. Evidently at certain times they have the run of the place, after plants are placed out of reach of their busy beaks and claws. Our favorite spot was The Meadow, a small shop that sells finishing salts and and at least 30 kinds of bitters. I had heard of Angostura bitters and knew they were used in some cocktails, but I didn’t know they were used for cooking too. So we bought the Angostura bitters, which smell citrusy and spicy, and some lemon infused finishing salt and called it good.

The Meadow Bitters

One more place to try for breakfast is Zells, where we stopped before leaving Portland. It was popular and good and in an old part of town, just google it. Thanks goodness for google! We did have to start heading south and didn’t have time to meander as before so we had decided to head down Interstate 5 to Ashland, with visits to towns along the way. Ashland is the last town before the California border, and is home to the Shakespeare Festival. It’s a pretty town, high in the hills by the freeway, and has a really pretty downtown. Be sure to walk through Lithia Park, and if you dare, taste the Lithia water. It is full of dissolved minerals like sulphur and it tastes god-awful. I didn’t drink it this time, all those times tasting it as a kid was plenty! Parking is challenging, but it’s worth the effort to go. There are fun shops and lots of restaurants to try. Thai Pepper was good and I would eat there again.

We had to jet on down I5 to get home after two nights in Ashland. I really didn’t want to go home, but that’s how you feel after a great trip. Let me know if you go!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Monterey, Our Way

Paul and I finally got a weekend off together and decided to go to Monterey, a coastal town famous for Cannery Row, the Aquarium and Pebble Beach. It was also a Spanish settlement many years ago and it still shows. But I digress; Paul is always grousing that we’ve seen everything around here (possibly true) and we need to move away (well, not so fast – where to?) But it’s fairly close and it had been a while and I wanted to see the new jellyfish exhibit at the aquarium, so we headed there.

When we checked in to our hotel I grabbed a Dining Guide and headed for the Mediterranean section. We went for Estéban, which sounded suspiciously Spanish but por qué no? It’s attached to the Casa Munras Hotel, on Munras, and the whole property is really pretty. I was going to book us there, but some rapscallion had snagged the last room a few minutes earlier.

So it turns out Estéban is a Spanish tapas place. When we arrived the servers looked overrun – I think they were short handed. But a managerish looking person finally seated us and a man in a chef’s coat took our order. I suspected he was the executive chef, and I was right. We tried three wonderfully flavorful small plates, starting with papas bravas, thick fries coated in a smoky powder and served with aioli (presumably housemade mayo). I asked the chef about the powder as I have used pimentón de la vera, available as “sweet” or hot smoked paprika, and knew that wasn’t what I was tasting. Turns out it was pimentón de espelette, which I had heard of but never used. It is straight smoky and deliciously different. He mixes that with paprika, cayenne and salt. I might try making it sometime.

May I also suggest the clam dish, in a savory broth with beans and tomatoes and whole garlic. I asked for bread to soak up the juices that I refused to leave behind. Paul had the seafood stew which he really enjoyed, although he allowed that the clam broth was more flavorful. The only thing I complained about was the pita (they were having supplier problems) which was served instead of bread, with hummus (yum), oil and balsamic, and olive tapenade (double yum).

Right across the street from Estéban is Wild Plum, a café that Paul reminded me I really liked once upon a time. I didn’t remember it at all but agreed to go there for breakfast the next morning. We both had 2 eggs with toast and potatoes and shared a side of sausage. The flavors were all great but the potatoes were soft with no crispiness, which I didn’t care for. I would recommend trying it anyway, as there aren’t many breakfast choices in downtown Monterey if you want protein. Grandma’s Kitchen got savaged in Yelp for being filthy, and it did look dumpy from the street. So the following morning we ate at Denny’s, which serves a good breakfast with no unpleasant surprises.

One last recommendation I have for you is Epsilon, a Greek restaurant on Tyler St. It is really cute inside, the staff is warm and welcoming; our server was great. We ordered the saganaki, or flaming cheese appetizer, which was delicious. Burning booze makes the cheese flame; it is served with a flaming flourish and french bread. I would have preferred pita bread, but no deal. Paul and I shared a huge Greek salad with gyros. The meat was well seasoned and there was plenty of feta cheese, which is unusual. We couldn’t. quite. finish. it. I highly recommend you try it. As our dinner progressed it became a busy place, always a good sign. As our flaming cheese was being lit I whipped out my camcorder. Here’s the cheese, unedited and delicious. If you want to see the movie and you get this in your email box, you must click on the article title to go to my blog.


