Monday, December 31, 2012

Baked Winter Squash with Greens & Bacon

Individual plate of Baked Kabocha Squash with Greens
Contrast in Color, Flavor, and Texture

Kabocha Squash and Collard Greens, Recipe by Robin

Let’s wrap up 2012 with a favorite winter recipe that relies on contrasts. Pairing sweet, dense, and soft kabocha squash with strong, chewy, and sour collard greens, this is perfect food for saying goodbye to 2012, filled as it was with both ease and challenge. The recipe was inspired by a potluck dish I had years ago. The cook would only disclose that she used red kabocha squash, known in some countries as Japanese pumpkin. It’s drier than most winter squash, so benefits from cooking in sauce or stews. Green kabocha is also available, but you’ll have to peel it to get the color contrast. Though this is a vegetarian dish, my recent foray into the bacon world has inspired me to add a with-bacon option.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pumpkin Pie vs. Squash Pie

Butternut Squash and Pumpkin on Counter
The Contenders

Pumpkin or Squash Pie Filling Recipe by Mom & Robin

The votes are in on the Christmas pies, despite a bit of a recipe fail. On all counts, the best pumpkin pie seems to be made with butternut squash. In fact, many bakeries that make pumpkin pie actually use butternut. It resembles pumpkin in flavor, but is sweeter. It has a lower water content than pumpkin, which means that you can eliminate draining it in cheesecloth after cooking and mashing if you’re in a hurry. Pumpkin does have a distinct if subtle flavor that is somewhat earthier than butternut. Because of this subtle flavor difference Elizabeth, our Christmas hostess, stated that next we need to test fresh butternut vs. canned pumpkin puree. Since butternut is currently so inexpensive and can be used in so many ways, that test might not happen soon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Pie Fail

Pies with burned crusts
I Don't Know from Pumpkin Pie

Recipes in Process

Merry Christmas, All! You might imagine that a food blogger’s Christmas fare would be unfailingly delicious and cooked to perfection. That is true…in our dreams and on a good year. This year, not so much. My lofty idea of having a captive audience rate pumpkin vs. squash pie suffered from beginner’s no-luck. Bruce has gently hinted numerous times before numerous events that cooking something for the first time doesn’t lead to predictable results.  “You’ve made this recipe before?” he asks optimistically. No answer. Unfortunately reason plays a very small role in the creative process.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Peppermint Frosted Brownies

Closeup of Peppermint Frosted Brownies
These Might Help

Recipe by Robin

The joy of the holiday season and the pain of loss are not comfortable companions. And yet, we as individuals have little control over the timing of events. Sometimes loved ones pass away during the holiday season, and sometimes larger groups are decimated by war or other tragedies. Such losses during this time can cause extreme pain in survivors and trigger a host of mixed emotions, almost none of which feel good. And yet, although we have no control over others’ lives, we do have control of our own actions and emotions, no matter how difficult it can seem to start to heal. It helps to remain open to all types of nurturing. Walking in nature, talking with friends, playing music, or performing routine tasks that we enjoy can help. And there’s also chocolate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Bacon

Serving of Warm Brussels Sprout Salad
It's About the Bacon...and the Sprouts

Recipe by James

Bacon. I don’t understand the appeal. Of course, I’m in the minority, as bacon mania continues to sweep the globe. It’s not just for breakfast, lunch, and dinner anymore. There’s baconaisse and bacon jam, bacon lip balm, bacon scented candles and car fresheners, and even bacon toothpaste. And of course the ultimate lingerie item, the bacon bra. Mr. Baconpants tells us why: not only does everyone like it, even those who don’t eat it, it's also "a symbol of freedom in the fight to eat what we want” (rather than what’s healthy). Moreover it “makes everything better.” While I’m not sure I agree that bacon improves absolutely everything (dental floss, for example), I must admit that the addition of bacon to pan fried Brussels sprouts adds a distinctive yumminess. Particularly when paired with the balsamic reduction sauce.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Maple Glazed Sweet Dumpling Squash

