Mason jar salads

Springtime is the time for light pasta dishes and very green salads.

All the fresh seasonal spring vegetables:
Fava beans and leaves
Flowers: borage, calendula, chives, fava, pansies, peas, rose, wild mustard, wild turnip, etc.
Green garlic
Green peas and pea shoots
Spring greens
Spring onions
The first cherry tomatoes,

as well as late season winter produce:
Bitter greens: arugula, baby kale, chicories, etc.
Root vegetables and their tops

– all work well in both salads and pastas.

Recently some of my clients asked me to lighten their spring menus, and to replace the soup with a fresh salad that they can enjoy all week, and take to work for lunch. For this, mason jar salads are a perfect solution. These salads have been a trend in the last couple of years, and they make a lot of sense for busy people who like to eat healthy and well.

The idea is that you pack your salad in a mason jar, 1/2 pint, 1 pint or 1 quart, depending on your appetite, in an order that helps to keep it fresh in the refrigerator for the whole week. The dressing goes on the bottom of the jar. Then you add a vegetable, legume, or protein, to separate the dressing from the greens, so that the greens don’t wilt, and the greens, nuts, and edible flowers go on top. When ready to eat, turn the jar out onto a plate, and it will dress itself. Or, mix it and eat it from the jar. Pack the jars tightly: the less air there is, the slower will the salad dry out.

– Greek yogurt, mint, lemon juice, minced garlic or spring garlic; fava and garbanzo beans; grilled chicken; fava bean tops
– White wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, minced shallot, olive oil; quail eggs; mâché
– Balsamic vinegar, olive oil; fire roasted peppers; prosciutto; cannellini beans; wild arugula, pine nuts
– Lemon juice and zest, garlic, olive oil; olives, feta; red onion slices, rinsed, bell pepper strips, cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumber (sliced, salted, and left to drain, then squeezed dry); baby spinach, borage flowers
– Strawberry infused balsamic vinegar, walnut or olive oil; strawberries, goat cheese; walnuts, baby greens
– Orange slices and juice, olive oil; steamed green beans or cooked cranberry beans; shaved fennel; baby arugula

Please go out into the garden or to the farmers market, get whatever looks the best, and improvise! Don’t forget to add some edible flowers, to make the jars more fun to open.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Tiburon, CA

Spring menu today

 Mixed greens with orange, walnuts, and goat cheese
 Cream of asparagus
 Ono, mango salsa
 Langostino and spinach frittata
 Chicken with wild mushrooms
 Beef liver, sherry sauce
 Quinoa with asparagus and peas
 Braised greens
 Sautéed cauliflower and broccoli
 Herbed sweet potatoes

Ono with mango salsa (Manila mango, red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro)

Chicken breast stuffed with wild mushrooms (porcini and chanterelles from Mendocino sautéed with spring garlic and thyme; white wine sauce)

Langostino and spinach frittata

Sautéed beef liver with shallots and sherry reduction

Quinoa with asparagus, peas, and lemon

Za’atar spiced sweet potatoes

Sautéed baby broccoli and cauliflower florets, white balsamic glaze
 Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Spring moments in the kitchen

Squash blossoms. Stuff them with seasoned cottage cheese and fry.

Heirloom tomato salad, fillet mignonette, new potatoes with ramp pesto


Pappardelle with rabbit ragu. The spring version includes peas and spinach

Spring lamb chops, asparagus with quail egg and ramp-lemon butter

The first heirloom tomatoes with herbs and olive oil

Grilled chicken and bacon sausages, rosa blanca potatoes, heirloom tomato salad

Springtime mirepoix: spring onion, green garlic, baby leeks, carrots

Paella mixta with asparagus and fava beans

Green peas


Baby greens with herbs, flowers, and goat cheese salad

Cowgirl Creamery Inverness cheese
 Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Because it’s spring

Because it’s spring, the menu today is fresh, colorful, and full of spring vegetables and herbs from the farmers market. Green garlic and spring onions take the place of garlic and onions in most recipes.

For the salad, I selected the thickest asparagus spears and shaved them with a vegetable peeler into thin juicy ribbons. I rolled bite-size pieces of goat cheese in parsley, oregano, chive and kale flowers to top the salad.

