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Tomato Rye Berry Breakfast Casserole

Winter mornings call for something hearty like Tomato Rye Berry Breakfast Casserole.

When the end of September arrives, my pulse seems to quicken. Is it possible that certain seasons offer greater productivity? I’ve been writing behind the scenes. In coffee shops. At midnight. On napkins. On the phone. In my writing notebook. Sometimes writing requires certain parameters to get started. Other times, there is no road. All flat surfaces are fair game. The thing is don’t give up. Write through the rough patches until the street gets smooth.

Heirloom tomato season is never long enough for me. I like adding tomatoes to this rye berry breakfast casserole.

Years ago, I made a Tomato Basil Oatmeal Bake and as the calendar flipped to October, I craved the heartiness available in whole grains. Have you ever cooked whole oat groats, wheat or rye berries? The toothsome chewiness of those long sturdy grains make a fiber full addition to your day. You can find rye berries in the bulk section of some natural food stores and co-ops or from Bob’s Red Mill. Cooking the rye berries is a cinch. When you’re batch cooking or doing meal prep for the week, make a pot of rye berries. Reserve two cups to make the rye berry breakfast casserole below. Hang onto the rest of them to toss into salads for a bit more whole grain heft. 

Some mornings call for steel cut oats, but rye berry breakfast casserole is another great way to go whole grain first thing in the morning.

Tomato Rye Berry Breakfast Casserole

Makes 4 to 6 servings

3 large eggs

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ cup almond milk

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups cooked rye berries

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of Sun-Gold and red is pretty)

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease an 8×8 pan. Whisk the eggs, milk, cream, olive oil, salt, and pepper together. Stir in the rye berries, tomatoes, Parmesan, and thyme. Pour into the pan, finessing a few of the tomatoes into place, but nudging them into the batter if needed. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the custard has set / is not jiggly. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Red Wine Chili

Red Wine ChiliJacques Pepin got me thinking: how many recipes does one person commit to memory in their lifetime? The question doesn’t suggest a one-size-fits-all answer but maybe you’re already beginning to rattle off recipe names or tick fingers doing a lap on the mental treadmill of memory.

The only time we ever stirred a pot of slow-cooked chili in my childhood home aligned with ominous clouds darkening the sky above as rain lashed the ground outside. It became almost a Pavlovian response: when the rain came, so did my craving for chili. In Texas, one of the important details of the chili-eating experience involves the curlicue corn chip known as the Frito. I can’t recall really ever wanting those chips outside of providing a nuance of crunch to the duet of chili-spiced ground beef and beans with its volcanic rupture of melted cheddar cheese.

Taste memories form us into the eaters we are. We may not pledge allegiance to the flavors of our childhood once we become adults, but their imprint can catapult us quickly back to a place in our past, faster than we might be able to conjure them up without the olfactory and taste bud assistance.

It’s not that we eat chili often now at home at all. I can count only two occurrences we’ve pulled together a pot this year and perhaps not coincidentally they’ve coincided with the arrival of rain. But, there’s something about taking what is known and teasing it out—seeing how far the boundaries extend before it no longer looks or acts or tastes like its initial point of departure. Would it be accurate to suggest we are all adaptations of our former selves, much like the chili recipe of now can be credited back to the flavors that formed in our taste bank many years ago?

For Christmas Eve last year, part of our family congregated around a table in a dimly lit restaurant in the wine country. We would cloister around the massive paella pan the next day preparing and waiting to dig up the crusty bits of rice still clinging and etched into the bottom of the pan of what had become tradition. But, this evening, we huddled in elegant Dry Creek Kitchen, playing the part of happy family, unfettered by a fissure whose full impact is still deeply felt a year later. I ordered the tasting menu and marveled at the soft poached egg melting into the housemade ricotta paired with spiced warm brioche and red currant vinaigrette. This led to second course of spiral cut ham salting roasted butternut squash risotto with a peppery pop of arugula and sweet maple glacage. By the main course of Pop’s Prime Rib Wellington, we had all pretty much pled mercy and requested to-go boxes.

