Freezer up!

We moved into our swell flat on Russian Hill in San Francisco in 1992. It was built in 1935, the last on the west side of Russian Hill after the earthquake and fire. Swell in every way — including a parking space in the garage — but the refrigerator in the remodeled kitchen was 30 inches wide with a freezer on top. Not swell.

We lived with that until 2003. Enough. No space to put away tomato sauce and other stuff I make in season to enjoy later. I went out and bought an “undercounter” freezer at Sears. Carried it home in the back of the SAAB. We didn’t really install it under the counter, but beside the counter with a microwave on top. That was a huge improvement, quadrupling our freezer space.

There’s the freezer on the left.

Last year we moved to Reno and bought a six-year old house. Wow. The space provided for the refrigerator was big enough for a double door refrigerator with a freezer drawer under. We went out and bought one of those puppies, relegating our “undercounter” freezer — still useful — to the garage.

Our new Reno fridge.

Undercounter freezer in garage with car.

Trouble is, it got so we dreaded using it. It was on the rather cold garage floor and we had to get on hands and knees to look in and get stuff out. And if the car was in the garage, the open freezer door just scraped by the front bumper — unless we parked an inch or two too far in.

One day, on my knee trying to fish out some sausages, a pound of ground beef and a ham steak came sliding out and rattled onto the floor; the ham steak slid under the car. Damn!! (I might have said.) Frustrated, I rolled back my head and gazed skyward… nothing up there but the garage ceiling. But wait, there’s nothing above the “undercounter” freezer. Why not lift the sucker up??? I can put it at eye level. Sounds like a plan.

Freezer up!!!

Hey… frozen food at eye level. What a concept.


California Quail

I can’t believe I haven’t written about Fatted Calf Fig and Sausage Stuffed Quail. I first made it in September of 2010 and have cooked it one or more times a year since. It is so good and rich and well, different. Here’s the way Fatted Calf announced it:

Finally Figs
Finally, figs!  Beautiful, fat, dusky figs oozing with droplets of ambrosial sap from nearby Capay valley! That means, finally, fig and sausage stuffed quail.   And not just any quail but beautiful, plump, naturally raised Wolfe Ranch ( quail from Vacaville.
Farmer Brent Wolfe has been raising quail and other poultry his entire life and has developed his own breeding stock.  That means that the quail spend their entire lives on Brent’s Vacaville Ranch.  And Brent’s quail grow big, much bigger than your average quail, making them just perfect for stuffing.
The quail come straight from the farm to the Fatted Calf kitchen where they take a brief bath in brine that keeps them moist and delicious.  They are then stuffed with perfectly ripe figs encased in a blanket of lemon and herb sausage.   Roast in a hot oven or on the grill and as the skin turns golden brown and the sausage juices baste the quail internally, the fig becomes molten caramel.  Savor the first bite, finally!

I’d have to say that the quail was every bit as good as it sounds

A little research told me that less than a week after we dined on the Fatted Calf Quail, we left for Kyiv, Ukriane to attend son Brian’s wedding service and meet Natasza’s parents. Quail seemed to slip down the list of writing subjects.

In any case, we took pictures the first time and again when we grilled it last week, so here’s making up for lost time.

Could not be simpler to prepare:
• Brown the quail.
• Roast the quail.
• Make some elegant accompaniments.

Naked Quail stuffed with sausage and a fat fig

Brown the quail; roast the quail

It took about 8 minutes to brown the quail on all sides, then another 12 minutes or so to get it to an internal  temperature of 160°F; a total of 20 minutes. Continue reading

Macaroni and Cheese… d’best

Tipsy Pig on Chestnut, San Francisco

I clipped this article as soon as it appeared in the Chronicle and right away, just had to make this mac n cheese. Being a mac n cheese lover, I have many macaroni and cheese recipes from such diverse sources as the NY Times, LA Times, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Cookbook, and — Praise the Lord — the Annie’s “Shells and Real Aged Cheddar”box.

