Posts filed under ‘Recipes and Food’

Intimate Thanksgiving featured in Beauty & the Feast, Life Choices Magazine

Debut of new feature in Life Choices Magazine

My column on food and table art in Life Choices Magazine

The new autumn edition of Life Choices Magazine is out with my feature column Beauty and the Feast focusing on an intimate Thanksgiving with all the fixings. Take your time reading all the wonderful articles submitted by a bevy of lovely ladies. You’ll find my column Beauty and the Feast on page 52.

A simple Thanksgiving celebrated among an intimate foursome of friends.

A simple Thanksgiving celebrated among an intimate foursome of friends. That’s pink champagne in the vintage coupes.

Roast turkey bursting with oyster cornbread dressing.

Roast turkey bursting with oyster cornbread dressing.

My great grandmother made pumpkin pies like this back on the prairie.

My great grandmother made pumpkin pies like this back on the prairie.

A page from the Walkertown NC Ladies cookbook with recipe for the most heavenly sweet yams ever.

A page from the Walkertown NC Ladies cookbook with recipe for the most heavenly sweet yams ever.

September 20, 2016 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

Beauty and the Feast Tajine Debut in Life Choices Magazine

Debut of new feature in Life Choices Magazine

Debut of new feature in Life Choices Magazine

The Spring Quarter issue of Life Choices Magazine pp 30-32 features a new article by me on making killer tajines and setting beautiful tables.

Check out pages 30-32 for my now-not-so-secret recipe for tajine (also spelled tagine). This is a basic recipe that can be adapted to any kind of protein  – or just veggies – mixing up the spices and herbs for a different result each time. You’ll also find ideas for what to serve with a tajine and tips on how to set a drop dead gorgeous table.

Link here – See pp 30-32: Life Choices Magazine feature Beauty and the Feast

Lamb tagine

Lamb tagine

Two of my tajine dishes

Two of my tajine dishes

A leopard dinner to go with a wild meal.

A leopard dinner to go with a wild meal.

April 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm Leave a comment

Rendang Chicken Curry – Indonesian Dry Curry

Rendang Chicken Curry – (Indonesian Dry Curry)

For those who don’t know, a dry curry is simmered down until the sauce is very thick and coats the meat. Intense flavors of a bevy of spices, fish sauce and coconut milk give this recipe great depth and complexity. You’ll see by the list of ingredients what I mean. The big plump black raisins swell when cooking. I like to sprinkle fresh toasted coconut on just before serving. As my friend Suzanne would say, a real tongue erection!
While the curry can be made with beef or whole chicken cut into pieces, for ease of serving large groups, I prefer chunks of chicken thighs -or if serving a pot luck – drumettes. Serves 24 for potluck with approximately 1 drumette each.

Heavy Le Creuset-type (dutch oven etc) pot
Optional oven-proof flat dish
Optional Aluminum foil
Optional Food processor, either large or mini

Chicken parts equivalent to a whole chicken.
My preference: boneless chicken thighs cut into chunks OR
best for pot luck: wing drumettes (approx 24)

Sauce Ingredients:
1 can coconut milk
1 large onion
4 gloves garlic
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3-4 tsp powdered ginger – or thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
¾ tsp dry chili flakes or 1-3 deseeded red chilies (depends on how “hot” you like it)
1 tsp turmeric
1 heaping Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp powdered star anise
4 tsp dark soy sauce (you can add more later to adjust taste)
4 Tbsp fish sauce – or equivalent fish base from jar
1 tsp shrimp paste – or 1 Tbsp seafood base – or 1 Tbsp additional fish sauce

Handful of big seedless raisins (Autumn Royal or Flame Seedless)
¾ Tbsp tamarind paste
2 Tbsp finely chopped lemongrass

Garnish ingredients:
Dry, shredded coconut (packaged, sweetened coconut from grocery store is fine)

Savory, spicy, rich Rendang Dry Curry Chicken drumettes waiting to be sprinkled with toasted coconut. A real tongue erection!

