Prelude to Summer: Soupe au Pistou

soupe Last Sunday, my family honored this Jewish-earth-mama with a home-cooked breakfast of luscious lemon ricotta pancakes, fresh berries, and crispy bacon, followed by a much needed reprieve from my share of the household duties. After a relaxing morning of feeding on love and lazing about in the sun with a good book, I could stand it no longer – I had to labor away at something!

In an attempt to prolong the afterglow from my trip to Paris, I recently began reading Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah. This delicious memoir is at once relatable, mouth-watering, and an edible journey through France. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, Mah embarks on a year of discovery – one regional specialty at a time.

I recently made the steak frites from her first chapter – receiving Dino hugs and rave reviews – and on Sunday, I decided to spend the afternoon exploring another recipe from the book: soupe au pistou.

With the summer harvest nipping at the heels of late spring, the time was ripe to put the latest stars at our local farmers market on display. Soupe au pistou, a Provencal summer soup reminiscent of minestrone, seemed an optimal way to taste the season.

With a little assistance from my favorite prep cook (give Caleb le Cuisinart and he’ll wiz and whir the day away), we prepped the ingredients and started the slow process of making the soup. The beans had begun soaking the night before, I rinsed them off and began cooking them in the Dutch Oven first. Then came the diced vegetables, and other ingredients; lastly, the pistou (think pesto).

After several hours, the fragrance emanating from the kitchen, redolent of basil, left us eager to spill out onto our patio and dine al fresco with a close friend who had joined us for dinner. The finished soupe au pistou, with a blend of emmental and parmesan sprinkled and melting on top was heavenly, and elicited happy sounds and compliments from all. Enjoyed with a simple arugula salad, Acme’s Bread Company’s pain au levain, and a glass of chardonnay laced with crème de cassis (for the grown-ups, of course), we were transported from the San Francisco Bay Area to Provence for a few delicious hours and the perfect end to Mother’s Day.


Soupe au Pistou

Makes 6 servings

For soup

  • 1/2 cup dried white beans, such as cannellini, sorted, soaked overnight in water to cover by 2 inches
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans (or borlotti beans), sorted overnight in water to cover by 2 inches
  • 2 pounds zucchini, trimmed
  • 2 to 3 medium-size red potatoes
  • 2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For pistou

  • 2 to 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil, washed, dried
  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • Pinch of salt
  • Garnish: 1 cup grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese, or a combination

Preparation

    1. Drain beans. In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, add beans and enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, skimming off foam from the surface. Lower heat and simmer until beans are tender, about 11/2 hours. The cooking time for beans varies greatly, so make sure to test the beans for tenderness from time to time (they might be tender after 50 minutes or so).
    2. Meanwhile, peel the zucchini lengthwise, leaving half of the skin on, making stripes; cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Peel and cube the potatoes into the same size. When beans are tender, add zucchini, potatoes and green beans. Bring to boil, lower heat and gently simmer until zucchini starts to disintegrate (about an hour, adding more water if necessary); use a fork to mash a few pieces of potatoes and zucchini against the side of the pot to thicken soup. Raise the heat slightly and add macaroni, cooking until very soft. Taste and season as needed.
    3. While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. With the motor running, drop garlic into feed-tube of food processor. Add basil and process until finely chopped. Add tomatoes and pulse to very finely chop, intermittently stopping motor to scrape down sides. Add olive oil and process to combine. Add salt and pulse to combine. Taste and add more olive oil or salt if needed.
    4. Remove soup from heat. Stir in pistou and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve, passing the grated cheese at the table for topping. The soup can be prepared in advance and reheated.

    Source: adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Eating” by Ann Mah

Faking French

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The end of summer is fast approaching. I reflect on this season and take pride in the two vacations my family enjoyed; first to New York for our family reunion, then to Shasta Lake for a week of water play. This is all well and fine, but to know me is to know that I have a Grand Canyon-sized travel bug, especially in the summer and sadly it feels unfulfilled.

I’ve suffered through friend’s Facebook updates from France, Croatia, Hawaii, & Mexico and I have felt a palpable ache inside to be somewhere more romantic, more exotic – especially France.

That daily fantasy of gallivanting off to France, frolicking through the countryside, apprenticing at a goat cheese dairy, sampling every cheese in every fromager in Paris, sipping an artful café au lait at an outdoor café watching the sharply dressed world go by, has to remain just that for now – a fantasy. Here is my life in the Bay Area demanding my attention: school, childcare, full-time employment, a mortgage, and all of the other pressures piled high on my plate.

