Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Summer Happy Hour Apps

//Recipes: Fresh tomato salsa, Guacamole, Peaches 'n peanuts        

Yep, it's been a little over five months now, and we're still sheltering in place. And still celebrating daily Happy Hours! It's become an institution and whenever this is over, assuming it ever will be, we'll probably just continue gathering in the living room with our drinks and appetizers at 5:45, the Happy Hour. Maybe then we'll sometimes invite a friend. Wouldn't that be fun!? 

Of course, we miss people. A lot.

Nevertheless, life continues. It's Summer and we've planted the equivalent of an urban farm in our gardens, both front and back. The tomatoes have arrived in force and there's a pile on my kitchen counter, waiting to be savored. This first appetizer is one we're having often just now, because the wonderful fresh tomatoes have a short life. Why not enjoy them while they're at their best?

Fresh Tomato Salsa

This is easy, like most of the appetizers I make. My son Arthur taught me how to make it and who knows where he learned? I thought I taught him to cook!

  • Stem and cut two or three tomatoes into small bits. (The tomatoes in the photo are yellow heirlooms, in case you're curious. Use any color, combine colors, as you wish.)
  • Seed and cut half a hot pepper into very small bits.
  • Chop a tablespoon of onion into small bits.
  • Take a handful of fresh cilantro (or parsley if you're not a cilantro person) and chop it roughly.

Put it all into a bowl. Add sea salt* to taste. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over it. Squeeze half a lime over it (or a whole lime if the lime isn't very juicy). Mix it all together gently.

Serve with tortilla chips, or toasted French or sourdough bread. Yum.

*Note about tomatoes and salt: Salt brings the water out of tomatoes. So if I'm not serving this salsa the second I finish it, I hold off on the salt until I'm ready to serve. Even so, you should serve salsa soon after making it... the freshness is what it's all about!

Here's another summer appetizer we have a lot, because we love avocados! We have two avocado trees in the backyard, but they are not producing quite yet. They are still babies, maybe next year!


Another easy one. This is a recipe for basic guacamole, my favorite. Guac is one of those things, though, that you can add a lot of stuff to - even tomatoes or grilled onions. Anyway, this is the simple version, and what we're munching on at Happy Hour.

  • Seed, peel, and cut a whole ripe avocado in small pieces. Here's the easiest way: Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist so that one half comes off the big seed. With a paring knife, cut the flesh into cross-hatched pieces, still in the skin. Then use a spoon to scoop all the pieces out of the peel into a small bowl. For the other half, carefully stap the seed and remove it with the tip of the paring knife. Then cut and scoop as you did for the first half.
  • Add sea salt to taste. For a whole avocado, I use about half a teaspoon.
Mash the avocado pieces and squeeze half a lime over it, or a whole lime if the lime isn't very juicy. Mix gently.

Serve with tortilla chips.

A note about avocados: Avocados react with air and turn dark if left out in it. Not appetizing! Guacamole should be served as soon as it's made.

Oh Summer! One last thing! If you have a wonderful ripe scrumptious gorgeous piece of fruit, why not make it the centerpiece of your Happy Hour?

Peaches 'n Peanuts

I dare you to find anything easier to put together, or more beautiful. Slice that peach or mango or pineapple or whatever. Arrange it appetizingly on a pretty plate. Maybe mound some nuts or a bit of crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese or feta in the middle. Bottoms up.

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Quarantine Cookbook Discoveries: White Bean Gratin

Recipes: White Bean Gratin

Like much of the world, I've been cooking at home, mostly three meals a day, for more than three months. I've got lots of recipes, many of which I've shared on these pages. But even I get tired of the same-old, same-old, probably just like you. A couple of weeks ago I got burned out on my usual way of doing things. A dear friend and fellow lover of good food put me on the right path. "Try something new every couple of weeks", she said. Made sense, so I looked around at the many cookbooks I have, ignoring those I usually use.