Savory, spicy, rich Rendang Dry Curry Chicken drumettes waiting to be sprinkled with toasted coconut. A real tongue erection!

Note: For making the sauce, a food processor is best. I use a mini-one for the onions and garlic. If you have a big processor, you can put all the SAUCE ingredients EXCEPT raisins in that. If you don’t have a processor, dice the onions, garlic, fresh ginger and optional lemongrass as small as possible. Would recommend powdered ginger.

Use a sturdy pot on top of stove.
Put coconut milk in pan.
Peel onions and cut into chunks.
Peel garlic.
IF using fresh ginger, peel and cut into pieces.
Put onion, garlic, ginger and optional lemongrass in mini-processor and mush.
Stir sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. EXCEPT raisins.
Add mixture to coconut milk.
Taste test and adjust. If need more salt, add more fish sauce or seafood base. If not spicy enough, add more chili.
Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the chicken, stirring well.
When curry comes to boil again, reduce to simmer for approximately one hour, stirring frequently so not to burn or stick. (see 2 techniques below)
If it seems to go “dry” (thicken) too fast, add more coconut milk or a little water.

Note: Best made as many hours before serving as possible. This allows the spices to meld.

If using chicken chunks, simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently.
You will want the sauce to reduce.
Add the raisins after 45 minutes.
Continue cooking until sauce is consistency of ketchup.
Turn onto serving dish and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
Serve bowl of remaining coconut on the side.

If using drumettes, cover the first 45 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the raisins.
Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Remove drumettes to an oven-proof dish large enough to spread them out.
Cover with foil and put in 300 degree oven while reducing the sauce. (Further tenderizes the drumettes without drying them out.)
Boil the sauce hard, uncovered until consistency of ketchup.
Remove chicken from oven and spoon sauce over.
Serve in the oven proof dish.
Sprinkle toasted coconut on top.
Serve bowl of remaining coconut on the side.

Toasted Coconut

Toasted coconut cooling after being turned out of the skillet.

Toasted coconut cooling after being turned out of the skillet.

This is so easy, it’s embarrassing to accept the praise it always elicits.
Best made close to serving.

½ – 1  package shredded coconut
1 heavy skillet or hand wok

Heat pan on high fire.
Put coconut in hot pan.
Stir constantly, turning and turning.
Remove or lift from fire occasionally so doesn’t get too hot.
Coconut will gradually begin to brown.
Keep turning!
When it’s all over golden, remove from heat and dump immediately onto a plate or flat pan to cool.
DO NOT leave in hot skillet as cooking continues.

Sandra adds “Although this reads like a complicated recipe, it really isn’t when you get down to it. Once you line up all ingredients, everything goes into a pot and cooks. I take the extra oven step with the drumettes, as I want them to be tender but not falling off the bone. You can easily skip the oven part.

The Secret:  It’s all in the spices. I use Penzey’s for freshness and punch. It’s also very important to let the spices “cure,” which means giving them plenty of time to meld together. Make in the morning for an evening party. Can easily be prepared the day before.

May 30, 2015 at 7:11 pm Leave a comment

At the moment I’m doing more cooking than writing in honor of Aries Birthday month

chocolate ganache with strawberries marinated in Grand Marnier. More special desserts for Aries Birthdays.

Aries birthday cake of chocolate ganache with strawberries marinated in Grand Marnier. I adore my Aries men!

April 12, 2015 at 8:04 pm Leave a comment

Easter dinner with roasted rabbit and pasta with mushrooms

Roasted rabbit in white wine with sagne torte con funghi (pasta with mushrooms). Both my own recipes.

Roasted rabbit in white wine with sagne torte con funghi (pasta with mushrooms). Both my own recipes.

