Tag Archives: cheese

A Foray Out – A Bento Picnic

I was invited to attend a picnic this weekend and I was delighted to accept because the weather during the day has been so un-San Francisco like, warm and sunny, almost like summer!

 

The night before, however, I was beset with anxiety. How would I get there? Where could I sit? Would I be able to access the picnic area? Was there an accessible restroom nearby that I could get to? Would I be able to stay out in the sun the whole time? What could I wear to cover up? Where is my hat? What can I make to bring? Would I be a burden to the other people? Would I have a good time?

 

Oh, anxiety, you are such a demon. I supposed all this comes from feeling helpless and vulnerable during this healing period. It’s only temporary but the lack of sleep the night before and the insurmountable hurdles some of these questions posed felt quite difficult.  Happily, it all worked out beautifully.

 

Fortunately for me, in San Francisco, there are places where a disabled person can picnic and have a good time! We went to Chrissy Field and my friends picked me up in their car. Thanks to my temporary handicap placard we were able to party pretty near to the picnic area. There was a decent dirt path that led to the lawn and we found a nice spot with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the curve of the city to the Bay Bridge.

 

NHK picnic

 

The purpose of this picnic was more than just friends getting together for the afternoon.  My amazing friend Biggie was being interviewed by NHK World television for a program about foreigners making bento.  She is the original bento food blogger and received much acclaim for her website Lunch In a Box.  I personally use her website frequently to find recipes because she’s an amazing cook and when I get home I wonder, how did she make that Thai curry?  Or what is in that sanbaizu sauce?

 

This is such an exciting time for her and so wonderful that the Japanese film crew flew out to watch her make bento and then observe the bento picnic and then (gulp) interview her friends about bento and Biggie.   I grew up eating Japanese food, thanks to my neighbors and living where I did, but I never made or enjoyed a homemade bento before my friendship with Biggie.  It has really expanded my world.

 

NHK picnic

As Biggie says, bento crosses all cultural lines and anything can go into a bento, and it is the best way to use leftovers!

 

With my weird food allergies, I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in the emergency room because something I purchased for lunch was contaminated by egg.   Bringing a bento box not only is an economical way to use leftovers but makes lunch feel special.  This is a direct-from-Biggie-quote.

 

NHK picnic

For her special picnic I wanted to bring something tasty and special and happily I had enough goodies in the fridge for a special bento.  The focus of my blog and locus of my food preferences are items that are local, sustainably sourced and grown.  The harmoniousness of my bento happily reflected this mindset.

NHK picnic
(my bento is in the little metal tin at the bottom!)

 

Happily, everyone enjoyed my humble bento, especially the Japanese film crew who polished off every last bit except for a sprinkling of red onion.  I also brought a container of Costco’s smoked pulled pork doused in bacon hot sauce (my favorite sauce) and some fresh rice, which got polished off.  Cold bing cherries were the perfect finish to my contributions to the picnic.

 

The other bentos were truly fantastic and I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of them.  Because I was sitting up in a camp chair (the current gimp factor did not permit me to join the others on the picnic blankets), my angle of photography was pretty poor.

 

Biggie made her incredible Spam musubi, the best spam musubi on the planet, I might add (see her site for the recipe); little liverwurst and sweet pickle roll up sandwiches, maki style; a bento filled with rolled local sliced salamis, prosciutto and bresola; Tillamouk extra fancy white cheddar; a fancy prepared bento with fruit and vegetables and the maki sandwiches; and a bento of hot rice and mapo dofu, a spicy pork and tofu dish made extra spicy with lots of Sriracha sauce; and a huge Louisana crunch cake.  It isn’t a picnic without cake!  Friends brought a bento made especially for a child with fried fish, vegetables and fruits, a bento with fried polenta squares drizzled with pesto (amazing!), edamame and vegetables.   We washed all of this down with lots of wine, hard cider and beer, and juice boxes and chilled water and juices for the kids.

 

As one parent said, bringing bento to a picnic is a perfect thing, because it can be eaten alone or shared and it’s not like a huge bowl of food that can get tipped over or go off.

 

We hit that wonderful peaceful lull that comes to every picnic when everyone is sated, the sun feels fantastic and one gazes out over the incredible views with perfect contentment.  Like a bento, it was a perfectly encapsulated moment of enjoyment.

 

NHK picnic
(the fog, rolling in a bit)

 

The interviews were handled with great care and consideration and did not feel at all intrusive.  We really enjoyed getting to meet the crew and chat about food cultures, eating habits in California and San Francisco and how we knew Biggie.  It was such a fun day!

 

Soon the program will be aired and I am excited to see my dear friend on television – soon the world will be sharing in her wonderful food!

 

Later, at home, I reflected on how enriched my life is by knowing extraordinary people like Biggie and the parents from her child’s school, our mutual friends and new friends, and the access to scenes and food like today.  Despite being disabled at the moment, I feel like a very lucky lady.

 

NHK picnic

Sunday Cooking

Sundays are a great day to bond with your couch, and often I like to putter a bit in the kitchen in between.

Like any “normal” person, I tackled the pile of dishes in the sink that built up during the week. Somehow every coffee cup ends up in the sink instead of the dishwasher. After KP is completed I pulled out the produce that was waiting in the fridge.

I am cooking for breakfast and lunches during the week. Dinner tonight is already sorted out, minestre from Nonni’s recipe and meatloaf that I made on Friday night.