There's some really good stuff gathering dust on my shelves, I discovered. And I've discovered something else about this day-after-day cooking. You don't have to eat a lot of meat. In fact, it's desirable to change it up and eat meat just now and then, or in very small amounts. Eating a big piece of meat every day can be darned boring, and it's also expensive and harder to come by now that we're trying to go to the store way less often or not at all. I personally am able to have my food delivered because I live in a big city with a lot of resources. But people I know who live in smaller places now go to the store only once every couple of weeks, and even that can be a scary experience. So we need to conserve, and use the food we already have to best advantage.

Here's my first discovery, a new dish we ate earlier this week. It's completely vegetarian and even vegan. It's gluten-free. It's so delicious we ate the entire thing in one sitting, even though we were full two-thirds of the way through. We couldn't stop. Hope you enjoy it that much too.

White Bean Gratin

I found this recipe in The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Cookbook. I order my dried beans from Rancho Gordo, which is located only about 20 miles away from where I live. Anyone can order from them online, of course, at https://www.ranchogordo.com/ Their heirloom beans are the best, in my opinion, and much fresher than anything you can buy in a store.

When I made the gratin, we enjoyed eating it so much I forgot to take a photo. However, here's the book and here's the page with their picture of it. Sorry about that. It was good. Yum.


  • 2 cups cooked beans with the bean liquor (instructions for cooking follow). I used Royal Corona beans, which are large. Any white bean, like Cassoulet, Alubia Blanca, or Flageolet will also work.
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small to medium heads of fennel, tops removed and bulbs sliced thin and then chopped. If fennel is large, remove the core before cutting. If fennel is young and relatively small, like mine were, no need to remove the core.
  • 1 small to medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs (I used a couple slices of gluten-free bread, chopped small and dried for 10 munutes in a 350 degree oven)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

To cook the beans:

  • Cover 1/2 lb dried beans with about 3 inches of filtered water in a medium pot with a cover. If you can, let the beans soak overnight. If you can't, bring the beans to a rapid boil, boil hard for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off, cover, and let soak for 1 hour.
  • Do not drain the soaking water. Add enough filtered water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer, partially covered, until beans are tender. This can take an hour or more. Watch to be sure the beans don't go dry - they absorb a lot of water. If you need to add water, heat it first and then add.
  • When beans are tender, add about a teaspoon of salt and simmer a few minutes more. There should still be plenty of bean liquor. Put the beans aside.

To make the gratin:

In a medium skillet, preferably one that can go in the oven like a cast-iron one, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, and garlic, and saute until well-cooked, about 20 minutes. Carefully stir in the beans (without their liquor) and remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, bread crumbs, and thyme.

Transfer the beans and vegetables to a gratin dish, or just leave them in the skillet if you have used an oven-proof one. Add enough of the reserved bean liquor so that the liquid rises just halfway up the beans. Top with the breadcrumb mixture.

Bake until the bread crumbs are brown, about 20-25 minutes.

Serve the gratin with a big green salad. To die for!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

More Happy Hour Apps

Recipes: Shrimp Cocktail, Queso Fundido with Guacamole Crudo, Roasted Asparagus

Ah, the quarantine continues and so does Happy Hour! It seems there are endless possibilities for ways that nasty virus can get you. Fortunately there are also endless possibilities for good things to eat with a little drink to celebrate another glorious day. It's Spring, and that's worth celebrating all by itself. Celebration is so much better than worrying, don't you think?

Here are a few of the latest goodies we've raised our glasses to:

Shrimp Cocktail

Here's a bit of retro chic from the 1950's and 60's. Shrimp cocktail looks spectacular and is super easy to make. Super delicious too! 

First, the cocktail sauce. Squeeze a couple of good squirts of tomato catsup (yes, catsup!) into two of the prettiest martini glasses you have. Add a half teaspoon of bottled horseradish to each and stir carefully.
Next, the shrimp. Cook an even number of tail-on shrimp (frozen is fine) in boiling water just until opaque and pink. This takes no more than a couple of minutes. Drain the shrimp and drape them over the edges of the sauce-filled martini glasses. So fabulous!

