If you enjoy good food and love to cook or bake, you’ll understand how excited I get when I discover a must-make recipe, sample a tropical fruit I’ve never heard of (longon and guanabana are two that caught my breath!) or have an exceptional meal that features a memorable entree. It kind of evokes the feeling of being a little richer or at least culturally richer if not financially.
Years ago I made a declaration to always live where I could get avocados and artichokes. I’ve held good to my dream and California continues to produce both of these iconic and versatile vegetables though they’re far more available now nearly everywhere. Nevertheless, while most Americans aren’t intimidated by avocados (thank you guacamole), the artichoke can be a thornier proposition for a lot of folks who aren’t quite sure how to tackle the illustrious thistle bud.
Living in the heart of artichoke country, we get the delicious thistles in all sizes nearly year ’round. However, late March through May and then again in September, are the two big harvest periods when the artichokes are at their most plentiful and the prices are good. Until relatively recently, artichokes were mainly enjoyed here in California; fortunately they’re now available all through the States and most people have enjoyed an artichoke or two (or more) just about everywhere. Prepared properly, they are so delicious and fun to eat as well.
It’s cold outside and I’m thinking about cozy soups, fragrant stews and other warming foods that speak of waning sunshine and chilly nights. Especially when I was fighting with the wind while raking leaves. However, as I cruised the produce section I spotted bright yellow Ataulfo mangoes, one of the sweetest and most flavorful varieties that comes into our markets here in the States. What to do? I can’t imagine mango soup and stews call for root vegetables — parsnips and potatoes, carrots and onions. Then I remembered a wonderful dish I created when I worked with New Leaf markets. A black peppered, spicy mango chicken saute with cashews. Served over a rice pilaf, I could have the best of both worlds — a warming dish but with tropical overtones. I bought the mangoes!
Courtesy of David Lebovitz: The Sweet Life in Paris
Tagines (also spelled tajine) are a perfect antidote to cold, wintry nights. Remarkably enough, they’re also wonderful on warm summer nights. Why? because they are so richly flavored, all of your senses will come into play. They’re also warming, filling and unique enough for serving at intimate dinner parties or even for a special date night for two.
This recipe (with some adaptations) comes to us from Jerry Di Vecchio, the woman who helped change the way the West eats. By West, I mean the Western United States. A gracious and amazing woman, Jerry spent her entire career working at Sunset Magazine, and many of those years as the editor/director of the food division. She also inadvertently launched my career as an international expert in vanilla. But that’s a story for another time. Instead, this easy-to-make, delicious entree is one you’re going to want in your collection of favorites, whether for a weeknight dinner or for a special meal with guests.
Recently I reconnected with a recipe I learned to make from a boat maker on the West Marin coast. He was raising his four children alone and, as they reached their teens, they rotated cooking chores, with each of them specializing in a type of cuisine. It made meals varied and interesting. Weekends, as I recall, were negotiable and depended on who was home. Ed’s specialty was Chinese; Master Sauce Chicken and Eggs Foo Young. While the latter was good, I fell in love with Master Sauce Chicken, as the sauce can be reused in a number of different ways. (One of my favorites is to use it over meatloaf instead of ketchup.)
There’s nothing quite so frustrating as coming home from work tired and hungry, gazing into the refrigerator, then retreating because there’s nothing that says “make this” in there. We’ve all been there. I admit that packaged tomato soup and scrambled eggs have gotten me through several moves and writing deadlines. However, award winning cookbook author, Barbara Kafka, has helpful solutions for all kinds of daily culinary dilemmas and her 15 minute pasta solution is brilliant. Made with ingredients you are likely to have around (though I doubt everyone has heavy cream waiting for just the right moment), this pasta recipe is delicious, filling, and with a few additional ingredients, scores as healthy too.
Fresh salmon is amazing. Ask any bear living along the Pacific Coast, and it will fully agree, assuming it’s not considering you as its next meal. It is rich, meaty, and delicately flavored. As a result, whether you cook it over a fire, grill it, or prepare it in the oven, the sauce should enhance, not overpower, the salmon.
Can we ever have too many recipes using chicken? Amazingly enough, while meat consumption is down, Americans eat about 60 pounds of chicken a year which breaks down to about five pounds a month. So, in my opinion, the answer is no! And, if rotisserie chicken grabbed on the go is your default (and even if it isn’t), it’s time to try something deliciously different. You can prepare the chicken up to two days ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. This also allows the flavors to fully develop.