So what to do with this can’t-fly-off-to-Paris angst? Cook French food! Yesterday afternoon, after arranging a culinary play-date with my close friend Cecile – who just returned from three weeks in her native France – I planned a menu that included coq au vin, a savory roasted early-girl tomato tart, just-picked arugula tossed in a homemade vinaigrette, and bittersweet chocolate pot de crème for dessert. Not to mention the stinky French brie for an appetizer.

With a close girlfriend at my side and a glass of chilled white wine in my hand, we effortlessly fell into sync assembling the coq au vin. I had a cookbook open, but I followed my friend’s lead and observed her make a roux like this was everyday-business. Cecile had never made coq a vin, but she naturally took the lead and helped me to produce what smelled and tasted authentic and mouth-watering.  

Caleb and Sadie had helped make the chocolate pot de crèmes earlier in the day, which were cooling in the fridge. After preparing the tart dough in the morning, I quickly assembled the savory, custardy, tomato and anchovy-filled tart alongside Cecile and placed it in the oven. Finally, we assembled the arugula with vinaigrette, set the table, poured the Bordeaux, and we were off to France!

While not the same as an airplane ticket in hand, or a baguette jutting out of my bicycle basket while peddling through the streets of Paris, this meal was fulfilling on many levels. Truly delicious and very satisfying, every bite held promise that one day – perhaps not too far off from now – I could be enjoying this meal in France.

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8 Simple Steps to Fabulous Homemade Sushi

Sadie Preparing Sushi RiceMixing sushi rice

If you have been paying any attention to my ramblings, you may have gathered by now that I delight in cooking with Caleb and Sadie! Sharing my passion for food likely stems from the fact that my parents were foodies before it was cool to be called one.

Back in the mid-eighties, my father and I strengthened our already close bond over a hands-on sushi making class at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Key takeaways: a) have all of your ingredients at the ready when you’re ready to roll, b) it’s much cheaper to make sushi at home, and c) don’t prepare sushi on an empty stomach!

Family assembling sushi togetherTa-da!!

Caleb and Sadie have eaten plenty of sushi in their short collective lifetime. We have even made Korean sushi (kimbap) before, but we have never made traditional Japanese sushi together. To prepare for our sushi-making adventure, I shopped at the local Ranch 99 for the ingredients we needed. On Saturday morning I prepared the sushi rice with Sadie’s help, then set it aside. Mid-day, we chopped the ingredients, and then put everything into small bowls for small hands.

Toward dinner time, the family gathered around the dining table to begin making sushi. Our ingredients included sushi rice, sashimi grade salmon and tuna, masago (fish row), cucumbers, avocado, wasabi, and of course the nori (seaweed). Our neighbor Mindy, lent us an ingenious wooden sushi-making contraption called Maki Sushi Ki. This made assembling our rolls a little easier for the kiddos. It might even be considered cheating!

Little sushi chefsHandsome husband

In full disclosure, making sushi with the kiddos was a little exasperating at first. With sticky rice hands flying everywhere and fish eggs (among other ingredients) falling on the floor, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself to be a patient teacher -and- to enjoy myself in the process. This helped. Before long, we were all feeling excited and accomplished as our rolls piled up on cutting board.

It was time to slice up our sushi rolls (maki) and arrange them on the platters. Mateo had a lovely idea to bring everything out to the patio, since it was still sunny and mostly warm outside. He poured me some warm saki and a glass of wine for himself. Caleb wanted to play the role of ‘waiter’, so we applauded and cheered as he carefully walked each platter out to the patio table. I created a Japanese-themed station on Pandora, then we got Caleb and Sadie settled at the table.

Our homemade sushi rolls were fresh tasting and delicious. We even assembled a sashimi platter from the extra fish. This was such a delightful and memorable cooking project. Caleb even remarked that this was “the best night ever!” I felt the same.

Recipe for sushi rice

Caleb inhales sushiDinner

I’m Just Not That Into Sports

spicy wingsLet’s put it this way, when you’re talking sports at me, pick the sport, my mind transports me to a virtual cookbook, a stinky cheese I’d like to slather on baguette, or a hip pair of shoes I could purchase from Zappos. I might be making eye contact, nodding my head at all the right pauses, but you lost me at NFLblah, blah, blah.

Here’s where I contradict myself…as a San Francisco native, if you put my team in the World Series or the Super Bowl, suddenly I’m paying attention. At the very least, I’m offering to cook something thematic for the game viewing. In the case of Sunday’s big game, San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens, I was locked and loaded – ready to cook something amazing!

Days ago, I began fantasizing about the perfect potluck offering to bring to my sister’s Super Bowl party; a recipe the kids could easily tackle (pun intended). Flipping through Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, I came across an enticing photo of Buffalo chicken wings and the corresponding recipe. I have literally never tasted Buffalo chicken wings, only avant-garde riffs on the flavor combination, but suddenly I was salivating at the thought of warm, spicy chicken dipped in cool, creamy, blue cheese-laden dip.