The French Côte de Provence Domain de Beaupré was a rosé wine I’d been saving for a special occasion. It was delicious at the beginning of the meal but seemed to turn a little sour at the end. If I made this again, I’d go Italian all the way.

When I saw this delectable Italian artisan pasta (sagne torte) at our local deli, d’Paolo & Sons, I couldn’t resist. Too elegant and tasty to be smothered in sauce, I came up with the following recipe that accented the rabbit every bit as much as I’d hoped it would.

Sandra’s pasta con funghi
4 cups whole dark mushrooms, then chopped fine
6 scallions, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
olive oil to cover bottom of frying pan
pat of butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
salt & pepper
au jus from the roasted rabbit

note: As always, I eyeball ingredients: oil, butter, white wine, crème fraîche. You must sense how much you need and add more if necessary. The sauce is not meant to be “runny,” so go easy on the wine. You achieve the right texture with the crème fraîche, which also binds the flavors. Salt and pepper is according to taste.

sauté onions and garlic in olive oil and butter for 3 minutes
add mushrooms, salt and pepper
sauté until soft, turning gently
add white wine
simmer 5 minutes
add crème fraîche and turn.
turn off heat and let sit until ready to eat.

boil pasta in salty water according to instructions (about 9 minutes, stirring every 1-2 minutes). DO NOT OVERCOOK!
while pasta is boiling, warm the sauce gently
drain pasta but do not rinse
turn onto a platter
add mushroom sauce and turn quickly and gently
spoon generous amount of the au jus (sauce) from the rabbit over the pasta
serve immediately

Marella Artisan Pasta, Sagna Torte, Puglia Italy

Marella Artisan Pasta, Sagna Torte, Puglia Italy

April 12, 2015 at 7:50 pm 1 comment

Pork Loin Roast Tajine with Preserved Lemons & Rosemary

Brined Lemon, onion, pork loin roast tajine with rosemary and garlic

Brined Lemon, onion, pork loin roast tajine with rosemary and garlic

Using a pork loin roast in a tajine would be utter sacrilege in North Africa. Here in California, I can be creative. This tajine was not spiced as usual;  I wanted to preserve the delicacy of the onions, pork and lemons.

I started, as always, with the sauteeing of onions (2 huge white) and garlic (many cloves very fresh) in virgin olive oil (the heavier the better for a tajine.) When the onions/garlic were soft, I removed them from the pan and browned the roast on all sides at high temperature.

The onion mixture went back in around the meat, which I left as an experiment in one whole piece instead of cutting into chunks. Sprigs of fresh rosemary pierce the roast. The lemons, which I preserved myself with salt, clove, bay leaf and cardamon, were scattered around. Rock salt and fresh ground black pepper came last.

To ensure there was plenty of sauce for my gravy-loving husband, I added one cup of white wine (also a big no-no in North Africa) with a dissolved heaping teaspoon of condensed chicken stock.

Put on the tajine lid and cook on low heat for a couple of hours. note: You can feel the top of the tajine lid to make sure it’s hot and all is cooking as it should.

The meat came out especially moist and tender. I think the center might still have been a bit frozen which turned out to be a plus.

Served with wholewheat coucous and a crisp Chardonnay.

September 7, 2014 at 5:07 pm 1 comment

Memorial Day Venison Cookoff with Apicius Roman Sauce

Memorial Day at my house with a Venison cookoff. That's tagine under the lid. The roast was prepared with an authentic Roman recipe translated from the Apicius cookbook (3-4th century AD).

Memorial Day at my house with a Venison cookoff. That’s tajine under the lid. The roast was prepared from an authentic Roman recipe translated from the Apicius cookbook (3rd-4th century AD). The Romans used a conical ceramic cooker like the tajine dish of North Africa.

This is a meal Elektra could have eaten in Roman North Africa, only instead of venison, the host might have served a young Barbary stag or oryx. Of course, my guests would have been reclining on lounges and served by slaves. And the Zinfandel would have been watered.

