Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who Knew? A Quinoa Dish I Enjoy

Quinoa, that ancient grain that is supposed to be so good for us, has been on my radar screen for a while. I've tried it a couple of times but found it bland and weird looking.

Who knew that Big Sis would have a recipe (not so great photo below) using Trader Joe's frozen Quinoa Duo with Vegetable Melange... a product of France!...that I just love. It starts with portobello mushrooms, those big, lucious, 'meaty' brown mushrooms that had super dark gills that need to be removed before using. The de-gilled and de-stemmed portobellos are then marinated in a balsamic mixture, then grilled, then stuffed with the quinoa mixture (which has been microwaved) for a super easy, delicious, slightly spicy and perfectly satisfying meatless meal. I served fresh-from-the-garden Black Krim heirloom tomatoes (photo at top), sliced and given nothing more than a grinding of black pepper. They were heavenly! Some seeded sourdough bread filled out the menu.

So what is in this quinoa mixture? Both red and white quinoa, zucchini, sweet potato, olive oil, tomato sauce, onions, galangal, spices, soy sauce, hot pepper, carrots, leeks, garlic, herbs, lemon juice and some salt and sugar. I could probably make my own, especially at this time of year, but it sure is handy to have it ready to go once microwaved.

The marinade for the mushrooms included olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine and both fresh oregano and fresh thyme.

We have been busy getting ready for a visit from Captain Jack and his sweetie. The airobed sprung a leak while we were setting it up which slowed things down. I tracked down some night lights to help with the trek up the stairs to the bedroom, plus brought up some flowers from the garden for R. It will be something like 3 am their time by the time we get home from the airport tonight, so I want them to feel welcome and be able to just fall into bed.

I probably won't be posting too much for a few days while we do some visiting and sight seeing with them. Au revoir. In the meantime do try this dish!

Mushrooms Stuffed with Quinoa and Vegetables

1. Remove the gills from 3-4 portobello mushrooms and put them in a ziplock bag with the marinade (either balsamic vinegar alone or a balsamic vinaigrette:
2 - 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Mix all ingredients in the zip lock bag. Add the mushrooms. Zip bag closed. Lay flat, turn now and then so that the marinade soaks both sides of the mushrooms).

2. Leave mushrooms to marinate at room temperature for an hour or so (or as long as you have time for).

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or preheat the grill ;-)

4. Cook frozen quinoa mix in microwave according to directions. (In my frugal style, I usually dice up the mushroom stems and add them to the quinoa before cooking it.)

5. Line a baking pan with foil and remove mushrooms from marinade and put open side up on foil.

6. Fill mushrooms with quinoa and bake until heated through (20 minutes or so). Or for the grill option I used,  grill the mushrooms for about 10 minutes per side, fill with hot quinoa mixture and serve! The taste of the grilled version is superior by far. The quinoa mixture fills 3-4 portobello mushrooms.

Serve at once.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Centennial Julia!

A hundred years ago today Julia Child was born. Even though it took her half a lifetime to get her iconic cookbook published, she is an American institution and expert on French cooking. Although she died a few years ago in 2004, she spent many years encouraging Americans to take food seriously, as the French do, and she did a lot to bring professionalism to American restaurants and chefs and particularly encouraged women to be food professionals.

Her enthusiasm was legend and so was her energy! In researching recipes, first for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but later for other cookbooks and TV programs, she repeated and repeated them until she not only had great recipes, but she understood why and how they were great.

I most admire her work ethic. For example, Mastering the Art of French Cooking took years of hard work, researching the classic way of making iconic French foods, cooking them over and over with slight variations, typing them up, sharing them with Simca, more revisions, and then finding her way through the whole cookbook publishing process...hundreds and hundred of hours!

One recipe that sometimes scares off potential bakers is her recipe for Pain Fran├žais, French Bread. The ingredients are really simple...flour, water, yeast and salt. Technique is the name of the game and she spells out every bit of it, so it takes something like 15 pages. I think that our hostess, Susan of Wild Yeast, the Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month, has included a summary of the recipe in her post, so I won't. The full 15 or so pages can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The really wonderful thing is that if you follow the recipe, you, too, will have some batards (short baguettes) of excellent, delicious French bread! It might take a lifetime to learn how to slash the tops for the perfect looking loaf, but even less elegant renditions are soooo good. Just give it a try.