Spring farmers’ markets and produce stores are so wonderful to peruse and fill our bags and baskets with their deliciousness. Finally, choices other than kale, cabbage and iceberg lettuce! Everything just pops and begs to be eaten — lettuces, baby spinach, leeks, garlic shoots, baby carrots, English peas, snap peas, asparagus, fava beans, even little zucchinis and squash blossoms. Woo-hoo! Sadly, some things are harder to find, specifically artichokes. This is a big blow for people like me who adore them. The problem? A lack of bio-diversity.
Risotto, when it’s good, is right up there on my comfort food list. I never had risotto, polenta or gnocchi until I was an adult as pasta was the signature Italian dish where I was growing up. For all I knew, pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, and lasagne were what Italians ate every night.
While a chilly winter day complete with snow flurries is thrilling in November or December, by March who needs it, especially a late season blizzard or ice storm! And it isn’t just the weather. Market produce looks tired (except for the kale and cabbage), and finding good lettuce can be a fantasy . While I now live near America’s “salad bowl,” I was born in Cleveland, so I know how winter can drag on and on.
Food history is always fascinating. It’s like an archeology dig that you can then eat. My mother made Chicken Tetrazzini for dinner when I was growing up and it was a favorite of mine because it was the right kind of cozy on a cold, wet winter night. It’s an ideal recipe to use up leftover roasted or rotisserie chicken (or turkey), which was precisely why I just made it again for the first time in ages. It is also an incredibly wet, dreary February so it served as a useful way to warm my body and spirit as well as warming my kitchen and office thanks to the oven.
While perusing Food 52’s weekly recipes for inspiration recently, there was a post for Mushrooms Bourguignon. I was planning a New Year’s Eve dinner for friends and wanted an elegant option for my vegan friends. What could be more elegant than a variety of meaty mushrooms in a flavorful, dressed-up sauce?
Thanksgiving’s over and you’ve eaten all you can stand of turkey “sundaes” and turkey sandwiches. I know it’s hard to have enough of all the sides and turkey with gravy, but just in case you’ve had one too many days of leftovers or, if you love turkey and want another easy-to-assemble, delicious turkey option, this recipe is for you!
In 1985 Greg Reynolds, who at the time worked for a catering service in Half Moon Bay, became enthusiastic about playing with sauces using vanilla. His enthusiasm was spurred by my telling him a bit about vanilla’s history as well as my handing him a handful of vanilla beans. Not long after he invited me to try the following sauce. It immediately became one of my go-to sauces to use on poached chicken and roasted vegetables. Later, I added it as a finishing sauce for grilled meats.
Commercial salmon season just opened on the California Coast. Sport fishing for salmon has been open for several weeks now and a friend of mine who crews on a few sailboats out of Moss Landing has shared both the prized Dungeness crabs and fresh salmon fillets from her friends at the harbor. In exchange, I’ve sent fresh pineapple upside-down cake back to her friends as a small thank you. What I’ve found is that those who fish love freshly baked desserts. Works well for all of us!
I’m currently enamored with the combination of pomegranate molasses, Mediterranean spices and ground vanilla beans. Sweet, tart, salty, savory. With a fast turn of the wrist you can make a “same old” weeknight meal into an “oh yeah!” dinner. This recipe is liberally adapted from Sunset Magazine. They also used carrots but I think Maui or cippolini onion chunks, or sweet potatoes would be dynamite thrown into the pot with or without the carrots. I had asparagus roasting on the rack above the chicken and was pleasantly surprised by how well it blended, but I wish I’d also had some potatoes roasting too. In other words, adapt, adapt, adapt. I’m thinking pork chops or even pork tenderloin would soak in all this juicy goodness. What about you?
One of the pluses about living on the Central California coast is the fresh fish! I live down the street from a couple of fishermen and occasionally I go out on the Bay with them, though I admit, it’s more for the boat ride and being on the water than it is for the fishing. What I’ve learned as they’ve reeled the fish in, is that the markets use names like “snapper” and “cod” when the fish is actually one of the many varieties of rock fish. I mention this because it really doesn’t matter what firm-fleshed white fish you use to make this and many other fish dishes. It’s more about choosing fresh fish that ideally is also sustainable. If you are concerned about what fish to choose regarding sustainability, check fishwatch.gov.