Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

Platter of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Perfect for Potlucks

Recipe from Melinda

My colleague Melinda brings the most exquisite treats to share with us at the library. Her recent muffins disappeared in record time, being an unusual combination of seasonal pumpkin, spices, and chocolate. I scaled her recipe down to mini muffins, which were a big hit at game night. Their small size works well for holiday potlucks and parties for the same reason—when there’s ample food, just a small muffin (or two) will suffice. Also, the small size makes them easy finger foods for cocktail parties, crowded events, and gaming tables. These muffins are not too sweet, so chocolate and spice take center stage.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sausage and Apple Stuffed Acorn Squash

Autumnal Fare

Recipe adapted from Casalegno Family Farm

One of my favorite things about Farmers’ Markets is meeting the people behind the food. It’s especially rewarding to meet a vendor who owns and operates a farm while raising two children and working a day job. Marissa Casalegno and her husband Matt, are the fifth Casalegno Farm generation. They work day and night to expand their farm and preserve heirloom veggies. Marissa gave me this recipe, featuring Casalegno Family Farm’s fantastic winter squash and green apples. Sausage and spices compliment sweet squash and sour apples beautifully.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Minestrone with Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel)

Minestrone with Tangerine Kick

Recipe from Chinese Herbal Cookbook

As my friend Jon says, “One of the reasons I love food so much is that it’s an adventure if you go for new things...exotic spices, cuisines from around the world and ingredients that make you go 'hmmmm'. My most memorable meals are a symphony of textures and flavors. It's the magic of one flavor picking up where the last left, harmoniously and at the same time an experience all its own.” Inspired by Jon, I offer this long-forgotten recipe: Italian style minestrone with Chinese chen pi, or dried tangerine peel. Tangerine permeates the dish in a subtle but game-changing way.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup

Closeup of Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup topped with Basil
Summer into Fall Soup

Recipe adapted from Undated Photocopy

As we slide from late summer to autumn next week, we’re enjoying the end of surprisingly long corn season here in Santa Cruz county. Though corn isn’t easy to grow near the coast, Happy Boy Farms has supplied us with an enormous amount of organic ears at farmers’ markets this season. Combined with Happy Boy’s bargain-priced heirloom tomatoes, corn makes a colorful, delicious, and healthful soup. Bonus: easy prep and few other ingredients needed. Simply add corn and tomatoes to sautéed aromatics, add a little water and seasoning, and cook down. What’s not to like?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Motel Room Cooking: Lobster Rolls

Plate with two lobster rolls and six large shrimp
Total Decadence: Add Shrimp Appetizer

Recipe by Robin

Spending a week or two at the beach in summer can run into high accommodations costs, but you can keep food costs down. Find a place to stay with a 2-burner stovetop, fridge, and microwave, and eat like locals. Or camp and pack your ice chest and cook stove. Fruit and veggies from farm stands or farmers’ markets, along with fresh fish and shellfish from local sources can be prepared into 5-star cuisine for a fraction of what you’d pay at a restaurant. It helps to have these supplies: a sharp knife; a medium skillet; medium and large covered pots, a colander or large strainer, and a large bowl or two.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Grilled Tuna Salad

Closeup of Grilled Tuna Salad

Recipe Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

When I think of tuna salad, I think of the soggy mayo-rich sandwiches of my youth: canned tuna on spongy white bread. Nothing wrong with them, especially with crunchy celery and spicy chives added, but summer inspires a fresher menu. Ina Garten, TV’s Barefoot Contessa to the rescue, with a tuna salad that features two summertime favorites: cool veggie salads and charcoal broiled steaks—in this case, tuna steaks—with a dab of Asian inspired dressing. Vive la difference!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Peach Melba

Recipe by Robin

Two of my favorite things about summer are peaches and raspberries. For years I’ve had the idea of combining them into peach melba, a dessert of poached peaches, ice cream, and raspberry sauce. Originally created for the Victorian opera star Nellie Melba by legendary French chef and restaurateur Auguste Escoffier, the recipe, though it sounds fancy, is surprisingly simple (especially after eliminating Escoffier’s hand-carved ice swan presentation).  I cut down the amount of sugar significantly, both in the peaches and the sauce, allowing the full flavor of the ripe fruit to shine through.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri

Two Frozen Strawberry Daiquiris with Whipped Cream
Double Your Pleasure

Recipe Inspired by Cuba Cocina!