This month, to celebrate Julia Child's 100th birthday, the Bread Baking Babes are posting a day early so that the posts can be ON her birthday. We are also baking, just this once, WITH our Buddies...they will be posting their breads today, too! As Julia would say, "Hooray!" Visit the Babes blogs and Susan might have links for the Buddies.

Since I like sourdough style French Bread, I used my sourdough starter to make the bread, but the dough was still soft, the dough rose triple high where it was supposed to, I shaped it carefully as directed by Julia and let it rest in floured linen troughs as required.

The only thing that didn't work out too well was that my slashes didn't seem to be deep enough, so the expansion happened at the sides, toward the bottom of the loaves. Otherwise these were excellent examples of French Bread and were consumed with delight. I did manage to hide the last third of the second loaf so that I could make bruchetta with the last slices.

Sending this over to Susan, our dear Babe of the month, at Wild Yeast for her awesome Yeastspotting weekly event of all things yeasted. Check it out!

Bon Appetit!

P.S. Jama R is doing a whole week of posts of Queen Julia. She is also giving away some books related to Julia Child. Go to her blog Jama's Alphabet Soup to check it out!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blackberry Friendship

Years and years ago I remember meeting up with a family member about this time of year. We had both come a ways...maybe an hour or two. I had a cardboard box and we were sitting at a picnic table. I opened the box and there was a layer of newspaper. I took that out of the box and there was a layer of scrunched up newspapers. I took those out too, to reveal the top of a casserole, covered in foil. Around the casserole, filling the box at the sides, were more scrunched up newspapers. This was obviously something special nestled in that box.

Once the casserole came out of the box and the foil was removed it all became clear. This was an iconic summer dessert to share...peach blackberry crisp, still warm from the oven, thanks to all that packing material.

I scooped out portions into the paper bowls I had brought along, gave them a splash of cream from the thermos and we feasted! Blackberries are ripe at the same time as peaches and they have a long standing friendship as far as I can tell. They are both juicy and sweet with a bit of tang. I think that heating them up brings out the best of both peaches and blackberries, but somehow the combination of the two together, all sweet and warm and syrupy is sublime.

 Add the crunch of the crisp made with butter, flour, brown sugar, oats, spices and chopped nuts and life is good indeed. Top it with some cool cream and you hit the jackpot of desserts. At home we sometimes substitute vanilla frozen yogurt for the cream.

I wish that our new dog Pi and our longtime favorite cat Merlin got along as well as the peaches and blackberries. Pi has stopped chasing things for weeks now and is settling in. Merlin hangs out under the blackberries, allows Sweetie to feed him, with Merlin complaining all the while, and then Merlin walks a short distance away, and turns his back on Sweetie as he sits down. Not a forgiving cat so far. I go down and pet him and pull the foxtails and weeds out of his fur but he won't come to the house. Now the fragrance of blackberries reminds me of his unhappiness as well as of many other, happy memories. I'll bet as it gets chilly and the rains come that we will again see Merlin up at the house. Hope so.

Peach and Blackberry Crisp

3-4 peaches
1 pint blackberries
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon, freshly grated if possible, nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Peel and pit and slice the peaches. Rinse the blackberries and pick out any leaves or similar debris. Place the sliced peaches and the blackberries in an oven-proof bowl or casserole, stir in the brown sugar and nutmeg, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 minutes. The fruit should be bubbly hot.

While the fruit is cooking, melt the butter in a small pan.  In a large bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in the nuts. Mixture will be crumbly.

Remove cooked fruit from the oven, remove the foil and spread the crumb mixture evenly over the hot fruit. Return the fruit to the oven and bake another 15 minutes, or until crisp is golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes.

Serve in bowls. Great topped with cream, half and half, or ice cream. Serves 4-6.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Nope, I'm not going to take your picture. I just want to rave about one of my favorite foods, cheese.

When I was pregnant with my son, who was born 30 years ago this coming Sunday, I found out that I was lactose intolerant. Any kind of dairy would leave me with bloating and gas and feeling very uncomfortable. It became a sort of game to find the dairy products in would be amazed where one finds things like whey and casein. As it turned out, Max was the one with the lactose intolerance, not me, so I kept off of dairy products until I finished nursing him.

The dairy product I missed most was cheese. I love the bite of a good sharp cheddar, the creamy texture of a ripe brie, the savory tang of good blue cheese, how Parmesan seems to make anything better, and how the mellow nuttiness of Swiss is good at enhancing all sorts of ingredients. Feta cheese is wonderful in salads and by itself for a snack. I love all of them and many more.

