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
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Ingredient of the month: cauliflower

The media say that cauliflower is the new kale. Cauliflower is receiving the same acclaim now from the nutritionists and the chefs alike as the fashionable kale was enjoying over the last two or three years. Well deserved, too. Cauliflower is packed with vitamins and minerals, is easy to grow and to cook, has negative calories, pleasant mild bitter-sweet flavor that shines on it’s own and combines well with other ingredients, intriguing texture, and it looks great on you plate!

Cauliflower is not just a white flower. It’s also gold, green, and purple flower! All colors do well steamed until almost tender (either in a steamer or in a microwave), then sautéed, or prepared ou gratin. Cream of cauliflower soup is a life-saver for people who can’t tolerate milk products: the pureed cauliflower supplies the creamy texture, no cream needed.

To trim a head of cauliflower: place it stem-side up on a working surface. With a sharp paring knife, cut out a cone shape around the stem and through the leaves. The leaves will fall off – discard them, or use them to flavor soups. Remove the stem. Break off the florets, cut the larger ones into halves or quarters to get uniform sizes.

Cauliflower coconut soup
Serves 6
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp mild yellow curry powder
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large heads white cauliflower, trimmed and chopped (use both the florets and the stems, discard the ugly outer leaves, but use the nice inner ones)
1 can coconut milk (or coconut milk made from 2 coconuts)
4 cups water
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add curry powder and onion, sauté until fragrant and the onion is soft, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, sauté 1 minute. Add cauliflower, coconut milk, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cook until the cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cauliflower gratin
Serves 6
2 medium heads cauliflower, separated into florets
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp olive oil
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs (or fresh breadcrumbs made from 2 thick slices of toasted rustic bread)
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower florets and water into a microwave dish, cover with a paper towel, microwave until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, 4-5 minutes. Carefully remove the cauliflower from the microwave, drain. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish or a gratin dish with olive oil. Arrange cauliflower florets in the dish, fitting tightly. Season with salt and pepper. Pour cream and chicken stock over the cauliflower. Mix the breadcrumbs and the cheese and sprinkle on top. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts and the top is golden, 15-20 minutes.

Sautéed cauliflower
Serves 6

1 small head white cauliflower, separated into florets
1 small head golden cauliflower, separated into florets
1 small head purple cauliflower, separated into florets
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper

Place cauliflower florets and water into a microwave dish, cover with a paper towel, microwave until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, 4-5 minutes. Carefully remove the cauliflower from the microwave, drain. Heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add cauliflower; sauté, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is tender and golden, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Mashed cauliflower
Serves 6

6 Qt. Water
2 Tbsp salt
2 heads white cauliflower, trimmed, chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp heavy cream
Salt, pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in the cauliflower, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer, cook until the cauliflower is very tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain, place in a bowl. Heat butter and cream over medium heat until the butter has melted. Add the butter-cream mixture to the cauliflower. Mash with a potato mashed or a fork to a relatively coarse texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Location:San Rafael, CA

Late Fall menu today

I only realized how much the short days and foggy mornings of November affect me when I saw a line of gratin dishes forming on the counter, waiting for their time in the oven. Almost everything is au gratin today! Well, another influence on this menu was the client’s kids, who love everything with cheese on it, and always beg for more cheese. They are probably affected by the season too.

The roasted vegetables soup is based on homemade chicken stock that I prepare with the carcass, the wings, and the legs of an organic chicken (the breasts go into Dijon chicken), and the trimmings of the vegetables that go into the other dishes, flavored with bay leaf, thyme, parsley, black peppercorns, clove, and konbu seaweed. While the stock is simmering, I roast chopped carrot, celery, onion, garlic, turnips, parsnips, and butternut squash with olive oil and sea salt in a 400 degree oven until soft and caramelized. I then strain the stock, discard the stock vegetables, take chicken meat off the bones and chop it, add the roasted vegetables, chicken meat, and broken up spaghetti (or other pasta shapes) back to the stock, cook until the pasta is done (7-10 minutes). Adjust the salt.