Queso Fundido with Guacamole Crudo

Obviously, this wonderful appetizer comes from our friends to the South. It translates to Melted Cheese with Basic Guacamole. What it really translates to is YUM!
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Get a small (6-7 inch) skillet that can go into the oven - I use a little cast iron skillet I have. Pile it with grated cheese. What kind of cheese? Monterey Jack, cheddar, mozzarella, Mexican quesadilla cheese - a combo of anything that gets gooey when it's melted.
Make the guacamole. Take half of a nice big ripe avocado. Cut it into cubes and mash them in a small bowl with salt. Add lime juice squeezed from half a lime. Mix again and put it aside.
Put the cheese skillet in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes, just until it's all melted and maybe barely starting to brown. Pull it out and then arrange the guacamole over it. 
Serve hot with a bowl of tortilla chips and a couple of spoons for scooping the cheese and guac onto your chip.

Queso can be much more elaborate, with ground sausage, peppers, onions, tomatoes, salsa - it's very versatile. If you add all that, though, that's dinner not apps.

Roasted Asparagus

This has turned out to be one of our favorites and it's simplest of all! Of course, asparagus is a spring vegetable and won't be available forever, so we're taking advantage while we can.
Heat your broiler to High.
Wash a few asparagus spears and cut off the tough ends. Dry the spears with a paper towel and lay them in a pan or small baking sheet that can go under the broiler. Sprinkle them with sea salt and grated Parmigiano cheese. Drizzle olive oil lightly over them.
Slip them under the broiler for a few minutes - two to four minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. No need to turn them.  
Serve with a little mayonnaise for dipping or not. They're lovely by themselves.

Patience. I think that's the best way to approach this time of forced slowing down and waiting.  Finding joy in small things, like the mama hummingbird who loves my sage bush, and the quiet, and the clean air, and the millions of stars we normally can't see at night. And, of course, a drink with bit of good food at the end of the day.

In her poem, Patience, poet Kay Ryan writes:  
Who would have guessed it possible that waiting is sustainable—a place with its own harvests.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Happy Hour Apps

Recipes: Fried Almonds, Curried Ceci (Garbanzo Beans), Pesto-stuffed Mushrooms

Every day during this Shelter at Home period, now in its 56th day for us, my boyfriend Wayne and I have celebrated Happy Hour at 5:45p.m. I make a small appetizer, and pour a mixed drink for him and a glass of wine for me. One of us puts jazz, or classical music, or blues on the stereo. We sit in the living room, with the front door open now that it's warmer, and we talk - about anything and everything except coronavirus and contentious politics. It's kind of the highlight of our day, and not only because of the drinks.

I've never felt very creative around apps, but since we've been home I've discovered some easy ways to provide a little bite to go with the celebration of the day, without seriously impairing our ability to save room for dinner. Here are a few delicious examples.

Fried Almonds

We keep big bags of raw whole almonds around for their nutritional value. They're good, but kind of bleh on their own as an appetizer. Easy to fix! Heat a couple tablespoons olive oil in a small frying pan. When it is hot, add one cup whole raw almonds, skins still on. Sprinkle sea salt over. Fry, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes. When you see the almonds start to get dark, turn the heat off and scoop the almonds onto a paper towel with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle more sea salt.
Serve the almonds in a pretty dish, with a napkin. I like to add a pungent taste as a counterpoint, in this case with pickled okra.

Curried Ceci

Ceci and garbanzo beans are the same, ceci is the Italian name, and in this case canned garbanzo beans work beautifully. Rinse and drain a can of garbanzos. Dry them with a paper towel. In a small frying pan, heat one tablespoon olive oil. Put the beans in and fry them, stirring. Add sea salt and about a teaspoon of curry powder, or to taste. More is better than less, to my mind! Fry for a total of 3 - 4 minutes, then pop the curried beans into a pretty dish. Serve with napkins. Yum!

Pesto-Stuffed Mushrooms

OK, this one almost isn't fair. I have a jar of already made pesto, so how easy is that? Pesto is also easy to make, but one might not have all those ingredients while sheltering at home. I went with the jar. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take white or brown cultivated mushrooms, good-sized ones work well. Pull out the stem and put it in the composter or save it for a vegetable stock. Fill the cavity with pesto, and sprinkle a bit of grated Parmesan over the top. Pop those guys into the oven for 20 minutes. Done and delicious!