Today I splurged a little and had a toasted cheddar cheese (Dubliner) sandwich with fresh from the garden tomatoes and basil. The cheese melted, the tomatoes heated up which intensified their wonderful summery flavor and the basil added its unique fragrance and flavor. This kind of sandwich is one of the pleasures of summer time. The bread was a nice 7-grain loaf with some crunch once grilled a bit. With a handful of ripe Bing cherries and a cup of Irish Breakfast tea I was a happy woman.

Do you have a favorite cheese or favorite recipe using cheese? If you send me a photo (to plachman at sonic dot net) I'll post it here.

In the meantime I'll share a photo I took of a white lily that is sending its heady fragrance into the kitchen from the windowsill. I still have a few lilies that haven't opened. Lilies are one of the pleasures of the season, too.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Perhaps Its Silly

Usually I avoid posting recipes that seem too simple to be called a recipe but I recently saw a recipe in a newspaper or magazine for broccoli steamed with some fresh thyme added. That person got paid to include a recipe that basically said to add thyme sprigs to the broccoli you were steaming. So maybe I'm being silly when I decide to not post something really simple or perhaps it still is silly to post it. Who knows? Since I'm working on posting many of the things we eat and like enough to eat again, our almost-daily fruit bowl is next up.

Having a bowl of fruit with our breakfast has become a habit, one that Sweetie started years ago when he retired. Even though the melon during part of the year is not terribly flavorful, we still seem to like that kind of fruit in the breakfast bowl. Now that it is August, the local melons are here and they are fragrant, sweet, juicy and full of flavor.

My favorite is the cantaloupe with its pale gold netting and firm but juicy orange flesh. You can tell if a cantaloupe is ripe by putting it close to your nose and taking a good sniff. A ripe melon has a deep melon fragrance. The stem end also is usually soft, but if you don't get at least some melon fragrance, don't waste your money.

You can obviously add or subtract any favorite fruit here, as well as adjust the amounts depending on what you like and how much you have on hand. We prep the melons when we bring them home from the store, so there is usually a storage container or bowl full of cut up chunks of melon. Being somewhat lazy in the morning before I've had my coffee, I tend to keep the additions to fruits that don't require much prep. Blackberries (picked in advance), blueberries and banana all fit that requirement. Cherries and stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and apricots that need peeling and slicing and having the pits removed are wonderful in a fruit bowl if you have the patience to do that prep in the morning. In general those fruits are less successful if they are prepared the night before. They tend to get mushy or to have brown edges...same with apples.

Breakfast Fruit Bowl

Chunks of:
honey dew melon

Handfuls of:

On top slice:
half a banana per bowl

Vary the combination of fruits depending on the season and what you have on hand. The half of a banana seems to be the one fruit we never skip including.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Return to Golf

A couple of years ago Sweetie and I played golf together on a local 9 hole course once a week. We both enjoyed it but after a time the rains seemed to come the day before of the day of our game and this local place doesn't have the best drainage. In time Sweetie fell from the roof of the shed and his shoulder wasn't up for golf. This spring we were hoping to start playing again but things kept coming up that got in the way. Finally we have started to play again. Today was the second time.

It's beginning to look like we will be lucky to play twice a month. That's a shame because golf seems to be one of those sports that depends on regular practice if you want to improve. Still, some time out there in the green is better than none. The time I've been spending at the gym with the weights also seems to have helped my golf game. I can hit a lot further without too much effort. Now I have to pay attention and use the right club for the conditions, along with 20,000 other things to think about as you hit the ball or line up to hit. Never boring! As long as it keeps on being fun we will make sure to get out and play.

We came home just in time to have lunch and watch some Women's Soccer in the Olympic games. The USA women were playing against the Canadian women and it was far from a shoe-in for either team. They were well matched and played their hearts out. I just wish they could pass the ball as precisely as the men do.

 I made some bruchetta to snack on and then a nice bowl of salad with three kinds of lettuce, avocado, tomato, yellow zucchini, cucumber (the last three from our garden), some feta cheese and kidney beans. Yummy! (Forgot to take a photo, but the tomatoes in the photo at the top of the post are just like the ones in the salad...does that help?)

