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.

Cherry Almond Tea Cake

The first cherry of the season is always the best. Although I know what a cherry tastes like, I'm still always a little pleasantly surprised when I first bite into one after months of going without. But I don't eat just any cherry. I want a cherry that is firm to the touch, the skin taut with its underlying juices, and deep deep red. Keep those mushy cherries away from me. I want no part of them.

The State of Theater Popcorn in the Bay Area

So while watching How to Train Your Dragon with my daughters recently at the Grand Lake Theater, I started to wonder how many local movie houses really pop their corn on site, and also which offer real butter. In an attempt to classify this information, I emailed or called the main movie theaters in San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda and Berkeley. And, just for good measure, I also asked everyone how much they charged for a large tub or bag.

Going Green in the Kitchen

In honor of today's 40th Earth Day anniversary, let's talk about how we can all make our kitchens a little greener. As you'll see, making a few minor adjustments in how we purchase food, handle waste, and run our kitchens can make a substantial difference. Following is a list of things everyone can do to use less energy and create less waste. Contrary to what Kermit the Frog thought, it IS easy being green.

Oakland’s Trueburger

Trueburger, the new hamburger restaurant in downtown Oakland, is, well… true. Genuine meat patties made from meat that is ground on the premises, shakes made with real ice cream (along with other stuff like actual bananas and peanut butter), all-beef kosher dogs that you can get with a side of homemade chili, and truly nice people running the joint. What more could you ask for?

Homemade Coconut Cream Tart

I haven't made a coconut cream pie or tart in years. After discovering Tartine's velvety indulgence, I figured what was the point. How could I replicate their flaky crust topped with a layer of dark chocolate and caramel (and, I think, a few flecks of fleur de sel?) and then crowned with a rich coconut pastry cream? And then something happened. I began to crave coconut cream but was too busy and lazy to drive across the bridge to purchase one from Tartine. So, with Easter only a few days away and a holiday dessert in order, I decided I would create my own coconut concoction -- something that reminded me of the sweet perfection available across the bay, but different enough that I wouldn't constantly compare my tart to it.

Asparagus Risotto and Croquettes

So what did I make with my first asparagus purchase of the season? Well, I decided to try something completely different -- at least it was unusual for me, but after 2,000 years or more at the dinner table, I am under no illusions that I am the first to make it. I was thinking of making asparagus with pasta, but when I opened the pantry found an unopened box of risotto sitting prominently on the shelf. It had been ages since I made risotto and the idea of buttery rice with the earthy flavor of spring asparagus sounded wonderful to me.

Fast and Cheap: Cube Steak Sandwiches

Yes, this 1950s staple is my route to affordable steak sandwich success. Made from either the top or bottom round, cube steak undergoes a serious pounding that helps tenderize it into submission. So, although you start off with a chewier piece of meat than the upmarket prime rib roast or tenderloin, you end up with something that works beautifully when pressed into a bun. As a busy mom, I also love that this dish takes less than 10 minutes to make.

How to Season, Clean and Care for a Cast Iron Pan

And now, almost 10 years and thousands of meals later, I'm just as happy with my decision to switch to cast iron as I was the day I purchased my pans from Ace Hardware. As far as I'm concerned, the fanciest and most expensive pans can't hold a candle to modest cast iron (well, except for an amazing large copper pan, which I doubt I'll ever be able to afford).

Wheat Berries

If you've never heard of wheat berries, you're not alone. When I mentioned to a few people that I wanted to write about them, I received some quizzical looks. So, for anyone not familiar with this whole grain, let me end the suspense: wheat berries are simply individual kernels of wheat (minus the hulls). They are what King Arthur and other grain companies mill to produce the many different types of baking flours, from whole wheat to all-purpose. And, just as there are many different types of wheat, there are just as many types of wheat berries, with their color ranging from light tan to a reddish brown. But the most important thing about wheat berries, at least as far as this post is concerned, is that they are scrumptious.

Quick Pantry and Freezer Soups

I've created a few easy-to-make soups that can be made in less than ten minutes from foods most of us have on hand in our freezers and pantries. As any working mom can tell you, quick and easy is essential for a week-night dinner, and these recipes are both; yet I also love how these homey pantry soups are made almost entirely of vegetables, making them just as nutritious for my family as they are tasty.

Saying I Love You with a Chicken Pot Pie

Nothing says comfort food like a chicken pot pie. After all, this relative of the savory meat pasty contains the homiest of ingredients: butter crust and gravy (oh yeah, and chicken too). As I mentioned last week, making a pot pie is a great way to use leftovers from a roasted chicken. But you shouldn't think of this dish as only a method for getting rid of that dark meat or white meat no one wanted on baked chicken night. After all, pot pies -- with gravy bubbling out of the cracks of their buttery crusts -- are so good that I often roast a chicken simply so we can have pot pies the next day. And, unlike other dishes, this meal tops the favorites list for both kids and adults alike, so everyone is happy on chicken pot pie night.

Go Retro: Bake a Whole Chicken

Now I realize that many people don't like to make a whole chicken because they think it's difficult and time intensive. But, just like pudding and pancakes, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike boneless and skinless breasts, which often need to be dolled up in a pan with other ingredients because they become dry and a bit tasteless when baked on their own, a whole chicken is a simple endeavor that has juicy results. In the name of full disclosure, I need to admit that baking a chicken takes between an hour and an hour and a half, but other than the first 5-7 minutes of prep work, this is all baking time.