Maple Glazed Sweet Dumpling Squash in ornate bowl
My Sweet Dumpling

Recipe by Robin

A few years back I prepared some sweet dumpling squash, and they came out terrible. What did I know? They looked so cute in the market, and I thought “why not prepare them like butternut?” But, whereas butternut is solid and substantial in flavor and texture and plenty thick, sweet dumplings are subtle and delicate. And there’s just a thin layer of squash once the sweet dumpling’s seeds are removed. So it’s easy to overcook if baked upside down in a water bath (a method that works beautifully for butternut). Plus, the water leaches out some of its subtle flavor. So I came upon the idea of turning the squash right-side-up in the water bath. And I used my Mom’s idea for acorn squash: fill the cavity with sweet and salty stuff.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Top 12 Seasonal Eating Posts on 12/12/12

Plate of Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Most Popular in Person but not on Blog

Readers' Favorites

On this auspicious day, we experience the last repeating-number month/day/year of our lifetime. It’s true that 11/11/11 was a bit more consistent and dramatic than 12/12/12.  But, as a former colleague told me years ago, it’s important to acknowledge completion (he was talking about appreciating the last bite of a cookie, but I'm applying his concept to the end of an era). On this occasion I’d like to share the 12 Seasonal Eating posts that have been most popular with readers. Since I only have stats for the top 10, I’ll throw in a couple of how-to posts that have been popular this December. Have fun on 12/12/12, and a special happy birthday to longtime friend Susi and anyone else who’s celebrating their natal day today.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December Veggies and Recipes

Bright sunset behind conifers
Wintery Sunset

Darkest Days then Returning Light

Every year at this time I am amazed by the shortness of the days and the position of the sun in the sky. As I write, the sun is so low that I see its disk reflected in my laptop screen from the window behind me. Shortly it will be behind the trees, and then behind the hill to the west. In the deep velvety darkness of December’s nights, it seems natural to look for the light. Sharing festive dinners with friends and family, complimenting neighbors on their cheery lights and decorations, taking the time to connect with a loved one who you don’t often see, giving food and toys to those in need, attending community gatherings: these are the most precious holiday gifts, the ones that sustain our inner light. Let’s remember to take the time to enjoy and appreciate one another during this busy month, and share a little seasonal food and drink with each other.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Green Tomato Chutney

Plate with Chutney in front of turkey slices and green cauliflower
Green Tomato Chutney with Turkey and Cauliflower

Recipe Adapted from “A Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook

This post is a contender for most unusual recipe blogged yet on Seasonal Eating. Move over Candied Tomatoes, DIY Chen Pi, and Blue Violet Tea! Green tomatoes, the recipe’s main ingredient, are not something that we can buy. But they’re something we end up with when we garden, and in large amounts if the frost comes early. Sometimes we can pamper late season tomatoes into ripening by covering them at night and making sure they get full sun during the day, provided that no cold rains fall. But at some point, we’ll want to pick all of our green tomatoes and be done with it. I finally threw in the pampering towel a couple of weeks ago, but the green tomatoes languished in my refrigerator until last Monday.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Plate Piled High with Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
Seasonal Deliciousness

Recipe by Robin

Can you think of two more iconic late fall seasonal harvests than pumpkins and cranberries? At first I thought it was an odd idea to combine them, even though I wanted to. Then I experimented with Pumpkin-Cranberry Bars last year and the flavors blended harmoniously, enhanced by a few spices. This year I’m going for the muffins. The recipe is based upon my Raisin Date Persimmon Muffins or Cake, another fall/winter-friendly seasonal recipe. Pumpkin seeds add an unexpected flavor, irresistible crunch, and make this recipe appropriate for groups in which someone might have nut allergies.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Southwest Chili Lime Chicken Soup

Closeup of Bowl of Chili Lime Soup with Toppings
Toppings Add Character

Recipe by Robin, Inspired by The Lunch Box

Earlier this month, I couldn’t quite grok the fact that my friend and neighbor James harvested 98 limes from his deck-cultivated, in-container dwarf tree. Serious citrus in the Santa Cruz mountains? From a deck? But as a result, we were blessed with over a dozen limes, which I’d said I could use to make chili lime chicken soup. “I’d like that recipe,” responded James, a lover of all spicy foods. But actually, there was no recipe, just a vague recollection of a delicious soup sold by the now-defunct Lunch Box, which used to deliver lunches and goodies to my day job. I remembered that it was a simple soup with numerous toppings that could be added to tweak the flavor. So I proceeded with the experiment. My first attempt was given the seal of approval (ie. was nearly polished off) at our monthly game night potluck. And so, by special request…a recipe for game night host James.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DIY Pureed Pumpkin

