Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Inevitably…as the season changes and the days shorten, I move to pursuits of comfort food, fires and good books. As a child, I remember rainy fall days cooped up in the house. I would head to my room and bury my nose into a book to wait out the weather but would be called out by the aromas coming from the kitchen. Even though times could be rocky in my home, my mother always made wonderful food. My indoctrination into food and cooking was one of diligence and a commitment to the ‘old way’ of doing things.

My great uncle would send her dry chilies from Mexico and as she had always done, my mother would burn her hands as she blanched them in boiling water and delicately removed their skins. If we were lucky to get fresh chilies, she would char them in the oven. My mother was not one to rely on convenience when it came to preparing food. It was one of those funny quirks of my mother’s…. She had two food processors, but chose to ground her chilies and garlic for her Roja sauce in a Molcajete just as my grandmother did.

In our home, the stove would have several pots going at one time. As always, my mom had a huge pot of pinto beans simmering away. Of course, that pot was preceded by the long and arduous process of ‘picking and sorting beans’. My mother would sit me at the kitchen table with two bowls, a bag of dried beans and a paper towel. In small manageable amounts, the beans would be poured on the towel and sifted through to remove any stones or imperfect legumes that happen to find themselves in the bag. One bowl for the undesirables and one bowl for the perfectly picked…It was pointless to take any shortcuts, for my mother would just scoop up my sifted pile, pour it out on the towel and direct me to start over. It was admirable; frustrating, but admirable. And although my mother was far from perfect, she nurtured and loved me through her cooking.

So, in gearing up for autumn, I went looking for some of my favorite recipes and I stumbled across a dog-eared recipe card for my mother’s spaghetti sauce. There it was typed with the new typewriter I received for my birthday. Some ingredients didn’t even make it on the card. There weren’t any instructions either; those were saved to my memory… Hands down, my mother had the best spaghetti sauce I had ever eaten…at least I thought so. I pleaded with her to show me how to make it and on one of those rainy days…we set out to do just that.

First she showed me how to dice an onion; first vertically, then horizontally and finally sliced crosswise. Then she pulled out the head of garlic and placed it in a kitchen towel. She tightly wound the towel and banged it against the counter; like magic, all the cloves separated. Next she grabbed a saucer and pushed down on the garlic cloves; the papery skins loosened and fell off. Since the garlic was small, my mother fearing a trip to the emergency room minced it herself.

The hardest part of this lesson was the dry ingredients. My mother NEVER measured anything. So on that day, I made her pour the ingredients in her hand and I would then take the measuring spoons to determine a quantifiable amount. However, some ingredients remained in their “handful” measurement. Over the course of my lesson she bestowed her hints and tricks; added sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, grated Parmesan cheese to help thicken the sauce; wine added at the end to retain the flavor. This would be my first foray into writing recipes.

I always thought that one day, my mother and I would be in my kitchen preparing food, but that day never came. I often find myself in the kitchen wondering what she would think of my cooking, would she be proud, would she recognize that I still follow her instruction? And when I prepare lentils, I take out two bowls and a paper towel and head to the kitchen table.

Friday, September 19, 2008


It's about time... Dinner, is poured.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

fig-ment part deux

For some reason, lamb has become a ghost in the city... I couldn’t find a leg of lamb to save my life. All my usual haunts were out, weren’t on order or were taken off the order list. I thought that veal was the only politically volatile meat. Perhaps things have changed… However, once I get an idea in my head, I cannot rest until I can see it through. So, lack of lamb required a journey to Whole Foods. Unfortunately, I don’t live anywhere near one…actually, that could be a good thing. They don’t call it Whole Paycheck for nothing… So, lamb and fig skewers were on the menu.

Grilled Lamb and Fig Skewers

For mint-pepper glaze:
2/3 cup apricot jam
1/3 cup pomegranate syrup
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

For lamb:
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
3 pounds boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
12 fresh figs, halved vertically
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly coarse-ground black pepper

Make mint-pepper glaze
In small saucepan over moderate heat, stir together jam, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest. Bring to boil, then lower heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Stir in mint and set aside.

Prepare grill for cooking
If using charcoal grill, open vents on bottom, then light charcoal. Charcoal fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 4 to 5 seconds. If using gas grill, preheat burners on high with hood closed 10 minutes, then turn down to moderately high.