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It helps me figure out what to cook when I see what I’ve got to work with, so I heaped everything on the stove and decided I would make:

o Melitzanosalata or Greek eggplant salad
o Broiled tomatoes
o Sautéed chard
o Gratined chard stems and leeks
o Rainbow quinoa
o Lemon tarragon vinaigrette

The eggplant gets baked until very soft and a bit smoky from the browned skin, so I pricked it all over with a fork and got it settled in a hot oven on a piece of foil.

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The quinoa was next, it’s extremely easy to make, just boil water! Add a bit of salt and while you’re waiting for the water to boil, measure and rinse your quinoa. I use a cone shaped strainer that gets used for everything from straining stock, sifting flour and draining pasta.

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I set the quinoa to simmer while I prepared the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are an heirloom variety from a local organic market, so they’re especially juicy and flavorful, yet another reason to love California produce in the spring. I cut off a tiny sliver from the bottom and removed the stem end and halved them, and nestled them in a gratin pan. I sprinkled them with a sea salt blended with bell peppers and dried onions, and a grind of pepper and a pinch of harissa spice. Then I sprinkled over a little bit of bread crumbs from one slice of bread chopped in the food processor. A hearty drizzle of local, peppery olive oil and they are ready for the oven.

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The timer for the eggplant sounded so I pulled it out of the oven to cool, and popped in the pan of tomatoes.

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The eggplant is cooked when it’s sort of collapsed looking and is as wrinkled as a surfer after a long set.

I cut it in half while it was hot, and trying not to burn my fingers and with the help of a paring knife, I flipped over the eggplant and peeled off its skin. The skin comes off easily with a tug from the knife.

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The eggplant needs to have all of the liquid removed while it is still warm, so using my trusty strainer I put in the peeled eggplant and used a spatula to squish out all the liquid I could.

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The eggplant cooled off in the strainer for a while to drain a bit more while I removed the quinoa from the stove.

I let the quinoa cool for a few minutes then fluffed it with a fork. The quinoa still had a bit of texture to it, not mushy, but nutty and fluffy, and it absorbed the lightly salted water and was perfectly seasoned.

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The timer went off for the tomatoes and I pulled them from the hot oven. The tomatoes were still holding their shape but soft and bursting with juices under their crispy breadcrumb topping.

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Back to the cooled eggplant, it was a small one so I put it in my mini chop with a small clove of garlic and enough plain yogurt to help the mixture purée smoothly was added, along with the juice of a lemon. Since my lemons were minis, I used three!

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When the eggplant was perfectly smooth, I poured in some olive oil and let it purée a bit more to emulsify. A quick check for seasoning a added more lemon juice and then decided to eat it right away. All of this cooking is making me ravenous.

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Before I had my snack, I cooked the chard quickly. A quarter of a slivered onion went in the pan first with olive oil and was sautéed until soft. The rinsed and chopped chard leaves went in next with a splash of water to cook until they are tender, this takes just a few minutes.

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When the greens were cooked I put them in a bowl to cool with a bit more olive oil and crunchy sea salt. The chard is tangy from the lemon and I think they taste far better than spinach.

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I rinsed out the pan and added the halved leeks and chard stems with a little broth so they could simmer until soft.

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While they simmered, I had my little melitzanosalata and pita bread for lunch and watched the rest of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The eggplant is light and lemony with a pleasant earthiness from being roasted. It tastes fantastic at room temperature or cold. I also like to put inside sandwiches but I polished off this batch quickly. Next time I will buy a larger eggplant so I can use the melitzanosalata for other purposes.

Since the lemons were so tiny, I abandoned my plans to make a vinaigrette and saved the last one for a cocktail.

The leeks were finished cooking by the time I was done with my lunch. Using a spatula, I lifted them out of the skillet and placed them in a gratin pan, added cream and a heavy grating of Romano cheese and put them in the oven so that the cream thickens and the cheese browns. I saved the 1/2 cup of broth leftover from the braising leeks and added it to my minestre; it had great flavor and would be a shame not to use it.

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The gratin smelled divine, the leeks are sweet and meltingly tender and the chard is toothsome and coated in rich cream and the savory, salty browned cheese on top was the perfect mouthful.

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When the gratin was done I had a glass of wine before tackling the KP duties again. All this lovely food was done and cooling.

Tonight I will have half a tomato with my meatloaf and a cup of soup. For breakfasts I can have the quinoa topped with chard or with a tomato half. For lunches I can have the gratin with a the leftover meatloaf or a tomato half. They all work together in various combinations, and it’s comforting to know I don’t have to worry about going out for a meal at work and accidentally eating eggs. Plus, all of these dishes are nutritious, besides being very tasty.

It’s still early on Sunday, there’s time for a nap or some knitting or some more bonding time with my couch or perhaps all three!

Recipe:    Melitzanosalata – Greek Eggplant Salad/Dip

Gratineed Leeks and Chard Stems

 

Party Flatbreads

My friends C___ and D___ had a party this weekend to celebrate C___’s birthday, their wedding anniversary and the anniversary of moving to their condo. What a fun trio of occasions!

I had splurged on a purchase of the best mozzarella on the planet, from Angelo and Franco, a whole BBQed chicken and racks of ribs from Sneaky’s Underground BBQ and with the haul from some recent grocery forays I realized I had some great ingredients in the pantry to make flatbreads for the party.

