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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Farro Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Lemon Vinaigrette

I am currently traveling in Italy, where the grain "farro" can be found in abundance. I've seen farro in American grocery stores, especially health food stores. (In Sonoma County you can find it at Andy's and at Whole Foods.) Apparently it is a little different from spelt, but that can be substituted if necessary. I had a farro salad in a little cafe in Milan and decided to try making one at home. Mine is completely different than the one I had in the cafe, but it came out so tasty that I wanted to write it down before I forget.

1 1/4 c farro, uncooked
1-2 cucumbers, peeled and cubed
20 or so cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarters
juice from 1/2 a lemon
lemon zest, (maybe 1 teaspoon)
fresh thyme
olive oil (1/4 cup or more to taste)

Here's what you do
Cook the farro according to the package directions. (If I read the instructions in Italian correctly, it said to use 70 grams per person (about 1/3 cup). Rinse the farro in cold water and drain it. Put it in a pan and add half a liter of water for every 100 grams of farro. If you use 1 1/4 cups of farro, use 1.5 liters of water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook for 25-30 minutes. Add salt only in the last few minutes of cooking. Taste for doneness. Drain off any remaining water.)

Let the farro cool a little. Make the lemon vinaigrette by putting the thyme, lemon zest, a little salt, and the lemon juice in a bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Taste for balance.

Put the cucumbers and tomatoes in with the farro. Dress with the vinaigrette and toss to distribute evenly. Taste for salt and add pepper.

We ate it warm, which was delicious, but it would be good chilled as well. It could be served over lettuce leaves. I think it would also be delicious with good quality olives such as nicoise or kalamata. This would be great for a potluck or a picnic because it is good warm or cool and it can be kept unrefrigerated for awhile.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Savory Bread Pudding

This is a recipe from my dear friend, John Brosnan. I make this a couple times every winter. It is delicious and makes great leftovers. Perfect for a larger gathering because it serves 10-12 people.

1 1/2 lbs. french bread, crusts removed, shredded
3 large onions, sliced
Butter, at least 1 stick
1 lb. crimini brown mushrooms
1 T. fresh thyme
2T. fresh parsley
1 head spinach
2+ cups Gruyere
2+ cups swiss, any kind
1 cup parmesan
2 cups whole milk
6 eggs
Salt + Pepper
Cornmeal or crushed pecans (optional)


Shred bread into 13" x 9" pan. It should be filled to the top. Saute onions in 3 T. butter, over medium-high heat, 20 minutes. Keep stirring until browned. Set aside. In sauce pan, saute mushrooms with sliced garlic, 1 tsp. thyme, and 2 tsp. fresh parsley, for 15 minutes. Set aside and cool. Saute spinach in butter. Add chopped garlic + salt after cooked. Mix whole milk, eggs, 2 tsp. salt + pepper, remaining thyme, parsley, and 1 tsp. cayenne. Add cheeses. Mix all ingredients together, in 2 batches if necessary. Butter 13 x 9 pan and add crunchy texture like cornmeal or pecans, if desired. Put mixture in pan and sprinkle with extra cheese + herbs. Bake at 350˚ for 45 minutes (20 minutes with foil, 20+ mins. without). Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.


I often add pimentòn (smoked Spanish paprika) to this dish for a smoky flavor. You can also add sausage if you like.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk

This recipe comes from my friend, Carla. I have tried it with pumpkin and with butternut squash, and today I am trying it with banana squash (a huge winter squash that I got from my son who works on a farm.) I'm worried about the stringy-ness of the banana squash, so I'll let you know how it turns out.

This is one of those vague "add as much as you want" type recipes. Soups are pretty forgiving and you can adjust texture and flavor as you go. Taste often until you get it just how you like it.

Here's What You'll Need
  • Cooked pumpkin, butternut squash, or other winter squash
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 onion
  • celery
  • kafir lime leaves (can be found at your local Asian market)
  • curry paste (thai works best here)
  • veggie broth or water to thin the soup
  • 1 pkg tofu
  • soy sauce
  • lemongrass (optional, also found at the Asian market)
  • 1-2 limes
  • chili-lime cashews (found at Trader Joes) or plain cashews