Red Wine Chili

Two days later, we fished out the leftover prime rib steaks, considering how we might present them anew for dinner. A decent bottle of red table wine sat on the counter and one thing led to another. The flavors formed into a Spanish and Sonoma-inspired red wine chili with chunks of steak. We sat around steaming bowls that night as the savory aroma wafted up from our spoons. Through the disparate odds and ends leftover from the grand celebrations, we had created something unexpected and good.

The holidays can be tricky to navigate as they come fraught with expectation as much as ensuing excitement. They can bring to the surface leftover hurts of a misplaced comment or issues that we thought we had resolved and healed. Looking at leftover meat doesn’t usually inspire the kind of admiration of the original plate with its thoughtful garnish and presentation. But leftovers can teach us a lot about ourselves. They give us a second chance to make what was originally someone else’s creation, our own. It’s not easy forgiving small grievances that can compound into one ball of recollection. But the thing with holidays is they too are an attempt at second chances—every year we get an opportunity to try again and learn better how to celebrate life with each other.

What we might not see at first glance is that holding onto leftover hurts allows them to keep us shackled to the past instead of moving gracefully into the future. Forgiveness might seem like an odd gift to give at the holidays, but no wrapping can contain its incredible value. It is in its way a fresh start, a chance to open the to-go box, survey the cold meat inside and say, how can I make this good again?

 

Red Wine Chili

Red Wine Chili

In a different chili recipe I made a while back, I had jotted a note to self to try using chipotle chili in a future iteration. Oh, yes. Look for the small can of chipotles in adobo sauce in the Latin American aisle of your supermarket. My obsession with figs runs deep and I wanted to play around with the idea of letting a hint of their natural sweetness play into a chili-laced paste that’s simmered tomatoes with a bit of red wine, and thyme. This is definitely a game-changer for me. I had never made my chili using a paste before, but as I was thinking about texture and wanting to both concentrate the flavors in the base, I decided to simmer and puree and now I’m not looking back. The figs also act as a thickener in the homemade chili paste. In some circles, cooking with wine might come across as a bad way for the bottle to go down. But, I find a judicious glug of decent dry red makes a well-served sacrifice in this chili. It adds body and depth, and should come from a vintage you would like to drink, since the rest of the bottle will be the cook’s (and company’s) libation. I used Healdsburg Reserve Merlot from Split Creek Farms. When it comes to garnishing chili, we are of two minds in our household. You might find as I did that the chili tastes best on its own or with a dollop of yogurt. Nathan added cheddar to his bowl and between spoonfuls, pronounced this the best chili he has ever eaten, so there might be something to that. However you serve it, make sure to break out the corn chips.

Serves 4 huge bowls to 6 small bowls

 

2 cups plus 1 cup diced tomatoes and juice (1 28-ounce can)

4 ounces dried California mission figs, stemmed (1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons adobo sauce plus 1 chipotle pepper

3 tablespoons plus 1 cup dry red table wine

Fresh thyme leaves from 1 sprig (1/2 teaspoon)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large white onion, peeled and medium chopped (2 cups)

1 pound ground beef

1 cooked ribeye steak, cool and cubed

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 carrot, peeled and small grated (1/2 cup)

2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

Organic corn chips

Whole milk yogurt, optional

Sharp cheddar cheese, optional

 

Simmer 2 cups of tomatoes and juice with the figs, adobo sauce, chipotle pepper, 3 tablespoons of red wine, thyme leaves, and chili powder on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile drizzle and swirl the olive oil into a skillet set over medium-low heat and cook the onions for 15 minutes, until almost translucent, stirring sporadically. Add and brown the ground beef in the skillet with the onions. Turn off the heat under the pot of chili-laced figs and transfer the chili-laced figs to a blender. Remove the cap off the lid and place a towel over the hole. Blend until smooth. Pour the chili-fig puree into a large stockpot. Stir in the remaining cup of red wine, cup of diced tomato and juice, steak, beans, carrot, and salt to the pot. Add the ground beef and onions to the pot. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. Garnish with yogurt and cheddar if desired. Serve with corn chips.