It’s Memorial Day weekend, time for parades, picnics, and potables, preferably alcoholic. Remembering my failed yet fun attempt to make frozen daiquiris with fresh strawberries last Labor Day, I decided to give it another shot. Using frozen strawberries instead of fresh strawberries and ice gives the daiquiris a more concentrated strawberry hit, intensifying both flavor and texture. I reduced the amount of rum per drink to 2 - 2.5 oz. rather than 3, since all of my photos from Labor Day were too blurry to use after just a few sips. Use your own judgment, or lack thereof.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mom’s Crab Salad with Dungeness Crab

Crab Salad on English Muffin with side salad
Like Mom Used to Make

Recipe by Mom

At last it’s Dungeness crab season in Santa Cruz, after a nasty algal bloom that nixed the usual winter celebrations with our favorite crustaceans. Although it’s not cheap and the season seems off, let’s support our local crab fishermen, who’ve had some tough times this year. After filling my family with steamed crab, I made Mom’s “crabmeat salad,” which she prepared with canned crab back in the 1960s. Canned crab isn’t what it used to be—now it’s a shredded mess that tastes metallic. Fresh local crab is the ticket.  Mom’s recipe is extremely simple, and contains no ingredients that might overshadow crab’s subtle flavor.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pesto, Kale, and Mushroom Spaghetti Squash

Bowl of Pesto, Kale, and Mushroom Spaghetti Squash
Italian Style Spaghetti Squash

Recipe Adapted from

It’s spring! Though spring officially arrives today, it will be a month or more before we start seeing local spring veggies. In the meantime, using up last year’s harvest of winter squash is prudent, but boring. But with just a little bit of cheating—making a winter pesto with imported basil leaves or buying premade pesto at the market—last year’s spaghetti squash is elevated to Italianesque loveliness. Combined with in-season kale, onions, and mushrooms, plus a dose of Parmesan, garlic, and red pepper, this spaghetti squash awakens even the most jaded of winter palates.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Pumpkin Flan (Flan de Calabaza)

Slice of Pumpkin Flan with Whipped cream
Smooth, Refreshing Pumpkin Flan

Recipe adapted from and CubanFoodMarket

It’s almost spring, and time to use up the last of the pumpkins and winter squash from last fall’s harvest. But pumpkin pies and breads seem wildly inappropriate for the season. To the rescue: Cuban flan de calabaza, roughly translated as pumpkin flan. Flan came to Cuba via Europe. In the Middle Ages flans were popular throughout Europe during Lent, when meat wasn't eaten. Flan's eggs and milk provided protein to the faithful. So what could be a more seasonally appropriate use for pumpkin in March?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Orange Chocolate Chip Scones

Platter of Scones
Eight Perfect and Easy Scones

Recipe Adapted from the Savoy Hotel

The Savoy Hotel high tea has been a tradition in London since 1904, and their delicate scones are at the heart of the menu. Although Savoy scones are round, and this recipe makes wedges, Allrecipes members claim that the recipe is altered only slightly from the Savoy’s. Who knows, since the Savoy isn’t about to publish its famous recipe. Certainly, one would not see chocolate chips and orange instead of the traditional currants at the Savoy. Those are my substitutions in honor of Valentine’s Day. These light and tender scones take only about 35 minutes to make. And they’re vastly less pricey than a trip to the Savoy.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sweet Potato and Pomegranate Tagine with Ras el Hanout

Bowl of Sweet Potato Pomegranate Tagine
Mid-Winter Lift

Recipe adapted from Vegetarian Times

I can’t imagine a better pairing than winter and tagines. These highly spiced North African stews perk up both body and spirit. Though traditionally tagines are curried meat dishes, vegetables respond equally well to the combination of spices. Sweet cinnamon and ginger, hot peppers, bitter turmeric, exotic cardamom and saffron, and other spices combine to make the heady blend called ras el hanout—which means “head of the shop” or roughly “top rated” in Arabic. In this recipe you’ll make your own spice blend, creating a supply for other tagine experiments this winter.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Immune Boost: Mushroom and Barley Soup

Closeup of bowl of mushroom barley soup
Immune Boosting Deliciousness

Recipe Adapted from Unidentified Clipping

It’s January. I don’t know about you, but it seems like everyone around me is sick, getting sick, or getting over being sick. From people at work to kids in the library to shoppers in the mall, why don’t these people just stay home? But since they won’t, we healthy folks need to tend to our immune systems. Extra vitamin C, extra rest, extra hot lemon tea, extra greens, extra whatever it is that makes us feel healthier. And mushroom soup. I was pleasantly surprised that instead of tasting thin and medicinal, this soup is hearty and delicious, more like a stew. Even my mushroom-soup-wary husband likes it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Cranberry Orange Honey Muffins

Two Muffins on Plate
Epiphany Muffins for Two

Recipe Adapted from 250 Best Muffin Recipes

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, and the Twelfth Day of Christmas. The word Epiphany comes from Greek and means to reveal or show. It celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem, and symbolizes the revealing of Jesus to the world. These days, Twelfth Night cake is served at big parties. It contains a dry bean or trinket, and whoever receives this in their slice is designated king or queen of the party. At my house, we’re short on trinkets and revelers, but still well-stocked with cranberries. Celebrating with cranberry muffins seems perfect.