Monday, October 5, 2015


Well, this is just such a bonus, I had to break radio silence to tell you about it. Because My Beloved and I will be spending weeks and weeks in our little station wagon, we thought it made sense after more than 100,000 miles to have it detailed so our home away from home would at least start out looking new and shiny, inside and out.

Detailing, it turns out, takes several hours, even with an eager crew of five or six swarming over it. So, we went to the local mall to kill some time, buying odds and ends for the trip and browsing through the local cooking store. So high on a shelf that I almost didn't see it was a small (inexpensive) glazed pottery tagine next to some really large (and expensive) ones.

I had been dreaming of tagine cooking ever since our pal Sari, My Beloved, and I had a similar dish in Paris years ago. On a cold, misty March afternoon, we stumbled into a North African restaurant around the corner from the Musée Cluny (now called the Musée du Moyen Age) and had a memorable meal, complete with steaming mint tea poured from on high into glass cups. Most tagines are too big for just the two of us and I didn't anticipate making meals for a crowd, so I always hesitated to buy one. Now I'm glad I waited, as this little one is perfect for two.

There were two chicken thighs left over from a previous meal and one artichoke that My Beloved brought home last weekend when he drove through Watsonville on his way to a race. I wasn't sure that was enough to make a meal, but what the heck!  As we are about to embark on a long trip, I needed to use up all the fresh things in the fridge.

Really, all I did was make a slurry of olive oil and spices in the bottom of the tagine, dredge the chicken in that flavorful oil, add some aromatics with the quartered artichoke, pop on the lid, and set it in a cold oven. Because it is made of pottery, it's not a good idea to place it directly into a hot oven. I set the oven to 200F, then raised it to 250F when the light blinked off, then again to 325F and let it go for about 90 minutes.

The lid keeps all the moisture in and funnels it back down over the food, so all the flavors are intensified and melded. What emerged from the tagine was a wonderfully moist and flavorful one-pot meal, complete with goozle on the bottom. I didn't have the traditional couscous on hand so instead I made do with some sourdough bread left over from the day before - it made a fine sponge for soaking up all that lovely juice.

By the time you read this, we will be on our way! Exciting as our trip will be, I'm already looking forward to getting home and making more tagine meals. It's always good to go, and always good to get back home, isn't it?

Tagine Chicken with Artichokes and Green Olives. Serves 2

2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each ground coriander, ground ginger, sweet paprika, cumin powder
Pepper to taste
8 whole green olives (I used Castelvetrano olives since I had them on hand)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, plus 4 thin slivers of the rind
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thickly
2 chicken thighs
1 artichoke, trimmed, quartered and cleaned of the fuzzies and smallest leaves. (Scoop them out with a teaspoon)
1/2 onion, cut into four spears through the root end
A splash of tea (you could use chicken broth, but I didn't have any on hand, and we decided we liked the extra body the sauce got from the tea)

A handful of shelled, salted pistachios for garnish
A few fresh cilantro leaves for garnish


In the bottom of the tagine, pour in the oil and mix in the spices to make a loose paste. Turn the chicken pieces in the paste to coat on all sides. Squeeze the half lemon over the chicken, pepper it, and add the garlic, olives, onion, artichoke, lemon slices, and tea. Put the lid on the tagine and place it in a cold oven. 

*My oven uses a "hellfire" broiler to pre-heat, so I placed the tagine in the bottom of the oven away from the flames. Sudden heat is not good for pottery pieces.

Turn the oven on to 200F and let it preheat with the tagine inside. When it reaches that temperature (just a few minutes, really), raise the temperature to 250F, then to 325F when 250F is reached. Bake for about 90 minutes and serve over couscous, garnished with the pistachios and the cilantro.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


This is us on our wedding day seventeen years ago, hand in hand, headed for life's adventures. We are starting another adventure in a few days, a motoring trip to celebrate My Beloved's retirement that we are calling the "See America" tour. 

We are excited to visit lots of places in the United States, and maybe even venture in to Canada and Mexico if the spirit moves us. We plan to be gone several weeks and I have no idea if I will be able to post along the way, so this blog may be on hiatus for a while.

I wish you all well and happy until we meet again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


While we were in Old Oakland to have lunch at Cosecha, we were charmed by the renovations they have made to those wonderful Victorian streets. Tucked in amongst the warehouses of an industrial district are shops, office space, and restaurants that draw a stylish crowd of mostly young hipsters. 