I wanted a nice glass of wine, so our last stop was Wine from the Heart, on Alvarado St. It’s a fun wine bar, which also has comfortable chairs to linger in. There are some nice wines, including vintages by Orin Swift, one of my new favorite wineries. I was going to buy a bottle of Saldo, a zinfandel, and get a glass too. Somehow Johnny, our jovial and slightly toasted wine guy convinced us to buy 2 bottles and share part of it with other tasters. He did give us a discount and it worked out fine. Go in for the entertainment value as well as the wine. Heck, just go to Monterey and relax with a glass of wine and some jellyfish.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Algerian Style Lamb Stew

Paul loves to browse estate sales and sometimes he picks up some treasures, for instance, he picked up a cookbook – Real Stew. Being a stew loving kind of guy, that fifty cent cookbook was right up his alley. We looked in the lamb stew section together and decided on a spicy white bean and lamb pot o’ stew. It was delicious, and since Paul had pressure canned white beans last summer and I didn’t necessarily feel like cooking dried beans from scratch, well you know what happened. It calls for Harisa, a North African spice paste that you can make from scratch or buy a tube, like I did. Here’s my version of this Algerian housewives stew. Enjoy.

1 ¾ pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut in ¾ inch pieces
1 tablespoon salt, more to taste if needed
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Harisa paste (available in Mediterranean markets)
1 ¾ pounds onions, coarsely chopped
1 ½ pounds tomatoes, chopped (I used 1 pint home canned)
1 cup water
½ cup chicken broth
2 cups cooked white beans
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Season the meat with salt, pepper and cayenne. Brown in a heavy pan – I used a 3 ½ quart enameled cast iron pot. Brown the meat with the bones if you have them. Add the harisa, stir, then add the onions and tomatoes, water and chicken broth. Cover and cook in 350° oven for 2 hours.

Add beans, stir, put back in the oven until meat is tender, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Taste for seasoning. Serve with cilantro.

No pictures this time, but I did put together a short lamb stew making video, my first attempt. I hope you don’t get bored!


You may not have heard of Jonathan Waxman, but he’s a chef of great renown. And he’s really renown for his roast chicken, of which he is an acknowledged master. Recently I was reminded of this and decided to roast me up some chicken after finding his recipe online. Mainly he splits the chicken down the middle, removing the spine, salts and peppers it and roasts it in a hot oven. Now, I like my chicken really tender so I ended up reducing the heat and roasting it longer. When I make it again I plan to roast at 425° for 30 minutes and 350° for 30 to 45 minutes. Now what really makes this chicken sing is his salsa verde. It’s a sauce of garlic and several herbs and olive oil, etc. It does include tarragon, not usually a favorite, but it does give an interesting flavor. Leave out anything you hate. I used it for pizza sauce on my thin crust pizza. You can get the recipe here. Try it, I dare you!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thin Crust Pizza

I have loved thin crust pizza from the very first bite. Who needs all that crust? Bring on the toppings! More places are offering thin crust now; Amici’s in the Bay Area is one of my favorites. The Red Grape in Sonoma tickles my palate also. I had been on a pizza making kick for a while; I have a baking stone and a pizza peel. But I didn’t know how to make a thin crust, admittedly not actually looking for a recipe, just sighing a bit.

One of my favorite cooking shows is America’s Test Kitchen, which I love for its great tidbits of information, and its sister show, Cook’s Country. Recently on Cook’s Country there was a rerun episode on St. Louis Pizza, with thin crust. Huzzah! Looked good to me, so I wrote it down and this week I tried out just the dough recipe. The rest was my own doing. So I made it the other night, but unfortunately my baking stone still has residue on it from past projects which tend to, shall we say, smoke up the house at high temperatures, which, shall we say, really ticks Paul off. There is nothing like having to open up all the doors and set up fans at night in February.

So my darling husband rather huffily scrubbed the stone and I said I was going to try it again at lunch and pre-open the doors. Whereas he hated the first try because of the smoke, miraculously he liked the second one because of less smoke. And I must agree it was delicious, great toppings with a nice thin golden crust.

What makes this dough different is the leavening; yeast has been shown the door. Baking powder is in. The addition of cornstarch makes a crisper crust.


Yields dough for 2 each 12 inch pizzas


2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons water

Whisk together dry ingredients. Mix liquids together then add to dry, stir together. Knead into a dough ball and divide into 2 pieces. A little bit sticky is good. Roll into 12 inch circles on sheets of parchment. Arrange toppings, bake on parchment 475 degrees for 9-12 minutes until golden and cheese is bubbly.

If using a baking stone, preheat stone in oven for 30 minutes. A stone makes a crisper crust. Sliding your pizza laden parchment onto a peel and then slipping it onto the stone makes it easy. Use the peel to remove it also. If you don’t have a peel, use a baking sheet.

For your toppings you can purchase pizza sauce or you can make your own. I chose to use some of the tomatoes I canned last summer. I pureed a pint of tomatoes. In a small sauce pan, I sautéed some chopped red onion in a little olive oil for a few minutes along with some red pepper flakes. I added a clove of crushed garlic, and cooked until fragrant and then added the pureed tomatoes. Some oregano (I had dried), a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf, and let it simmer for 15 minutes to concentrate. Easy and delicious. You are welcome to use canned tomatoes.

