Green for spring

“Eat the rainbow” may be a nice slogan to tempt kids to eat more vegetables, as opposed to the colorless packaged food-less food; but if you follow the seasons and try to get the best and freshest produce that the local farmers have to offer, you’ll find yourself eating your rainbow a few colors at a time.

The summer is red, blue, and purple: it starts with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, then tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, watermelons, figs. The fall colors are orange and yellow: squashes, pumpkins, persimmons, apples and pears.
Winter is, predictably, white: cabbage, potatoes, turnips, parsnip, rutabaga, mushrooms; citrus fruits and pomegranate add much needed color accents.

Now, in the spring, the green color dominates the garden and the farmers market. The green vegetables that were available all winter – leafy greens, lettuces and cabbages – are still here, and taste as great as ever. They will be gone soon, eat them while you can! Beans and peas first produce delicious greens, then tender pods. I love to mix the two in the same dish, and the middle of spring is the time when both are available. The strictly seasonal artichokes, asparagus, ramps (wild leeks) and fava beans have to be enjoyed in spring: the season is short, and it’s now! The first vegetables of summer make an appearance, and their color is green: summer squashes and cucumbers are here to stay, but they are in their most tender “baby” stage now.

What’s in season:
Beet greens
Bok Choy
Brussels sprouts
Collard Greens
Dandelion Greens
Fava beans
Green beans
Mustard greens
Pea greens
Rappini (broccoli rabe)
Swiss Chard
Turnip Greens

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Menu today

 Creamy curried cauliflower soup
Fennel and orange salad with toasted walnuts
Cod baked with tomatoes and sweet onions
Rabbit stew with wild mushrooms Honey mustard pork tenderloin Parmesan meatballs, onion gravy
Baked sweet potatoes with chai spices
Polenta with wild mushrooms
Brussels sprouts with pomegranate and feta
 Honey roasted winter squashes

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Location:Mill Valley, CA

Salad for Melanie

Melanie, a life-long salad hater, recently discovered a salad that she actually enjoys.

Here is the recipe.

Use leftover roasted duck meat, or duck confit legs – in this case make sure to check and adjust the seasoning, most store-bought duck confits are very salty.
Usually there is enough duck fat clinging to the meat to crisp it. If the duck looks dry, add a little olive to the pan to prevent sticking.

Duck, fig, and walnut salad
Serves 4

5 oz mixed baby greens (arugula, red and green leaf lettuce, baby romain, oak leaf lettuce, mizuna, mâché, etc.)
1 large or 2 small roasted duck legs
1 tsp olive oil (optional)
1/2 cup walnut pieces
8 figs, quartered

For the dressing:
2 figs
1 Tbsp chopped shallot (1 small shallot)
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
3 Tbsp walnut oil
Salt, pepper

Divide the greens between four plates.

Remove duck meat (with the skin and fat) from the bones. Discard the bones. Tear the meat into bite-size pieces.

Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, if using. Add duck meat, cook, stirring occasionally, to warn through and crisp, about 3 minutes. Add walnuts, stir to warm through, about 1 minute. Divide warm duck meat, walnuts, and figs, between the salad plates.

Make the dressing: puree figs, shallot, and vinegar in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add walnut oil, blend on low speed to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the salad and serve.

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Location:Oakland, CA

Grilled corn polenta

The summer version of the favorite comfort food is made with fresh corn, and it’s a completely different animal. It’s fresh, sweet, tender, a little crunchy, smells like magic, and, in my case, it’s also smoky – instead of cooking the corn for the polenta on the stove, as many recipes suggest, I choose to grill it on the cob. Because it’s still summer (MB, take notice).

Todays farmers market only had white corn, so this is what I made my polenta with. I suppose it could be even better made with yellow corn, although it’s hard to imagine something better.

Allow 2 corn cobs per serving.

Preheat the grill for direct grilling. Remove the husks and as much silk as you can from the corn, rub with salt and olive oil. Grill, turning a few times, until tender and slightly charred on all sides. Let cool.