 I was still hungry, so I ate a handful of mini carrots and drank some water. It was a tense game right up to the amazing header at the end. Munching carrots seemed to help me keep from yelling too much. I remember when Max used to play that I had a tendency to stand behind Sweetie or our daughter and pound on their shoulders when the game became intense. I guess it doesn't have to be the Olympics for me to feel for those athletes giving their all. Well done Canada and USA women!

Summer Lunch Salad
(although it works for dinner, too, if you have enough of it)

1 head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn or cut into bite size pieces
1 head butter lettuce, washed, dried and torn or cut into bite size pieces
1 small head iceberg lettuce, washed, dried and torn or cut into bite size pieces
1 large or two medium ripe tomatoes, cut into chunks or wedges
1 avocado, peeled, seed discarded, cut into chunks or wedges
1 cucumber, cut into chunks or wedges. If it is a waxed cucumber, peel it before cutting up
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/2 - 1 cup kidney beans, drained and rinsed
salad dressing of your choice...I used ranch dressing

Place all salad greens in a large salad bowl. Add the tomato, avocado, cucumber. Toss. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and top with the kidney beans, distributing the beans evenly over the salad in the bowl.

Serve with salad tongs, being sure to get some of all the ingredients. Top with salad dressing of your choice.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Blackberry Syrup

When I was talking, in recent post, about the harvest starting to be ready to pick I completely forgot to mention the blackberries. We must have gotten just the right combination of rain and sun and fog because the blackberries this year are gorgeous and plentiful.

Sweet and juicy, we usually just eat them out of hand or put some in with the morning fruit or with our cereal. Every now and then I take some of the berry baskets I save from year to year and I spend some time picking enough blackberries to have some fun with.

This time I used a recipe I saw in the August issue of Sunset magazine to make a blackberry syrup. One of the nice side effects of the effort is that, as the syrup simmers, the whole house smells like ripe blackberries. I did such a great job of simmering that I ended up with something closer to a jam than a syrup, but when I was ready to use it I just mixed in a little water and heated it up in the microwave. I also made a third of the amount in the recipe because it was too hot that day to pick 3 pounds of blackberries!  I started with 3/4 pound of berries, weighed on my scale, then adjusted the amount of sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice proportionally.

A stash of already cooked sourdough waffles waiting the freezer meant that a luxurious breakfast of sourdough waffles with fresh strawberries topped with blackberry syrup was quick and easy. I heated the waffles in the toaster oven so that they were hot and crisp, dropped a large handful of sliced strawberries on top, then enhanced that with a generous helping of warm, sweet, fragrant blackberry syrup. The perfect summer breakfast and you don't even need butter on the waffles! Don't forget, National Waffle Day for Americans is August 24th. Can you wait that long?

Since these waffles had been made with half whole wheat flour and some flax seed meal they were even healthy. You can find the basic sourdough waffle recipe here. It is a good one because you start the batter the night before, so the batter is ready to bake right away, sometimes even before the waffle iron has heated up.

With the addition of a little more flour in the batter you could make these up as sourdough pancakes and cook them in a frying pan. The strawberries and blackberry syrup will still taste great. No strawberries? Fresh sliced nectarines or peaches would be delightful with this syrup.

Blackberry Syrup
Makes 6 half-pint jars

3 pounds fresh blackberries
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice

Prepare 6 half-pint canning jars and lids. One of the reasons I made a smaller amount was that I didn't have time to do the canning part. If you have the time and know how to can, and have enough berries, by all means do the full recipe.

Put berries, sugar, lemon zest and juice and 3/4 cup water into a wide pot. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until fruit releases juices, about 30 minutes.

Smash berries with a potato masher. Cook until juices have thickened, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes more.

Strain syrup into a 2 quart glass measuring cup. Press fruit with a ladle or spatula to push remaining juice into the cup. Discard seeds and pulp.

Pour strained syrup into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Can, processing 10 minutes. If you want to learn about canning, go to

Use the syrup drizzled over pancakes, yogurt, ice cream or, as I did, waffles.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sweet Success

Last February I started my first independent graphic artist job with some trepidation. I've been a graphic artist for years but am new to the book publishing part of it. I knew that I had the skills and the savvy and the eye for the job but I'd never even though about a children's book and that is what the client wanted as the end product. It helped that I love to read to children, so I had a feel for the flow that you want when your read to youngsters, but this book is meant for children at about the third grade level and they are often reading to themselves.

It is a charming story but also has a good dose of science included. One of the challenges was to make it more eye catching and colorful so that the science sort of sneaks in while the story carries you along. The result is called Saving Walter.