This is good stuff and plenty easy to make. Here are my Cook’s Notes:

Dis is good and EZ. Made a half-pound of ditalini pasta with 2 cups of cheese sauce, so I’ve got 4 cups of cheese sauce in the fridge/freezer. Used supermarket cheeses. Ground the cheeses in the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment. That is EZ, ‘cept for the clean-up, but still… Served with baby back ribs and a first course of Cook’s Illustrated Cream of Tomato soup. Plenty LO for lunches. Now I’ll have it at Tipsy Pig, see how mine stood up. [Mine stood up well.]

Tipsy Pig Mac n Cheese served at my house with sausage and mashed squash.

And here, I’ll share Michael Bauer’s article (slightly edited):
Why Tipsy Pig’s macaroni and cheese is so good
by Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic Sunday, February 7, 2010

One bite of the macaroni and cheese at the Tipsy Pig, and all other versions I’d tasted through the years slipped from my memory. I had found the best.
Why is this version so much better than others I’ve tasted?
I truly wanted to know so I called chef/co-owner Sam Josi, and he shared the recipe, which we tested in The Chronicle’s kitchen. We discovered several elements or “secrets” that set this recipe apart.

cream, pasta, cheeses, butter, flour

Ditalini pasta: These short pasta tubes, often used in soups, capture more of the creamy, cheesy sauce. Make sure the water used to cook the pasta is “salty like the sea,” otherwise the dish may taste flat.
The cheeses: White cheddar adds a sharper high note, Dutch Gouda lends exceptional creaminess, and Shropshire blue has an orange gold color and a sharp tang. Parmesan, sprinkled on at the end, adds a distinct nutty, salty quality that rounds out the blend.
Bacon fat: Many versions garnish with bacon, but using the fat distributes the flavor throughout.
Timing: It’s important to combine the pasta and sauce just before serving. The sauce is simply tossed with the pasta instead of being baked before serving so the dish tastes extra rich and creamy.
Tipsy Pig, which opened a little more than a year ago in the Marina, serves down-home American food, including first-rate pulled pork sliders and chicken pot pie whose puff pastry dome caps rich gravy filled with chunks of white meat, peas, carrots, turnips and other vegetables.
When Josi was conceiving the menu, he knew that macaroni and cheese would have to be on the menu, so the chef started playing with the classic recipe. He remembers making macaroni and cheese in cooking school with a standard bechamel sauce and wondered why he couldn’t substitute bacon fat for butter. He was chastised for the idea and put it away for another day.
Then years later… he concocted a bacon-infused version of macaroni and cheese in individual containers, but it took too long to heat up. When Tipsy Pig opened, he decided to separate the pasta from the sauce and stir them together at the last minute so the dish would be hot and creamy. The combination of cheeses came about partly by chance because the white Cheddar was being used for burgers and he needed Shropshire for its bright yellow color. He ended up with a combination of four cheeses that taste so good together they should be married for life.
So here’s the recipe. If you don’t feel like making the dish at home, you can always make reservations at Tipsy Pig. Continue reading

Noodles Make Everything Better

We often stop at Dottie’s in Colfax CA on our way from San Francisco to Reno. The food is real good and served in two-meal size portions for a one-meal price.

The Special on Sunday was a prime rib sandwichthin sliced prime rib of beef, caramelized onions, peppers and parmesan, onna soft roll. For an extra buck, they jazzed the fries with parmesan and garlic. We got one order each, Carol’s with a salad.

Ranch dipping sauce for the oh so good fries

I will admit to eating half of my sandwich and we licked the platter clean of the fries. So good.

Here’s the half-sandwich I brought home. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Looks forlorn, but I remember how good it was. The microwave is rarely the answer for me, and besides, I doubt it would heat evenly, and what would become of the bread.

So, I’ll deconstruct the sandwich, heat the meat and top with noodles and “tomato sauce.” Sounds like a lunch.

The noodles I’m talking about are my favorite Chinese Noodles, Green Dragon brand Oriental Style Imitation Egg Noodles. They take only 3 minutes to cook.

Slice the LO sandwich and warm in a frying pan, move to a plate and keep warm in the oven.