Chicken soup with roasted vegetables and pasta

Shrimp and pasta casserole
Creamed Swiss chard

Black bean and butternut squash enchiladas
Wild and brown rice

Dijon chicken
Potatoes and fennel gratin

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Location:San Francisco, CA

A lot of simple tomato sauce

I got a call from a friend last week:
I need help. I just moved into this nice cottage in the downtown SR, a beautiful garden setting, with a large tomato garden. But the landlord has a huge tomato problem this fall: the tomatoes are producing like crazy, and he got so busy recently that he doesn’t have time or energy to even pick them. They get overripe and just fall off the plants! It makes my heart bleed watching all these wonderful homegrown fruits go to waste. Can you make us tomato sauce that we could freeze for the winter?

I was there in 10 minutes. I have never seen tomato plants overloaded by fruits like this! Mostly Early Girl, and a few heirloom varieties (Pineapple, Pink Brandywine, and Black Prince), the plants bore huge clusters of ripe tomatoes bending them to the ground. The three of us were careful to pick only the very ripe tomatoes, and within minutes we had a very large bag, about 20 pounds or so.

Back home, I washed and trimmed my bounty, got out my two largest pots, and set to making the sauce. I used the very basic recipe – the spices, pancetta, mushrooms, or any other flavorings can be added later. Right now the goal was to preserve the taste of summer.

Now my friend, her landlord, and I have our freezers well stocked with the taste of summer to help us through the winter.

I am dealing with about 20 pounds of apples from a friend’s garden now…

Update: Applesauce is in the freezer, apple cider is fermenting. Yesterday, my clients asked me to take some of their lemons – they are overwhelmed with them. I got about 20-pound bag…

Simple tomato sauce
Makes a lot

2 cups olive oil
4 large onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled
1 bunch celery, chopped
4 very large or 6 regular carrots, chopped
20 pounds very ripe tomatoes, washed, trimmed of any mold or spoiling, cored
1 bunch thyme, leaves only
1 bunch oregano, leaves only
4 bay leaves
1/2 bottle red wine
Salt, pepper

Heat the oil in one huge or two large pots over medium heat. Add onions, sauté until tender and translucent. Add garlic, celery, and carrot. Sauté until the vegetables are tender. Working over the pot(s), crush the tomatoes, one by one, with your fingers, being careful not to shoot the seeds and juices all over the kitchen; drop the tomatoes into the pot. Add thyme, oregano, and bay leaves, and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer without splattering, cook until almost all the liquid evaporates.

Remove the bay leaves. Puree the sauce in a blender, working in batches. Season with salt and pepper. Let the sauce cool.

Pour the sauce into quart or sandwich zipper bags (setting the bag in a bowl and using a funnel makes the job less messy), expel as much air as possible, seal the bags. Place the bags flat on cutting boards and freeze. Mark the bags with the content and the date, store in the freezer for up to six month.

To reheat, cut the bag, drop the frozen sauce into a sauté pan, set over medium heat,
let thaw, add any desired flavorings (pancetta, bacon, sausage, smoked salmon,
canned tuna, mushrooms, fennel, or anything). Heat through.

Cook the pasta according to the package, undercooking it by about one minute. Drop the pasta into the sauce. Cook, stirring to coat pasta with sauce, 1 minute. Serve.

Smoked salmon cakes with tomato sauce and basil oil

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Location:San Rafael, CA

Late summer menu

This is the time of the most luxurious summer fruits, the best tomatoes, and general happiness at the farmers market.
Most people skip the soup course and go for a salad instead.

My menu today had two salads: Caprece salad made with a variety of heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella fresca, and basil from my garden; and a summer fruit salad that this time included yellow-flesh watermelon (probably the sweetest watermelon that I ever tasted, but with lots of seeds), Galia melon, green and black figs, yellow and white nectarines, yellow peach, and pink and green seedless grapes.

My “Green beans” are not really green: I’ve included my garden heirloom purple and striped rattlesnake beans, together with the Romano and Blue Lake beans from the farmers market. Seasoned simply with garlic sautéed in olive oil, lemon, and sea salt. Unfortunately, the colored beans lose most of their color in cooking, so the resulting dish looks just green.

On the menu today:

Summer fruit salad
Heirloom tomato Caprece salad


Grilled salmon with peaches and ginger vinaigrette
Dijon chicken
Lamb chops, mint sauce


Grilled zucchini
Smashed potatoes with garlic and herbs
Steamed green beans

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Location:Burlingame, CA

Vegetarian, kids-friendly small menu today

Potato skins with broccoli and cheddar
Spinach salad with roasted beets, walnuts, and goat cheese

Quinoa pasta marinara
Caprese salad

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Location:Napa, CA

Menu today

Because it’s summer…


Shrimps with bell peppers and basil
Green and shelling beans ragout

Mushroom, potato, and bacon quiche
Mixed green salad with bacon and cherry tomatoes

Beef and black bean chili

Summer corn succotash

Lamb chops, chimichurri sauce
Roasted fingerling potatoes

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Location:Palo Alto, CA

Colorful spring menu today

From my previous post it may look like my vegetable garden is losing it’s struggle with the local wild life. It is not so. I’m learning to garden in these difficult conditions, and I had some successes. The key is to protect the plants they favor, to plant what the beasts don’t like, or to grow whatever grows faster than they eat it. Most culinary herbs (basil, red sorrel, and dill are the exceptions) don’t seem to interest them. This year, my fava beans are my pride and joy. Fast growing, beautiful plants bear tons of tasty beans, and the only one who is interested is the gopher – and he cannot take them all. Well, he got a couple of plants, but I still have the rest!

Now they are at the peak of their short season, and they go happily into a ragout of fava beans, green beans, and English peas, seasoned with sautéed red onion, garlic, white wine, and good olive oil.

This week I also started cooking with fresh tomatoes again. They are not at their best yet, but after roasting the flavor gets more concentrated, and they make a good roasted tomato soup.

On the menu today:

Roasted tomato soup with pasta

Mushroom, ricotta, and spring onion tartlets
Tangy macaroni salad

Zucchini and carrot “spaghetti” primavera

Duck legs roasted with sweet onions, lemon, and olives
Herbed new potatoes

Lamb chops, chimichurri sauce
Fresh peas and beans ragout

Emerald-green goodness of fava beans and English peas bring the spring to the table.

This isn’t your orthodox spaghetti primavera. The “noodles” are cut out of Nantes carrots and zucchini with a julienne peeler, then steamed briefly and topped with a spring vegetables medley. I first developed this technique for a client who cannot eat any grains – I wanted to make a pasta for her. Then I realized that anyone who wants a vegan dish would probably enjoy it.

Today’s client, a mother of two, gets a little bunch of edible chive flowers for the Mother’s Day on her lamb chops.

Wild mushrooms sautéed with thyme and garlic, and thinly sliced spring onions, top these classic puff pastry ricotta tartlets.

What I bought as packaged “duck legs” in a Chinese grocery store turned out to be whole duck leg quarters! Good. More duck. First, cooked in a skillet, skin side down, to render the fat and to crisp the skin; then, slow-roasted in the oven on top of sweet onion slices, with lemon, rosemary, thyme, and white wine. Garnished with olives.
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Location:Cupertino, CA

Colors of winter

Short days, cold rains, the flu season… This is when we need more vitamins in our diet, to fight off this cold, and more colors on our plates, to add cheer to the long nights in front of the fire. Luckily, here in California, the winter farmers market supplies both.

Winter vegetables come in a palette of soft whites, muted purples, deep greens, and warm yellows; they go well with the gold of roasted chicken and duck, deep browns of braised meats, and the neutral tones of earthy grains. They prefer slow, thoughtful cooking techniques; they are complimented with sturdy winter herbs – thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, parsley. Winter vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients that help us survive the cold and boost our energy when we need it most.

Beets come in a rainbow of colors: red, pink, golden, white. Slice very young, tender raw beets for salads, both roots and tops. Roast larger beets for salads, soups, or to serve as a side dish: trim the greens, leaving 1 inch attached (save the greens to add to soups or braised greens), wash the beets, place them in an oven-proof dish, add 2-3 Tbsp water, cover with aluminum foil, roast at 400 degrees until tender (pierce with a wooden pick through the foil to check), 30-60 minutes, depending on the size; let cool, peel. The beets are complimented with balsamic vinegar, roasted garlic, truffle oil, thyme.

Broccoli adds emerald green color and a wealth of minerals to the plate. Separate the florets, peel and slice the stems, steam in a steamer or in a microwave until tender, refresh in ice water to stop cooking and to preserve the color. My favorite way to serve the broccoli is as a cold salad with dried cranberries and sliced almonds, with a dressing of almond butter, Tamari soy sauce, and olive oil.

Brussels sprouts like to steam, sauté, or roast. They are complimented by garlic, lemon (grate the rind over them, squeeze the juice), and mild olive oil.

Cabbage comes in green and red, and in plain and crinkled Savoy varieties. The large outer leaves, blanched, make wrappers for cabbage rolls, with rice, vegetables, meats, or anything. The tender center leaves go into soups and sautés. Green cabbages have an affinity with apples, pears, caraway seed, white wine, and onions. All cabbages go beautifully with bacon and smoked meats.

Carrot adds sunny color, sweetness and vitamins to everything it touches. There are white, gold, and purple varieties too. Love it raw!

Cauliflower is not just a white flower. It’s also gold, green, and purple flower! All colors do well steamed until almost tender, then sautéed, or prepared ou gratin. Cream of cauliflower soup is a life-saver for people who can’t tolerate milk products: the pureed cauliflower supplies the creamy texture, no cream needed.

Celery: the crunchy stalks are a perfect snack, great for dipping; the classic combination of chopped onions, celery, and carrot, sautéed in a mixture of olive oil and butter, can enhance any soup or transform a grain dish. Celery also makes a great soup on it’s own. Did I mention Bloody Mary?

Chard is a close relative of beets, and the leaves come in the same palette of jewel colors, and can be used the same ways as the beet tops. Steam, sauté, braise.

Fennel, thinly sliced, adds subtle anise flavor to salads, soups and stews. It’s also great prepared au gratin.

Garlic is love, and an indispensable ingredient in almost every savory, and some sweet dishes. Every time I heat up an oven to roast anything, I also toss in a head of garlic, wrapped in aluminum foil. Serve roasted garlic with a cheese and fruit plate, add it to mashed potatoes, spread it on top of steaks, mix it into sauces for roasted meats and vegetables. Large garlic cloves, sliced thin and fried in olive oil, make garlic chips, a nice garnish to meat dishes.

Grapefruit – juice it! This time of the year, we need tons of vitamin C, and the grapefruit delivers it, together with the tangy and pleasantly bitter flavor, and a wonderful aroma. Like most citrus fruits, it’s a natural antidepressant.

Kale is a leafy cabbage, and it works well in the same types of preparations. I love to use kale leaves to wrap rice, vegetables, and meats, to make kale rolls. I also like it braised with onion, bacon, and white wine. Black Tuscan kale, aka Dino kale, aka “the favorite”, is the darkest of them all, and has the deepest flavor and the highest vitamin content. It is friends with white beans, tomatoes, onions and garlic.

Leek, a mild, subtle green onion, works well in delicate soups. Also, try browning it in butter, than braising it with white wine and shallots, low and slow, until it’s melting tender. Addictive. The white part is to eat; I use the green part to flavor stocks.

Lemon, my second main staple after garlic, is indispensable with fish and shellfish; it takes any green vegetable dish to the next level (think garlic and lemon green beans, or Meyer lemon roasted Brussels sprouts), and it’s one of the best flavorings for a roasted chicken.

Mandarin: eat it out of hand, or add it to a green salad.

Onion, you already know… I like to marinate thin slices of red onion in 1 part sherry vinegar, 3 parts boiling water, with salt, sugar, and spices (whatever I’m in a mood for; say, allspice, cloves and cinnamon), to top burgers

Parsley root adds deeper, earthier flavor than parsley leaves to soups and stocks. My grandma always used the whole parsley plant, tops and roots, to make a soup. I like it her way. The root also roasts well, and is a nice, flavorful addition to roasted root vegetables.