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Using a dough recipe from Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads, I mixed up a batch of dough and had enough for three flatbreads for the party plus enough for home dinners for the next two weeks.

I made three flatbreads:

  • Marinated grapes in herbs and olive oil, goat cheese and pecans
  • Brown tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil
  • BBQ chicken mixed with BBQ sauce, red onions, Gruyere



  • Each flatbread baked in about 15 minutes and were topped with a sprinkle of Maldon crunchy sea salt when they came out of the oven. They were perfect with the variety of white and red Rhone style wines my friends poured. Warm or at room temperature, we scarfed them down.

    If you think outside the box any leftover or ingredient can be made into a flatbread or a pizza. To me, the difference between a flatbread and a pizza has to do with tomato sauce; dough with tomato sauce is a pizza, anything else is a flatbread. They’re both equally delicious! A local Indian place is making flatbreads with curry sauce and tandoori chicken, it’s fantastic and I am bitter they don’t deliver to my neighborhood.

    Tonight I am making myself a BBQ chicken flatbread just for me for dinner, the oven is preheating now and I can’t wait.

    For other pizza toppings ideas, check out my Sharknado pizza party! What would you make?

    Sharknado Pizza Party

    Luna sent me a note on Facebook that said, “There’s this crazy movie coming up on the SciFi Channel called Sharknado, we have to do this.”

    sharknado-poster

    A bit of backstory, we had an absolutely hilarious time watching Snakes On A Plane together, screaming every single time a snake shot out of someplace unexpected, which was about every 3 minutes once the movie got started, so of course I invited Luna over to have a Sharknado party! Then more friends joined in and next thing you know my apartment is full of hungry ladies, sipping on some great wine and ready to be vastly entertained by what could be one of the best-worst scifi movies ever.

    There were sharks eating people as they flew by, seemingly unfazed by the lack of water, sharks whapping people across the face and removing most of said face, and sharks eating through cars and bar stools. There was fabulously deadpan acting by Tara Reid and dialogue that was probably written by kindergartners (with apologies to the kids).

    And there was pizza. Being flat broke and yet needing to be a good hostess I made up a giant bowl full of pizza dough which rose and rose and rose as we nibbled on treats from the freezer. Yes, we had foie! There was a rather sizeable foie gras mousse from a splurgy purchase in the recent past, and sparkling wine and wonderful red wine from a recent shipment I received that day and Anna brought an amazing assortment of crackers. Everyone brought various treats to top the pizza so we were set.

    Making pizza

    To have a successful pizza party you need lots of toppings. We had a great assortment but really the toppings can be anything you like on a pizza. You need a sauce or two, many cheeses, vegetables and lots of other savory things:

    • fresh tomato sauce canned by Anna
    • pesto sauce
    • buffalo mozzerella cheese
    • feta cheese
    • Parmesan cheese
    • ricotta cheese
    • basil
    • arugula
    • slivered asparagus
    • Sweety Drop peppers
    • crispy freeze-dried onion slices
    • assorted olives
    • Bacon Hot Sauce
    • capocollo salami

    We would have had sauteed leeks and bacon but the movie was about to start and we felt like we had enough options at this point. The oven was roaring at 500 F, all the windows were open and the wine was flowing freely. I tore off an orange-sized ball of pizza dough from the massive bowl heaped with dough and helped each guest quickly form it into a round which was draped on my makeshift pizza peel – a flat-edged cookie sheet well sprinkled with cornmeal – and then they were free to top it with their choice of sauces, cheeses and tidbits.

    Anastasia's pizza

    (Anastasia’s pizza – pesto, olives, cappocolo, ricotta, basil, crispy onion)

    The prepared pizza was slid carefully onto the super hot pizza stone and baked 10-15 minutes, then we cut it into wedges and everyone got to try a slice. Multiply this by five, we made a lot of pizza that night!

    Pizza making hands

    (post-pizza making hands)

    Each pie was really fantastic, the crust was chewy and blistered black from the stone and crisp on the edges, the cheeses were browned and gooey and buttery and salty and the toppings made it all really interesting and unique.

    First pie in the oven

    (first pie baking away, despite the crappy apartment rental electric oven they bake up really nicely)

    My pizza

    (my pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, asparagus, Sweety Drops)
    Luna's pizza

    (Luna’s pizza: pesto, cappocolo, mozzerella, Sweety Drops, arugula)

    Anjali's pizza

    (Anjali’s pizza: feta, pesto, cappocolo, asparagus, tomato sauce, Sweety Drops, crispy onion)

    Near the end of the movie as we were mostly sated, a bit tipsy and reeling from laughter, the final pizza of the night was put in to bake, a dessert pizza!

    Strawberry balsamic glaze ricotta basil dessert pizza #pizzaparty #Sharkado

    Don’t knock a dessert pizza until you try it! Anna’s creation of roasted strawberries, the sweet, creamy ricotta, the tang of the basil and the rich, chocolate jimmies from Copenhagen made this the best pizza of the night.

    The movie was over and the apartment was dusted in flour and wine corks. We quickly tidied up the kitchen and inflated the aerobed and those who stayed over fell asleep almost immediately. What a great night and what a tasty dinner! I can’t wait for the next cheesy scifi movie, Koalacane?

    P.S. Sharknado II is coming in 2014!