Cook a bundle of noodles and drain. Heat a 5 1/2 oz can Spicy V8 in the pan, add noodles and cook down a bit. Turn the noodles over the sandwich slices.

eat it all

A Moving Meal

Bean Ragout a la Bon Appitit, Barbara, Lidia and me.
I was inspired by White Bean Ragout with Toast I read about in Bon Appetit on the drive home from our last scout trip to Reno. That recipe is all about building a flavor base for what is essentially a white bean and tomato bread salad made soup by adding liquid. The soffritto, an Italian blend of chopped cooked aromatics is that flavor base. That’s fine, but the recipe makes about 3 cups of soffritto and only uses 1/2 cup… refrigerate or freeze the balance for use in many strange and wonderful ways. Well… I’m trying to EMPTY the freezer.
I do have a container of Lidia’s Soup Base in the freezer. (Lidia Bastianich: if you don’t know her, you are missing out.) I’m not sure what’s in it or why I made it in the first place, but I’ll bet it’ll be good with white beans. So I got that out to thaw and I’m on my way to some kind of bean soup or stew. I checked my recipe files and glommed onto Barbara Kafka’s Bean and Kale Soup.

So I had a plan, and all I needed was the Kale. I’ll start with Barbara’s Bean and Kale Soup but substitute Lidia’s Soup Base for the broth and borrow the croutons from the Bon Appitit recipe.

The ragout is cooked and croutons in the bowl.

Ragout on the table.

Feast in the midst of chaos.

That was delicious.

Lidia’s Soup Base turned out to be a bit tomatoey and garlicy and made it really great with the beans and greens. I used farfalle pasta — which I don’t much like — but we had a bunch of it in the cupboard, so using it up is a good thing.

Here’s what I did:

Bean & Kale Ragout with Croutons
Adapted from Bean & Kale Soup, from Soup: A Way of Life by Barbara Kafka
Altered and rewritten by Marcus, Judith Jones style.

Makes about 5 cups; 4 first-course servings.

Wash and trim 1 bunch kale and in a medium saucepan, over medium heat, cook the kale with 1?2 cup (125 ml) water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt until tender. Drain and coarsely chop the kale, reserving any liquid that remains.

Rub some slices rustic bread with garlic, drizzle with olive oil and bake on a baking sheet at 400°F for about 5 minutes until just right. (I keep slices of bread in the freezer for this purpose, and bake in the countertop convection oven.)

Very finely chop 2 flat anchovy fillets together with the 1?4 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves or dried. Reserve.

Put on enough water for 1/2 cup shell pasta and cook for 5 or 6 minutes (half the time on the package). Reserve in its water if necessary.

Smash and peel 2 garlic cloves and in a medium saucepan, stir together 1?3 cup (80 ml) olive oil and the garlic over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is pale gold, about 10 minutes. Take the pan off heat and stir in the anchovies and rosemary for 1 minute. [A furious sizzle ensues when you throw the anchovies into the very hot oil.]

Discard the garlic. Put the pan back on heat and stir in the kale and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to thoroughly coat it with the oil. Stir in 1 cup drained, cooked small white beans (or rinsed canned beans). Cook for 3 minutes.

Stir in the reserved kale cooking liquid and 3 cups broth (here’s where I used Lidia’s Soup Base). Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and stir in 1?2 cup (60 g) of your partially cooked small shell macaroni. Simmer for 6 minutes, or until the pasta is tender. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Place 3 or 4 croutons in each serving bowl, top with the beans greens and broth.

Pass Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper at the table.

I noodled around in my recipe database and actually found a recipe I might have used for Lidia’s Soup Base — a part of larger cook-most-of-the-day Hearty Minestra Base with Cranberry Beans, Potatoes, and Pork

It is not so different from the Soffritto of the Bon Appitit recipe. (Ironically, I rejected that recipe because I didn’t want to make the soffritto, only to discover I had something similar in my own freezer.) So I altered Bon Appitit to make it tomatoey, and suggest that. I’m not sure I’m right and I haven’t tested this, but it seems a lot like Lidia’s other soffritto recipes. When I get moved, I promise to test it.

Faux Lidia Soup Base
Garlic — finely grate 3 garlic cloves.
Chop 3 medium onions and 1 red bell pepper — Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped but not puréed. Mix well in a bowl.
Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion mixture (it may splatter) and season with salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring often, until vegetables are completely softened, about 30 minutes. Make a hot spot in the middle of your skillet; add the finely grated garlic and 2 teaspoons tomato paste and cook, stirring that into the onion mixture until tomato paste begins to turn deep red, about 3 minutes. Add a large can of San Marzano tomatoes with their juices. Break up the tomatoes with your hands or a wooden spoon and cook for at least 30 minutes until all the flavors are blended and the sauce is smooth.