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Lentil Turkey Chili

 

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

We eat leftovers. They wheedle their way into the handwritten weekly menu as proof that no matter how busy a week becomes we can find homemade food at the ready to ably feed ourselves. They provide the backbone to a quick lunch with substance. But, leftovers get a bit of a bad rap, don’t they? Just last week over tea with a friend, she recounted that she leaves the leftovers for her husband, something I have done and depending on the dish, will continue to do as I firmly fall into the camp of some foods don’t get better with time.

We rely on leftovers- they fill in the gaps of one of us at band practice and the other taking a class. But, sometimes I just can’t be bothered with having the same meal several times in rote repetition like a record with a scratch that plays the same bit of track that you enjoyed the first time until it becomes annoying. What’s remarkable is that over the span of one night’s digestion, compelling cuisine takes on a second class status as leftovers. I  have discovered, along with other home cooks, the way to make them the prep for tomorrow’s lunch.

Here’s the thing with leftovers and the aversion people bring to the brown bagged remnants, the quart sized-jar in the fridge or casserole dish with stair-stacked holes cut into the food. And, I want to be careful how I word this, the attitude to leftovers is indicative of first world problems. Where else is extra food considered something avoidable? When I worked at a restaurant, while putting myself through school, we wore metal pins on our uniforms, as a sign of our flair. I could have easily donned one that read “world’s worst up-seller” since the portion sizes served at the restaurant already were double what people could actually eat and more often than not, it pained me to scrape perfectly good food into the compost bin because a patron had met their fill.

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

Today, I want to talk about a way we can donate more than just a renewed sense of mindfulness toward our leftovers, instead focusing on an important cause. Nicole of The Giving Table invited people to donate their blog post today to the cause of “The Lunchbox Fund,” an initiative to feed South Africa. Encouraged to blog about lunch, and since my lunches consist of leftovers, here we are.

Did you know 65% of all South African children live in poverty. As evidenced through research by No Kid Hungry in the United States, we know that nourished children will do better in school by helping them stay alert and be able to retain what they are learning. I recently learned that nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS. These kids are left over from dire family circumstances. It makes me profoundly sad tinged with possibility.

Groups like The Lunchbox Fund identify schools or form partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. They fund distributors to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation. In essence, they are helping radically address the food supply system for these children who might otherwise get looked over. Can I encourage you to consider that if you give $10, it will feed a child for a day. Giving overflows from a generous heart, so the amount isn’t as important as the practice and the response to the problem.  Consider giving to The Lunchbox Fund and forgoing lattes for a week- doing good might just be the ultimate morning jumpstart.

It’s almost time for lunch and leftovers are on the menu. Join me for a bowl of Lentil Turkey Chili?

Leftovers Chili | The Food Poet

LENTIL TURKEY CHILI

This chili is perfect for serving on rainy or cold days (not that I’m complaining – we needed the rain that turned San Francisco into a wet wonderland this past weekend). This chili is a bit of a conglomeration of various leftovers. Taco Tuesdays makes extra ground meat than we can eat that night, so that gets added to the pot. The extra brown rice we make at the beginning of the week gets warmed and doled out into the bowls so the chili gets ladled over it. Leftover chicken or veggie stock gets used here too and unlike many recipes that only call for 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, this is a terrific recipe to use a whole jar of it or any tomato paste leftovers you might have lurking in the fridge. For garnishes, use what you have on hand. I give a few ideas of what’s in our fridge, but chili is open to creativity (ever try pulsing a chipotle from adobo sauce or adding some of the sauce to chili? Smoky goodness, right there.) These repurposed ingredients will feed you for lunch all week with enough to go in the freezer or to get repurposed another way.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

1 teaspoon grapeseed oil plus 1 tablespoon
1 red bell pepper
2 cups green lentils
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
tomato paste
1 cup water
32 ounce jar chopped tomatoes
1 cup cooked ground turkey
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rub a red bell pepper with oil and roast it in the oven for 20 minutes or until you see the skin char slightly. Cool the red bell pepper. Once cooled, remove the stem and seeds inside. Place the bell pepper in a container with high sides and a deep well. Blend with an immersion blender until pureed.

While the bell pepper is roasting, pick through the lentils, discarding any small rocks. In a large heavy pot, cover the lentils with about 3-4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to simmer. Cover and cook them for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of grape seed oil and swirl the pan until the bottom is coated. Add the onions to the pan and brown them for about 4 minutes. Add in the garlic, 3 minutes in.