Recently I heard a client’s kid say that she had asparagus every day last week. Yes, girl, this is called asparagus season. it won’t last long, we need to enjoy it now. Today the first fava beans showed up at the farmers market. The strawberries are not yet their sweetest, but already taste great. And I have picked a few alpine strawberries in my garden already!

The beautiful tender spring lamb loin from Olivier’s Butchery I roasted and paired with a simple green sauce made with parsley, chives, green garlic, capers, lemon, and olive oil, garnished with chive flowers.

The tree-like cauliflower “steaks”, cut from the center of the head, are seasoned with a pinch of mild curry powder and sautéed in a mix of olive oil and butter; the loose florets from the sides are roasted and blended into cauliflower puree for the sauce.


Spring vegetables minestrone

Mixed greens and herbs with shaved asparagus and goat cheese

Sautéed halibut, lemon-herb butter
Chicken cacciatore
Spring lamb loin, salsa verde
Braised beef brisket

Carrots and peas
Polenta with wild mushrooms
Borlotti beans with greens and tomato
Cauliflower “steaks”

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Burlingame, CA

Menu today

Chicken and vegetables soup with pesto

Pan-fried sablefish (black cod), Meyer lemon salsa
Smashed potatoes and fava beans

Braised duck legs with savory cherry compote
Black rice

Saffron chicken with spring onions and sugar snap peas
Parmesan pudding

Beef fillet steaks, mushroom and green garlic topping
Steamed asparagus

You can see right away that I’ve been reading Susan Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques – most recipes are either close adaptations from the book, or are inspired by it. With all the seasonal cookbooks that appeared recently, some of them featuring stories of the farmers, others giving tips on growing your own produce, this one is still the best.

The asparagus is the last of the season (at least from the local farmers at the Farmers Market; there will be asparagus flown from far away at the supermarket, but it won’t be the same). So I prepared it simply: steamed in the microwave until just tender and bright green, cooled quickly, dressed with salt, pepper, and good olive oil.

The potatoes with fava beans recipe is my own, and a very simple one – I desperately need to use up my garden fava beans, they were planted as a placeholder for tomatoes, and now the tomatoes sit waiting in little pots while the beens just keep on producing…

If using conventionally grown potatoes in this dish, peel them. Most of the chemicals, as well as the vitamins, accumulate in the skins. I like to use organic potatoes from the Farmers Market, and leave the skins on – they add color and textural contrast to the dish.

Smashed potatoes and fava beans
Serves 6

2 lb. organic small red potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled
2 lb. fava beans in the pods (makes about 2 cups shelled and skinned)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt, pepper
2 Tbsp chopped parsley and/or chives, to garnish

Put the potatoes in a medium pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cook until potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, return the pot briefly to the heat to dry the potatoes.

Meanwhile shell the beans. Bring a pot of water to a boil, prepare a bowl with ice water. Place the shelled beans in a wire strainer or a metal colander, lower into the boiling water, boil 1-2 minutes, remove and immediately dip into the ice water – this will loosen the skins. Skin the beans by pinching the skin on stem end and squeezing the bean out. Add to the potatoes.

Coarsely mash potatoes and beans with a large fork or a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley and chives.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Palo Alto, CA

Spring in California

Mixed microgreens salad with purple asparagus, sunchoke, and boiled egg;

Cowgirl Creamery St Pat cheese, fresh baked roll.
 Everything for this lunch comes from the farmers market, except the roll that I just baked.
 Am I turning vegetarian? No way. But after all the long braises and hearty soups of winter, I really enjoy the effortless, no-recipe, no-cooking, fresh food of the warmer seasons. And eating it outside.

St. Pat is a soft ripened cheese wrapped into stinging nettle leaves. It’s only available in spring.

For the salad:
 (1 serving)
 A handful of mixed microgreens, or baby bitter greens
 2-3 sunchokes, unpeeled, scrubbed, thinly sliced
 4-5 thick purple (or tender green) asparagus stalks, thinly sliced
 One large egg, boiled 9 minutes, halved
 Maldon sea salt (or flaky salt of your choice)
 Good olive oil
 Combine the greens, sunchokes, and asparagus, toss with your hands. Garnish with egg, season with salt and olive oil. Enjoy.
 True leaves. Here is another sign of spring: the Persian cucumbers 2014 show their first true leaves.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Ingredient of the month: asparagus (of course!)