After Caleb and Sadie grew tired of their morning-long-bunk-bed-fort-building adventures, we tuned into Lady Gaga and danced around the kitchen while preparing to make our spicy wings. In no time, the chicken was under the broiler, and we were whirling the dip in the food processor. Everything was looking very edible. We jumped into the car with our wings n’ dip and hit the road.

At the party, everyone had been huddled (I’m getting good at this!) around the television set for a while. It felt like time to break out the Buffalo chicken wings. I wish I had snapped a succession of photos of the serving platter over the course the few minutes it took for the chicken to completely vanish. The wings received rave reviews and everyone loved the blue cheese dip. Despite the 49ers defeat, I felt a little victorious.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

For the wings

16 chicken wings (about 3 pounds)

¼ pound (1stick) unsalted butter

1 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp Frank’s Hot Sauce or 1tsp Tabasco (we used TJ’s Chili Pepper Sauce)

1tsp kosher salt

For the dip

1 ½ cups crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

1 cup good mayonnaise

¾ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons milk

¾ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Celery sticks, for serving

Preheat the broiler. Cut the chicken wings in thirds, cutting between the bones. Discard the wing tips. Melt the butter and add the cayenne, hot sauce, and salt. Put the wings on a sheet pan and brush them with the melted butter. Broil them about 3 inches below the heat for 8 minutes. Turn the wings, brush them again with butter, and broil for 4 more minutes, or until cooked.

For the dip, place the blue cheese, mayo, sour cream, milk, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steer blade. Process until almost smooth.

Serve the chicken wings hot or at room temperature with the blue cheese dip and celery sticks.

A Korean Feast Like No Other

Chapchae DinnerThere are a multitude of reasons for why I love living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Being able to travel the world through ethnic cuisine is on my short list. Having long been a fan of Korean food, I was particularly thrilled when our neighbor Soonoak invited my family and one other over for a chapchae cooking lesson. I didn’t just jump at the chance, I did a pirouette, a back flip, and threw in a few break dance moves to underscore my enthusiasm!

Late Sunday afternoon, my family showed up on Glenn and Soonoak’s doorstep. Upon crossing the threshold, I could immediately smell deliciousness. Glancing over at the counter, I was excited to see sliced kimbap rolls. I had definitely come to the right place! The other family soon arrived and within minutes, rice wine and soju (Korean vodka) were being poured into small sake cups, more food was being placed on the counter, and conversation was flowing. One of the greatest pleasures of the evening was getting to know my neighbors better. Learning about their interesting careers, their families, and what brought them to El Cerrito.

A Korean custom we were taught was that the drinker never pours their own drink. It is not uncommon to clear your throat as a sign of needing a fill-up. Jokingly, we all got into the swing of clearing our throats throughout the night and sure enough, the drinks did not stop flowing. I found it particularly amusing that our gracious hostess, who had initially declined the opportunity to be photographed for my blog, warmed up to the camera after a few shots, posing with great animation.

Chapchae Dinner

After grazing on kimbap, chive omelets, kimchee pot stickers, rice cakes with soy bean powder, and spicy seasoned cucumbers, we finally sat down to feast on our chapchae. We gave the kids an amuse bouche of brown rice balls, sprinkled with fish roe, seaweed, and sesame oil (that I mixed by hand with traditional plastic cooking gloves under Soonoak’s guidance. Remind me to invent a version that doesn’t burn your fingers when handling rice just out of the cooker!) The rice balls were a clear hit with Caleb.

The star of the show, our chapchae, was outrageously good. The perfect meal to warm your belly on a crisp autumn evening, it consisted of warm cellophane noodles (made from sweet potato), tossed with sautéed onions, carrots, spinach, bell pepper, mung bean sprouts, marinated beef, sesame oil, and other seasonings. The chapchae, as well as the other Korean delicacies we prepared, including a refreshing dessert of sliced Korean pears and apples, was far better than what I’ve tasted in restaurants. I am so proud of our collective effort and am grateful to Soonoak and Glenn for opening up their home and treating us to a fabulous Korean cooking lesson amongst neighbors, who I can now call “friends.”

I have already begun dreaming up the cooking demonstration I would host. I’m thinking a cheese, wine, and food pairing. Not exactly the Eastern European cuisine of my people, but an invitation I would bust another one of my break dance moves for any day.

Oh Mexico

“Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I’ll have to go now”

–James Taylor

Our family just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. With the Pacific Ocean at our feet, the sun above our heads, and the lush mountains at our backs, we devoured our time together and all the delicious food we came in contact with.

We feasted on the freshest seafood (mariscos), cooled off with fruit filled paletas (popsicles), enjoyed mango on a stick, shrimp on a stick, juice from a coconut, flan, rice pudding, fajitas, guacamole, and the freshest salsa that tasted so right because we were eating it in Mexico…I could truly go on.