Here's What You Do
  • Saute one chopped onion and 1/2 cup chopped celery in some olive oil.
  • Mix 1/3 can coconut milk with 1 T. thai curry paste. (You could certainly use other kinds of curry paste, but this one goes particularly well with the lemongrass and kafir lime leaves in the recipe.) Add this to the onion & celery after it has softened.
  • Add the rest of your can of coconut milk to the pan.
  • Pulverize 3-4 kafir lime leaves in a blender, food processor, or spice grinder. Add this to the pan as well.
  • Open a second can of coconut milk. Put cooked pumpkin (or other winter squash) in your food processor with about half the can. Process until smooth. Add to soup. Repeat with any remaining pumpkin. If you have any coconut milk left in the can, add it to the soup.
  • You can add some veggie broth if you want to thin the soup out to a more "soupy" consistency.
  • Cut up one or two stalks of lemongrass (the tender, pale inner parts only) and add to the soup.
  • Cut one brick of firm tofu into cubes and marinate it in soy sauce.
  • Let the soup cook for awhile.
  • Toward the end of the cooking time, add the marinated tofu, the juice of one lime, 3/4 cup of peas, and some chili-lime cashews (found at Trader Joe's, or you can use plain cashews).
  • Taste for salt and flavor balance. You can add more lime juice, more soy sauce, more curry paste, or anything else you think will help balance the flavors. (I added a little caramel syrup last time which provided the perfect sweetness to complement the winter squash.)
Extra lemongrass or cilantro would make nice garnishes for this soup.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes

This dish is so fast and easy that I had everything ready before the water boiled and the pasta cooked. It features cherry tomatoes and is the essence of summer. If you use cherry tomatoes from your garden, it costs less than $1 per person. Add a salad and you've got a tasty weeknight meal.

Here's what you do
Put water on to boil for your pasta. Small compact shapes are nice with this, but anything will do. I used half a pound for two of us and we had about 1/3 of it left over. We also didn't have salad or bread, so we ate more pasta than we otherwise would have. The recipe says 1/2 pound feeds 4 people.
In a large bowl combine the following:
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 T. capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup pitted olives (the recipe called for Nicoise, but I used kalamata)
  • 6 basil leaves, slivered or torn (I used lemon basil which has much smaller leaves, so I just grabbed a small handful)
  • 3 T. of your best olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
When the pasta is cooked to your liking, drain it and add it to the bowl. Stir quickly to coat with the olive oil. Breathe deeply because this smells FABULOUS. You can add a few drops of balsamic vinegar if you like. I forgot to do this and it was wonderful without it (and you KNOW how much I love vinegar.) Serve immediately.

For some of you, it may be strange to have pasta with no cheese. If you're tempted to add cheese, at least try several bites without it. The flavors of the tomatoes and olives really get to shine if you keep this dish simple.

Things I'd Do Differently Next Time
I'd like to try this dish with Smoked Olive Oil next time. If you haven't tried smoked olive oil, you should look it up at It is pricey, but worth every penny. You can find it at the Santa Rosa farmers market (Sonoma County) where you can try before you buy.

Cost to Prepare
Pasta - $.75
Cherry tomatoes - from the garden
Shallot -
Garlic - $.05
Olive oil - $.40
Basil - from the garden
Capers - $.50
Olives - $.75
S&P - negligible
TOTAL COST - $2.45 (serves 3-4 people)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Recipes as Inspiration (Tomato & Thai Basil Relish)

I recently found myself needing something quick for dinner, so I turned to my beloved cookbook, Vegetarian Suppers. I found a recipe for Skillet Seared Tofu with Tomato and Thai Basil relish. I had tofu in my fridge, gorgeous tomatoes from the farmers market, and thai basil in my garden. Sounded perfect. Then I looked at the rest of the ingredients and I only had about half of them. I took the ingredient list as mere suggestion and got started anyway. The result was pure heaven.

Here's the list of ingredients in the recipe and then what I used instead:

2 medium tomatoes - I had this. Great!
1 small shallot or a few scallions - I used 1/2 sweet onion from my fridge
small handful Thai Basil - I had this. I threw in the amount that looked right.
dozen small mint leaves - I had this in my garden
1 t. roasted peanut or sesame oil - I used garlic-infused olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lime - I had this.
2 t. freshly grated ginger - all I had were dehydrated ginger bits. I rehydrated them in some boiling water and chopped them up. I also chopped up a dried red chile and put it in the boiling water to rehydrate as well.
1 garlic clove - I was out of garlic, so I used a little garlic powder
sea salt - yes
small splash of soy sauce - I only had Hoisin Sauce, a sweet, thick Asian sauce. I used it anyway.

I put everything in a bowl and mixed it up. The soy sauce is really intended for deglazing the pan while you cook the tofu, but I put it in the bowl with everything else. When it came time to deglaze the tofu, I just used some of the juice from the bowl (super yummy).