It was very difficult to decide which of my favorite March vegetables should be my ingredient of the month. These days I cook a lot with radishes, fennel, baby leafy greens, peas, and asparagus. Then I thought that the radishes will be here for a while, fennel we had since January, baby greens can be grown at home almost all year, and the peas are not at their peak yet. But the asparagus, the lovely asparagus is in season for such a short time, and this time is now! Later in the season it will mature, grow tough skin that needs to be peeled, and lose most of it’s charm. Let’s eat asparagus now.

Out of green, white, and purple asparagus, only the green variety is popular in California. White asparagus, the same plant as the green one, but grown without light, is very popular in Europe for it’s tenderness and mild flavor, but it didn’t catch on here yet. When shopping for white asparagus, pay close attention: since the price is high and the demand is low, some stores tend to keep their white asparagus forever. But it is very perishable! Make sure it’s fresh: crisp, no blemishes, the root end isn’t dry. The purple asparagus is beautiful to look at and a delight to eat raw. It is sweeter and more tender than the green kind. But it costs a fortune! Get a few very young stalks to eat raw out of hand, or to slice into a salad. Don’t bother to cook with it – it will lose it’s color. Don’t get the mature stalks that need to be peeled: it’s green inside! It’s beauty is skin-deep.

The crisp, tender, delicious green asparagus is best prepared simply:

– Raw: break off the root end (save for a soup), slice on the diagonal, or peel into ribbons with a vegetable peeler, to add to salads.

– Steamed: break off the root end, place in a microwave-safe dish with a splash of water, cover with a paper towel, microwave on “high” 2-5 minutes, depending on the quantity, size, and your microwave. I steam a medium (about 1 pound) bunch of medium-thick asparagus in most microwaves for 3 minutes. Drain, season with olive oil and flaky sea salt, serve. Or, steam 3-4 minutes in a vegetable steamer, season, serve.

– Roasted: trim, steam in the microwave or steamer (see above) until almost tender (2 minutes or so). Toss with olive oil. Season with salt and: minced garlic; or grated orange, lemon or Meyer lemon zest and a squeeze of the juice; or sliced shallots; or shaved Parmesan; or, minced anchovies; or wrap in thin prosciutto slices. Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven until you see a tint of golden color developing, 8-10 minutes.

– Grilled: trim, toss with olive oil and salt. Grill on charcoal, wood, or gas grill, or on a cast iron griddle, over medium heat, turning, until softened and slightly charred, 4-5 minutes.
– Sautéed: trim, cut into bite-size pieces, sauté in hot oil over medium-high heat until softened and light golden, 3-4 minutes, season.
– Creamy soup: sweat 1 chopped large leek (white and light-green parts), 1 medium chopped onion, 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped, in 3 Tbsp butter in a large pot over medium-low heat until tender, without browning, 10-15 minutes. Add 1 large bunch asparagus, root ends and all (reserve a few tips for garnish), chopped, and water to cover. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, simmer until the asparagus is tender, 15-20 minutes. Puree with an immersible blender. Stir in 1/2 cup heave cream, season with salt and pepper, reheat gently, served garnished with the reserved asparagus tips and (optional) croutons.

– Chunky soup: add bite-size pieces or asparagus to chunky vegetable soups for the last 3 minutes of cooking

Chicken soup with spring vegetables and brown rice
Serves 8-12

For the chicken stock
1 whole chicken, cut up
1 whole medium onion, or 1 cup onion trimmings
Green part of 1 large leek
3-4 small garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 celery stalks, cut into large pieces
1 large carrot cut into pieces, or 1 cup carrot trimmings
1 fennel top
1 bunch parsley stems, or 1 whole parsley (root, stems, and leaves)
Root ends of 1 bunch asparagus
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1 tsp whole black peppercorns

For the soup:
1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
White and light green parts of 1 large leek, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 large or 3 small carrots, thinly sliced or julienned
1 fennel bulb, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 large bunch radishes, roots quartered, greens coarsely chopped
1 medium bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut into bite-size pieces, a few tips reserved for garnish
1/2 cup shelled English peas
(optional) 1 cup fresh pea shoots, and/or pea sprouts
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Make the chicken stock:
Place the chicken back, neck, and wings in a large stockpot, cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to maintain low simmer, skim the foam from the surface. Add onion, leek, garlic, celery, carrot, fennel top, parsley, asparagus trimmings, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Simmer for 3 hours. Add chicken breasts and legs, increase heat to high, bring back to boil, reduce heat to simmer, simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot. Discard the vegetables. Set the chicken pieces aside to cool.