    Greek Comfort Food – Gigandes Plaki (Baked Giant White Beans)

    Years ago when I was just 13 and visiting family in Canada I was introduced to Greek cuisine and became obsessed. In my late teens my mom gave me a basic Greek cookbook and over the years since I have made every recipe in it and collected several more wonderful cookbooks that are getting well used. One of my favorite recipes I make again and again is gigandes plaki, or baked giant white beans.

    Gigantes

    Gigandes are not restricted to the categorization of a winter dish but when it’s cold out there is nothing I find more comforting than a hot bowl of these giant, creamy and tender beans baked in a savory tomato and aromatic sauce with chunks of feta cheese. For those who can, a fried egg on top of the beans transforms the bowl of beans into a perfect breakfast or a homey dinner. I like to eat them one bean at a time, popping it against the roof of my mouth and letting the creaminess mix with the savory tomato and onion and garlic. Each bean is a complete sensory experience, luxurious and yet rustic and healthy.

    In the summer I have made gigandes plaki and served them at room temperature with fried chicken or one large overstuffed sandwich that serves 8. This is truly a fantastic dish for any season, but since it is winter, please do find a bag of dried giant white beans (or giant lima beans, as I have seen them labeled lately) and make a batch now. With no embarrassment I confess I have made them four times so far this winter (but one batch doesn’t count because I fell asleep and burnt them in the oven, my bad cooking mojo continues to haunt me.)

    There is no guilt with these baked beans, the beans themselves have a great deal of fiber and this is a low fat preparation. If you are vegan you can omit the cheese easily, many versions of gigandes do not contain feta but I really like the browned outside of the baked feta with the creamy interior that emulates the creaminess of the beans themselves with the addition of the salty tang of sheep’s milk.

    A note about the beans, if you read “lima beans” and think, ew, please consider that this method of cooking the beans renders them creamy and soft inside with the texture of white beans or cannelini beans.  Somehow they don’t have that grainy texture that many lima beans seem to have.  I don’t know why, I think it is Greek magic.

    Gigandes Plaki – Baked Giant White Beans

    1# dried giant white beans, sometimes labelled as giant lima beans, soaked overnight in lots of water with 3 T of salt
    3 T olive oil
    1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 carrots, very thinly sliced
    2 large tomatoes, diced
    2T parsley, finely chopped
    2 bay leaves
    1 tsp dried Greek oregano
    1 c tomato sauce, or 1 T tomato paste dissolved in 1 c H2O
    extra water if desired
    6 oz feta cheese, cut into large chunks (I have also made this with goat cheese)
    salt and pepper

    The night before you make these, or the morning before, soak the beans in a huge quantity of water with the salt added, for overnight, or a minimum of 8 hours.

    Drain the soaked beans and throw away any loose skins from the beans.  Do not be alarmed if they look wrinkled, split or otherwise strange.  Place the beans in a large saucepan, cover with cold water by several inches and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Cook the beans at a simmer for 40 minutes, skimming the foam or scum that rises to the top of the water.  When most of water is absorbed and the beans are tender with no resistance, remove from the heat, drain a little and let cool.

    Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a good pinch of salt for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, over medium heat.  Then add the carrots and tomatoes and sauté for another 10 minutes.

    Add the cooked beans, put in large shallow dish, add everything else, except the cheese, and taste for enough salt and pepper. The sauce should be slightly soupy but the beans should not be swimming. Gently fold in the cheese, and bake 1  to 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Beans should be slightly burnt on top.

    Serves 4.


    It is highly recommended to make them ahead of time because the flavor of the sauce permeates the beans over time. I prefer them on Day 3 after cooking. Sometimes I add a 1/3 cup of water to the dish before putting into the fridge as the beans will continue to absorb liquid.

    I have just finished my last batch and think I will wait a week or so before cooking more.  Maybe I will wait, that is…

    Birthday Memories and Chicken Parm

    It was my distinct pleasure to coordinate a birthday dinner for a dear friend and to cook one of the entrees.

    When you were a kidlet did you get to ask for your favorite birthday dinner? Mine was always pork chops braised in a curry sauce with apricots and onions. Once my sis asked for a full-on Thanksgiving dinner! In the summer!  And she got it!

    My friend’s childhood recollection of her favorite birthday dinner was veal Parmigiana and chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. My grocery budget doesn’t allow for veal but I do make a mean chicken Parm!

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    (mean)

    Turns out we were planning on feeding fifteen people, including hordes of children, so I knew I needed to make a big batch of chicken Parm. I wanted the birthday gal to have leftovers to take home also, so basically I needed to double my recipe. Costco was the perfect choice for large quantities of chicken, cheese and tomatoes and it felt fantastic to finally be un-gimpy enough to walk through the entire warehouse to shop. It took forever but I did it! It was fun too, I shopped with a mutual friend for the party and it was great to collaborate with someone on the overall menu.

    Back at home, the night before the party I tackled the “do ahead” tasks such as grating the cheese for the breaded coating and making the largest pot of sugo or tomato sauce that I had made in several years. My first challenge was to open the enormous can of tomatoes, it was about three quarters of a gallon of tomatoes!

