Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Romany Hash

Lists abound for end-of-year favorites, i. e. movies, books, theatre or whatever. So here's my favorite cookbook for 2013.

Bacon 24/7 by Theresa Gilliam, Countryman Press, 2013

Certainly an odd choice, given that my last post was about Vegetarians,  and Deborah Madison came out with a wonderful new book titled Vegetable Literacy.  But this one struck my fancy, and there you have it. Bacon 24/Seven has beautifully artistic photographs by EJ Armstrong with Theresa Gilliam's appealing recipes. I'm sure my vegetarian friends can find substitutes for the bacon in most recipes, so they won't miss out. I'd love to hear their ideas for "Bacon-wrapped stuffed dates."

What really got me started was this picture of a twice baked potato.

 "Baked potato Skins"  photographed by EJ Armstrong in Bacon 24/7

Memories of a version called Romany Hash flooded over me. My mother made these stuffed potatoes when we were growing up and we loved them. I didn't have the recipe so I cruised the internet for anything called "Romany Hash," and came up empty-handed. There are listings for "Romany," which means gypsy, but no hash.  Most recipes from the 1950s yield many responses on Google, but not this one. 

 I decided to check my mother's old metal recipe file one more time. This is one of my prized possessions, containing all my family's favorites, hand-written by my mother. Just the sight of her handwriting fills me with nostalgia and longing.

And—voila!—under the worn tab "Leftover Meats" was the slip of paper with the penciled recipe for Romany Hash. How had I missed it? I have no idea where she found the original; sometimes she cited a source or included a magazine clipping, but where she found this one remains a mystery. 

I remembered most of the ingredients, but had forgotten the bacon fat, which makes it perfect for this post. She put the potatoes through a ricer, one of her favorite tools and, If I'm not mistaken, she said to "anoint" the potatoes with bacon fat—a surprisingly poetic phrase for a practical Mid-western woman!

The reverse side of the recipe concludes with instructions to add bacon fat and butter, refill the potato skins with the filling and dot with paprika, and, after "anointing" the skins with bacon fat, bake in a moderate oven 15 to 20 minutes until heated through. This makes a delicious and savory main course, perfectly completed with a green salad.

The "baked potato skins" in Bacon 24/7  includes ranch dressing, cheddar cheese, and bacon instead of ham. This variation may be tasty, but I'll stick with my mother's Romany Hash.

Another tempting recipe from the book is "Brussels Sprouts with bacon, lemon and honey." My mother never added anything like bacon to her sprouts, she just steamed them and served them with butter, salt and pepper. Now it's the fashion to dress them up with vibrant seasonings or nuts or roast them with other veggies—I like all these variations.

Brussels sprouts with lemon and honey from Bacon 24/7

Recipe by T. Gilliam from Bacon 24/7,

                             Two more favorite cookbooks from 2013 will satisfy vegetable lovers

Deborah Madison, Vegetable Literacy, Ten Speed Press, 2013

Drew Ramsey, M.D.,  Fifty Shades of Kale,  HarperCollins, 2013

Friday, December 13, 2013

Anna's Soup

My friend Anna works with me at Book Passage in the Ferry Building, or should I say I work with her. As one of the the newest members of the staff, I depend on her advice and help, and she is always there for me. Anna is a vegetarian and she claims that she doesn't like to cook. Her husband Dave, who also works with us at the bookstore, does most of the cooking. He too is a veggie man and a great cook according to Anna.  I'm always curious about their vegetarian menus, since I often depend on chicken, or even meat to supply my proteins. He even packs a lunch for her. That's a faithful husband!

The one dish Anna likes to cook is soup, and Dave agrees that she's a pro. But when I questioned her about her soup recipes she looked at me with surprise and informed me that soup is a dish that you make by foraging in the fridge. Rather than checking cookbooks, researching recipes, going to the store to buy ingredients, (steps I do routinely), she takes the opportunity to empty the fridge of leftovers to create a soup that's different every time.

Inspired by Anna's creative spirit (did I mention that she's an artist? ) I decided to try a soup with ingredients I had on hand. And because it was the Monday after Thanksgiving, I had an advantage. The fridge was loaded with beautiful fresh vegetables and holiday leftovers, so I took them out and got to work chopping on my cutting board. What a treasure trove of produce for my impromptu soup!

