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.
When the weather reaches the 90s, I crave homemade ice cream. But as cool and refreshing as this cold treat can be, making ice cream custard is a bit of a hot and steamy affair. Normally I wouldn't flinch from standing over a pot on the stove while I whisked eggs and cream together, but this week I just wanted the chilly result of creamy ice cream without the fuss.
I'm not talking about buying one of those birds encased in a plastic shield at the grocery store -- the ones that were supposedly cooked on a rotisserie earlier that day -- but really… who knows when it was roasted? I mean preparing a chicken that you cook in your backyard or on a deck -- slowly with the seasonings you like. I'm talking about taking the chicken off the spit with your own hands and then eating it while it's hot and juicy. Sounds primal but delectable, right?
So this year, instead of mourning the loss of my tree -- as I've been expecting to do for quite a while now -- I instead happily made my yearly supply of apple butter. Although this jam takes hours to simmer, the preparation is really quite simple. Apples are full of natural pectin, so you never have to worry about it setting or firming up. Just peel, core, chop, cook and can.
So last week, when my family and I were in Kauai, I tried to seek out some food love on the Garden Island, Yelping, Chowhounding and asking around to find some alternate food opportunities that would allow me to feed my kids (and myself) a variety of local and fresh food that didn't break the bank. View a list of my top finds.
Making brownies from scratch is easy and fast, so I've always been perplexed as to why so many people think they need to use a box mix. I know I've said this many times before on this blog -- remember my macaroni and cheese, pudding and pancake rants? -- but before you resign yourself to a lifetime of box-mix brownies, just try making some from scratch first. You'll see that they don't take much more time and taste far better than the box variety.
The key to this pie is fresh blueberries. It can be made with frozen berries, but I recommend making it now while the fruit is firm and plump, deliciously sweet with a slightly tart burst. Cooked in a prebaked pie crust, the pastry is buttery and crisp and sits firmly beneath the berry filling (instead of getting soggy). I then top the pie with a traditional fruit crisp topping of oatmeal, flour, sugar and butter.
Pondering what would go best with apple balsamic vinegar and syrup, I decided to make some slow roasted baby back ribs. Because I love the taste of pork with apples, I used the fewest ingredients possible, adding a rub of only ground fennel and coriander (along with salt and pepper). After slow roasting for an hour and half, the ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender. I then brushed on the balsamic vinegar for a glaze and added a second layer of apple syrup for extra sweetness.
And, although you can still enjoy those rich dark roasts provided by Caffé Trieste and Peet's today, the Bay Area is once again at the forefront of coffee roasting in the U.S., this time to a new generation of roasters who are myopically focused on finding the finest single-origin coffees, paying a more than fair price for the beans, and then roasting them for their own unique qualities.
Served on rocket, the final result was a mix of everything I love on one plate. The sweet roasted tomatoes were the perfect foil to the salty prosciutto and bitter greens, while the fried chicken's crispiness and the poached eggs velvety yolks added a luxurious decadence. Mixed with Sriracha sauce, the dressing added complexity and spiciness to the dish.
Last week I was lucky enough to go on a tour at the Peet's Coffee & Tea Roastery (their roasting and packaging facility in Alameda). As someone who drinks Peet's Italian Roast every morning, I was excited to see how this home-grown Bay Area company handled and roasted their coffee beans and so jumped at the chance to get a peek inside.
After a few trips to some yogurt shops where four servings cost around $20 -- because let's face it, the new frozen yogurt chains are more expensive than the old ones -- I decided to try making my own concoctions.
But don't eat fava beans because they're historical; eat them because they have a lovely verdant sweetness that is perfect when cooked in olive oil. Or eat them because they are rich in vitamins and minerals. Some researchers think they may even be used as a natural alternative to Viagra. They're not sounding so bad now, are they?
My adventure began with a bumper crop of sweet red raspberries in my backyard. The little thornless raspberry plant I purchased four years ago has turned into 15 feet of lush vines laden with berries. There were too many to just eat out of hand (although trust me, we did try). So, with literally a bucket or more of ripe raspberries about to go bad, I decided to try my hand at making raspberry jam. Little did I know my jam adventure would take two days, two recipes, and two trips to the store.
I used to think chili was a mishmash of ground meat, powdered spices, and chopped bell peppers. This is, after all, how everyone made it when I was growing up. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized chili is really a stew. Historically, it's more like Beef Bourguignon than a sloppy joe in that it's made of chunks of meat, vegetables, and a simmering liquid. Sure, the vegetables are chilies, but the core starting point -- slowly braised hunks of meat -- are what make chile and other stews not only similar, but appealing in the first place.
So how do you make a great pot of meat chili? Let's break the process down into easy categories.