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    I love Andrew Carmellini’s book Urban Italian that I received for Christmas a few years ago and have absorbed his concept of a quick pasta sauce. I sauteed a huge white onion in olive oil until it was soft and added a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of chile flakes, a tablespoon of sea salt and several teaspoons of dried oregano, and then began hand-crushing the tomatoes with the heel of my hand. Elbow deep in this giant can I scooped out tomatoes with my fingers and found stems, leaves and shreds of peels as well – not impressed with this product – I was glad I was doing this by hand! It was also my dinnertime so I added in some raw cheddar bratwursts from my favorite local butcher, 4505 Meats, to cook in the sauce. It was a nice symbiotic touch, they flavored the sauce and the sauce flavored them.

    Eventually the sauce was done, it simmered for 45 minutes and then after a quick blitz with the immersion blender I tasted it for seasoning. Usually I use nicer tomatoes like San Marzano tomatoes and these domestic tomatoes had a lot of acid that I was used to. I didn’t want to add more sugar so I used James Beard’s mother’s trick for balancing out acid in her tomato soup recipe and added a 1/2 tsp of baking soda. It’s fun to watch the base soda react with the tomato acids and foam up! Once the foam subsided the chemical reaction of neutralizing the acid was complete, I tasted it again and the sauce was perfect. Into the fridge it went in my largest four quart storage bowl. Four quarts of sauce! I was worried I made too much but I could have actually used more in the recipe. Isn’t that something?

    I took on grating the cheese next. It was a 1 1/2 pound block of cheese, it was like grating a hard bound book! My arms were flagging but I pressed on and grated almost all of it to use for the breading of the chicken and for sprinkling on top of the finished dish before baking.

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    (the cheese dwarfs my box grater)

    The day of the party I pulled on my favorite mushroom-sprigged apron, tied up my hair and got to work pounding the chicken. A dozen chicken breasts pounded to a 1/2″ thickness takes a bit of time to do and I am sure my (nice) neighbors hate me. I hope my noisy upstairs neighbors got the fillings rattled out of their head from my banging away for about an hour!

    (A little side note, it sure felt good to be able to do this kitchen task, a sure sign that my shoulder is all healed from its repair and subsequent injuries post-surgery. Hooray!)

    Once the chicken was all pounded I realized that I needed to get creative for the breading process. A good chicken parm is coated in seasoned flour, dipped in beaten egg, and then crumbed with grated cheese and bread crumbs, then fried or baked before being layered in tomato sauce and mozzerella cheese and baked until bubbly and golden brown. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

    I may not have mentioned this much but most every kitchen in San Francisco has tiny kitchens. Apparently they are not as tiny as in New York per se but nonetheless they are quite tiny in comparison to the vast acreage of suburban kitchen counter space. I have one counter in my kitchen and it is next to the sink, covered with my luxurious but very necessary (to me) portable dishwasher. It doubles as a holder for the dish drainer as well. There is another small counter area directly underneath the built in cupboards that house my dishes and glassware. It has a clearance of perhaps 12″ and is essentially useless as a work surface. It currently is the perfect nook for my convection/toaster oven and barely holds the paper towel holder on the sides.

    I am nothing short of a miracle worker when it comes to finding creative solutions for the lack of counter space. I use my kitchen table often for work but it is very far from the stove, I also use the open door of the aforementioned portable dishwasher but there is little room when the door is opened to access the stove or open the fridge.

    Last time I made chicken parm was in my late ex’s Marin home, which was graced with lots of counter space and a mobile kitchen cart that I assembled from Pier One. In my tiny Roost kitchen I had to get quite creative to set up the breading station, so I utilized the cutting board under the convection oven (which does not fit the space and slants at a horrific angle, rendering it useless for chopping or measuring anything – thank you Mr. Landlord!). I put the egg wash on the cutting board, put flexible cutting mats inside the silverware drawer and the utility drawer that holds the wax paper and foil and balanced the pans of the dry breading mixtures in each. Another cutting mat was perched on the open door of the convection oven to receive the finished breaded chicken so it could be ferried over to the stove without dropping crumbs everywhere. The raw chicken sat on yet another flexible cutting mat on the open door of the dishwasher. Crazy, but it worked!

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    I had two pans going at once and used the oven racks to receive the finished crisped chicken pieces. The trick to making chicken Parmigiana so that the coating does not fall off is to place the breaded chicken in a well oiled frying pan over medium heat and not touch it. For those of you that like to poke and prod their food as it cooks you must refrain from touching or moving the chicken. If you move it and the cheese is not properly golden brown on the bottom it will tear right off and you will have chicken that looks like it has mange. Put the chicken in the pan for two to three minutes and just relax, after that time you can grab the pan and give it a vigorous shake. If the chicken moves in the pan, it is ready to be turned over. The cheese has browned and set, it has unstuck itself from the pan, and you are good to go. If it doesn’t move, it’s Not Ready. This applies to nonstick pans as well. There is no rushing when it comes to browning chicken Parm.

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    Once you turn over your chicken and admire the golden brown gorgeousness of it all, again you must wait until the flip side has browned sufficiently.

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    It took over an hour to brown the dozen pounded pieces of chicken but it was worth the time. Each piece was perfect. Since I was assembling the dish at the party location I wrapped up the chicken in foil after it cooled and transported it, the sauce and the tubs of cheese in market bags with the casserole pans and a ladle. It was a giant chicken Parm kit!