Drain the lentils from their cooking liquid. Transfer the lentils back to their pot along with the onion, garlic and vegetable stock. Place the pot over medium low heat. Whisk together 3 tablespoons of water with the tomato paste until smooth, adding the rest of the water until you’ve reached one cup. Pour it into the pot once you’ve got a thick red sauce. Open your jar of canned chopped tomatoes and break apart the tomatoes with your fingers over the pot, pouring in the jarred liquid too. Add the cooked ground meat to the pot, carefully breaking up any initial clumps with a large wooden spoon.  Stir in the chili powder, cayenne and salt. Cover the pot and let the chili simmer so the liquid reduces and it thickens up. Add the bell pepper puree to the chili.

Serve with brown rice. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream (or labneh or creme fraiche or Greek yogurt or…), grated leftover nubs of cheese (sharp cheddar works wonderfully) and minced scallions.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Tortilla Espanola

Baked Tortilla Espanola with Sungold Tomato Salsa

So you might be scratching your head and holding up two words, weighing them to see if they might possibly even each other out, “lemons, tortilla espanola?” I know. It perplexed me too. What happens when you unwittingly walk away from a rather impromptu visit to Sacramento with three ginormous Meyer lemons in tow? You make lemon curd, naturally. Then, if you’re like me, you begin plotting other uses for the gelatinous goo of egg whites filling a pint glass and mocking you from the inside of the refrigerator. They taunt, “Don’t make us into meringues again?!” And this time, you listen to them.

On a Monday night, you fire up the oven amid the sound of silent castanets cracking overhead, fingers clicking one egg, then two into the growing egg goo. Before long, the Espanola is in sight. Reason number 876 to be happy living in California might just have to be ripe tomatoes in November. They may not be the stellar outcroppings of September, but really, my farmer’s market still stocks strawberries like it’s the peak of summer. So, you have to make the most of these gifts from the heavens. You roast squash and root vegetables like the rest of the country but you silently give thanks as you pop a sungold tomato, its flavor sweet like the last summer sunset.

Then you break out of your reverie and scamper about throwing together an easy meal for a Monday night like this Baked Tortilla Espanola. Trust me, no turkeys, cranberries or stuffing cubes have been harmed in making this dish. There will be time enough for all of that soon enough. Instead, the leeks scent the olive oil and the boiling water takes the edge off the potatoes. All those egg whites find their own rhythm, and the slippery sauteed leeks blend their way into a sweeter sungold tomato salsa. Cut into a slice with a fork and you too may be hearing the call of the castanet.

Baked Tortilla Espanola with Sungold Tomato Salsa

BAKED TORTILLA ESPANOLA WITH SUNGOLD TOMATO SALSA

For this recipe, you want to use a heavy bottomed pan that can go from stovetop to oven. If you have leftover salsa, spoon it onto a baked sweet potato or serve with crudités. Feeling spunky? Drizzle it onto exotic nachos laced with red pepper hummus, white cheddar, fennel pollen flecked goat cheese and creme fraiche. 

YIELD: 4-6 portions

INGREDIENTS
For the Tortilla

  • 1 pound small potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cup sliced leek, white part only (4 1/4 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

For the Salsa

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup sungold cherry tomatoes (7 ounces)
  • splash of hot sauce
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • crack of black pepper

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Make the Tortilla
Preheat the oven to 350.

Rinse and scrub the potatoes. Slice them thinly into 1/4 inch rounds. Bring a pot 3/4 full of water to a soft rolling boil. Place the potato rounds into the water for 4-5 minutes to take off some of their crunch. Drain them in a colander.

Place a heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the olive oil and add the leeks. Cook for 4 minutes or until the leeks are translucent. Strain leeks out of the oil and reserve.

Place potato rounds into the oil and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile whisk together 2 eggs with the 6 egg whites and add in the salt and pepper. Pour whisked eggs evenly over the potatoes and cook on the stovetop for 2 minutes to set them. Then transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until the eggs are cooked though and don’t jiggle when you jostle the pan. Cool for five minutes.