Shallots, leeks, fennel, carrots, celery, Ricki's wild rice & mushroom stuffing, canned garbanzos and fresh herbs 

Stuffing Soup

 In olive oil I sauteed two chopped leeks and three shallots, added two chopped carrots, two stalks of celery and a half bulb of fennel. When the veggies gave off a lovely, fragrant aroma I poured in some TJ's chicken broth which I always try to keep on hand, and brought it to a boil. After about twenty minutes I added the leftover mushroom-and-wild rice stuffing, thoroughly rinsed garbanzos, and fresh herbs from my garden. Again I let the mixture simmer for half an hour and my soup was done.

Vegetable Stuffing Soup in a vintage Dansk casserole 

We enjoyed the reheated soup for dinner and I held off adding the leftover turkey Ricki had packed for us on Thanksgiving. This way we could enjoy a truly vegetarian meal (oops, except for the chicken broth) created entirely from on-hand ingredients, a la Anna. I can't wait to do it again!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving Table 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 was held as usual at Ricki's in San Francisco. She's my sister-in-law and she always sets a spectacular table. But this year she outdid herself, maybe because Leah, my niece, lent her expertise to the project. Every detail was delightful. Take a look at my personal place-setting and keep in mind that these loving touches were replicated at everyone's seat.

My place setting

Thanksgiving dinner was the traditional groaning board of old favorites and new experiments. Many talented chefs contributed to the effort. However, right now I won't sully the artistry of the table with those details. Let Ricki and Leah's beautiful creation last forever in these images. And please, click on the individual photos for a better view.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Apple Crisp

Windfall apples from our tree gathered on the railing outside our front door

Branches weighted down with fruit

This year the old apple tree in front of our house produced a bumper crop of big, green apples. The branches were loaded and heavy with the weight of fragrant, ripe fruit. Shaking the tree produced a shower of runaway apples splattering on our heads and rolling down the stairway to our front door. At night I could hear distinct thuds as apples took the steps one at a time and rolled to the hillside below. 

Sun- burnished apples on a hazy day

Never had this tree offered so much fruit, and never had I been tempted to bake with its bounty. This was the year! Even though the apples were bright green, they were tart-sweet and firm-fleshed, not sour or hard as I had expected. They had never been this sweet and crisp and thoroughly delicious. I am not sure of the variety, but they resembled Granny Smiths, and Granny Smiths make wonderful baking apples. So, I went to work on an apple crisp

Our own apples, ripe and ready to fall

I gathered eight or nine unblemished apples,and prepared to peel them. But first I made the topping. I dug out my Aunt Haiya's faded recipe from my file, double checked with Deborah Madison's instructions in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and mixed the  ingredients in the food processor. I always add a cup of oats to the original topping to create a more textured and healthy dessert. 

Unfortunately, baking with apples usually requires peeling them, and this tedious process must be done by hand. At least Green Bin gets the leftover peels and cores.  I filled my baking pan with sliced, peeled apples, sugared them lightly, covered them with the topping and baked them in a 375 degree oven.

Baked apple crisp cooling in an Emile Henri oval baker from France

I could hardly wait to try my home-grown dessert. After it browned and bubbled I removed it from the oven and let it cool a bit. Then I sampled. Here's the verdict: The crisp was great, but  I was disappointed with the baked apples. They were monotonous and bland and lacked the creamy texture I prefer. Maybe they aren't Granny Smiths after all. Still, I wanted to try another dessert with apples from our tree.

Yellow leaves from our apple tree on the stairway

For the past several weeks I've been sweeping yellow leaves from the steps going down to our apartment. They were dropping steadily from the apple tree, along with the ripe apples which clunked down the stairs. I'd often eat the apples or set them on the railing ready to be hurled at raccoons bold enough to come near the house at night. Most were already half eaten by pesky squirrels. I haven't noticed deer devouring them, which is odd since they walk up and down the steep stairway regularly, searching for appetizing vegetation. Today, searching for apples, I looked up into the tree and to my surprise and shock, it was completely bare. Not one apple remained. I have no idea when or how all the apples disappeared, but I know they weren't blown down, since there are none on the ground or on the stairs. I rescued a few from inside pots or hiding under plants, but that's it! My personal supply is gone.