    At the party about an hour before dinnertime, I heated the oven to 350, spread a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce in each casserole, added a layer of chicken, a layer of sauce and topped each one with slices of fresh mozzarella and handfuls of more Parmesan cheese. They baked for 30-45 minutes until the cheese was browned nicely on top and each casserole was bubbling with caramelized edges. They had to sit for about 15 minutes before serving so that you could cut generous squares of the finished Parm.

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    I was so gratified when the birthday gal took a bite, closed her eyes and said, “Mmmmmmfh, it’s just like home.”

    Another dear friend and conspirator made the most delicious chocolate cupcakes with cute sprinkles and vanilla icing.

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    Perfection. Birthday dinner goal accomplished!

    Recipe here

    Stuffed Layered Polenta from Herbivoracious

    I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented Seattle chef and blogger, Michael Natkin, as he toured the United States promoting his new vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious by Harvard Common Press.
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    The event was geared towards local bloggers and it felt like a mini reunion with over half the people in the room I would call dear friends.

    Over glasses of lovely Barbera we chatted informally with Chef Michael before he started his cooking demonstration.

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    Chef Michael’s book really appealed to me because despite of my great love of fruits and vegetables I feel that my execution of vegetarian cuisine is still in its infancy. I prepare a great variety of vegetable side dishes but the majority of my cooking is very meat-centric and I feel that my menu easily slips into a rut.

    I have a few friends who are vegetarian and have very elevated palates. When we have get-togethers I always stress over what to make for them as my first thoughts generally run to bacon.

    Chef Michael’s fresh and innovative dishes put together ingredients in a manner that made me think “Oooh, that’s terrific, now why didn’t I think of that?!!”

    We were treated to three stunning dishes that night, and I have included the recipe of my favorite dish of the night for you to try: the stuffed and baked polenta.

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    I made it a few weeks ago before I was allowed to stand and I must admit cooking while healing from surgery was quite the Herculean task. I needed to rest after each step but I did it. I wasn’t able to do the final bake but a dear pal took care of that for me. My friends who devoured it with me were very appreciative and the kids loved it too.

    I made it again yesterday for friends who were dining with me at home and it turned out so good, I think I may have to make this part of my regular rotation.

    I made my mother’s bechamel, which is simmered slowly with an onion studded with cloves, bay leaf, nutmeg, and knifepoint of cayenne pepper. The minced fresh tarragon was stirred in right before using.

    For the mushroom and greens filling, I had bunches of dino kale, beet greens, and rainbow chard. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can use all of the greens, including the stems, if they are chopped rather finely. You can also use up any greens that you might have in your refrigerator, including lettuces that might be too limp to use in a salad.

    The assembly of the dish is a lot of fun. You spread the cooked polenta into a greased dish and then top it with the greens and the bechamel. I had to use my largest stockpot to make the 9 cups of polenta the recipe called for, and since I cannot stand at the stove for very long, I sat on the seat of my scooter and stirred. It worked out rather well and was less tiring.

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    I also added a good handful of grated Parmesan, and the larger pieces of the soft fontina that I could not grate because the cheese is just too squishy. I let these cheeses melt into the polenta before I spread it into the pan.

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    The mushroom and greens mixture is spread on top. A good tip is to let it cook down until it is fairly dry to prevent any vegetable juices from softening the lower layer of the polenta after baking.

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    The bechamel is spread over the top of the greens. It is very important to be sure you spread the sauce into each corner.

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    The remaining batch of polenta is spread onto the top of the filling and smoothed over and topped with cheese.

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    When viewed from the side through the Pyrex casserole dish you can really see the beautiful layers of the creamy polenta, the savory greens and mushrooms, the creamy bechamel, the rich top layer of polenta and mixed cheeses on the top. It is slid into the oven to be baked until bubbling and golden brown and a little crispy on the edges.

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    While this was baking it smelled so divine. We could barely stand it until the timer went off but we held on for a bit longer to let it cool for about 10 minutes until it firmed up a bit so that it could be sliced into perfect straight edge slabs to be slid onto our ready plates. The next day all the leftovers were reheated briefly in the microwave and devoured for lunch. We looked at the empty dish and felt quite sad. It was gone!

    The full recipe is here.

    I am really looking forward to making this again. I think that I may add a fine lardon of bacon to the vegetable mix for extra porky sinfulness.

    It Really Was Easy Homemade Pizza

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    I know it is silly but I was a little nervous to try out my new pizza stone.

    Maybe it’s because I have not cooked a lot during the past year due to my shoulder, which still hurts a lot, and maybe my cooking mojo has left me after this hiatus?

    I am now just strong enough to lift the beautiful fire-engine red glazed stone onto the oven rack, and because space in my tiny kitchen is at a premium, that’s where it needs to live unless I’m cooking something else.

    So the stone is already in the oven, making the dough was extremely easy and it was ready and waiting for me in a snug tub in the fridge, exhaling in its Demi Moore yeasty voice, “Bake me, now!”.

    I already had sauce, basil and cheese, so I just ignored my baseless trepidations and gave it a go. I turned on the oven to 500 F and tried not to worry so much.

    I rolled out the dough, let it relax for 5 minutes before its final shaping, and swirled on the sauce with a back of a spoon. The mozzarella was the good, bobbing in a tub of water kind of cheese from Bellweather Farms, so I let the slices drain on some paper towels while the oven heated up.

    I had procrastinated for quite a while and my sprightly bunch of basil was getting rather limp and tired (like me on a Friday night) but I managed to salvage enough to snip over the top of my little pizza.