Small Pumpkin on Scale
Sugar Pie Pumpkin

Method by Robin,, and Marian Kleinsasser Towne

There’s more than one way to cook a pumpkin, and what’s easiest will depend upon how much time you have to cook it and how much effort you’re able to put in. I typically steam the pumpkin because it’s faster than baking and requires less finesse than microwaving. In fact, all I do cut the pumpkin into quarters or sixths, remove the innards, and steam it till it’s tender. Some people peel it before steaming, but these folks must be more coordinated than I am. Gripping a large piece of slippery pumpkin in one hand and a peeler in the other seems like it could get ugly fast at my house. I’m more inclined to scrape the pumpkin off the skin after steaming, when the only danger (too-hot pumpkin) is easy to identify before boo-boos happen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chicken Marengo

Chicken on top of Sauce in Pan
Add Chicken to Sauce and Simmer

Recipe by Robin

Chicken Marengo. I’d heard the name for years, but never realized that it’s a historical dish. Napoleon Bonaparte’s chef Dunand first whipped it up after Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo in northern Italy in 1800. Using miscellaneous foraged ingredients, Dunand employed considerable skill in crafting the original recipe using chicken, eggs, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and crayfish, plus a couple of glugs of cognac from Napoleon’s flask.  The result was a chicken-tomato-onion stew served with fried eggs, crayfish, and soldiers’ bread rations on the side. Although this sounds like it would only taste good if you were camping, Napoleon considered the combination lucky. He insisted that Dunand prepare it the same way time and again when they returned home, despite the chef’s desire to modify the ingredients. Fortunately modern chefs are no longer literally under the sword, and have reinvented the recipe minus the eggs and crayfish and plus a few classic ingredients from Italian cuisine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Thanks

Autumn Leaves on Wet Sidewalk in Collinsville
Hometown Visit 2007
Happy Thanksgiving All! Although we think of the tradition of Thanksgiving commemorating a meal shared between Native Americans and Pilgrims,  according to’s feature today, the story is a bit different. President George Washington proclaimed that the first Thanksgiving Day be celebrated on November 26, 1789 to give thanks for the US Constitution, “now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” Let’s give thanks for our lives and our liberties, as well as for bountiful foods shared with each other today. 

While we’re giving thanks, I’d like to appreciate each and every Seasonal Eating reader, with a special shout-out to followers and subscribers. You make this journey of seasonal exploration more fun and fulfilling. Thanks for your interest and your comments. May your Thanksgiving Day be blessed with fun, food, family, and friends. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Maple Glazed Delicata Squash

Serving Plate Piled High with Maple Glazed Delicata
Perfect for Late Autumn Dinners

Recipe by Robin

Delicata squash is another of those veggies that I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for receiving them in our CSA share. It looked so intriguing that I bought some extra from Live Earth Farm at the Farmers’ Market. Then, of course, we received more the following week. Delicata is unique in that it’s the only winter squash whose skin is tender enough to eat. Its flavor is also (quite logically) delicate, and easily overpowered by other flavors. For that reason I eliminated the idea of adding orange juice, apple juice, or bourbon as I might in a yam glaze. I might have skipped the cinnamon also, being a lover of all squash flavors, but my husband (lukewarm on most squashes) likes it with winter squash. With or without cinnamon, you could also use this simple glaze on yams.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tapioca filled Pumpkin

Tapioca filled Pumpkin with Lid Jauntily Askew and serving spoon
Points for Presentation: 10 out of 10

Recipe adapted from Sunset magazine, c. 1980

I’m a great fan of puddings, custards, and anything pumpkin-flavored, so I was ecstatic to find a recipe for a tapioca-filled pumpkin in a Sunset magazine, given to me by a lady whose house I cleaned when I first came to Santa Cruz. I loved the way the B&W photo looked, with a sophisticated lady’s hand scooping out tapioca along with pumpkin. When I finally tried the recipe, in 1995, it tasted exactly the way I’d imagined it. And then somehow the recipe disappeared. In 2001, I had a craving for it, and a weekend when my husband, who looks askance at both tapioca and pumpkin, was away. No recipe, no problem (and no internet for hints). How hard could tapioca and pumpkin be? One small forgotten detail, however, threatened to deflate the project. Or more correctly, to inflate it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chicken Cacciatore