The recipe for the sauce comes from one of the most famous cookbooks of antiquity. Today it is known simply as the Apicius.

There is disagreement about whether the famous epicure of the Tiberian reign (1st c AD) Marcus Gavius Apicius was the original collector or the inspiration. Most probably, he had nothing to do with the book, De re coquinaria “On the Subject of Cooking,” which eventually became known by his name.

Most scholars believe the collection of Roman cookery recipes was compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century. The language in which it was written is closer to Vulgar than Classical Latin.

An Apicius manuscript from 900 AD.

An Apicius manuscript from 900 AD. The codex was originally in the monastery of Fulda, Germany but acquired by The New York Academy of Medicine in 1929.

Venison tagine. Spices: Cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, clove, ginger, smoked paprika

Venison tagine. Spices: Cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, clove, ginger, smoked paprika, black pepper

A huge hunk of frozen venison turned out to be three roasts when defrosted. I marinated all three for 24 hours in red wine, fresh rosemary and cloves of garlic.

The smallest roast was cut into chunks for a tajine (see photos) with onions, fingerling potatoes, chunks of carrots, and tons of peas topped with baby bell peppers. Spicing: cumin, cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, clove, smoked paprika and fresh ground black pepper.

The middle-sized roast was coated in cajun spices and slow-cooked on the charcoal grill. Real charcoal please with mesquite chips! I served the Cajun venison with cherry sauce.

The large venison roast (see photo at top) was browned on all sides in olive oil and then put in a 350 oven with a few strips of bacon on top. Venison is very lean.

Now we come to the sauce from a recipe translated from the original Apicius. [Thank you to the food blog Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook]
I had to substitute a couple of herbs. And I used the reduced marinade for a base. I’m sure Apicius would have approved.

Ingredients for the sauce
note: all herbs are fresh, some from my own garden.
rue (I used fresh rosemary)
lovage (I used celery leaves)
Thai fish sauce (in place of Roman garum, the salty cured fish sauce Romans used with almost all meats and that they stole from the Greeks)
sweet wine (I used Port)
salt and pepper

Not having a slave to grind the herbs into a paste, I threw them into a small food processor. You use the goodies from the bottom of the roasting pan to make a sauce much like gravies are made today. The end result should be something between a liquid and a syrup.

Salty and sweet with tons of herbs. That was the Roman taste. Also black pepper – lots of it. Even with syrupy pears.

Not sure if the Romans had cous cous, but they definitely had grain, so I suspect they might have discovered this primitive way of making pasta long before Marco Polo. I toasted slivered almonds and soaked giant raisins in brandy (until they are plump and soft) to put in the cooked cous cous.

In addition to remembering our own fallen heroes on a splendid Memorial Day, we stepped back a little further in history to remember the Romans. To borrow from the gladiators, “We who are about to eat, salute you!”

The table setting is my vision of Roman North Africa. Need to get some silver chalices!

May 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm 3 comments

Sandra’s Aries Birthday Cake Recipe

Birthday cake for the Aries in my life - of which there are remarkably many, starting with the two men in my husband and son.

Birthday cake for the Aries in my life

At risk of this turning into a food blog – and what would be so bad about that, you’re saying? – I’m passing on the steps and ingredients to create the birthday cake you see above. Caution: You need 2-3 hours to put this together & clean up.

3 – 9″ cake pans
parchment paper (not necessary but works better than greasing pans)
electric mixer
double boiler – or saucepan that can balance inside a larger saucepan
        note: smaller pan must hold at least 5 liquid cups.
small frying pan
2 shelves in oven
several size mixing bowls
measuring cups and spoons
rubber spatula
wooden spoon
flat blade (for spreading frosting)
bread knife
recommend heat resistant glove

without measures:
vegetable oil
powdered sugar
granulated sugar
cocoa powder
cream of tartar
vanilla extract
slivered almonds
raspberry jam
chocolate cake mix (Yes! I CHEAT!)