Saturday I was presented with a copy of the just-delivered book, fresh from the printers. It really is a beauty, reads well, has lots of color and a beautiful look and feel, and was worth the many hours spent making it as perfect as anything can be in this world, which is to say just a bit imperfect, but nothing that anyone but the author and myself would notice. Sweet success!

To celebrate the arrival of the book I made a Party Cookie shaped like the book and iced in white and blue, just like the background of the book cover. I even added blue and white sparkling sugar. Then I printed the logo on best-quality photo paper and cut it out and sort of glued it to the top of the cookie with more of the white icing. It was a big hit with Paula and her hubby...and delicious, too.

Congratulations to Paula Cumming Pearce on the completion and publishing of Saving Walter, Every Drop Counts, a book about the water cycle and water conservation. Walter is a fresh raindrop and, after learning about the water cycle,  he evaporates with his Dad, ending up in a cloud where he meets other water drops. He hears how they have been wasted and how people can change their ways to prevent future waste of water. The water drops all have their own personalities and problems, plus solutions. It's a fun book!

If you would like to purchase a copy of Saving Walter, e-mail Paula: glenoaks at sonic dot net.

Giant Party Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
½ cup quick rolled oats
2 cups (12-oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped nuts
For book shaped cookie:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons hot milk
blue food coloring, or whatever color(s) you need
more confectioners' sugar as needed

Combine flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape bowl and beaters. Gradually beat in flour and beat until mixed. Beat in oatmeal. Mixture will be stiff. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Line a 12” pizza pan with foil. Spray with cooking spray. Put 2 cups of the dough on the foil. Using floured fingers, shape dough into desired shape. Make shape about 10” in diameter. Exaggerate the shape since cookie will spread. Square or rectangular shapes can be made on foil lined rectangular cookie sheet (although I used a silicon mate lined one).

Bake one sheet at a time in middle of oven for 15 - 18 minutes until golden brown. Let sit on sheet for 10 minutes, then slide shape on foil onto a cooling rack. Continue to bake the rest of the dough. You can make regular drop cookies with the remainder of the batter if desired.

Once the shaped party cookie has cooled, decorate for a party! Mix the confectioners' sugar and milk and drizzle over the cookie in a random pattern. While it is still wet, sprinkle cake decorations over as desired. Extra confectioners' sugar can be added to make a thicker icing if desired.

For the book shaped cookie, I took a teaspoon of the icing and put it in a zip top bag. I added a drop of blue food color and zipped it closed, then kneaded in the color. A small snip off the corner allowed me to squeeze streaks of blue over the white icing. I took a small spatula and pulled it along the blue lines to mix them in a bit, then sprinkled blue sparkle sugar on the blue parts and white sparkle sugar on the white parts. The logo finished it off.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

What to Do with the Rest of the Beans

Only one cup of cooked cranberry beans were left after making the awesome Cranberry Bean Salad. I cleaned out the fridge today and there they were...poor, unloved beans. I also found that the crisper had ample amounts of fresh spinach, half a yellow onion, some red bell pepper that needed using up, lots of celery and some carrots that were starting to dry out. There was no doubt in my mind that the answer was...SOUP. With the fog scheduled to roll in by dinnertime I knew it would be cool enough to enjoy some soup. The fridge clean out also inspired me to make some salmon egg rolls, but that's for another post.

I often don't post soups that I make because it seems so simple to me to make soup. This time it turned out so well that I want the recipe just as I made it for future reference. It is still pretty simple, but these days I forget what I had for dinner last night, so it is likely I won't remember the exact proportions and that might just be the secret for why this soup was so savory and delicious.

I started, as I usually do, with chopped onion, sauteed in a little olive oil. Garlic goes in after the onion has had some time to soften. Chopped celery and red pepper went in next, followed closely by chopped carrot. That all cooked for about 3 minutes before I added some yellow zucchini, covered the pot, turned the heat way down, and sweated the mixture for a while...about 10 minutes.

Then I gave it a good stir and turned the heat up to high...that allowed the excess liquid to steam off and also some of the veggies had some nice browned spots on them. Before brown could turn to black I added chopped tomato including juice. That deglazed the pan nicely! Fresh spinach was stirred in until it wilted. The beans were added, along with thyme, sage, dried orange peel, paprika, and pepper. Again the the pot was covered and the heat turned low. Another 10 minutes allowed all those wonderful flavors to combine. After uncovering again I added some broth and gave it all a stir. Covered again the mixture simmered another 20 minutes.