The rest of the toppings are cook’s choice. I used what I love – prosciutto, provolone, red onion and oil cured olives. Next time I’ll try something different. Maybe I’ll try the Trentino, my fave pizza at Amici’s!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mangia Mangia! Baked Fontina

Paul and I eat pretty simply most of the time, partly for nutritional reasons and partly out of laziness. The times I really love cooking are when I am planning a fabulous dinner party or trying out a new dish for a gathering. Almost a year ago I printed out a Barefoot Contessa recipe, Baked Fontina. I love Saganaki, a cheese dish flamed with alcohol at a local Mediterranean restaurant. This dish seemed like it could be just as good so I filed it away for future use.

Italian Fontina is called for, which I used, but Danish Fontina would be a less expensive, probably almost as delicious alternative. Since I (gulp) paid over $15 a pound for the Italian, I will probably try the Danish next time. Since I was taking this to a birthday party, I talked myself into the Italian. Need I say it was an unqualified hit? People (including me) were standing over the dish and indulging themselves. In the original recipe a crusty baguette was specified. I decided to toast a sliced baguette in the oven. I will give you those directions too.

Baked Fontina

Baked Fontina

1-½ pounds Italian Fontina, rind removed and 1-inch diced
¼ cup good olive oil (I like California extra virgin)
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (it helps to use a garlic slicer)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 toasted baguettes (see below)

Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 5 inches from the heat.

Distribute the cubes of Fontina evenly in a broiler proof dish. I used an 8 ½ x 10 ½ glazed earthenware dish. Drizzle on the olive oil. Combine the garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sprinkle it over the cheese and olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and place the pan under the broiler for 6 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starts to brown. I kept peeking to make sure I didn’t burn the cheese!

Serve right out of the oven with a bowl of toasted baguette slices. Mangia!

Toasted Baguettes

Slice baguettes ½ inch thick. Brush with olive oil on one side. Spread out on baking sheets oil side up and bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, until light golden and crisp.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fun with Paula Deen


I’m always interested in coming up with something new and different to take to a party, preferably an appetizer that travels well and isn’t too much trouble. A friend of mine told me about this cheese ball-esque appetizer that wowed everyone at a party and promised she would track down the recipe. It took a while but I got it in time to make for a New Year’s Eve party. It’s Paula Deen’s recipe, Pesto Cheese Blossoms, which I simplified – come on, do you really want to make pesto if you don’t have to? You can serve it any time of year, just make it the day before. It truly is delicious, with the flavors of sundried tomatoes, pesto, cream cheese and garlic. And don’t forget provolone, which I discovered I really like.

  • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced provolone cheese
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 20 pistachios, shelled
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 ounces oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 7oz carton prepared pesto (I used Trader Joe’s Genoa style pesto)

Line a medium bowl with plastic wrap, leaving enough overhang to cover the top. Reserving 3 slices of the provolone, line the bottom and sides of the bowl with the remaining provolone, overlapping the slices. For the cream cheese layer, process the cream cheese, pistachios, and the garlic clove in a food processor until blended; scrape the mixture into a bowl and set aside.

For the tomato layer, drain the tomatoes, reserving the oil. Puree the tomatoes with a small amount of the reserved oil in a food processor. Spread some of the cream cheese mixture over the cheese slices lining the bowl. Layer the pesto, half of the remaining cream cheese mixture, the sun-dried tomato mixture, and then remaining cream mixture in the bowl. Cover with the remaining provolone. Bring the edges of the plastic wrap together over the top and secure with a twist tie. Refrigerate overnight until firm. Remove the plastic wrap and invert the mold onto a serving platter. Serve with party crackers.

The original recipe called for freezing the bowl of cheese and goodies, and doubtful though I was, I went along to get along. After unmolding it, I found quite a long time was required for sufficient thawing. Therefore, I recommend, and will implement the technique of refrigerating it overnight in the future. It was a hit, by the way.


One more thing, I don’t love liver, but I do love liver pate and fois gras. Paul has a wonderful habit of bringing home the food section of the newspapers from his travels. Last May I read a recipe for chicken liver mousse and was instantly intrigued; it didn’t look too hard. As background, many years ago I opted to try making Julia Child’s recipe for chicken liver terrine. If you are familiar with her old cookbooks, you know her instructions go on and on. I wasn’t nearly the cook I am now but I forged on anyway. What a hellish experience, which I vowed never to repeat! This current recipe is for the intermediate cook, and I found it fun to make as well as delicious to eat. Please note, I bought an airline sized bottle of Calvados brandy, but I bet plain good brandy would be fine. I’m sorry to report there were more than a few Philistines present who didn’t try it, but those who did found it wonderful. So for you pate lovers, here’s the link: . Have fun!