Caleb was particularly adventurous when it came to our food adventures. I’ve never seen him consume so many quesadillas and plates of coconut shrimp in his six years on this planet. Sadie was thrilled to have so many ripe avocados available to her. Mateo and I were clearly in food heaven too.

I can still hear Caleb and Sadie’s laughter as we all ran along the beach, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore below our condo, feel the sun on my face, and the bug bites on my legs. Our time together in Puerto Vallarta was muy delicioso!

Little Dumplings

Last year, Caleb and I participated in a fabulous empanada-making class taught by our friends, Simran and Stacie of A Little Yumminess fame.

Not only did we make by hand a variety of delicious empanadas, we were also treated to a demonstration of one of their most popular recipes, easy-peasy dumplings. Following the demonstration, Simran handed out the recipe and we came away excited to re-create them at home. We had made pot-stickers and dumplings before, but I was impressed with how easy (hence the name) these were to make and how delightful they were to gobble up. It was also clear that this would be a hit with my dumplings.

After long last, it came time to make these bite-sized treats in our own kitchen. Hoping that it wasn’t too much of an undertaking for a weeknight, I shopped for the ingredients after work, picked up the kids, and drove home to embark on our dumpling making adventure. In no time, I had the ingredients laid out on the kitchen table, and Caleb and Sadie at my side ready to make some delicious dumplings. Caleb mixed all the ingredients in a bowl and Sadie assisted some. I placed the won-ton skins out on a mat and let the kids take turns using a tiny spoon to dole out the filling onto the wrappers. While the water was coming to a boil on the stove, Caleb brushed the wrappers with egg wash and both kiddos took turns folding and sealing the dumplings with their tiny hands. As busy as we were, it was a sweet sight to step back and behold.

We experimented with two different cooking methods – first steaming, then boiling. We were most successful with the boiling method – not too much water at a medium boil in a large pot. The dumplings didn’t stick together and they looked appetizing and ready to enjoy. We could hardly wait to eat them. Before sitting down to dinner, I made the easy dipping sauce from the recipe and placed it in individual ramekins. I found that tripling the recipe made enough to go around for my little soy sauce junkies.

Caleb and Sadie very quickly gobbled up their creations before I could even ask what they thought. It was evident that our easy-peasy dumplings were a weeknight hit. What a gratifying (and tasty) treat! Not just making these delicious dumplings, but having a great excuse to spend some special time with my kiddos in the kitchen, at the beginning of a busy week ahead. They clearly enjoyed taking part in the dumpling production and I appreciated how easy it was to pull together.

Make these at home (try pan frying for instant pot-stickers!) and let me know what you think! Click here for the recipe and for more inspiration, do check out my friend’s website: A Little Yumminess - it will very quickly become a favorite destination when in need of cooking and eating inspiration for your little dumplings.

Kimbap – It’s How We Roll

Growing up in San Francisco’s Richmond District, I was exposed to kimbap, Korean style sushi, at an early age. I would skip down to the local Korean market and for a few dollars, make off with a tray of delicious, sesame oil scented kimbap.

I have a fondness for these Korean rice rolls, which are frequently filled with seasoned rice, marinated beef (bulgogi), fishcake, cooked egg, carrots, spinach, daikon, cucumbers, even kimchi. When my friend Mary – who was born in Korea and raised in Southern California – offered to teach me how to make them, I jumped at the opportunity.

Mary and her older son Christian came over in the late afternoon for our kimbap lesson. Christian and Caleb are buddies and met through Sadie’s childcare program. The boys ran out into the backyard, while Mary and I prepped the kimbap ingredients, some of which we had prepared in advance. Once the ingredients were laid out and we had cooked the bulgogi (which Mary purchased raw and marinated at a local Korean market in Oakland), we got to rolling.

This is how we roll

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As we assembled our kimbap, Mary offered “I heard once that the Japanese eat with their eyes, Chinese eat with their stomachs, and Korean’s eat with their mouths.” She was referring to how much Korean’s value good flavor in their food. I then added “…and Jews, we just eat and eat and eat!” We laughed.

The boys came into the kitchen for a brief lesson in kimbap making and each took turns adding ingredients to a roll, which we then helped them roll up in a bamboo sushi mat. When we brought them some neatly sliced pieces of kimbap, they quickly gobbled them up and ran back to their game playing in the backyard. I don’t think Caleb grasped just how excited I was to be making this exotic snack from my childhood. That’s okay.

This was a fabulous cross-cultural exchange that I enjoyed immensely. Thanks to Mary for the kimbap lesson. If you want a helpful visual of a kimbap recipe, just click here.