The soup smelled sooo good and tasted even better. Often I try a new recipe and make notes right away on what to do differently next time. This time I wouldn't change a thing. Quite unusual, but now you know why I want to save this recipe...and why I want to share it with you.

Cranberry Bean and Veggie Soup
serves 2-4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 medium zucchini (any color) sliced lengthwise in quarters and then sliced in 1/4 inch slices
1-2 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped...keep the juice for the pot
3-4 cups fresh spinach, rinsed
1 cup cooked cranberry beans (see THIS recipe for cooking the beans)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried orange peel
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
pepper to taste
1 can (1 3/4 cups) vegetable or chicken broth

In a soup pot heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stir and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, stir and cook another minute. Add the celery, bell pepper, and carrot and stir. Cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the zucchini and stir. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover and turn heat to high. Cook another 3 minutes, stirring about every 30 seconds. Vegetables will brown a little bit.

Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot and stir. Lower the heat to medium. Use a wooden or nylon spoon to scrap any dark brown or black bits from the bottom and sides of the pan. Add the fresh spinach and stir. Let cook another minute to wilt the spinach. Add the cooked beans, dried thyme, dried orange peel, paprika, sage and pepper to taste. Cover and cook 10 minutes over low heat.

Uncover, add the broth, recover the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve. If desired, sprinkle a little grated Parmesan cheese over the soup in the bowl before serving.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Fresh Tomato Bruchetta

Summer is in full swing. The garden plants get larger and larger. One of the squash plants has sprawled so far onto the sidewalk that it's hard to get by without stepping on leaves.

The wild flowers have joined up with the rose bush on the other side of the garden path...meaning the path is impossible to see. I waded in there today and discovered a hidden zucchini that wins the prize for this season's baseball bat squash. Today I was also able to take Grandma L a fresh Mule Team tomato, a nice cucumber, and three zucchini; one green and two yellow. The folks at the gym will probably soon tire of our thrice weekly gift of more of that same squash and we are eating it at least three times a week ourselves. Good thing we like squash!

The tomatoes are finally ripening so expect to see recipes using them for a while. Bruchetta is one of the things I only make when the tomatoes come in. This is truly a seasonal treat. Fresh, vine ripened tomatoes and good quality olive oil can make this sublime. If you must make these out of season, use the best quality, ripest tomatoes you can find, even if you have to spend a little more for them. You can also use other toppings than tomato. Cannelli beans (warmed) mixed with some sage and lemon zest and maybe a little more garlic is delicious. Bitter greens can be wilted and seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil and piled on the toasts.

The base for these beauties should be a flavorful, firm bread. Baguettes work well if sliced at an angle so there is more real estate for the toppings. Sweetie brought an Acme baguette back when he went to Berkeley, so I used some of that, sliced in half lengthwise and then into pieces. Country breads work well as long as there are no large holes (unless you don't mind drippy bruchettas). Traditionally the bread is grilled, but I did mine in the toaster oven and that worked fine. Usually olive oil goes on the bread, sometimes only brushed on one side, but I just mixed some oil into my tomato topping, along with the garlic. Not traditional, but the flavors are still there and the tomatoes just sparkle with their light coat of shiny oil.

Although the toasts can be made in advance, the topping should only be added right before you serve these. That way you keep the crisp texture of the toasts, which contrast so well with the juicy, soft, aromatic tomato bits, the pungent garlic and olive oil and the fragrance of fresh basil which is a harbinger of good summer eating. Make more than you think you will need...these are always a hit!

Bruchetta for Two

4-6 thin slices flavorful, firm bread
1 medium to large fresh, ripe tomato
1 tablespoon best quality olive oil
1 clove garlic
3-4 leaves fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

Toast the bread slices to a golden brown color. If possible, use a grill to toast them.

Chop the tomato into very small dice and place in a medium bowl, keeping as much tomato juice as possible with the tomatoes. Add the olive oil, mince the garlic and add, finely chop the basil and add it to the bowl.