Make the Salsa
Drizzle the vingear into the receptacle of a blender. Spoon the sautéed leeks on top and then add in the rinsed sungold tomatoes. Puree until almost smooth- a bit of chunkiness is inviting in salsa. Stir in the hot sauce, paprika, salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce in a circle on each plate.

Plate the Tortilla and Salsa
Slide a spatula around the edge of the pan several times carefully, helping loosen the tortilla from the sides. Once the edges have pulled away a bit, slip the spatula under the tortilla to begin carefully loosening it from the bottom of the pan. Bring a large plate to the top of the pan and invert the pan onto the plate so that the tortilla transitions from the pan to the plate. Cut a slice of the tortilla to serve on top of the salsa.

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Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal

Tomato Basil Savory Baked Oatmeal | The Food Poet

Whoever first stirred a pot of hot steel-cut oats did themselves and the world a favor. Hailed for its high fiber and stick-to-your-ribs qualities, oatmeal might be the grandfather heavyweight of breakfasts. Indeed, I worked with a man named Bob who would make a bowl of quick oats for breakfast and lunch, though I can’t speak on behalf of his dinners. He claimed he ate it for heart health and because he couldn’t think of anything that could surpass this economic convenience food.

Like Bob, you might already be a fan of oatmeal. Perhaps you pour milk into your hot oats. Maybe you drizzle in a slow stream of maple syrup. Before you reach for your sliced banana or impulsively unzip the bag of dried cranberries, I’m about to say something a bit unpopular.

In the wake of its massive groundswell of consumption, oatmeal has gotten short shrift. Poor oatmeal has been consigned to a neverending buffet of breakfasts. Something about this whole grain has pigeonholed it too easily into the before 10 a.m. meal bracket. The years of palate conditioning have provoked a response to reach for those familiar aforementioned ingredients to jigger up a bowl of breakfast. Perhaps I’m being irrational- I can’t think of anything better to eat on cold winter mornings, but maybe there was a lesson to be learned from Bob’s mealtime habit years ago. Why relegate this whole grain to winter mornings and let the midday and evening opine?

I’m not advocating for turning out sheet upon sheet of oatmeal raisin cookies, which might just be the crunchy equivalent of that morning bowl of oats in round, portable form. No, I want more for us. Let’s unshackle the pot of oatmeal from the breakfast bar. Let’s wrest it from the middling, and, may we say, boring place it currently holds. Instead, let’s bring oatmeal into a sophisticated side dish that’s easy to prepare, colorful and full of comforting flavors reminiscent of the end of summer.

Enter Tomato Basil Savory Baked Oatmeal, a mistake sponsored by hunger, and one that satisfied on several levels. Last September, when the tomatoes began roundly asserting themselves in farmer’s markets and local stores, several ventured home with me. Our San Francisco summers officially begin in October and so on that chilly sixty-degreed September morning, I craved something hearty and only oatmeal would do. But, I also lusted after a fresh egg cracked into a sizzling pan and served over easy.  Before I knew it, the egg had leapt on top of the oats and basil joined the fray along with its best pal, tomato. All that remained was a deft hand to shave some parmesan atop. What happened next is the stuff of secret societies- some great truth had been passed down and like all with an inclusive bent, it needed to be shared. But, then the vine dried. The breakfast faded into memory.

If you look into your produce bin, perhaps you spy a tomato or two? Out back, maybe shoots of basil bask in the sun? The fridge should never be bereft of a good hunk of parmesan- do you see it lurking in the cheese drawer? In your possession are three of the star players in this Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal. You are on your way to bypassing staid side dishes. Because you may not have a quart sized jar of oat groats in the cupboard, visit the bulk bin and scoop deeply. The crusty parmesan cheese burnished into the top of this casserole will pay back your efforts. May you take heart in the green ribbons of basil and red hunchbacked tomato slices punching in overtime on color. May your tongue do a tango as it takes in the custardy filling and chewy whole oat groats reminiscent of a corn pudding.

In other words, now is the season to exult and rejoice in the bounty before fall arrives. Then it will be time for popsicles- if you live in San Francisco. And, as for breakfast, perhaps you will pull a dinner ingredient into the before 10 slot. Or, make this for brunch, giving homage to Bob.