    Lacking a peel I used the back of a cookie sheet and, surprisingly, I had no problem sliding the pie onto the stone.

    I slammed the oven door, set the timer and said a few words of encouragement, maybe to me or maybe to the oven, I’m not really sure which, but mumbling to myself I sloshed out a glass of water from my filter jug and relaxed for 15 minutes.

    I peeked at the halfway point and gave the pizza a little shove with a spatula. Hey, what do you know, it looked pretty good! And, it smelled like pizza.

    Voila!

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    Funny how the color of the stone’s glaze deepened to a dark maroon, isn’t that interesting?

    After 15 minutes the crust was browned and blackened in spots and the cheese had melted and browned too.

    It smelled amazing.

    Using my big spatula the pizza slid right off the hot stone on to my waiting tray, like a skier coming off a run, whoosh, a perfect landing!

    I had to admit I was impressed.

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    The new pizza cutter worked like a hot knife through butter, cutting through the crisp bottom crust while not disturbing the toppings.

    I showered on some grated Parmesan and added a few spurts of sriracha sauce, and proceeded to eat the entire thing.

    Pizza at home, as good as your sweetest fancy pants pie from a hipster pizza restaurant in the Mission, in 15 minutes with no dishes to wash and the only person I had to tip was me.

    Now I need to buy more flour, and more cheese!

    My next pizza should have some different toppings though, please share with me your favorite combinations..

    My 2011 “Did It'” List

    My friend Luna Raven recently posted her 2011 “Did It” List, inspired by one of her friends and I love all the things she got done this year.  Thus inspired I thought I should join the club and write about my accomplishments too.

    I went to Mushroom Camp and  learned to mordant yarn and fabric and then dye it using foraged mushrooms.
    Green shimmery stems!The red gilled dernacybe makes a gorgeous pinkAmazing spectrum of hues from mushroom dyesRed-Gilles Dermocybes with alum mordant make this coppery hue

    I found my first candy cap mushroom in the redwood forests up in Sonoma.
    My first mushroom foray, a candycap!

    I attended the Fancy Food Show and scored twelve pounds of amazing blue cheese. (no picture, we ate it all!)

    I discovered some amazing ramen places, including my current favorite, pork and corn butter ramen at Ramen Club.
    *Ridiculous* dinner w @equan55 - butter ramen

    I treated myself to some incredible yarn at Stitches West and have actually knitted up a few garments.
    Zontee spotting!!The results of our card knitting class! Lorna Miserphoto.JPGChacha shawl

    I gathered up all my courage and borrowed lots of courage from friends and had surgery to repair my shoulder from a tragic high fiving injury when we won the World Series in 2011.Two months later I did not listen to my doctors orders and returned to work a month early, which is why one should not make important decisions while taking pain medication!  Major life lesson learned!  (Is that technically an accomplishment?)
    The *right* shoulder
    (note to the surgeon)

    I am still in physical therapy due to yet another accident while riding MUNI.  My  accomplishment there is patience and learning to follow directions and care for myself, and, even though it’s embarrassing, sit in the disabled seats on the bus.

    I got to visit with my dearest childhood friend three times! ((Lovi!!))
    Me & my BFFGurlzphoto.JPG

    My friends and I made ten different kinds of macaroni and cheese on my birthday at a huge blowout party, and we almost ate them all!
    Mac'n cheese blowout - in progressMy dear friends...

    I celebrated one year at my new job and I am still loving every day. It was great to have health insurance, medical leave and understanding coworkers while I heal. I am so lucky!
    Deflating the monkeyphoto.JPGphoto.JPGphoto.JPG

    I went to San Diego on the most hilarious girls road trip to BlogHer – the Road Trip of Happiness!
    Here it is, on a 20" plate, fried chicken BennieEeek! It's *so* big! @whats4dinnermomGetting reading for #KUYH Party @rubydw is thirsty!Tasering @domesticvalerie while waiting for brekkies is just rude @lunaraven13

    I relearned how to embroider after taking a great class from Princess Animal and finished my first sampler.
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    I knitted my 26th pair of socks and learned how to darn them.
    Skew socks in Alchemy's Juniper sock- Summertime BluesLast view, fun heel stripes, love this pattern!Finished my Twisted socks from @knittydotcomForgotten arts: darning socks (done!)

    I created a new diet of bacon, chocolate, beef, wine and cocktails, bread and cheese because of weird food allergy/sensitivities – I’m doing just fine on it, it’s not privation that’s for sure!
    Vegan chocolate cake ~ Wacky cake ~ with bourbon ganache. Thanks mOmIt's business time...Mmm lardons - thanks @nueskes @inyaku !

    I launched a new blog – The Inadvertent Redhead – as an outlet for my non-food related talents, and I love it! And yes, I’m still a redhead!
    Irish coffee #2 at the Buena Vistaaaahhhhphoto.PNG

    Because of my blog and social media I was invited to a multitude of wonderful parties and events and I feel so privileged to have these opportunities and to know so many wonderful writers, cooks, chefs, photographers, stylists and artistan food producers from many genres.
    Chef Corey Lee of BenuSour Flour

    Despite all the challenges and sadnesses of this year it has been a really good one and I am looking forward to many fun things in 2012.