Plate of Chicken Cacciatore with Spaghetti Squash
Served over Spaghetti Squash

Recipe by Robin

One way to almost guarantee success with a recipe that you haven’t tried before is to make something with tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes. Your chances of success are even greater if you use homemade tomato sauce and/or homemade stewed tomatoes. Add a little wine for even higher odds of success. Case in point: I have only made chicken cacciatore twice but both times it was enthusiastically enjoyed and compliments rolled in. The first success was back in yesteryear when feeding an under-appreciative boyfriend with a recipe from the new 1985 Joy of Cooking. The second success was at a recent dinner party where my husband hoped that I knew what I was doing when I made up a recipe at the last minute.  It’s hard to go wrong with variations on this recipe, as long as you use a wine that you’d consider drinking. It doesn’t need to be expensive wine. I used a 2001 Two Buck Chuck Shiraz. Yeah, I might consider drinking that if the occasion were right, though it’s even better for cooking.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gram’s Apple Cake

Plate of Apple cake with Whipped Cream
With Whipped Cream for Me

Recipe by Gram and Robin

Have you ever been on a culinary quest that lasted for years? Trying to find an elusive recipe that you tasted once or enjoyed as a child, trying to recreate that recipe but not getting it quite right year after year? Giving up, then recommitting, looking at old cookbooks, hoping for divine intervention and, when all else fails, searching the internet? Such was my quest for my grandmother’s apple cake. With a vivid flavor and texture in mind, and recipes in hand, I made many delicious apple cakes (and one notable failure) that weren’t anything like Gram’s. Until two days ago, when a hole in the space-time continuum to 1968 opened up and I saw the light. How fortunate that this happened before the dinner party.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Polish Style Beets

Plate of Red and Rose White Beets
Simple, Colorful, and Healthful

Recipe from Live Earth Farm

I know that I just advised you in my last post of November recipes to forego the beets and other root veggies until winter, when locavores will be eating plenty of them. But this strategy doesn’t always work if you belong to a CSA and get a box of produce every week that’s chosen by the farm. True that beets will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Also true that they can be large, take up a lot of refrigerator real estate, and resist being compressed into smaller spaces. After a couple of weeks' worth of both red and rose-white beets, my resistance to cooking them wore thin. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November Veggies and Recipes

Bright plum leaves
First Golden Plums, Now Scarlet Leaves

Last Harvests and Giving Thanks

It’s true that the dark time of year is upon us. Daylight hours are shrinking and in the US (except for a few states) we’re already into “Daylight Wasting” time. We’re past mid-fall and into the final day-shrink. Nights are cool and weather can be stormy. And yet, when the sun shines it’s warm in the garden. The soil warms up, unlike its perpetually chilly winter condition. Tomatoes are still ripening, even optimistically producing new flowers…though prudent gardeners remove these so plants will concentrate their energies on ripening already-set fruits. Peppers and zucchini still show up at the farmers’ market. Leaves still cling to our dogwood and plum trees, blazing in yellow, burnt orange, and burgundy. The apple tree leaves are still green. Does it seem “unseasonably” warm to anyone else?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

DIY Stewed Tomatoes

Basket of late season tomatoes
Late Season Imperfections

Recipe by Robin

I know that I’ve posted an inordinate amount of tomato recipes this year. That is due to a miscalculation early in the growing season. Or an inability to believe how large a small tomato plant (or 11) in an container can grow. When the 7 Renee’s Garden Super bush container tomato seeds that I sprouted looked a little wimpy, I bought 4 more plants at an organic farm: two cherries, and Brandywine and Mortgage Lifter heirlooms. These varieties were not container friendly, supposedly. So I assumed that when forced to live in pots, their yield would be skimpy. Not true, like so many assumptions. One advantage of this miscalculation is the discovery of 5 tomato varieties that grow really well in containers. Another is the discovery of homemade stewed tomatoes, for which late season, oddly textured, non-cosmetically correct tomatoes are perfect. DIY stewed tomatoes are only remotely related to the oversalted, underflavored varieties that come in cans.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oven Roasted Peppers

Plate of Red, Orange, and Yellow Roasted Peppers
Versatile and Colorful

 Method by Bruce

Peppers of all varieties are my favorite vegetable to grill in the summertime. Or more correctly, to enjoy after my husband grills them. Their sweet, smoky flavor compliments every protein from roast beef to stewed chicken to veggie burgers. They’re delicious in corn relish, atop other sandwich ingredients, or pureed in salsas. They can add an unexpected layer to salads, canapés, or casseroles, or become a brightly colored garnish for almost anything savory. The addition of a little olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and herbs transmogrifies them into a different but equally tempting dish. So what’s not to like? Only the fact that the sweet pepper season seems to extend beyond the barbecue season, at least here on the central CA coast. This is especially true if you’re not at home most days. Grilling after dark is never ideal.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Plate of Ratatouille with grated cheese
Lunch, Dinner, Main Dish, or Side Dish