 Suddenly the apples are gone and the bare branches permit a clearer view of Euclid Ave below

Was it a hungry forager? If so he would have had to bring a ladder to get to most of the apples. I did notice someone in Tilden Park gathering all the blackberries this year, which has not occurred in the past. I  couldn't enjoy a blackberry treat while on my bike, because all the berries were picked over. From my observations, squirrels only nibble and then leave most of the apples on the ground. They aren't greedy. So who could clean up the tree so completely?

For my next crisp I had to visit the Monterey Market and buy apples.I chose winesaps and braeburns which I have enjoyed before. Now it would be fun to compare these with my own fruit. My favorite variety is actually Jonathon for both eating and baking, but they weren't available this season. Jonathons have an intoxicating fragrance and flavor that I can't resist— the very essence of autumn. But I was curious to see how the braeburn/winesap combo would fare.

Winesaps and Braeburns from the Monterey Market

 Luckily I still had some topping in the fridge, left over from the first batch, so all I had to do was peel, core and slice the apples, share with my Green Bin and wait about 40 minutes for the crisp to bake. After barely letting it cool I dove in. The result was sublime! This combination of apples definitely produced a superior crisp: flavorful, complex and balanced, not bland and lackluster like the apples from my tree. But I enjoyed harvesting and baking with my own apples and would have continued using them if my supply had not been so suddenly cut off. I'll have to wait until next year to try again. And I'll have a year to solve the mystery of the missing apples.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Highlights of a Trip to Kaua'i

Partial view of  Hanalei Bay Resort's most beautiful pool
Another view of the pool where we swam daily

Kayaking the Hanalei River

 Headquarters of Kayak Kauai on the Hanalei River, from a previous trip

Dragon fruit at Kilauea farmers' market

Recycling Center in Princeville not far from our condo

Queen's Bath, a natural pool refreshed by the sea. Many fish make for remarkably good snorkeling.  

Dean swimming in Queen's Bath, which is calm here but treacherous in winter

Enjoying the Limahuli Gardens

Terraced hillside with taro at Limahuli Gardens

Hibiscus in Limahuli Garden

View of Bali Hai from our room at Hanalei Bay Resort

Surfer and dog at Tunnels Beach, not far north of our condo

Clouds over Bali Hai, seen from our lanai

Kauai rainbow from our parking lot

Pleasures not pictured

Macadamia Nut Tart...
homemade pastry crust, gooey caramel center, choke macadamia nuts, cinnamon ice cream— at Hukilau Restaurant in Kapaa 

Ahi and Avocado Pizza with wasabi aioli on a cracker-thin crust at Merrimans in Poipu 

Bouchon's fish and chips  lunch special in Hanalei (fish & chips, chicken fillet, drumettes, and ribs) all for $12 

Mai Tai's everywhere, and great Hawaiian beer,  i.e. Fire Rock pale ale from Kona Brewing Co. and Longboard  lager

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Marcella Hazan 1924-2013

My personal collection of Marcella Hazan's cookbooks...  see more here

                           Grazie Marcella, you've enriched my life immeasurably

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Timballo con le Pere alla Piemontese or Deep-Dish Pear Pie

The pear pie from The Best of Italian Cooking,  (photograph from the book) 

On Labor Day I decided to bring a favorite dessert to our family barbecue on the Nob, as we call Dick Berendt's San Francisco penthouse high atop Nob Hill. Some luscious, ripe Bartlett pears from Bernie's stand at the Farmer's market were beckoning, and though the author Waverly Root suggests serving them as dessert all by themselves, without complications, I visualized a more impressive creation. So I thumbed through the dessert section of his Best of Italian Cooking and rediscovered this timballo (or dessert pie) embedding pears simmered in red wine and spices in a cornmeal crust.

California Bartlett pear season is over, so Bernie poses with one of his apples

 I hadn't made this recipe in years and I was hesitant only because I vaguely remembered that the crust was difficult to roll out and transfer to a pie plate. However, since my pie crust skills have improved significantly, I had confidence that this time I would succeed.