    I am most especially looking forward to another year with my wonderful family.
    Ken and Barbie

    Here’s to health and happiness ahead!
    Cheers my friends!

    Bridging the Seasons: Eggplant and Squash Gratin

    Summer in San Francisco decided to not show up this year (again) and fall is decidedly here.  I am pretending that the beautiful clear weather outside equates to Indian summer and that the balmy air I feel isn’t coming from the radiator.

    Happily for us fog-bound people we still have an abundance of summer vegetables coming in from the farmer’s markets.  It was quite the treat to see a fat, tissue wrapped, perfect eggplant and the last of the  heirloom tomatoes  in my produce box and a few squash – pale green fat and stubby zucchini varieties – and pretty red bell peppers.

    Pinnochio lives, or rather did...
    (no comment…)

    My mind instantly flashed to a new porcelain baking dish my dear friend A___ gave me for my birthday.  I am quite partial to Royal Worcester and the beautiful harvest fruit design is one that makes my heart sing.  It is an inherited passion.   It is also the perfect size for the quantity of vegetables I had on hand and was time for it to be christened with a beautiful eggplant and squash gratin, so I invited A___ over for dinner.

    While A___ and I sipped red wine and caught up on the past few months, I sliced the eggplant and squash.  The eggplant was briefly fried in a touch of olive oil in my non-stick skillet and the squash was liberally sprinkled with salt and set out to drain in a colander in the sink.  As the browned eggplant came out of the frying pan I stacked up the floppy slices on a clean cutting mat to rest briefly.  In between flipping the eggplant around in the frying pan and drinking wine I quickly minced up a fat shallot and grated a clove of garlic and tossed them together in a small bowl.  The bell pepper was thinly sliced and set aside in a pile next to the cooked eggplant, and several of the tomatoes were roughly chopped and set out on paper towels to dry out a bit.  The preheating oven warmed the room, as the wine and conversation warmed our hearts.

    Finally the eggplant was done frying and the salted squash had exuded some liquid and had drained sufficiently.  I began an assembly process in my new pretty dish.

    I laid down a layer of eggplant in slightly overlapping circles, then tomato, a sprinkle of the shallot/garlic mixture and bell pepper.  I topped this with salt and pepper and about half of a 4 ounce log of goat cheese flavored with lemon zest.  Honestly it was all that the grocery store had that day and I am very happy about that now.

    I repeated the process until I ran out of vegetables and cheese.  The final coup de grace was fresh mozzarella, sliced thickly and the discs spread over the top of the gratin and finished with a dash of Maldon salt and a few grinds of pepper.

    It slid into the oven while we sat around munching on those crazy bright green Spanish olives and some Rainforest crackers.   We talked over all the goings-on over the past few weeks since our last dinner, opened another bottle of wine and relaxed in the perfumed air of the Roost as the gratin bubbled, sizzled and melted under its soft blanket of gooey cheese.

    Finally the timer went off and then began the torturous wait for the gratin to cool and firm enough to be scooped out of the pan.   We admired the beauty of the gratin and completely forgot to take pictures!

    Sometimes it is just nice to enjoy the company and enjoy the food without having to wait to photograph every step and every spoonful, it is called living in the moment, and we did just that.

    Despite our precautions of draining the tomatoes and salting the squash the gratin was still a bit watery, but the leftover gratin the next day had completely absorbed the liquid which makes me think I should have made this dish the day before my pal came over for dinner!

    The flavors of the vegetables really shone and the touch of lemon zest in the cheese was wonderful.  The best part, of course, was the richly browned cheesy mozzarella blanket covering the dish and we fought like pumas over bits of the cheese.

    Making Evelyn's briami, with @damnfibebacon, because I can
    (a version with potato)

    Eggplant and Squash Gratin

    1 eggplant, sliced thinly
    1/2 pound zucchini, sliced thinly lengthwise
    1/2 pound tomatoes, sliced thickly
    1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
    2 shallots, finely chopped
    2 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
    4 oz goat cheese (I used goat cheese with lemon zest, if you cannot find this add 1 tsp of grated lemon zest)
    6 oz fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced
    olive oil
    salt and pepper

    Preheat the oven to 400 F and oil a baking dish with olive oil.

    In a skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and fry a few slices of eggplant at a time until they are browned.  Set aside.

    In a colander, arrange a layer of sliced zucchini and salt them well, and repeat; let the squash exude liquid and drain for 30 minutes or so.  Pat the slices dry with a paper towel and set them aside.

    Arrange the tomatoes on a paper towel to drain.  Mix together the bell pepper slices, the shallot and the garlic in a small bowl.

    To assemble, lay down a layer of the eggplant, followed by the squash, then tomatoes then a sprinkling of the pepper/shallot/garlic.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover with slices of goat cheese.  Repeat until you have used up all of the vegetables and cheese, and top the final layer with the mozzarella.  Add salt and pepper to the top of the mozzarella.

    Bake for 40-45 minutes until all of the vegetables are very tender and the cheese is browned.   Let sit 15 minutes to allow the gratin to firm up.  Better if made the day before and brought to a bubbling temperature in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes.

    Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a vegetable side.

    This is a very forgiving dish, if you don’t have bell peppers or want to substitute an Anaheim chile or add potatoes anything goes!

    Moray eel potato
    (Moray eel potato)

    Feel free to play around!  I have also made this with smoked fontina as the top cheese and mozzarella as the “inside” cheese.