Bon Appitit, as they say.
Yum, as I say.


When Carol’s Retirement story was published, so many asked, “Now what will Carol do?”

“I’m going to RENO !” she said.

That’s not news. Since Brian moved there, we go to Reno three or four times a year to visit Brian and Natasza — or just to go. We like Reno. The difference this time — we’re not coming back… we bought a house in Reno.

Here’s the deal:

A freshly minted Ensign in the Navy in 1962, I was stationed in San Diego. Anticipating a transfer “back east,” that summer Carol and I took a driving trip to Disneyland, San Francisco, Reno, Las Vegas. That was our first visit to Reno. I remember getting a flat tire on the long causeway across the flats leading to Sacramento. When we left our Reno motel, I backed the car into a tree. Why return to that wretched place?

But the years rolled off the clock and in May, 2009. Carol and I went to Reno to meet a real estate agent and scout houses for son Brian. We stayed at Peppermill. WOW.

Brian was being transferred from his job as an research entomologist for the Exotic and Invasive Weeds Research Unit of the USDA in Montpellier, France to a similar position in Reno, NV, USA. Brian bought a house and moved in that August. Since, we’ve visited many times and grew to like the place.

Reno has seasons. It can be darned cold in the winter, but when it snows, the snow goes quickly as there’s often some welcome warming sun during the day. Summer days can be hot — it’s a dry heat, as they say — but since it’s high desert, it cools off at night. I experienced a similar climate during my nearly two years in Jerusalem.

This year, we went to visit Brian for Christmas. Driving into Reno, we saw a billboard by I-80, “Sierra Canyon, A Del Webb +55 Community.” Carol said, “That might be worth a look.” We looked on Christmas Day, went back three days straight and made an offer on a house before we left Reno. WOW, again.

9135 Spruce Creek Court

We’ve lived in San Francisco, in the same perfect flat, for almost exactly 20 years. In April 1992, I moved — along with some furniture — and started work in SF. Carol joined me with the balance of our furniture in August, after finishing up at her school in Newton MA.

Our flat on Union Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco is fabulous. It’s so convenient for all the things we like to do. We can walk to Polk Street, Cow Hollow, the Marina and North Beach. The 45 bus passes through Chinatown and Union Square and goes on to ATT Park and the Giants. We love living in the City. But Union Street is steep, and there are 14 terrazzo steps to our flat. Hey, it’s good exercise, but we are 20 years older. If one of us should fall or just get a joint out of joint, we’d be in a fine pickle.

We like the way we can easily use inside/outside at Brian’s house. Our new house is on one level with no steps, our back patio faces North for the shade. Our front porch faces South for the sun and a swell view of the Sierras. I’ll be able to cook a lot more on the grill. Maybe get a Big Green Egg just like Mark and Jannie’s.

back yard

front porch

We won’t have our beloved Giants at ATT Park — though we can get all their games on the TV. We will have the Reno Aces, a AAA team in their own new and swell ballpark. We’re already members of the Great Basin Food Coop.

Aces "cap day" on the "club level" (actually a restaurant overlooking the ball park)

after some eats, we moved to our seats

Our move date is not until the first week of June, so I’ll be around here packing and cooking and trying to work in some writing. Sure, we’ll miss the action and activity of the city, but as I said to Carol when we looked at “The Tahoe” Model Home at Sierra Canyon, “Hey, this is like being on vacation.”

Fabulous Broccoli

I’ve been thinking about broccoli since a meal at the El Paisano hotel in Marfa TX. The restaurant wasn’t great and the meal wasn’t great but the broccoli was fabulous. I bought some broccoli at the first Market after we got back.

First off, buy (or grow) fabulous broccoli, so fabulous that when you separate the buds, they will look great.

Make your favorite vinaigrette. For this one, I used 1 tablespoon Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Vinegar, 3 tablespoons Stonehouse Sevillano XV Olive Oil, 1 clove garlic, sliced very thin, and shook it up in a used up Mustard Mistress Sassy Sensation mustard jar, a scant amount of mustard clinging to the sides and bottom of the jar.