You may scoff, but I enjoy seeing young people dressing up a bit these days, and taking care with their appearance. The young women wore floaty summer dresses and the guys sported "office casual". Makes a nice change from  enormous tee shirts, drooping pants and backwards baseball caps. These "kids," were well dressed and enjoying a lovely day.

With extra time on the meter, we walked around for a few minutes, peering into shops and reading menus for future reference. Drawn into the interior of one of the buildings by a sign hanging from the ceiling, we happened upon a marvelous butcher's counter. Taylor's Sausage sells more than sausages, but most of the case was filled with pork in one form or another. Being a pork-loving girl, I was enchanted.

Taylor's is one of those butcher shops that give you confidence. Their products are obviously fresh and the place is as clean as the proverbial whistle. The French call window shopping "licking the windows" and, in this case, it was almost embarrassingly true. Everything looked so good that, even filled with Cosecha's excellent tacos, my mouth was watering.

After a few minutes of enjoyable dithering, we settled on two kinds of sausage to try - garlic beef and Swedish potato. The helpful butcher explained that there is, indeed, meat in the potato sausage, just less of it than in the others. The beef is offered in spicy and less spicy, so we chose less, wimps that we are. I was eager to try.

I prepared them very simply, sautéing over a low flame in a wide frying pan, flipping them to brown as much as would touch the pan. 

Oh. My. Heavens.

The beef and garlic was rich and substantial, full of flavor and full of juice. The spice level was fine for us, even a little surprising in the first two or three bites, but entirely pleasurable. The Swedish potato was even richer, oddly, and so swoon-worthy that we both closed our eyes in pleasure at the first bite.

Needless to say, we will be back. And so should you, if you love sausages.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hangin' With My Sweetie

Just hanging out with My Beloved the other night, and we decided to watch "Check Please Bay Area." We had heard that our local Hotel Mac will be reviewed one day soon, so we wanted to see it.

Of course, that night, no Hotel Mac.  But, they did review, and all the guests LOVED, a Mexican restaurant in Old Oakland called Cosheca. So, the next day, when we had an errand that took us to Oakland, we slid into a parking space near the building that Cosecha calls home.

The whole building is a conglomeration of small restaurants and food vendors, each with a different theme. They all seem to feature local, sustainable, etc etc, so it was like a giant, high-end, food court. Usually, courts are roughly as appetizing as airline food, but I was game to try Cosecha based on those three rave reviews.

One orders at the register, receives a number on a silvery stand, and searches for an open table. The table can be a bit of a challenge, as Cosecha is very popular. We were there closer to 1pm than to Noon, and still it was very lively. We found a table outside in the shade and away from the brouhaha caused by lots of conversation and too-loud music.

We ordered guacamole and chips to start, and each ordered two tacos for lunch with iced tea to drink. The guac was nicely chunky and tangy. The chips were hand cut and home made - fresh, substantial scoopers for the thick guacamole. I could have asked for a few more chips, as we ended up with more guac than chips, but by then our tacos had arrived, so we dug in.

All four tacos - chicken, crisp fish, braised pork, and pork belly - were absolutely delicious. The tortillas were soft and flavorful, and double-layered. The sauces were lively without being truly spicy, and complemented wonderfully the meats. The pickles were perfect and the fresh cilantro showed that someone had given some thought to how they would look as well as taste. 

They were so good, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway through my lunch. That brilliantly red sauce is all that was left of my braised pork; the remaining taco is the pork belly. This was my first taste of pork belly - I expected bacon flavor but it was not smoked, just crisped and eye-rolling good. There was a similar silence from My Beloved across the table as he enjoyed his fish and chicken.

Next time you are hangin' with your sweetie in Oakland, don't miss Cosecha. We may be at the next table.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Making Waves

We live in a place where it is rarely hot. Very rarely. September and October, oddly, are the months when we are likely to get really hot days. When most of the country is sighing with relief after a long, sweaty summer and pulling out their fleeces and long pants, we are looking worriedly out to sea, willing the fog to come in and cool us off. 

Last week was like that, a string of four or five days of high 80s and even mid-90s. When you live in a normal temperature range that varies only 10-20 degrees all year 'round, you become intolerant of wide temperature differences. 