My 1974 copy of the cookbook (first printing)

I propped the book open to page 258, uncorked a bottle of Dolcetto d'Alba, peeled and chopped Bernie's pears, stuffed the cores and peels in my green bin and simmered the chunks of fruit in a mixture of the red wine, sugar and cinnamon. When the pears were tender and syrupy I let them drain while I tackled the crust.

So far, so good

Mixing the cornmeal, flour, and butter in my food processor was routine but, typical of Italian tart crusts, this one called for two eggs, and I added some lemon zest. Then a buzz of the blades while I poured in ice water and the dough came together beautifully. I gathered it into a ball and chilled it hoping for the best.

My favorite heavy wooden rolling pin and an 8" aluminum pie plate ready for the pie dough

An hour passed and the time of truth had arrived. I retrieved my wooden board from the pantry, covered it with flour and began rolling with my heavy wooden rolling pin. Cracks and fissures developed soon after I began rolling but I continued, adding more flour, rotating and smoothing out the dough regularly. Instead of mending together, the large cracks made deeper inroads into the surface, and I knew I was in trouble. I had a messy cornmeal disc that was the correct circumference, so I tried to transfer it to my 8" pie pan. It fell to pieces as I struggled to get a spatula underneath, so I plopped the broken dough bits in the pan and pressed them in, crimping the top edge as well as I could. I knew a pressed-in bottom crust would be fine. But what would I do with the top crust?

I filled the dough-lined pie pan with the pink wine-poached pears and rolled out the second half of my sticky cornmeal dough. Unfortunately, the same cracks developed and stubbornly refused to mend. Even thoroughly floured dough stuck to the rolling pin. I would certainly not be able to get a spatula underneath and cover the pears in one solid blanket of dough as instructed. So I found a square metal cookie cutter, cut out 3" pieces of dough and placed them overlapping on top of the pears. That worked quite well and it seemed to be a good solution. The completed pie didn't look too different from the photo in the book.

I baked the  pie in a 375 degree oven until golden brown and removed it to cool on a rack before it made the trip to San Francisco.

Pear timballo with patchwork cornmeal crust

After dinner we ate slices of the timballo with vanilla ice cream drenched in the sweet winey syrup left over from poaching the pears. The pie was absolutely delicious, and was declared a great success. I guess it was only fitting that I labored a bit on Labor Day

Sunday, September 1, 2013

September's Yoga Cat

                                                             Side Plank Pose
                                                            Strengthens arms, belly and legs
                                                             Stretches and strengthens wrists
                                                             Improves sense of balance

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Guillermo the Golden Trout in Richmond

In October 2012 I wrote about the Richmond Farmer's Market. HERE. The blog opened with this colorful fish sculpture, mounted on the Richmond City Hall next to the market.  At the time I could find no information about the fish or its creator. But last  Friday I returned to the outdoor market in the late afternoon when the vendors were packing up and scored with even better deals than ever. One pound of green beans for a dollar, a few jalapenos thrown in for free, and a beautiful, big watermelon for a buck. Then just past the market on my way home, I pulled over to take a call and saw the parking lot of the Richmond Art Center.

I was hopeful that the art center would have information on the huge, brilliant fish sculpture hanging above and directly behind it, so I parked in their lot and went in. As I walked in the door to the gallery, I spotted a plaque with the whole story clearly written, answering all my questions.

Mystery solved, I continued to check out the Center. A friendly employee wearing an artistic silk-screened tee shirt was working in the gallery. He insisted on showing me around. There was a party going on for the childrens' summer program, and after swerving around the food tables, he showed me  all the spacious studios—workshops for metal work, ceramics, printmaking, weaving, and galleries full of artworks.

Artist in the metal workshop (from Art Center catalog)

One of many striking pieces in the gallery

      Opal Palmer Adisa
      I am Sunshine 2008
      Color Photograph 15X10

In all my trips to the neighboring market, how had I missed this wonderful Richmond resource? Happily, I left with a catalog and vowed to tell everyone about my discovery.

When I got home I looked up Andree Singer Thompson and discovered that she is a Berkeley-based teacher and eco artist specializing in communal and international survival issues. She teaches at Laney College and gives workshops throughout the country. You can see her website HERE