Prep lamb
In large bowl, toss together lamb, figs, and olive oil. Add garlic, ground cumin and coriander, salt, and pepper, and toss gently to combine. Thread lamb cubes and figs onto skewers.

Grill lamb
Cook lamb to slightly less than desired doneness (cubes will continue to cook after being removed from grill), turning once and brushing with glaze during last 30 seconds of grilling on each side, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.

We served our skewers with a green salad dressed with a balsamic dressing, slivered almonds and crumbled goat cheese. With whole wheat pita bread and hummus on the side.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


We had some company on Saturday night and I didn’t feel like making one of those meals that required all items to be timed perfectly with lavish presentation. I had just been to a baby shower luncheon and really just wanted to take a nap. So, I went retro…casserole. I have a recipe for baked ziti that seems to be a hit.

Baked Ziti with Tomatoes and Spinach

½ pound of sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (preferably pork)
½ pound of hot Italian sausage casings removed (preferably pork)
1 medium onion chopped
4 cloves of garlic minced
28 ounce can of peeled and diced tomatoes with juice (I use Muir Glen)
4 ounces of prepared pesto sauce
Marsala wine

1 pound of freshly cooked penne or ziti pasta (I used whole wheat)
6-10 ounces of spinach leaves
8-ounces of cubed mozzarella cheese
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)

Heave heavy large saucepan over medium high heat. Sauté onion and garlic until soft; add sausage and cooked thoroughly, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and juices to pan. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in pesto. Season with salt and pepper. Add Marsala wine to taste to cut the acidity of the tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 º. Lightly oil 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish. Combine pasta, spinach, mozzarella and 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Stir in hot tomato sauce. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 2/3 Parmesan cheese over. Bake until sauce bubbles and cheeses melt, about 20 minutes.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Okay…I need a laugh to end the work week. Tanya and I decided to go get a couple of slices for lunch. We work downtown, so the majority of parking consists of parallel action. I have many talents (varying degrees of expertise); cooking, photography, writing, entertaining. Parallel parking however, is not one of them. Somewhere near my 80th adjustment to get myself in the spot, Tanya compared me to Austin Powers. That was it…. I completely lost it and laughed so hard that no noise escaped. I just shook... It was utterly painful and hilarious. She actually had to get out of the car to direct my 81st attempt. Apparently, we could take this act on the road as we were providing much comic relief to the passersby.

Need a cake baked, I’m your girl. You need a picture taken, I am your girl. You need me to write you a research paper, I’m your girl. You need to plan a birthday party, I’m your girl.

You need me to parallel park, you might want to consider public transportation

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

fig-ment of my imagination

Well, this whole ‘fig’ crop that we were the lucky recipients of, required me to do a little fig research. Do I want to make preserves? Do I want to make tapenade? Do I want to grill them with lamb? Do I just want to sit down with my lovely little fig friends and a log of goat cheese and just devour??? For the first part of my fig fantasy, I opted to make pizza…

Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza

Ball of pizza dough (I picked up a whole wheat one at Trader Joes)
Extra virgin olive oil and unsalted sweet butter
1-clove of garlic
2-sweet onions (Maui, Vidalia, etc) sliced crosswise
½ log of goat cheese
12-16 fresh figs (preferably Black Mission) sliced in half lengthwise
2-thin pieces of Proscuitto sliced in chiffonade style
chiffonade of fresh basil

Preheat oven to 450

Slice the onions. In a heavy bottom pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil over medium low heat. Sauté the onions until caramelized, approximately 20-30 minutes. Turn as needed.

Crush garlic clove and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well to incorporate the garlic into the oil.

Allow the dough to rest at room temperature on a floured surface for 20 minutes. Roll dough out to a 12-inch diameter. Place on pizza stone in oven for 5-7 minutes to lightly crisp the crust.

Remove the crust from the oven and brush with garlic olive oil. Crumble goat cheese and spread onions over crust. Add the figs and proscuitto over the cheese and onions.

Bake pizza an additional 10-15 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Allow pizza to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes and add fresh basil before serving

Monday, September 1, 2008


During these summer months, Craig's bike rides run the river route on the Delta. Into Clarksburg, 5 miles outside of Sacramento, you will find wineries and breezy Delta living. Lucky for me, Craig has discovered a couple of Black Mission Fig trees and has come home with figs in hand. We aren't sure if they are technically on someone's property...but I think the only crime we would be guilty of is allowing those figs to die on the tree, never to be enjoyed....