Tomato Basil Baked Oatmeal | The Food Poet

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TOMATO BASIL BAKED OATMEAL

YIELD: 6-8 servings

INGREDIENTS

3 small tomatoes

1/3 cup basil

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 cups cooked oat groats, cooled

2 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

1 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 eggs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated parmesan

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375. Dip a paper towel into your cooled melted butter and swipe it over a square pan and cover its surface lightly with the melted butter.

Rinse and core the tomatoes. Cut them in half and then cut each half into 1/4 inch slices. Using a grapefruit or tomato spoon with teeth, pull out the guts of the tomato slices and discard.

Pull off basil leaves from their stems and stack them on top of one another. Once you have around 15, curl the leaves into one another like you might roll dried fruit leather. Curb your left hand fingers over the basil roll-up and with a chef’s knife in your right hand, begin chopping right to left with precise straight cuts to get the basil ribbons from the chiffonade.

Stir the baking powder and cooked oat groats into a large bowl. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, remaining butter, salt and pepper. Stir in the 1/3 cup of grated parmesan to the egg mixture.

Arrange half of the tomato slices in the bottom of the square pan, scattering half of the basil ribbons over them. Spoon out all of the oat groats. On top of the oat groats, arrange the other half of the tomato slices and basil ribbons. Pour the egg batter over the tomato basil and oats until all of it is covered. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of remaining grated parmesan on top.

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until the top is browned and the contents of the pan do not jiggle when jostled. Cool for 5-10 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

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Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew

The meal after the Meal- I have been contemplating Black Friday in a new way this year. None of the scheming and planning for wee morning hour wake-up calls to shop. Oh, no. As home cooks across the country are putting into action this week’s game plan for Thanksgiving, I’ve set my eyes on Friday.

Thanksgiving should require its own lexicon. It starts on Sunday when the candies get made. Tuesday might as well be dedicated to pie day as pie crusts get filled with gooey pecans and syrup or with spiced pumpkin puree. Wednesday becomes the day for making any side dishes that can sit overnight to let the flavors meld. And we all know what Thursday means, or at least our belts know what it means.

This year I wanted to take a different approach to the day after Thanksgiving, usually a repeat of leftover favorites refashioned into day-after delivery or served up in the array most beloved by each participant. This year, while in Texas, I wanted to bring a bit of California to the table or at least, the way we usually eat chez nous. It saddens me to think that while my Dad was alive I didn’t really get a chance or make the effort to cook for him. I know that one Thanksgiving I had a chance to contribute a salad, done my way and he, the antagonist of “rabbit food” ate it and enjoyed it. And cooking is after all one of my love languages I can imagine many of us speak to the people we love.

So, in the spirit of bringing California to Texas, I’ve decided to make the meal vegetarian. It’s not some sort of political statement, as I can put down smoked brisket with the best of them, but it reminds me of the home and style of living and eating we have cultivated in California. This opportunity arrives for me to make a succulent feast of fresh foods bursting with seasonal flavor. After all of the tryptophan and Red Rooster imbibing of Thursday, Friday is a chance to turn a corner in a different direction.

_________________________________

B L A C K   F R I D A Y   M E N U

Appetizer
Sweet Potato Crostini with Celery Parsley Salad, Lemony Yogurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Salad
Massaged Kale Salad with Persimmons, Cranberries, Chevre & Toasted Almonds

Main
Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew
Grilled Organic Polenta

Dessert
Yogurt Pudding with Spiced Pear Compote

___________________________________

I kept my tastebuds open and exploring the past few months, testing recipes and ideas of foods that would work for this Black Friday Feast  and be family-approved. This Spanish Lentil Mushroom Stew below by Michael Natkin completely bowled me over. The sherry vinegar and paprika give a heartiness to the mushrooms and lentils. Below, the stew is served with sliced Early Girl tomatoes and basil. Since they are not quite in season right now, we will be foregoing them and I might opt to offer some quick-pickled onions or some such notion. Who knows, maybe this is a family tradition in the making?

Spanish Lentil and Mushroom Stew

 

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SPANISH LENTIL MUSHROOM STEW
From “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin. Reprinted with permission.