Recipe by Robin

A few years back, our CSA went a bit crazy with eggplant. Italian eggplant, Japanese eggplant, large eggplant, small eggplant, our farm share was loaded with these every week throughout the summer. Unfortunately, my husband Bruce hated eggplant: its puffy yet squishy texture, its bitterness, even the mere idea of eggplant. Luckily, during those same summer weeks we received plenty of tomatoes and peppers from our CSA, and a mondo load of zucchini from our neighbor Dana. I started making huge batches of ratatouille, which is basically a sauté of these four veggies along with onions and garlic. At first I chopped the eggplant finer than the other veggies, thinking that Bruce would notice it less and be more likely to enjoy the dish. This strategy worked beautifully, and throughout the summer I increased the size of the eggplant pieces. Ratatouille became a favorite dinner for both of us. Especially since it’s filling and my recipe is very low in calories.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lowfat Apple Turnovers with Phyllo Dough

Two Turnovers with Two Toppings
Choice of Toppings

Recipe from The Cooking Decade

A lowfat apple turnover sounds too good to be true, or at least too unusual to be delicious. However, in The Cooking Decade, a collection of tried and true family recipes compiled by my sister Chris, it is marked “Outstanding.” I’m not a phyllo dough expert, in fact have only used it twice to make spanakopita, many years ago. Though this recipe is easiest if you have some phyllo finesse, it is truly hard to ruin. The original recipe calls for cutting the phyllo into long equal strips and stacking them up. Easier said than done for phyllo novices with limited counter space. So on my second try, I cut the dough crosswise, to make shorter, wider sheets. Then I stacked two manageable-sized sheets and folded them. This seemed an easier way to make even dough strips, with fewer torn edges. Also, the turnovers were fewer and plumper, hardly a disadvantage.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Plate of roasted tomatoes over greens
Roasted Tomatoes Over Spinach & Arugula

Recipe adapted from Slim & Scrumptious

My dearest departed friend’s name, when she was married to her first husband, was Joy Bauer. That was years before I knew her. We met late in her short life, but learned a lot about each other during the 5 years that we shared. She was a great cook and fellow foodie, but wished that she had more skill in preparing healthful, lighter meals.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I found a book on just such a topic by Joy Bauer in our library! Of course I took the book home, for its novelty factor. Our Joy would have called it synchronicity.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Minestrone with Fresh Beans

Bowl of Classic Minestrone
Warming, Healthful, and Italian!

Recipe by Robin

What’s the #1 way to use up lots of veggies from your CSA when nights are cool? That’s right: a hearty, warming soup. One of the keys to good soup is tasty broth. Onion, celery, and carrots, added at the beginning of the cooking time, make a savory broth base. Or use leeks and shallots instead of all or part of the onion. To fully develop their flavor, sauté these veggies before adding liquid to make the soup. Late season tomatoes, added after the broth has developed a bit, turn the broth in a decidedly Italian direction, especially when paired with garlic and dried oregano, basil, and marjoram. Almost any veggie can be “souped,” but be aware that cruciferous veggies like broccoli or kale will tend to dominate the soup’s flavor. Combining milder veggies like squash, potatoes, and green beans with them mellows the blend, as does pasta, rice, or beans. Greens such as spinach, parsley, or leftover basil add freshness and texture to your creation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

10 Tips on How to Tweak a Recipe

Shrimp and Tomatoes in Skillet with Salt and Pepper on top
Most Recent Lesson (#6): Don't Add Salt
To Only a Few Ingredients

Derived by Robin via Trial & Error

Ever made a recipe that seemed so right but went so wrong? Even when you followed the directions to the letter? Let’s face it, some recipes are just not that well written. They leave too much to the imagination. Or sometimes the recipe writer’s taste just isn’t the same as ours, even if s/he is featured on The Food Channel or has written a classic cookbook. Can this recipe be saved, and if so, how? Take heart. As well known coach and writer Dianne Jacob discloses in her book Will Write for Food, recipe development is an art, an exercise in non-linear thinking. Here are a few tips for reinventing an almost-good recipe—as a masterpiece.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