Steam the broccoli until it is just right to the bite. For me, four minutes. I cool mine on a “cooling rack” I put over the sink; or you can plunge it in cold water then drain well.

Lay down your vinaigrette on a plate.

Arrange your broccoli on the plate.

Beautiful, no?

I warmed plates on top of the oven while potatoes baked.

Serve your broccoli. This is with a Fatted Calf Lamb Crepinette (with greens and pine nuts), plus a small baked potato and half of a peeled, raw tomato.


So fabulous that I had the leftover broccoli with a sliced leftover baked potato for breakfast.

The Root of a Stew

…or is it a Stew of Root

I’m so full of stories — there’s plenty of Texas left and some Reno to come — but they’re not strictly about food and I thought I’d better squeeze one in about food. It’s not for lack of cooking or eating — we’ve been doing that — it’s just that there’s all that other stuff, unfinished.

Whatever… I took my own advice and revisited the Bi-Rite Cookbook.

Standing in Books, Inc, I was browsing that cookbook and came across Wine-Braised Chicken Legs with Root Vegetables. I gave it close inspection and decided that I must make that recipe. And so I did. Along the way, I modified and adapted a lot, but stuck to the idea of braising chicken legs and root vegetables in wine and chicken broth.

3 whole chicken legs and about 2 1/2 pounds of vegetables, not peeled or trimmed. (I used turnip, rutabaga, potato, fennel, carrots). The onions are cooked separately and don’t count with the vegetables.

Before we got to that point, I put the whole chicken legs (about 2 1/2 pounds) on parchment paper on a large baking sheet seasoned them generously with salt and pepper. I put them in the refrigerator about 9am (recipe says uncovered overnight, but I figured 7 hours or so would be just fine to dry them and soak in the seasoning).

When you’re nearly ready to cook, rinse the chicken well, pat dry and let come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 300°F.

Dredge the chicken legs in about 1/3 cup flour, shaking off the excess. I took my biggest Le Creuset Dutch oven to brown the legs in plenty of olive oil over medium heat, they need to be in one layer, otherwise they’ll steam, not brown. If you don’t have a big enough pot, work in batches. Continue reading

Eat Good Food

Bi Rite Market Cookbook

A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking, and Creating Community through Food
by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough
A Review

That’s a mouthful of title and the book has the heft to match. The printed hardcover with no dust jacket adds to the no nonsense, brawny presentation.

The authors start with an essay on “Creating Community Through Food.” Here, they explain their philosophy and family:

buy it with thought
cook it with care
use less wheat & meat
buy local foods
serve just enough
use what is left
Don’t waste it.

That was written in 1914, and as is noted on a store sign, it’s still a go-by.

Bi-Rite has been celebrated lustily for most of the 20 years we’ve lived in San Francisco. I’ve been there a few times, due to its reputation, but Bi-Rite is deep in the Mission District of SF and we live on Russian Hill, about as far from Bi-Rite as possible in the same city. Not convenient; so we’re not part of their community. They describe an exuberant community that one would want to share, perhaps we should have made more of an effort. On the other hand, we’re very much involved with the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and the CUESA community.

They go on to feature the products of each of their departments.

Wine and Beer

For each product — such as Beans, in the Grocery Department, or Spring Onions in Produce — they feature a paragraph or two on:

How to Buy
How to Store
How to Use

They further group by seasons for seasonal products.

At the end of each section, they provide some recipes. For example: Orecchiette with White Beans and Chard, the first meal I cooked from this book. Yum.

Basically, you make olive oil, pancetta. onions and garlic into a flavor base for white beans. Once you stir that stuff together and mash about half the beans you add chard, orecchiette and some pasta water to make a fine pasta dish with greens and a bean sauce. Finish with your favorite olive oil and parmesan. From reading the recipe, I couldn’t imagine quite what it was. But after eating it, I can tell you it was Goooooooood.

The wonderfulness of the Bi-Rite book is that you can be a raw beginner and learn to cook and manage your food and meals with this book. An experienced home cook, on the other hand, will find ideas and methods that they might not have experienced — like that orecchiette deal — and learn new things about cooking.

I love it. Buy it. Make that Orecchiette deal; you won’t be sorry.