YIELD: 4-6 servings

5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small white onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

kosher salt

2 cups French green lentils, rinsed and picked over

4 cups water

1 pound Crimini mushrooms, quartered lengthwise

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

12 big basil leaves, rolled into a bundle and cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain.

2. While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in your largest skillet over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the mushrooms in a single layer and sauté, turning occasionally, until well browned, about 5 minutes. If your skillet isn’t big enough to hold the mushrooms in one layer, work in batches. Season the mushrooms with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Put the lentils in a mixing bowl and add the smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of the sherry vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Toss the cherry tomatoes and basil with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, remaining 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

5. To serve, divide the lentils among bowls. Top with the mushrooms, and top the mushrooms with the tomato salad. Give the whole thing a grind of black pepper and another dusting of paprika if you like.

 

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Toasted Walnut, Green Bean and Labneh Salad

The end of summer comes as an omen of the quick passing of time. One evening in August, something changed in the air. The gusty fog of summers past made way for a wind with bite.  We happened to be taking an evening constitutional and I noted Beck popping his collar for a bit of increased protection from the elements.  As we returned home, I almost reached for the small plastic lever on the thermometer to turn on the heater but abstained from the impulse.

After a few days of warm sunny skies, of summer weather taking place during summer days, I had become somewhat spoiled by the possibility of bare legs in August. On one of those downright balmy days, I let my legs take me to the Farmer’s Market on a Tuesday. Unthinkable! And yet, that day’s lunch break had one goal in mind. I spotted them almost gleaming from their big brown box and began the dance of picking them up, one by one, squeezing them between my fingertips and looking for the right give in this conversation of flesh and fingers.

Stashed in a big bag, my treasure swung by my side, three pounds heavy and full of promise that while summer may not linger much longer, it would return as surely as the sweetness of September tomatoes taste of the summer sun relishing them with the urge to grow.

Toasted Walnut Green Bean with Labneh Salad

 

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TOASTED WALNUT, GREEN BEAN AND LABNEH SALAD 

Talk about one delicious way to use your homemade labneh kefir cheese, the colors and flavors of the salad dress up any table with their simple elegance. Like most dressed foods, you might find it tastes better with time and I find makes a great leftover for the next day. The addition of labneh lends a creaminess that once your fork has its way, blends with the dressing and coats the tomatoes, walnuts and green beans. It gets a little messy in appearance, but that’s part of the charm.

YIELD: 4 servings
TIME: 10 minutes

1 pound green beans

1 cup cherry tomatoes or 1 large Early Girl tomato, chopped

1/3 cup walnuts

1 shallot, minced

3 tablespoons walnut oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons labneh

1 teaspoon dried chervil

salt and pepper to taste

 

  1. Snap the ends off the green beans. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add green beans to boiling water and steam them for 2 minutes until bright green. Drain in colander.
  2. Chop the walnuts and then toast them for a few minutes until their aroma punctuates the air. Set aside.
  3. Mince the shallot. In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and walnut oil. Add in the shallot once the dressing is somewhat emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Tumble the green beans into a large bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes. Then drizzle the dressing over the beans and tomatoes and use tongs to disperse them in the dressing until coated.
  5. Add walnuts atop the green beans and tomatoes. Then add your dollops of labneh and finish with chervil sprinkled on the labneh.

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Categories
Recipes

Chopped Carrot Basil Salad

This past weekend my cousin Erika flew up to the city by the Bay for a visit with her son, who we will call the Wedding Cake Bandit. We call him that because a very clever wedding photographer caught a somewhat clever ring-bearer right before he deposited his index finger in our wedding cake on our big day. This remains one of my favorite wedding memories and can only endear me more to this little one so full of mischief and spirit like someone else I know. Ahem.

mother-child

You love someone deeply not just because they are family, but because in some ways they tell your story back to you when you forget it. You don’t think anything could make your love grow for them and then you meet their progeny. Something about the child that they bear and raise makes you ridiculously invested and protective of their innocence and life.

