Denise Santoro Lincoln

I am a writer, editor, mother of twins, and enthusiastic home cook. I was raised by an Italian-American mother who, in the 1970s, grew her own basil (because she couldn’t find any in the local grocery stores), zucchini (for those delicious flowers), and tomatoes (because the ones in the store tasted like “a potato”). My mom taught us to love all kinds of food and revere high-quality ingredients. I am now trying to follow in my mother’s footsteps and am on a mission to help my daughters become adventurous eaters who have a healthy respect for seasonal food raised locally. My daughters and I grow vegetables and go to the farmers’ market. We also love to shop at Piedmont Grocery and Trader Joe’s. When I’m not hanging out with my daughters or cooking, I like to contribute to cookbooks (including Williams-Sonoma’s Food Made Fast and Foods of the World series), work as an editor, and write about food for Bay Area Bites and Denise's Kitchen. My food inspirations are M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters — three fabulous women who encompass everything I love about food.

Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili

I used to think chili had to have meat in it to be interesting. I figured the slow roasted beef in my recipe provided the stew's deep and substantial flavors. So I was surprised to find that a vegetarian chili I recently made had its own complex flavors that were just as satisfying. And, unlike meat chili, the vegetarian variety only took an hour to prepare and cost less than $10 to make for a family of four.

Low-fat Steel-Cut Oat Muffins with Cherry Jam Inside

In the mood for something a little lighter and airier, I decided to make steel-cut oat muffins. Much like my oatcakes and oat squares, I started with a base of steel-cut oats, flour and butter. Yet unlike those baked treats, I used a little less butter and instead added in some buttermilk (which is naturally lowfat) for added tangy flavor and to moisten things up a bit. For a burst of sweetness, I nestled some cherry jam into each muffin (being sure to include at least one cherry in each). Hot out of the oven, the muffins smelled and tasted a bit like cherry pie.

Cheesy Enchilada Casserole: Chicken + Vegetarian

So if you love enchiladas, but aren't crazy about making them; or if you simply crave an easy-to-make hearty one-dish meal that will please your entire family, here is my recipe for Cheesy Enchilada Casserole. The main recipe uses chicken but I've also included a vegetarian alternative that uses butternut or acorn squash at the end. Both are great choices for an easy and hearty dinner at home.

10 Local Sparkling Wines for Your New Year’s Celebration

If you're purchasing a sparkling wine this holiday season, it's easy to keep it local. After all, some of the finest American choices are produced in our own backyard. Following is a list of my top-ten local sparkling wine choices. Half of these wineries are set in Carneros, an area that covers parts of both Sonoma and Napa Valley that is perfectly suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape growing (the two varietals most commonly used for sparkling wines). The other half are located in other parts of Napa and the Anderson Valleys.

holiday strata

Trouble-Free Christmas Breakfast Strata

Holiday egg strata is my standard stress-free meal for a decadently delicious holiday breakfast. After trying this out a few years ago, I've never looked back. I love that I can make this dish the night before, so the only thing I have to do on Christmas morning is stick it in the oven.

10 Great Local Bay Area Holiday Chocolate Gifts

It's not surprising that our home-grown chocolate shops all seem to use the highest quality ingredients, with many using organic local creams and butters alongside fruits and nuts purchased from nearby farmers. And, as all truffles should be, these confections are also made with trained and sure hands, often artistically sculpted or topped with elegant etchings. Overall, the chocolates and truffles produced locally use the finest ingredients, are superbly made and are lovely to look at.

Getting Hot Chocolate Up On Its Feet

But as long as we're indulging, why not throw in some adult libations as well? Of course there is the standard Peppermint Schnapps for a tried and true candy-cane flavored holiday aperitif, but what about some amaretto, Frangelico or whiskey to liven things up? Or, as Fred McMurray says in the classic Double Indemnity, "I wonder if a little rum would get this back on its feet?"


Food Safety on Thanksgiving

Now I don't want to be a downer, but if there's any day during the year when you might accidentally spread some bacteria or make someone sick, it's Thanksgiving. But keeping your meal safe for your family and guests isn't difficult if you take a few proactive steps. Here are some easy food safety guidelines for not only the holiday meal, but every day throughout the year.

Defending Brussels Sprouts

Contrary to popular belief, Brussels sprouts are best when cooked al dente. Sautéed until slightly crisp, they have a lush taste that is both sweet and savory on the plate. If you sat in a hot bath you’d get all pruney, right? Well overcooking Brussels sprouts does the same thing, while also bringing out a sulfuric smell. But all this can be easily avoided if you keep your eye on them and DON’T OVERCOOK.

Light and Airy Butternut Squash Gnocchi

I used to think gnocchi was difficult to make. After numerous attempts, it seemed almost impossible to achieve the light and delicate texture I desired. I tried using both potatoes and butternut squash, but the results were always disappointing: heavy and dense dumplings instead of the tender pillows I craved.

Comforting Chicken Soup

When I'm weary and sick I want chicken soup. I don't care if it's fancy. Heirloom turnips and herb pistous are not necessary. Just chicken soup, please -- nice and brothy with big chunks of chicken and minimal vegetables. Rice, pasta or matzo balls are all fine as long as the soup is homemade.

Beef Stroganoff, Bolsheviks and The Grand Duchess Anastasia

I’ve always loved beef stroganoff. When I was a kid, my mom would make large pots of the stuff and I would happily eat leftovers for days. As an Italian kid, it was exciting to eat a dish whose name ended with an "f" instead of an "i." Stroganoff! Plus there was my mad obsession wondering what happened to the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia. I was convinced, in a way that only young girls can be, that she had eluded execution and was living an undercover life somewhere. Taking small bites of beef mixed with egg noodles and sour cream, I would day dream about the life I imagined she had after escaping the terrible fate of her Tsar father and family, murdered by Bolsheviks.