Because this weather only lasts a few days, we don't have air conditioning - it's usually not needed. We get out the fan and close up the house in the early morning, and it stays cool until late afternoon, when we open everything up again and pray for a breeze. Telling ourselves that it's a dry heat didn't help - we were dying. 

I have a secret weapon stashed for just such an emergency. 

Cached under the deck is the wading pool I bought for our dear departed canine, Cora, a few years ago when we had a similar heat wave. She, of course, would have nothing to do with it, so I tucked it under the deck, knowing there would be the need again one of these days.

Since we are in a water emergency, I couldn't justify filling it to the top, but even a few inches of cold water makes all the difference. We brought our books out to the deck and blissfully dangled our bare feet. Heaven!  We made cooling waves for three days straight. And, being the good citizen that I am, I scooped the "gray water" out to water my garden.

Days like this require cool foods, as well. When I was a kid, my mother made wonderful cold soups - velvety vichyssoise; cold, smooth borscht with a dollop of sour cream in the middle;  and even jellied chicken soup. If you've never had jellied chicken soup, don't scoff until you've tried it - it's wonderful on a hot day, so clean and cool! We frequently lived in warm places - Washington, DC in the summer, or Hawaii year 'round - so she had lots of good cold soup recipes.

I don't remember her making gazpacho, however - I got my first taste of that from my s-i-l, Ann, who is a marvelous cook. She lives near Washington, DC, too, so her hot weather menus are numerous, and wonderful. My Beloved had wonderful gazpacho at our last dinner at Rivoli and it inspired me to try gazpacho at home.

I looked around online to find a recipe that sounded good, and came up with this one for watermelon gazpacho. I liked the idea of mixing in summer's coolest fruit with summer's most luscious produce, fresh tomatoes. Because it was the first time I've ever made gazpacho, I mostly followed the recipe, only leaving out the bell pepper because I like bell peppers but they don't like me.

We really enjoyed the different textures from the smooth purée of the base to the finely chopped veggies and fruit in the soup to the interesting chunky pieces and crunchy croutons that I added as an homage to Rivoli's gazpacho. 

Our beloved fog has returned now but the forecast is for several more hot days later this week, so I'm planning another batch of gazpacho for the very near future. If Indian Summer graces you, have some watermelon and late summer tomatoes on hand. 

And a wading pool for making waves.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fancypants Pork Sauce

It all started with this little jar of simple syrup that I made for the granita and saved the rest in the fridge. My mother's training is with me still - it pains me to throw away any little thing. But, what to do with a few tablespoons of spiced simple syrup?

I had thawed a pork tenderloin to fix for our dinner - I almost always do it as Jacques Pépin recommends, sprinkling the medallions with salt, pepper, and thyme before browning in butter on one side, flipping and inserting the pan into a 350 degree F oven for about five minutes. Because this preparation is so common to us, I wanted to jazz it up just a little.

I had two very ripe nectarines on the counter, too, so ripe they were attracting fruit flies and looking like they were ready to spoil, so I thought to make some kind of fruity topping for the tenderloin as a change from good old applesauce. And the word "gastrique" popped into my mind like a champagne bubble. *Bink!* 

Maybe a little fancypants, but I was willing to try.

Off to the interwebs, where I perused several recipes before choosing this one as my template. I followed the recipe almost exactly, but I did use garlic instead of shallot, I chose the cognac instead of the wine, and added my little jar of simple syrup instead of the sugar in the recipe. My choice for vinegar was white wine vinegar.

It was easy to make, just a quick sauté for the garlic in the butter, then add all the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. I was tempted to leave it all chunky but the recipe said it should be smooth, so I let it cool in the pot before zizzing it with an immersion blender. 

Sometimes, I'm a little chicken about trying new tastes; I was suspicious of the flavors, even though a quick finger dipping did taste good, so I served it in a little bowl alongside the meat. Next time, I'd just pour it on!  It was wonderfully sweet-tart-salty without being at all aggressive, a great little wake-up call for the taste buds that complemented the mild pork without drowning out the meat's flavor. I loved the combination with the thyme on the pork - turns out nectarines and thyme are a dynamite duo.

Best of all, it keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge, so I'm going to try it with roast chicken next. It wasn't fancypants at all - it was just plain delicious.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Oh, Yes!

We recently had some house guests from Florida and it's hard to impress Florida folks with citrus things. Florida rivals California and Texas for the Citrus Excellence title, so I was on my mettle while they were here.