You are not their mother. Yet, you mother. The mother and the child.

mother-child

The mother, the child, Beck and I set out for a grand tour of San Francisco, which is to say, this time, included one visit to see Claude, the albino alligator, an adventure filled with baskets of ollalieberries, and an early morning trek for some Early Girls.

updo

As Erika and I shared stories from childhood, we, in turn, were making memories that her little one will remember and if he doesn’t, then we will be the mirrors in which he can populate the stories for when he grows up. I made sure to sneak in daily visits to the park for us, sometimes including feeding the ducks and trying to avoid the pigeon gaggle descending from on high. We also made sure to work in several visits to the giant slide and once made our way through the dog run to see my favorite Frenchie I call “the boss” chase after his dingy well-loved tennis ball.

celebration

Three birthday celebrations later and the end of the weekend snuck up on us. After a Mexican feast capped off with Gluten Free Carrot Cupcakes, a Puerto Rican themed party with a piñata and smorgasbord of farmer’s market finds, we found ourselves tuckered out from all of our excursions and celebrating. Isn’t that what the summer, even a summer in San Francisco is all about? Granted, borrowed sweaters are peeled off at the midday burning off of fog.

celebration

After splurging on treats and waiting in the abysmally long line for one swell Blue Bottle latte, at the end of all the celebrating and at the beginning of returning to life as usual, a call for summer simplicity is in order. After dirtying every plate, platter and serving bowl in your cupboard, in the end, you might find something that requires one serving bowl sufficient. Here’s where this summer salad comes in. It flirts with your taste buds and is a snap to put together. In the lazy summer evenings where the sunlight pokes through the fog well past 7 p.m., something unfussy, you can pull together is as good as the memories you created all weekend long.

SALAD RECIPES- Chopped Carrot Basil Salad

 

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CHOPPED CARROT BASIL SALAD 

Something about the sweetness of carrots and basil is a revelation. It takes a lot of strength of will to not just slice up the Early Girl tomato and eat it as is, but this combination is so mellow and life-giving. From the creaminess of the avocado, the bright tang of the tomato, a fruity splash of good olive oil and the sweetness emanating from carrots and basil, I think you might find yourself and guests polishing off this colorful salad easily.

YIELD: 4 servings

  • 1 bunch of Carrots
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 Early Girl tomato, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Arbequina or other fruity olive oil
  • dash of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  1. Set a pot of water to boil. In the meantime, wash your carrots. Peel them and roughly chop. Once the water is boiling, set the carrots gently in the water and turn down the heat to a gentle rolling boil and cook for 5 minutes. Place carrots in a colander and let them drain when cooked through.
  2. Place basil leaves inside one another and roll them to then thinly chop in a chiffonade.
  3. Next, chop your tomato.
  4. Slice your avocado.
  5. Place carrots, basil, tomato chunks and avocado slices in a serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a few cracks of black pepper.

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Categories
Recipes

Minestrone Soup

SOUP RECIPES- Minestrone Soup

It’s not often that I find myself hankering for soup at an Italian restaurant, but a no-name hole in the wall in North Beach gets me hankering for their Minestrone. What I like about it is that it’s lemony and bright and the secret to their sauce- fennel! It holds up against the tomato base of the soup adding its lemony brightness. Nathan likes to grate parmesan into his soup and I’m keen on it just like it is. Soup is comfort in a bowl and Minestrone is a great way to get your vegetables. You might think it’s anathema to not add cannelini beans to Minestrone, but this cook is not partial to them in this soup.

 

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Minestrone Soup

TIME: 1 hour and 20 minutes
YIELD: 8-10 bowls 

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped into 1 inch slices
  • 2 cups celery ribs, chopped into 1 inch slices
  • 4 large carrots, halved and chopped
  • 4 yukon gold potatoes, quartered and chopped
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes and any juices
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 T thyme, chopped
  • 2 tsp. parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 T lemon juice

Pour olive oil in large heavy pot set on medium high heat. Add onion slices and garlic to pot. Saute and stir until almost translucent.

Add celery, carrots, fennel, potatoes and green beans to pot. Cook for 10 minutes and stir occasionally. Add the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, water, thyme, salt, pepper and lemon juice to pot. Turn heat down to low, cover pot and simmer for an hour or until potatoes are soft.

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