More next time! Be safe, stay home, take good care of yourselves!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Greetings from Isolation: Happy Happy Hour!

My partner Wayne and I have been sheltering in place for two weeks now in our home in northern California USA. Thankfully, we have a comfortable home and enough of what we need. We're some of the lucky ones! Nevertheless, we can't go anywhere, we can't see anyone. The sudden curtailing of what seems like "all" our precious freedom sits heavy on us. We are not having all that much fun, try as we may, although so far we are safe from the coronavirus. For that, at least, we are grateful.

A week ago we decided we needed a daily 6pm Happy Hour to liven things up a bit and give some structure to our current situation - hors d'oeuvres, cocktails/mocktails, good music on the stereo, and a few moments talking about something, anything, other than the virus. It's been good, something of a stab at the old normal. Here are a few of the goodies we've enjoyed so far!

Mocktails (non-alcoholic fancy drinks)

  • Oakland Sunset: Orange juice, club soda, a splash of grenadine, ice, garnish with a slice of orange
  • Ginger Rose: Ginger beer or ale, stir in a half teaspoon of honey, fill with sparkling water, garnish with a spear of fresh rosemary
  • Arnold Palmer: Half cold tea, half lemonade, ice, garnish with lemon slice

Hors d'oeuvres

  • Deviled eggs
  • Broiled asparagus with Parmesan cheese
  • Baked pesto-stuffed mushrooms
  • Roasted Crispy Kale 
  • Fried curried garbanzo beans
  • Olives, always olives, except sometimes pickled okra

Music on the sterio (partial list)

  • Richard "Groove" Holmes, That Healin' Feeling
  • Tom Scott, New York Connection
  • Bob Dylan, Blond on Blond
  • Otis Rush, Cold Day in Hell

All the hors d'oeuvres above are quick and easy to make. Next time, maybe I'll post a few recipes. 

Meanwhile, here's my advice whether you need it or not: Do something fun with whatever lot you're given. Breathe deep.Smile. Find a way to escape in some small way while you stay healthy!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Indian-spiced chicken with cauliflower, potatoes and peas

Recipes: Indian-spiced chicken with cauliflower, potatoes and peas, Cucumber raita

This dish will taste to many like "curry", although a well-known Indian cookbook writer has said there is no such thing as a curry dish in India. Rather, the spicing is just what's commonly used there, differing somewhat depending on where in the vast country you are cooking and eating. Who knew?

This particular recipe is an adaptation of one from Madhur Jaffrey's 1975 book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking. Regardless of what you call it, it's delicious and relatively simple to make. We loved it for dinner recently, I think you will too.

Indian-spiced Chicken with Vegetables

  • One large or two small boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 2 medium potatoes, red or yellow
  • 1/2 medium cauliflower, cut into flowerettes
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (I keep cardamom seeds and grind them when I need them)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 small red chilis (I use my homegrown red Fresno chilis. The result is moderately spicy.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup of tomato sauce (could be canned) or fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth, canned is fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup frozen peas
In a small saucepan, bring your whole potatoes to a boil in water to cover. Cook until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and leave in pan or a colander to cool.

Place chopped onion, garlic, and ginger in a blender with 5 tablespoons water and blend to a smooth paste.

Pat chicken breasts dry and cut them into 1 1/2-inch pieces.
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet on medium high. Add cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, red peppers, ground pepper, and chicken pieces. Fry chicken pieces quickly, turning them over in the spices, until they no longer look pink, about 2 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside in a small bowl.

Pour the paste from the blender into the skillet, averting your face in case it splatters. Add turmeric and fry, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Now add the tomato sauce and the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Cut the cooked potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Add salt, the potatoes, and the cauliflower pieces to the sauce. Stir, bring to a boil, cover, lower heat, and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Add chicken pieces and simmer, covered, 10 more minutes. Turn chicken and vegetables a few times while they are cooking.

Meanwhile, cook the peas in water in a small saucepan for 5 minutes. Toss with 1 tablespoon butter.