One evening, however, I had a surprise treat. My pal Sari had given me three nice blood oranges from her backyard tree and they had been lurking in my fruit bowl for a couple of weeks. While our guests were away for a few days visiting their daughter, I whipped up a pan of blood orange granita to serve between courses as a refresher.

If you haven't had granita before, I can highly recommend it. It's sort of like sherbet, but coarser, grainier, more like a tart and tingly shave ice. If you've been to Hawaii and had shave ice, you know the texture. It's icy and crunchy. Granita, however, is not so sweet as shave ice. Mine is more of a wakeup call for the taste buds.

I served it in very small bowls, just a little treat between courses. It is a wonderful color - close to watermelon but with a little more jazz, and it's so cold that I have to eat mine slowly to avoid brain freeze. Dave, our "gourmet" friend (although he would never call himself that) who has worked in food service, took a bite and said, "Oh, Yes!" before finishing his down to the scraping. Perfect for a warm summer evening.

Blood Orange Granita (as usual, mine is a gmish of recipes borrowed from here and there and then tweaked)

Takes just a few minutes to make but several hours to freeze. One must plan ahead.

3 blood oranges, juiced
Simple syrup made with 2 parts sugar to l part water and boiled until the sugar dissolves, then cooled
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground fine black pepper
1/2 cinnamon stick

In a small saucepan, make the simple syrup. When the sugar dissolves, add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and pepper, and boil for a minute or two. Set aside to cool. Leave the bay leaf and the cinnamon in to steep as the syrup cools. Remove the bay leaf and cinnamon before mixing with the juice.

Here's the tricky part: the ratio of simple syrup-to-juice depends on the sweetness of your fruit. You want the granita base to be sweet enough not to pucker up the guests, but tart enough to get their attention. So, you must add the syrup to the juice a little at a time, tasting as you go, until you have just the right mix. 

Pour into a shallow metal pan and freeze for several hours, or over night. If you want, you can freeze the bowls you plan to serve it in so their chill helps keep the granita frozen. When ready to serve, scrape the mixture in the metal pan with the tines of a fork to break up the granita into grainy perfection. Working quickly so it doesn't melt, scrape up enough for a small bowl about the size of a demitasse cup or a little more for each guest. 

Serve with a small spoon and wait for the "Oh, Yesses!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

'Tis The Season

No, not the Christmas season, although to my amazed dismay I have already seen adverts about that crazy-making holiday - it's Tomato Season!  And, rejoice with me, people!, I actually grew a tomato plant this year that is yielding! Yay!

So, I decided to make an all-tomato dinner, starting with that wonderful tomato-and-fresh mozzarella salad where you slice those two ingredients, stack them into a red-and-white-striped tower, and drizzle some balsamic vinaigrette down the sides. It's hard to beat that for a summer salad.

The highlight, however, was the fresh tomato sauce for the pasta. I have seen it described on more than one blog - and one of the blogs was accused of stealing it from another - so I won't give an attribution here, just an appreciation. Whomever invented this technique for making fresh tomato sauce, whoever you are - Thank You!  Topped with a little grated Parmesano, you just can't get a better dinner for love nor money in the late summer. Period.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

I had several very small, ripe tomatoes and one or two sizable ones, so the number you use for this recipe varies widely depending upon how much sauce you want to make. I made just enough for two. 

I haven't tried freezing this yet, so I can't give you intel about that. Here goes:

6-8 small tomatoes or, say, 4 big ones (?)
A generous driz of olive oil
Basil, either dried or fresh, but fresh is better

Start a big pot of water boiling and prepare an ice bath in a big bowl. Core the tomatoes. Drop them into the boiling water with a slotted spoon to avoid splashing yourself. After about 30 seconds, remove them into the ice bath to cool them quickly.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a wide pan.

The tomato skins will slip off easily; discard them. Cut the tomatoes in half around the equator and holding them firmly, squeeze out most of the seeds and discard the seeds and gel. As you put the tomatoes into the wide, warmed pan, squish them between your fingers to break them into irregular pieces. This is messy but surprisingly fun (next time, I plan to include a grandchild in this step - they would love the squishy part).

Start another big pot of water for the pasta (or you could just re-use the water you used to blanch the tomatoes). When it is boiling, add the pasta.

