Thursday, October 3, 2013


I will never begrudge anyone in our dear San Francisco decorating lavishly for fall or mentioning (frequently, as if to reorient oneself) that we've now entered autumn.
Because it gets a little confusing around here.

In fact, think we should re-name SF's "Fall."

Because we are currently in the season of Gorgeous.

Not because of crisp mornings, nor crunching of leaves underfoot; not glories of leaves every warm color on an artist's palette, nor the hint of evening chill that makes one want to light a few logs in the fireplace... no, no, that's pretty much our everyday, here (excepting the leaf coloring).

It's SF season-Gorgeous.
It's stunning blue skies all day long, even on the coast.
It's spontaneous picnics, dancing, and napping on blankets across our city's parks.
It's endless boat races and parades, and planes twirling acrobatic routines in the sky.
It's tourists not looking miserably baffled and cold.
It's the grapes nearing harvest in nearby wine country.
It's brighter than average smiles and shorter than average sleeves and pants.
Ah, yes.  It's our gorgeous fall.

But if any of the above criteria escaped you somehow during a SF season-Gorgeous, you need only look at the nearest cafe advertisement (and this is not just the pervasive, monolithic branded ones) to see the autumn drinks and pastries.  Decorative gourds are ev-er-y-where.

Namely, pumpkins.
Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin spice muffins and scones, pumpkin pie ice cream, pumpkin beer, and pumpkin dog biscuits.
I kid you not.

I mean, I like pumpkins carved and cooked in various ways, but sometimes it seems, hmm.... excessively pumpkiny this time of year.  Some folks agree: It's yummy and it's seasonal! ... white people are going to love it."

So, this is a subtly pumpkin recipe.
One that embraces other seasonally fall veggies but also adds the warmth of pepita seeds (that's "little seeds" of la calabaza for you uninitiated into the Latin American love of pumpkin).
I feel so SF-multicultural right now. (heh heh)

I found inspiration for the salad here, but simplified the creation and flow of the ingredients a bit.  It was a perfectly seasonal hit at a recent dinner party.

Gorgeous Pumpkin Seed and Radish Salad

serves 4

1/4 c pepitas (raw, shelled pumpkin seeds)
4 Tbsp grapeseed or other mild vegetable oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 lb radishes, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp torn fresh herbs (dill and parseley work very nicely)
2 c baby arugula

Preheat oven to 350F.

Spread pepitas on a baking sheet and toast for 5-7 min until golden brown.  Allow to cool.

Set aside 1 generous Tbsp of pepitas.
Place remainder of seeds in a hand blender and add oil.  Blend well.
Set aside 1 Tbsp of pumpkin seed oil.

Emulsify vinegar into remainder of pumpkin seed oil to form a (thick) viniagrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss herbs and arugula with the viniagrette.  Divide amongst plates. Divide radish slices decoratively amongst plates.

Drizzle radishes with pumpkin seed oil.  Sprinkle salads with toasted pepitas and serve.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


There is something particularly satifying to me about the sizzle and pop of fresh fruits or vegetables tossed in a skillet:  searing, smoking, and then bursting open.  I'm sure part of the joy is the fantastic aromas that accompany the sticcato sounds with caramelized juices that flow forth, each beckoning us to the table.  The blistered look of the skins, perfectly golden around a nearly-blackened spots, is endearing as well.

And thusly I've been putting my skillet to good use with basket after basket of cherry tomatoes and bag after bag of bell peppers that flow forth from our CSA's bi-weekly boxes this late summer into early fall.  It started with a simple 2 ingredient search on Food and Wine's website and led to reworking fresh ingredients into what is fast becoming an pan-searing obsession.

Tonight, I took some pizza dough that had been aging in our fridge, and set it out on the counter.  As it came to room temperature,  I sipped a glass of red.  Later a splash or two of this wine would deglaze a skillet-full of blistered tomatoes and peppers, seasoned to perfection, and be joined with a crumbling of chevre. A pizza stone and oven cranked high did the rest of the work.  

And it was fantastic.

We've also recently eaten these burst veggies as a side with pan-seared sausages and summer squash muffins.  All our plates were similarly licked clean that evening as well.

Blistered Late-Summer Vegetables

1/4 c olive oil (if smoking oil bothers you, use grapeseed or canola)
1/2 lb small green bell peppers, nicked/sliced open on the base
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 lb cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine

Heat oil over moderate heat in a large skillet (reduce temp if needed to minimze smoking).  Add peppers to the skillet, turning frequently to brown all sides and soften evenly, 15-20min. Remove peppers to drain on paper towels.  

Add the tomatos to the skillet and cook until deflated. While the tomatos cook, remove peppers' stems, cores, and seeds.  Slice into strips.  Add garlic and cumin to the skillet over medium-low heat, stirring until fragrant.  Add pepper strips back to the skillet.  Cook until tomatoes have golden, nearly blackened areas.  Add wine and salt (to taste) to the skillet and scrape pan to deglaze.

Serve as a side, on top of grilled bread, or as a pizza topping.  Good hot or at room temperature.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Spring (or Fall, as the case may be)

This recipe is long overdue.

Technically, this torte is a spring-time dish. One to be served at Easter, to be precise.

But precisely, technically, honestly... I do not care.  When I have several bags of fresh, local, spring or fall spinach on hand, it's time to dig around in my beloved (but neglected) recipe box, cook up a layered spinach tart, ...and post this baby online.  um, I mean ... and savor the results!  

Either way, you know, I must share this torted goodness with others.

The presentation of this torte, as with many, is beautiful - thin layers of green alternated with flaky dough.  If you serve with a marinara, as is optional, the color contrast is additionally stunning. We serve it both ways, depending on time, whether we have some jarred sauce, and our mood.  It is fantastic served hot, nearly immediately out of the oven, as well as leftover, at room temperature... on a picnic, perhaps.

Torta Pascualina

serves 10-12 as a side

1 lb spinach

2 c french bread, cubed
1 c milk

1 med onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
black pepper, freshly ground
nutmeg (ground or freshly grated)
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 lb Monterrey Jack, grated

4 c flour (a mix of wheat and white, if desired)
1 large egg
1/4 c olive oil

1/4 c oil (grapeseed or vegetable)
optional: 2 c fresh marinara or tomato sauce of choice

Blanch spinach in boiling water for 2 min.  Drain well, then mince.

Soak bread in milk until liquid is absorbed.

Preheat oven to 375.  Assemble and butter a 2" or taller 9" diameter springform pan.

Saute onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp each oil and butter.  Remove from heat and add spinach, bread mixture, pepper, and nutmeg.  Mix together.  Stir in cheese and eggs.

Mix flour, olive oil, eggs, and enough salted water to form a firm dough.  Knead until soft.  Divide dough ball into 5 equal pieces and roll each into a 9" circle.  Brush with

Assemble torte:
Place 1 disc of dough in the bottom of the buttered springform pan.  Brush lightly with oil. Layer on 1/4 of the spinach mixture. Follow with disc of dough, alternating with layers of spinach mixture.  End with final disc of dough on top.  Brush with oil.

Bake torte for 45 min in preheated oven until golden brown and crisp on top.  Allow to cool  for 5 minutes before unmolding and cutting into wedges.  Serve drizzled with marinara (if desired).