Working over a large bowl, cut off the kernels off the cob with a small sharp knife. Then run the back of the knife along the cob to get what’s left. Make sure you go from the stem end to the tip, going in the opposite direction can create a splash of flying corn!

Puree in blender. As a lucky owner of a Vitamix blender, I just dropped the corn into the blender cup and whizzed it to the desired consistency. My challenge was not to over-blend and still have some texture. In fact, I saved a handful of whole kernels to add to the polenta after blending. And I didn’t even need to reheat the polenta – the blender did the job. if you are using a normal blender without super powers, you may want to add a little water (or milk), to make blending easier, then to cook the polenta for 10-15 minutes, to evaporate the water and to reheat the polenta.

Here it is, served with basil pesto, poached quail eggs, and parmesan.

Other topping ideas:
Fresh berries (breakfast?)
Fire-roasted peppers and pine nuts
Fresh tomato sauce
Meatballs and tomato sauce
Grilled baby octopus
Grilled eggplant and feta
Herbed goat cheese
Grilled prawns, herb butter
Sautéed mushrooms
Grilled chicken
Whatever your heart desires

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Summer squash “spaghetti”

Are you wondering what else to do with all these summer squashes that your garden keeps producing (or your neighbors pushed them on you, or you overbought them at the Farmers Market)?

These beautiful and tasty green spaghetti are cut out of a zucchini with a julienne peeler. A julienne peeler looks like a vegetable peeler, but it has additional teeth next to the blade that shred the vegetable into thin strips. There are many models, mine looks like this:

I lightly cook the “spaghetti” to soften (sauté, microwave, or plunge them into boiling water for a minute or two, then drain), and season with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. They work with any pasta sauce, homemade or store-bought. Use 1 medium zucchini per serving. Slice off as much off all the sides as you can, discard the core with seeds. I feed zucchini cores to my Japanese quails, they love them!

Here I serve them with meatballs in tomato-pepper sauce. My meatballs are a bit unorthodox, I add shredded sautéed carrot, celery, onion, and garlic, and minced fresh parsley to the mix. This makes them super-juicy, and adds flavor, but it also makes them somewhat trickier to shape. Make sure to dip your hands into cold water before shaping meatballs, so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands.

The meatballs are good with regular pasta, too!

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Location:San Rafael, CA

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
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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”

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Location:Burlingame, CA

BBQ pulled pork

This post is for my brother Paul, it continues the discussion that we had last week.

On our family reunion in the Italian Alps last week, my brother and I started talking about cooking pork, and I tried to explain pork barbecue. He thought that barbecue was the same thing as grill! Yes, American BBQ is kind of like grilling, cooking slowly over wood coals; but we also call a BBQ anything seasoned with a BBQ sauce, even if it’s not cooked over the coals. And what they call a BBQ sauce is different in different parts of the country. Now try to explain this to a European.

The BBQ pork that I made today was actually cooked in the oven, then shredded and seasoned with a purchased sauce. My favorite BBQ sauce is the “SFQ”, an artisan-made San Francisco style sauce, but others work well, too. I gave up on making my own BBQ sauce when the first recipe that I pulled from the Internet started with “2 cups sugar”. Wow, this is as much sugar as I use for my morning coffee in 3 month! I went into denial, and now i just go out and buy a prepared sauce. I try not to read the labels on them.

BBQ pulled pork
Serves 6

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

1 large onion, sliced
4 large cloves garlic

1 cup prepared BBQ sauce of your choice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season pork with salt and spices. Cook, turning (in batches, if necessary), until browned on all sides, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer pork to a covered braising pan, add onion and garlic, and enough water to cover the meat half-way. Cover, cook in the oven until very tender, 2-3 hours.

Shred the meat using two forks, season with the BBQ sauce. Serve with cornbread, or on buns, or over beans or pasta.

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A night of music and food

Last week I got a call from Bettina Devin, she needed help with food for a party. One of her favorite students, talented and beautiful singer/songwriter Chloe Jean had released her first album, the release party was happening in a new stylish San Francisco night club Hawthorn on Thursday, November 6, and Bettina was responsible for the party appetizers for a little over 200 people who RSVPd for the event. Of course, I wanted to help!