Heat the tomato pulp until it begins to give off its juice, then scoop out the pulp and reduce the juices for a few minutes, until they thicken into something resembling a sauce. Return the pulp to the pan, add the basil and heat again.

When the pasta is done, drain it and put it directly into the wide pan with the tomato sauce, tossing it around to coat all the pasta. Plate and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Pizza

I owe a lot of people for the excellence of this pizza. First, My Beloved, who bought me the pizza stone and pizza peel that I use to make homemade pizza, not to mention his willingness to run down the hill to our little market for a box of corn meal. Not only do I use the corn meal to make the pizza slide easily off the peel onto the stone, but also for that toasted cornmeal flavor, which I think is essential to a good pie.

Second, to Luisa of The Wednesday Chef, who contributed the recipe she found while visiting her mother's house in Italy. Like so much of the best Italian food, it is simple, made with few ingredients, and bursting with flavor. She called it a focaccia, so I assume she made it a little thicker than we did. But the combination of those four flavors is amazing. I wouldn't have thought of using pan-wilted Swiss chard on a pizza, nor anchovies, but My Beloved sheepishly admitted that he actually likes anchovies (and was willing to make yet another run down to the market for said), so I thought, "What the heck, let's do it!"  

Third, to the grocery worker in our local Andronico's Market who, when he saw me hesitating over which tomatoes to buy for the pizza, whispered to me like some guy selling pornographic postcards, "Psst!  Hey, lady!  Try these - they are so very good!" And, man, was he ever right!  I used both cherry tomatoes (as the recipe calls for) and the very slightly larger ones the grocery clerk had recommended, and his were head and shoulders better than the cherries.

Fourth, to the second cheerful Andronico's worker who steered us to the frozen pizza dough that I would have missed. We were looking for the fresh dough they used to sell but no longer carry. She pointed us to little bags of frozen stuff that turned out to be truly excellent. Thawed in the fridge, then rolled out to our desired thinness, it was tasty all by itself and it browned beautifully. Perfect size for two and, because you roll it out after thawing, it takes up very little freezer space. 

Rolled, topped, and baked, we sat down to the freshest, loveliest pizza I have ever made. I found that, for my taste, it was best to give all the anchovies to My Beloved, as just the hint they leave behind after baking was plenty of savory fishiness for me, and he was delighted to have 2X the number of anchovies to enjoy. The fresh mozzarella complements perfectly the sweet, sweet summer tomatoes and the slightly astringent chard. In fact, if you wanted a truly vegetarian pizza, you could leave off the anchovies and it would still be the best pizza you will eat all season. No need for any sauce at all - it was perfect just the way it came, summer pizza straight from God.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Our Challenge

Recently, I had my "well baby checkup" with my handsome young doctor, complete with blood work (gasp!) and weigh-in (ugh). That is never good news. So, we have a renewed challenge to curtail our portion sizes and to lower our cholesterol. Actually, my "bad" cholesterol is just fine; it's the "good" stuff that needs work.

As you can see, we eat well. We strive for balance, for more veggies on the plate than meats, and we are moderate with desserts. Still, we struggle with our weight despite daily walks up and down our hilly town and sessions in the pool. The combination of famine-proof metabolisms and love of eating is hard to overcome.

When I found a nice piece of halibut to accompany our fresh vegetables, it was a natural for our new regime. 

Halibut is a lovely fish, especially when gently poached. Unfishy, and bland, it's a blank canvas; the soft purple of the shallots, the rich browns of the mushrooms, and the bright green of the parsley are my palette this time. I minced a shallot, a small handful of the parsley leaves, and about six brown mushrooms, using olive oil to sauté them, first the mushrooms, then the shallot, and finally the parsley. 

While those were cooking in a separate pan, I poached the fish in gently bubbling water, starting with the skin side down and flipping it halfway through. When you do it this way, it is easy to turn and the skin comes off easily after a few minutes of cooking. When it is done to perfection, you can delicately lift the fillets with a slotted spatula, drain briefly, and plate.

The corn was simmering on a third burner while the broccoli steamed on the fourth. In one of those nearly miraculous bits of timing, they all were ready at the same instant. Whisked onto plates and topped with the mushroom mixture, the halibut was a treat. I won't call it a masterpiece as it was a little too simple for that, but My Beloved remarked with pleasure about how good it was, savory, rich with mushroom umami, and fresh. Given that it was a pretty small portion, I decided that was a compliment worth having.