To serve: Put chicken and potatoes in soup bowls and pour sauce over it. Top with a generous helping of peas. Serve with cucumber raita on the side.

Cucumber Raita

This refreshing relish can take the place of a salad. It's especially good in summer with fresh cucumbers out of your garden.

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and either grated or cut in half lengthwise and sliced very thin crosswise
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I've used Greek yogurt as well as regular - both are good)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A good grind of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • A dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika for garnish
Empty the yogurt into a serving bowl and beat it well with a fork until it is smooth and paste-like. 

Add the cucumber, salt, black pepper, cumin, and cayenne to the bowl.

Sprinkle with paprika and, if you wish, a little additional cumin. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve - at least 30 minutes so it's nice and chilled.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Recipes: Marinara tomato sauce, Polenta with cheese and tomatoes

This time of year, we're always inundated with gorgeous homegrown heirloom tomatoes.
Brandywine heirloom tomato

That's a good thing, of course. Except that they all come ripe at once and it's a race to eat them, cook them, use them all before they spoil. We have five big tomato plants and they've all produced like champs. I've been cooking sauce all week.

Last night was the fifth big pot of sauce I've made in the last four days. To say I'm tired of cooking tomatoes would be an understatement. However, I'm not yet tired of eating tomatoes and the sad thing is . . . suddenly they will be gone. And there won't be any gorgeous homegrown delicious tomatoes until this time next year. I'm not complaining.

Most of the sauce I've made I've frozen in quart freezer baggies, to use when I have no tomatoes. This year's crop is super sweet, and even though canned tomatoes beat tasteless supermarket tomatoes by a mile in winter, there is no option that will come even close to what I have in the freezer. We'll get to enjoy the bounty later, which brings me joy.

Half the sauce I made last night went into a terrific polenta dish I learned to make from an old Greens cookbook. Greens is a wonderful vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco, one of the first really gourmet vegetarian restaurants, and is still going strong. Here's the method for both the sauce, just enough for the polenta this time, and the polenta with cheese.

Marinara (Tomato) Sauce 

  • 5 good-sized ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped, with their juices. Best way to peel tomatoes: Cut out the stem/core at the top, slip the tomatoes into boiling water to cover for 5 seconds, pull them out with a slotted spoon. Once cooled enough to handle, the skins slip right off.
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • A sprinkle of crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Turn off the heat and put the sliced garlic in. Stir a bit and let cool down slightly so the tomatoes don't spatter. Put the tomatoes in. Turn the heat back up to medium low. Add the herbs and seasonings and stir.

Add tomato paste if you have it. I keep a baggie of tomato paste in the freezer and use it to thicken the sauce, but it will be fine without it.

Simmer the sauce over low heat for about an hour, stirring now and then to keep it from sticking. You will see when it cooks down and starts to become thick. When it gets quite thick and the pieces of tomato have broken down, add the wine. Stir well and cook for another 15 minutes.

Polenta with Cheese and Tomatoes

You will need:

  • 5 ounces Danish fontina cheese
  • 1 ounce Gorgonzola cheese

For the polenta:

  • 1 cup medium ground polenta
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add salt. Whisking all the while, slowly add the polenta. Cook over medium heat, whisking, for 15 minutes.

Pour the cooked polenta into an 8" x 8" pan and let cool. This is a good thing to do while the tomato sauce is cooking, as it takes about an hour for the polenta to cool completely.

To assemble the dish:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter a gratin dish.

Put 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce into the prepared gratin dish.

Cut the cooled polenta into rectangles. Place a rectangle of polenta into the gratin dish, then put a matching slice of fontina cheese next to it. Place another rectangle of polenta next to the cheese and continue layering until the gratin dish is full. You can push the rectangles together a bit to get some more in.

Decoratively drizzle a few thick stripes of tomato sauce over the top of the rectangles. Crumble the gorgonzola cheese over it all and give it a good grind of fresh black pepper.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. When it's done, you can top it with some chopped fresh basil if you have it. I served mine with a kale salad, any salad or simple vegetable would go well with this dish. Buon appetito!