Here's the basic method
Slice 1 carton of tofu into 6-8 pieces and blot it with a paper towel. I cut it in half long way to make thinner slabs, and then cut the 2 slabs into triangles.
Heat some oil in a skillet and add the tofu. Sprinkle with salt. When it stops twitching around, check to see if it is browned on the cooking side. If it isn't, leave it a little longer. Turn and cook the other side, about 10 minutes in all. Shake on some liquid (like soy sauce or the juices from your bowl of tomatoes and other goodies) and continue cooking until it evaporates and the tofu is seasoned and glazed. I sometimes turn the tofu during this process and sometimes don't. I just try to get the tofu coated with the sauce.

Remove from heat, top with tomato salsa mixture and serve. I served this on a bed of arugula, which was fabulous.

Friday, August 5, 2011


All of you who know me, know that I make limoncello pretty much year round. Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur. While I was in Italy I tried many other liqueurs, including one made with fresh basil. I have so much basil right now that I decided to try to make my own. I tried it once a long time ago, and the basil-alcohol infusion turned brown. I looked up some recipes on line and it turns out that the process is a little different, though the same basic idea. I just tasted my first very small batch and it looks and tastes just like the delicious concoction I had in Italy. It has that herby, slightly peppery flavor of fresh basil. I grant you that herb liqueurs may sound a little odd, but I find them to be refreshing, interesting, and a lovely way to preserve the colors and flavors of summer.

Here's what you do

Gently wipe off 40 large basil leaves with a damp paper towel. Don't get them really wet as they start to break down and turn dark. It doesn't have to be exactly 40. Use large and small and put in the equivalent of what you think is 40 large leaves. Put the basil leaves in a clean glass jar and cover with 1 liter grain alcohol such as Ever Clear (available at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa.) Cover jar tightly and store in a cool dark place for 3-7 days, mixing/turning it a couple times a day. It will be bright green after just a few hours.

Obviously, if you want to make less, cut the recipe in half and use 20 basil leaves in 500 ml grain alcohol.

Strain the green basil-infused alcohol into a clean jar and combine with equal parts simple syrup. Simple syrup is made by combining equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and heating until sugar is dissolved. Let the syrup cool completely before you add it to your infusion. Many recipes say to put the liqueur away for 15 days or so before drinking it, but I'm telling you that it is delicious served ice cold right away. If you put it aside to age, at least have a sip of the "young" version and then see if the aged version is better. Be sure to leave a comment here and let me know because I'm unlikely to find out on my own.

Margarita con cojones

Well, it's fresh produce time and I've been enamored of a site called Punk Domestics lately. Here's how they describe themselves:

Beginning with World War II, when women flooded the workplace, technology has conspired to take food production out of the kitchen. Convenience foods became the norm, and the culinary arts of our parents and grandparents became unfashionable, to the point where many of us grew up not knowing how food got in jars. With the advent of Slow Food and the California Cuisine movement of the 1980s, artisanship in food began to regain popularity. Most recently, driven by factors such as an increasing trend toward gourmandism combined with a recession forcing people to tighten their belts, people are once again taking on the old ways in their kitchens. Many are also writing about it on blogs, forums and message boards. To the novice, there is an overwhelming amount of information to sift through. To the veteran blogger, it's easy to get lost in the noise. Punk Domestics aims to evangelize and enable this burgeoning trend by way of curation and promotion. The name derives from a review of Karen Solomon's book Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects onEat Me Daily, which refers to the "punk domesticity of the hipster DIY movement."

Every day I get a dose of the possible ways to can, pickle, and otherwise preserve the goodness of the season. A few days ago I made "Cucumber Jalapeno Tequila" and now I am sipping a refreshing, taste bud awakening, south-of-the-border tasting margarita with real kick. Alcohol infusions are one of the many ways to preserve produce, so give this one a go if you dare.

Here's how you do it

Cut one cucumber into about 8 spears, with the skin on. Throw it in a glass jar. Cut up one jalapeno pepper and throw it in the jar, too. The heat is in the seeds, so include them or not, depending on how spicy you want your infusion. Cover with 1 liter silver (blanco) tequila. Leave the jar in a cool dark corner for 4-6 days. I tasted mine after 4 days and it was plenty spicy. Strain the alcohol into a clean container (the original bottle is a good idea), compost the spent cucumber and jalapeno. Serve ice cold on its own, or make it into a spicy-fresh margarita.

For the margarita combine equal parts freshly squeezed lime juice, triple sec, and cucumber jalapeno tequila. I like my margaritas a little on the sweet side, so I also add a squeeze of agave syrup. Serve over ice, or shake with ice and serve neat.