Closeup of a basket of Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins
Healthful Alternative

Recipe by Robin

Muffins aren’t what they used to be. These days they’re supersized, and available almost anywhere. But what commercially produced muffins have gained in size they’ve lost in nutrition. Even muffins produced without preservatives or hydrogenated fats are loaded with sugar and enough excess oil to stain your napkin and coat your fingertips. Whole grains have been replaced with refined flour. Artificial color and flavor are not unusual. Plus, they’re expensive. Let’s get back to basics with a low fat fall harvest muffin that’s full of whole grain goodness along with the natural moistness of no-sugar applesauce!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shrimp Stir Fry with Zucchini and Tomatoes

Plate of Stir Fried Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes
Shrimp with Seasonal Veggies

Recipe adapted from Weight Watchers

Shrimp! So delicious and healthful, and so confusing to buy sustainably. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website identifies 13 different categories for shrimp harvests, varying in country of origin and fishing method. Plus there are several species in each category. Sometimes a species can have several common names, and sometimes you’ll find a common name at the store that’s not on the list at all. What’s a consumer who’s concerned about eating shrimp sustainably to do?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Caprese Salad with Herbed Lime Vinaigrette

Bowl of Salad, Bowl of Dressing
Before Adding Dressing

Recipe by Robin

With a wealth of tomatoes and basil still growing in my garden, a Caprese salad seems like a natural, except for one thing. I’m obsessive about fresh mozzarella cheese. I can barely contain my desire to eat whatever quantity comes into my house once the wrapper is open. Is it the mild taste, the texture, the way it combines with other foods? (Not the latter, since I happily enjoy it sans accompaniment.) Luckily, I discovered a sealed container of fresh mozzarella balls packed in water at the local natural foods store. The 8 oz. size is perfect for this salad, with no chopping (and sneaking bites) required. And just in time for late tomatoes and basil. The success of this salad depends upon the freshness of all 3 of these ingredients.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Apple Crisp

Two Apple Crisps in dish with cream
Traditional and Updated Crisps

Recipe by Mom, Fannie Farmer, and Robin

Of all the seasons, autumn makes me most nostalgic for my mother. It’s the season she died, and also the season in which she seemed most alive. She loved the variety of New England seasons, but the crispness of fall days invigorated her and inspired her to activity. When I was young, she’d take my sister and I to local farms for apples and fresh-pressed cider. We’d visit the farm animals and perhaps pick out a few pumpkins or some Indian corn to decorate at home. Once she bought us tiny woven cornucopias filled with mini candies. My memories of those times are surrounded with the golden glow of October sun in an unbelievably deep blue sky.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

DIY Prunes from Plums

Basket of Freshly Made Prunes
Prune Plums After

Method by Robin

In autumn, a young woman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…prunes? OK, I made that up. Since I’m no longer a young woman, how would I know? But a middle aged woman who spies the last of the season’s prune plums at her favorite natural foods store…that I can speak to. Prunes make are a naturally sweet snack that’s a fun way to enjoy fruit in winter. Don’t believe me? How about if they’re preserved in brandy afterwards? Dipped in chocolate? But I digress…

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October Veggies and Recipes

Joseph's coat rose
Autumn Rose

Golden Light, Bright Leaves, and Bountiful Harvest

October is a beautiful month, no matter where you go in the US.  The weather can be balmy or crisp, but seldom excruciatingly cold or hot (except in Hawaii if the trade winds die). It’s the perfect time to travel, even if it’s just for day trips around your home county. The month often starts out with a short heat wave, like yesterday when it was 97 degrees in Santa Cruz county. And even more often there’s a cold snap towards the end of the month, where all of a sudden windows need to be closed at night and quilts and coats make their annual reappearance. If you look around, you can catch a bit of fall color no matter where you are, as deciduous trees and garden plants change their hues in preparation for winter. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, and pumpkins brighten doorsteps in a final blaze of glory before the snow (or rain) flies.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dehydrator Dried Tomatoes

Plate of dried tomato slices
Dried Heirlooms & Super Bushes

Method from Excalibur and TomatoDirt

Tomatoes! Here in the Santa Cruz mountains, we still have them ripening like crazy in the garden. I’ve made baked tomato sauce and slow cooker tomato sauce, which I’ve frozen for a rainy (January) day. Bruce made raw tomato sauce and I experimented with baked tomatoes and even candied tomatoes. We’ve had herbed tomato soup, fresh tomatoes with basil and balsamic, chili spiced Romanesco cauliflower, turkey Hungarian goulash, squash with fresh tomato sauce, and more tomato/veggie/pasta dishes and salads than we can count. Freezer is filling up. What’s next? Dried tomatoes!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Slow Cooker Tomato Sauce