After a brief brainstorming session we came up with a menu that was elegant and satisfying, and could be executed and served to a hungry mid-week crowd on a short notice and tight budget, in a club with no kitchen, with the help of a few friends and students.

Bettina put in long hours making tons of chicken liver pate and 200 deviled eggs, three different flavors. One of her students enlisted her whole family to make a huge tray of lumpia, Filipino fried rolls. I searched Bay Area ethnic stores for interesting finger foods, and prepared a few spreads to serve on toast, and two flavors of homemade hummus. Just before leaving for the party, I put 200 cherry tomatoes, basil leaves, and mozzarella balls (my basil plant is gone, cut to the ground; the local stores are out of mozzarella balls), and 200 sausage bites with cornichons, on skewers.

We set up the food serving station in the back room bar. The star herself, Chloe, came over when she had a minute to help us to set up the tables!

Then the guests arrived, the music was beautiful, we danced, and everybody loved the food!

The menu:

Marinated green and black olives
Deviled eggs (Dijon, curry, wasabi)
Smoked salmon spread on rice crackers
Stuffed grape leaves
Chicken liver pate on water crackers
Crudite with hummus (mild or spicy)
Cannellini beans bruschetta with pickled red onions
Minted green pea and ricotta bruschetta
Caprese skewers
Smoked sausage skewers
Cream puffs

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Location:San Francisco, CA

USPCA Bay Area September Meeting

It’s hard to believe how much one can eat and drink in a professional conference! I feel like I won’t get hungry for days.

The September meeting of our USPCA Bay Area Chapter is traditionally held in Chef Garbo‘s beautiful summer cabin in Inverness. We get together on Saturday afternoon for lunch, then check out some coastal foodie places, shop local markets, then retreat to the cabin, where we all cook together, talk business, share ideas and techniques, eat, drink, play board games, enjoy the garden and the wild bird sanctuary, and generally have fun. Those who are able to stay overnight get together again in the kitchen on Sunday morning to cook brunch. Then we eat again. There is always plenty of tasty leftovers to take home for family and friends. My favorite meeting of the year!

This year we had lunch in the busy Point Reyes Station Cafe, toured Heidrun Meadery and tasted their delicious and unique handmaid mead, did our grocery shopping at the Palace Market, and picked up the last bag of fresh Drakes Bay Oyster Company oysters at Inverness Market. At the cabin, Chef Greg and I fired up the backyard grill, while everyone else got busy in the kitchen.

As always, there was a lot of food styling photography done. I’m proud to say that my pickled quail egg appetizer was very likely the Most Photographed Dish of the Evening!

This year, our former chapter president, Chef Kara, left us for the sunny Southern California, but she came all the way back to Inverness in order to pass the torch to the new president, Chef Gini.

Here is our dinner menu:

Moscow Mules by Claude Garbarino

BBQ Oysters
Pickled Quail Egg and Herb Salad Nests by Polina Antonova
Chicken Wraps by Dawn Buchhollz
Smoked Salmon with Sour Cream Sauce Crostini by Greg Chew

Tossed Salad with Caramelized Walnuts by Gini Bortz
Raw Kale Salad with Pomegranate Seeds and Cucumber by Maggie Lawson
Grilled Stuffed Chicken by Greg Chew
Sexy Ribs by Claude Garbarino
Grilled Steak Medallions with Bacon and Herbs by Polina Antonova
Pearl Barley with Rosemary Roasted Grapes by Maggie Lawson
Grilled Veggies by Polina Antonova

Cheese Cake by Dawn Buchhollz
Boozy Pops by Claude Garbarino

Mead, wine, mineral water

Brunch menu:

Coffee, orange juice, mead Mimosas

Breakfast Sausages and Bacon
Lemon Bread & Pecan Muffins by Gini Bortz
Quiche by Dawn Buchhollz
Quail Eggs and Salmon Roe on Toast by Polina Antonova

I came home with lots of new recipes and business ideas, and a bag of garden apples, courtesy of Chef Garbo’s neighbors. Already looking forward to the next meeting!

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