Assemble the soup:
Bring chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, reduce the heat, simmer until the rice is cooked, 35-40 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add onions, leek, celery, carrot, and fennel. Sweat without browning until the vegetables are tender. Add tomato paste, stir to distribute. Remove from heat.
When the chicken pieces are cool enough to handle, pick the meat and chop into bite-size pieces; discard the bones and skin.
When the rice is cooked, add the sweated vegetables, radishes, radish greens, asparagus, peas, and (optional) pea greens to the soup. Cook until the peas and asparagus are done, about 3 minutes. Taste, season with salt and pepper.
serve garnished with the reserved asparagus tips and (optional) pea sprouts.

On the seemingly difficult wine pairings: This dish of a brined pork chop with romesco, roasted artichokes and asparagus with Meyer lemon, and a salad of microgreens, can look to some people as a sommelier’s nightmare: all the foods known to be difficult to pair with wine are here: artichokes, asparagus, lemon, leafy greens.

One simple solution: a really crisp, acidic, grassy New Zealand Sauv Blanc is a good match for all the herbal flavors in the vegetables, and it loves the lemon! I had Starborough Sauvignon Blanc with it, and they worked very well together.
Other wine pairing tricks:
– wrap the asparagus in prosciutto
– top the asparagus with Parmesan, stuff the artichokes with Parmesan and breadcrumbs mixture
– toss the greens with a flavorful olive oil
– braise the vegetables in wine
– for the vinaigrette, orange and Meyer lemon are more wine-friendly then regular lemons and vinegars

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

Because it’s spring…

Raw asparagus, artichoke heart, and crimini mushroom salad, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, 9-minute egg, goat cheese rolled in edible flowers and herbs, Maldon sea salt. Not pictured: Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (because it’s a Saturday!)

This salad is a “no-recipe” recipe: a combination of any fresh spring vegetable that you have on hand will work.
– Asparagus, thinly sliced
– Artichoke heart, thinly sliced, drizzled with lemon juice
– White or crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced (please, wash the mushrooms, they grow in compost!)
– English peas, blanched
– Pea or fava bean greens and flowers
– Fava beans, blanched and peeled
– Spring onions, thinly sliced
– Radishes, thinly sliced, and tender radish tops
– Baby turnips, thinly sliced, and tender turnip tops
– Carrots, thinly sliced or grated
– Baby greens, such as lettuce, arugula, mâché, etc.
– Micro-greens and sprouts

Combine the vegetables in a bowl, mix. Season with Meyer lemon juice, good olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and your favorite flaky salt. Garnish with boiled egg halves and goat cheese on toast or cracker.

To make goat cheese “coins” rolled in herbs and flowers, bring the cheese in it’s wrapper to room temperature, to soften and make it easier to squeeze. Add herbs and flowers, shape, and refrigerate. Rosemary and lavender flowers add beautiful shades of blue, but their taste is strong and can overpower other herbs, so use sparingly.

Goat cheese rolled in herbs and edible flowers
Makes about 12
A handful of chopped soft herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil, or any combination) and edible flowers, such as mustard, arugula, chive, rosemary
1 12-oz log of plain goat cheese, at room temperature

Cut plastic wrap into roughly 5-6 inch squares. Line 12 mini-muffin tins with plastic wrap, leaving extra wrap hanging over the sides. Divide herbs and flowers between the tins. Cut a corner off the goat cheese wrapper. Squeeze the cheese into the tins. Bring the edges of plastic wrap together to enclose the cheese, press lightly into the tins, refrigerate.

To serve, unwrap the plastic and bring the cheese back to room temperature. Serve on warm baguette toasts or crackers. Season with sea salt, if desired.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA