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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Grill everything: Vegetables

Because it’s summer, I am re-posting here the “Grill Everything” series of posts from my personal food blog,

Here is one on grilling vegetables.

Since all grills are different, I cannot give the exact cooking times. Mine is a Weber Q 320 gas grill that goes from zero 65 to 600 in 15 minutes. Probe your vegetables with a fork from time to time to find out right cooking times for your grill.

I like to prepare assorted vegetables, then brush them all together with light olive oil seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper just before placing them on the grill.

Artichokes: Peel off tough outer leaves. Cut off the top 1/3. Cut in halves. Remove the choke with a spoon or tip of a paring knife. I don’t bother to rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice to protect them from discoloration – they are going to charr anyway. Parboil until almost tender, 10-15 minutes. Shock in ice water. Brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until the heart is tender and the leaves are charred, 5-6 minutes.

Asparagus: Break off tough root ends (if you have a powerful blender, save the roots for a cream of asparagus soup). Toss with seasoned oil, grill until tender, 2-3 minutes, turning once or twice to get nice grill marks.

Bell peppers: Core, slice into 6 segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until tender and the skins are lightly charred, 4-5 minutes. Remove skins if desired.

Carrots: trim the root and the greens, leaving 1/2 inch of the greens attached (for presentation). Parboil until almost tender, 15-20 minutes. Shock in ice water. Brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning, until tender and marked on all sides, 5-6 minutes.

Corn: Select young, tender corn. Peel off husks and silk. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, grill, turning, until cooked through and well charred on all sides, 4-5 minutes.

Eggplant: For grilling, select slender Japanese or tender Italian eggplants. Slice into 1 inch wheels, either straight or on diagonal. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, 4-5 minutes.

Fennel: Trim off the green tops. Cut the bulb into six segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until almost tender but still crunchy, 6-8 minutes.

Lemons: Cut in halves, brush the cut side with oil, place on the grill with the curbside down. Grill 1-2 minutes just to soften. Squeeze over your grilled meats, fish, or vegetables.

Mushrooms: Trim the roots even with the cups. If the gaps in the grill are large and the mushrooms are small, thread them on bamboo skewers soaked in water. Brush with oil, cook 3-4 minutes, turning once. Cook portabello cups on the cooler side of the grill 8-10 minutes, until soft, turning once, brush with white wine vinegar or balsamico, if desired. Slice before serving.

Radish: Trim roots and greens, cut in halves, brush with seasoned oil. Grill on the cut side, just to mark, about one minute.

Ramps, baby leeks: Remove outer leaves. Cut off the green part, leaving 1 inch for presentation. Cut lengthwise, rinse, rubbing with your fingers, under running water, to remove the dirt that is clinging between the leaves. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender and lightly charred, 2-3 minutes.

Spring onions: Remove the green tops, leaving 1-2 inches. Trim off the root, but leave the root end intact, so that the layers won’t separate (you can cut it off after cooking). Cut the bulb into six segments, brush with seasoned oil, grill, turning once, until tender and well marked.

Summer squashes (green, yellow, crookneck, pattypan, zucchini, etc.): Slice oblong squashes into 1 inch wheels, either straight or on diagonal. Cut pattypans in halves, or, if small, leave whole. Brush with seasoned oil. Grill, turning once, until tender, 3-4 minutes.

Sweet potatoes: scrub thoroughly, brush lightly with oil. Grill in their skins over medium heat, turning occasionally, until tender (about 20 minutes). Cut in halves lengthwise, season with salt, pepper, olive oil. Eat out of the skins, or, if organic, skins are good to eat too.

Tomatoes: Cut in halves. Brush with seasoned oil. Place on the cool side of the grill, cut side down, and grill gently, just to charr the cut side.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

Vegetarian dinner party tonight

Because it’s spring, I used lots of fresh herbs and edible flowers from the garden to garnish the dishes. I was also fortunate to find ramps and fresh porcini mushrooms at Sigona’s Farmers Market, and got Italian heritage polenta from the Front Porch Farm, they really made my appetizer shine.


Polenta crostini with wild mushroom ragout

Green pea and spring garlic soup
Butternut squash and goat cheese ravioli, lemon cream sauce

Ice cream with hot chocolate sauce and port-soaked fig

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Location:Los Altos, CA

Garden herbs: Chervil

Chervil is of the classic fine herbes (the others are parsley, tarragon, and chives); mild anice flavor. Likes full sun and a lot of water. Chervil is an annual plant that will self-seed if the conditions are right. Use the delicate leaves and flowers in salads and sauces.

Omelette with fine herbs
Serves 1
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp butter
2 large chicken eggs, or 10 quail eggs
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped chives
1 Tbsp chopped chervil
1/2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
Salt, pepper

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a small non-stick or cast iron pan. Beat the eggs with a fork in a bowl until well combined but not foaming, about 20 strokes. Pour eggs into the pan. When the bottom of the pan is set, add the herbs, season with salt and pepper, tilt the pan, and fold the omelette over in two. Cook 1-2 minutes more, until the desired doneness. Serve at once.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, CA

Semi-vegetarian menu today

Chickpea burgers, heirloom tomato, caramelized onion, mint yogurt sauce
Summer fruit salad

Stuffed portabello mushrooms
Sautéed potatoes with thyme and rosemary

Chicken and vegetables stir-fry
Vegetable fried rice

Lasagna rolls
Sautéed Romano beans

One thing that I especially enjoyed preparing today (and yesterday, and almost every day last week) is a simple salad of fresh summer fruits. Everything is good now: strawberries are still going strong, cherries are at their peak, apricots are excellent, peaches and nectarines are entering the market, several varieties of small melons are already available and tasting good, and my absolute favorite, the fig, is finally here!

There is really no recipe for this salad – just select a few fruits and berries at the farmers market that taste the best, go for a variety of flavors, colors, and textures, slice into bite-size pieces, serve! Try to avoid overripe fruits, they are the sweetest, but they are best eaten out of hand, they won’t hold their shape in a salad. A few under-ripe fruits are fine, they’ll add acidity and crunch (this is where peaches and nectarines are now), but make sure that most of your fruits and berries are ripe and sweet.

A fruit salad can be served
– on it’s own as a snack or an addition to a lunch box
– dressed with a balsamic or white wine vinaigrette, to start the meal (add salt and pepper, shallots, chives, mint, lemon balm, edible flowers)
– as a side dish for roasted or grilled dishes
– dressed with cognac or a fruit liqueur, on it’s own or with shortbreads, cookies, or vanilla ice cream, for dessert (add nuts, fruit preserves, soft cheese)

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Location:San Francisco, CA

Spring into summer: semi-vegetarian menu today

It’s this time of the year. We still feel like spring, but the days are already long, the sun is warm, and the first summer vegetables begin to appear.

The first white corn corn is still rare and expensive, but it’s as sweet and juicy as it will ever be. And now is the time to get baby corn, if you can find it!

Tender, crunchy zucchinis bear little resemblance to the tough overgrown monsters that everybody will be tired of by the end of August.

Large heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers are not really here yet, but the miniature varieties are already on the market.

The early season Roma tomatoes are not as flavorful as they will be by the end of summer, so they are perfect roasted or sun-dried (both treatments concentrate the flavor).

At the same time, we can still enjoy the spring vegetables like English peas, fava beans, asparagus, leafy greens – just long enough to say good bye to them, till next spring.

I used fresh Romano beans, together with dried black and red kidney beans, for my three-bean chili, just because I can – the first Romano beans hit the market a couple of days ago. Treat them the same way as regular green beans. They have more interesting texture, and the best flavor of all green beans!


Roasted tomato soup
Heirloom tomato tart
Zucchini and carrot salad
Mini peppers stuffed with ricotta
Swiss chard gratin

Creamy chicken stew with cauliflower and peas
Mashed potatoes and carrots
Three bean chili
Fresh corn ragout

Mini peppers stuffed with ricotta
Serve 6 as appetizer, 3 as the main dish
18 mini sweet bell peppers, assorted colors
12 oz baby spinach
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup whole milk ricotta
2 Tbsp shredded Parmesan
2 Tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
1 large clove garlic, minced
Salt, pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare another large pot or bowl with ice water. Cut off the tops from the peppers, scrape out the seeds. Place the peppers in a metal colander (or a pasta cooking basket). Lower the peppers into the boiling water, cook about 2 minutes, to soften. Remove the colander from the boiling water, dip into the ice water, drain, set the peppers aside.

Place spinach into the same colander, dip into the boiling water for a few seconds, just to wilt it. Dip into the ice water, drain, squeeze out as much water as you can, chop the spinach.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking dish with olive oil.

In a bowl, stir together spinach, ricotta, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, and garlic, season with salt and pepper.

Using a coffee spoon, stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers, place the peppers into the baking dish, bake until the cheeses have melted and the tops of the peppers browned, 15-20 minutes

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Francisco, 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.

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A beautiful bowl of greens

Look what a handsome bowl of greens I got from Mount Tam Microgreens at Mill Valley Farmers Market this morning!

They have different mixes of greens, growing in large good-looking recycled paper bowls. Mine is called “One World”, because it contains “Chinese tatsoi, Russian kale, American rocket, Indian amaranth, Japanese mustard and mizuna, and Italian broccoli” – yes, I always want it all at the same time! (BTW, being born and raised in Russia, in a country house with a vegetable garden, I never heard of kale until I came to California. We had white and red cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, but no leafy cabbages or broccoli. I wonder where the “Russian kale” comes from… I also have an impression that the American rocket is in fact Italian ruccola that California farmers started growing just recently. But this is not the point. I wanted them all, and I got them!)

The tender, elegant microgreens are almost as delicate as sprouts, but they have the pronounced flavor of the mature greens. The difference between sprouts and microgreens is that the sprouts are just seeds, germinated in a greenhouse environment, usually with no soil, and eaten whole, the seed, root, and the top; while microgreens are juvenile plants with one or two pairs of true leaves already developed, grown in soil; only the green top is eaten, the roots are cut off and go to compost for the next cycle. According to the Mount Tam Microgreens leaflet, many microgreens have four to six times the vitamin content of the mature plants of the same varieties. A good reason to eat them, besides their wonderful flavor, tender bite, and beauty.

I’ve been experimenting with microgreens on my own. I have micro-beets and micro-sunflowers coming up in the next few days. However, this whole bowl was $20 – this is probably less than I paid just for my seeds – and it’s LOTS OF GREENS! Sometimes it pays to have people who know what they are doing to do it for you 🙂

The instructions leaflet tells you to thin aggressively. This is the first thing I did after getting the bowl home – I thinned aggressively, and had a chiabatta sandwich with prosciutto, gruyere, home-made mayonnaise, and mini-greens. The bowl looks like nothing happened. I’ll thin aggressively tomorrow again.

The microgreens are not just for sandwiches, use them to garnish soups, meat, fish, and vegetable dishes; they can be used in most recipes to replace either sprouts, or mature greens. An example, my signature roasted beets and baby arugula salad, made with microgreens:

Beet salad
Serves 6
6 medium beets, mixed colors, with root and 1 inch of the greens on
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt, pepper
Dash of truffle oil (optional)
4 Tbsp olive oil
10 oz mixed microgreens
1 cup walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beets in a deep roasting pan, add 1/2 cup water, cover tightly with aluminum foil, roast 30-45 minutes, depending on size of the beets, until beets are easily pierced with a knife (test through the foil). Let cool.
Rinse onion under cold water, drain. Toss onion with sherry vinegar, let sit 20-30 minutes.
When beets are cool enough to handle, trim the root end and the greens, peel with your fingers (use gloves to handle red beets). Thinly slice beet, season with salt, pepper, optional truffle oil, and olive oil. Toss beets with marinated onion, serve on top of greens, garnish with walnut pieces.

Orange and fennel salad with microgreens:

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Location:Mill Valley, CA

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.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:San Rafael, 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