Slow Cooker Pasta Sauce over Chicken and Kale
Pasta Alternative: Cooked Chicken and Kale

Recipe created from Conversation at Farmers’ Market

I love men who can cook and like to do so. It’s especially heartening to see young men experimenting with their own recipes and talking about them. Such was the case at the farmers’ market a few weeks back when a handsome young tomato vendor told me how he’d cook the discounted sauce tomatoes he was selling. Yes, I know it was a sales pitch. And it would have worked if I didn’t have 5 lbs. of tomatoes at home already. It almost worked anyway.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Harvest Vegetable Chowder

Bowl of Veggie Chowder
Instant Love!

Recipe adapted from Healing Foods

Welcome to Fall! Sometimes we need a bit of comfort food to ground ourselves. Perhaps we’ve been betrayed by a trusted friend, perhaps we feel alone in our world, perhaps we’re just stressed and need some nurturing…and perhaps I’m just projecting. Perhaps the change of season has left us a little blue. In any case, comfort food doesn’t really help if it’s filled with unhealthy ingredients. That’s not taking best care of ourselves. So I present a milk-based vegetarian chowder filled with comforting whole ingredients like corn, potatoes, and winter squash. Worked for me, and hope it does for you too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Candied Tomatoes

2 Candied Tomatoes on Plate
A Most Unusual Recipe

Recipe adapted from the Hawaii Kai Cookbook

The words candied and tomatoes are rarely seen together. But once you do see them together, they create a strange and compelling idea in the mind, at least in my mind. Since tomatoes are technically fruits, the candied concept seems plausible. Until you consider that eggplant, green beans, and peppers are also fruits, because they too contain seeds.  And what’s up with sweet onion in the candy part? Clearly this is one unusual recipe. But since it was served in an iconic NYC restaurant specializing in Hawaiian cuisine, how could it not be good?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Baked Tomatoes

Baking Dish of Baked Tomatoes
Whimsical Side Dish

Recipe adapted from Healing Foods

Sometimes I love it when I’m wrong. Like when I first read Miriam Polunin’s Healing Foods, and dismissed it because some of the nutritional information, from the carbo-loading era, was outdated. I did copy a few of the recipes before returning the book to the library, and throughout the years every one of the recipes I’ve tried has turned out fabulous. So, not only did I revise my review on Goodreads, I’m also going to order the book. Baked Tomatoes follow Carrot-Cilantro Soup, Golden Beet Soup with Herbs, and Healthy Polish Carrot Cake in the string of hit recipes from this book. To try next: Veggie Chowder. If these recipes resonate with you, perhaps you’d like to treat yourself to this bargain price cookbook as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Southwestern Three Sisters Stew

Bowl of 3 Sisters Stew with Sour Cream and Cilantro
Healthy & Delish, with or without Garnish

Adapted from Cooking By Moonlight

If someone told me that I could only cook from one cookbook for the rest of my life, I’d choose Karri Ann Allrich’s “Cooking by Moonlight, a Witch’s Guide to Culinary Magic.” Perfect for seasonal cooks, this book contains full menus with recipes for every moon (month) of the year, including a special section for blue moons. Chapters on developing seasonal intuition, stocking a moonlit kitchen, using herbs and spices magically, and even love foods lead the mind to endless possibilities. Also, every single one of the recipes is absolutely fabulous. I would love to meet this woman!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fresh Raw Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Herbs

Plate of Shiritaki noodles with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Traditionally Served at Room Temperature

Recipe by Bruce and Robin

While perusing cookbooks and recipe websites I often get the impression that Bruce and I like garlic and herbs more than the average person. Such was the case this week when we researched fresh tomato sauce. America’s Test Kitchen wizard Christopher Kimball fries up garlic in quite a bit of oil, but strains out the garlic and adds only the oil to his sauce. Spendid Table’s food maven Lynn Rosetto Kasper rubs the serving bowl with a clove of garlic, but then discards it before adding the tomatoes. Many recipes use no garlic whatsoever. We wondered: what would happen if we just minced up some garlic and threw it into the mix? So we tried it with two small cloves.