Stir the tomato, oil, garlic and basil together. When you are ready to serve the bruchetta, warm the toasts, place them on the serving platter and top with 1/4 of the tomato mixture. If you have a few tiny basil leaves you can garnish the bruchetta with them. Add salt and pepper to taste...although you may not need any. Serve at once.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Fresh Cranberry Beans

It's always a pleasure to stop by the strawberry farm along Hwy 12 to buy some fresh-from-the-fields sweet, juicy, gorgeous strawberries. Now they also have a selection of veggies that they have grown right there in the fields by the Laguna. Recently they had a bag of fresh cranberry beans for sale. I've never cooked with fresh cranberry beans. In fact I've rarely cooked with fresh shelling beans of any kind, but I've been trying to add whole grains and legumes to my diet and this seemed like a great thing to add.

A quick surf on the Internet yielded a recipe for a salad made with the beans, herbs, cherry tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, and and olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing. The beans are cooked until tender at a simmer and you add things like celery tops and carrots (which get discarded) to give the beans more flavor as they cook.

I really liked the flavor combo when I made the salad as written, but it needed more vinegar since the beans, as beans often are, were bland. We have also cut back on the oil we use both in cooking and at the table, so I would reduce the olive oil by two-thirds. There was waaaay more oil than I like.

Shelling the beans was sort of relaxing. Sweetie helped me and we were sitting outside with the dog enjoying the summer day as we worked. They are really pretty beans. The pods are streaked with dark pink and the beans look like porcelain, with ivory background and dark pink streaks. When they cook they turn sort of gray so enjoy them while you shell them.

Some of the pods had started to dry out so I kept them intact and laid the pods out on the porch railing in full sun to dry completely. Now I have about 1/2 cup dried beans, too.

The bag of beans yielded about 3 1/2 cups total. I cooked 3 cups of beans and used 2 cups for the salad. Now I get to try them in another recipe, as long as it only needs 1 cup cooked beans. For now, here is the promised Cranberry Bean Salad with Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Herbs.

Cranberry Bean Salad
Insalata di Fagioli Borlotti
from La Tavola Marche
serves 4

2 cups fresh borlotti or cranberry beans
couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1 cucumber, peeled & sliced
fresh herbs of your choice, chopped: marjoram, oregano, Italian parsley or basil work well
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive
salt pepper
vegetable scraps

In a pot with plenty of water, bring the beans to a boil with vegetable scraps: celery tops, dried out carrots, half an onion sitting in your fridge - toss it in! (The veggies give the beans a bit more flavor.)

Bring to boil then lower to simmer 20-30 minutes until the beans are tender.

Drain beans and discard the vegetables.

In a bowl combine the beans, tomatoes, onion, cucumber. Add in the herbs.

Combine the oil & vinegar then toss with the salad.

Season with salt & pepper.

Let stand 10-15 minutes to let the flavors come together. Recheck your seasonings (taste it) and adjust. Serve.

I would recommend increasing the vinegar by 1 tablespoon and decreasing the oil by two-thirds because the beans need that ooomph of vinegar and I don't like so much oil in my salads. Otherwise it worked perfectly...I went with fresh oregano, Italian parsley and basil for my herbs.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Welcome August

Made it through July, always a tough month. Having our new dog has made a difference and brought a lot of joy to our lives. Pi has been really, really good about not chasing cats for over a week but, instead I guess, has discovered that the kitchen has food that is yummy. Since we are not feeding him scraps or any 'people food' it took him a while. This morning we found that we had left the pantry door open and there were two almonds on the rug by his crate. Since he didn't seem to have gotten into the bag of almonds I can only guess that Sweetie dropped a few last time he snacked on almonds. Still Pi and I had words and a stern warning was given to stay out of my kitchen.

One of the blessings of August is the bounty that becomes available for harvesting as things ripen in their time. Although the plums are finished for the year, we have tons of blackberries that are just ripe now. I've harvested a few cucumbers but more are on the way. The zucchini squash continue to produce enough for us with extra to share. So far we are greeted with 'Yay' when we bring them to friends. It might be a different story by the start of September. The Gravenstein apples will soon be ripe and I have some beans getting bigger, so they will be eaten this month, too. The pears look like they might be ready in late August.

The biggest news is that we had our first full sized tomato of the season last night. I had used a few of the Juliet grape tomatoes in a salad the day before but it is always a treat to enjoy the first slicer.

We had it sliced and dressed, lightly, with good olive oil, salt and pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. What a pleasure to experience the taste of summer in each bite. No recipe needed. Just be sure to not put the vine ripened tomato in the 'fridge. The cold changes the chemistry somehow and the taste suffers. We have been known to eat tomatoes right off of the vine, like an apple, with juices running down the chin. Heavenly August!