Parsnip used to be a European staple food, before the potatoes arrived. It still mashes well, and a combination of mashed parsnips and potatoes is even better.

Potato. They say that the classic chefs toque has 101 pleats that represent 101 potato dishes that the chef knows how to make. I’m not there yet: I routinely make about 40 potato dishes. But my toque only has 17 pleats! I need a new toque. My latest favorite potato dish is smashed potatoes with garlic and herbs: boil gold, red, and purple potatoes until tender; let cool; mince garlic, thyme, rosemary, and parsley with some sea salt; spread the herb mixture on the cutting board; with the palm of your hand, smash the potatoes into the herb mixture; heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a large pan over medium heat; transfer smashed potatoes to the pan, cook until fragrant and golden, turning once.

Radish: winter radishes have thick skins and strong flavors. I like to peel them and cook them. Black Spanish and Watermelon radishes are great roasted.

Rutabaga: the big gentle “Swede” is sweet, and is at it’s best roasted, or as a puree.

Turnip is sweet and crunchy. Peel it and roast it, boil it, or sauté it, then glaze it with honey and apple juice, balsamic vinegar, or soy sauce.

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Location:San Carlos, CA

Terrine of grilled eggplant and fire-roasted peppers with tomato confit

Good bye, summer!

They are probably the last ones of the season, and I’ll miss them terribly. But at this weeks farmers market an almost six-pound bag of slightly overripe organic heirloom tomatoes was $5, and they were of absolutely beautiful, sunny orange and red varieties. I had to take them home, and now everything I eat has tomato sauce on it. I also put away a couple of bags of tomato confit in the freezer for later.

Tomato confit

Makes a lot

1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, peeled
5 sprigs oregano
5 sprigs thyme
5 pounds ripe (or slightly overripe, undamaged) tomatoes, or as many as you can fit in your roasting pan, cored
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil, spread onion, garlic, and herbs in the pan. Place tomatoes on top of onion mixture, stem side down, fitting them close together. Season with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Bake about one hour, or until tomatoes char on top and blister. Let cool a little. Remove oregano and thyme. Puree vegetables in blender, working in batches, adding liquid from the bottom of the pan as needed. Store in a refrigerator, or freeze in locking bags or in ice cube trays. Use on pastas, eggs, beans, thin with stock to make tomato soup, braise fish fillets in it, or make my simple version of a vegetable terrine, while eggplants and bell peppers are still in season, and the weather is grill-friendly.

Terrine of grilled eggplant and fire-roasted peppers with tomato confit

Makes 1 4-cup container

2 bell peppers
3 small Italian eggplants
Olive oil for grilling
Salt, pepper
2 cups tomato confit
2 bags unflavored gelatin

Preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Place peppers on the hottest part of the grill, char on all sides, turning occasionally, until almost all the skin blackens. Place in a covered container and leave until cool enough to handle.

Slice eggplants lengthwise 1/4 inch thick. Brush with olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper. Remember that the vegetables will be served cold, so stronger seasoning will help them shine. Grill, turning once or twice, until soft and nice grill marks are created.

When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins – they should slide off easily – and cores and seeds. Work over a bowl to catch the juices. Slice peppers lengthwise.

Line 4-cup Pyrex container, loaf pan, or terrine with plastic wrap. Put a layer of eggplant slices on the bottom, with the best grill marks facing down – this will be the top of the finished terrine. Top with a layer of peppers. Repeat, finishing with a layer of eggplant, with the best grill marks facing up, in case you decide to serve the terrine in the mold.

Divide tomato confit into two roughly equal portions. Bring one to almost boil, add any pepper juices to it. Sprinkle gelatin on cool confit, let sit two minutes. Add hot confit, mix well. Pour tomato-gelatin mixture over the vegetables in the mold. Pierce in a few places with a bamboo skewer, to let the tomato flow under and around the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Turn the terrine over to a cold plate, remove the mold and plastic, slice to show the colorful layers, and serve with more tomato confit, if desired.

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Location:San Rafael, CA