Ingredients by steps:

Chocolate Cake:
I prefer Duncan Hines Triple Chocolate or Dark Chocolate Fudge. You can make from scratch, but really not worth it. IMHO
vegetable oil (not olive)
3 eggs whole

Chocolate Frosting:
1/2 c butter (1 stick) ROOM TEMPERATURE (softened)
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder (my preference is Hershey’s)
2 c powdered sugar (sifted)
1/3 c milk (minimum – you’ll need a little more)
    note: WARM slightly in microwave
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Red Raspberry Jam – I love Stonewall Kitchen, but other brands will do.

3 oz (half a package) Slivered Blanched Almonds (to be toasted)

Meringue-like Topping (known as 7 minute frosting):
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c water
2 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Put it together:


  • grease 3 cake pans. Coat with cocoa powder instead of white flour. MUCH easier if you use parchment paper so guaranteed not to stick. Use both.
  • mix according to directions
  • using 1 cup measure, distribute batter evenly in 3 pans
  • bake in 350 oven. Put shelves close together so baking as even as possible
  • took about 18 minutes for 2 on top. Bottom shelf took couple of minutes longer
        note: I use toothpick to test
  • remove pans to rack or gas burners on top of stove and let cool 15 minutes. No more.
  • remove layers from baking pans and set aside

TOAST ALMONDS while cake is baking.

  • heat small skillet to hot on stovetop
  • put almonds in pan – NO OIL
  • stir constantly with wooden spoon
  • lift up and down from fire if getting too hot
  • keep toasting – KEEP TURNING – as almonds turn golden.
  • remove from heat and keep stirring.
    almonds will continue to toast in hot pan
  • when desired color is reached, turn onto a plate and spread almonds to cool

CHOCOLATE FROSTING (makes about 1 1/2 c)

  • soften butter in a small-medium mixing bowl (room temperature or few seconds in microwave)
  • mash with rubber spatula
  • stir in cocoa and salt, blending with rubber spatula until smooth paste
  • using low to medium speed on electric mixer, alternately add sifted powdered sugar and warm milk
  • beat on medium speed until spreading consistency and very smooth
  • blend in vanilla extract at end


  • Choose layer with highest top and set aside
  • Using a bread knife, slice off rounded top of two remaining layers so they are relatively flat on both sides
  • put one layer on cake plate

DRESSING the cake layers

  • spread chocolate frosting generously on top of layer 1 (on cake plate)
  • spread carefully (not thick) red raspberry jam on top of chocolate
  • place layer 2 on top
  • spread chocolate frosting generously on top of layer 2
  • sprinkle toasted almonds, covering surface well
  • place layer 3 (with rounded top) on top of layer 2

TOPPING with 7 minute frosting
   note: this makes enough frosting to cover a cake. I pile it on top to show the layers. If stiff enough, topping will stand on its own and hang over the edges as above.

  • place sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water and egg whites in the top of a double boiler (or smallish saucepan over larger one)
  • beat with an electric mixer for 1 minute
  • place pan over boiling water.
        note:  to avoid grainy frosting, make sure water doesn’t touch bottom of the top pan.
  • beat constantly on high speed for 7 minutes (this is when I recommend a heat-resistant glove)
  • remove from boiling water (heat) and beat in vanilla
  • check consistency – MUST stand in peaks. Beat more if necessary.
  • spread on cake right away
  • sprinkle toasted almonds before frosting sets
  • when frosting sets, it forms a delightful soft crust while the inside remains gooey – thus I call it “meringue-like”

Be sure to cover remaining cake under a cake dome, as the meringue frosting will get gooier over time.

Store any left-over almonds in an airtight container to sprinkle on salads etc.

Whew! Did I really do all that????

April 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm 1 comment

Sandra’s recipe for Wild Boar Tajine

Last night some friends were dropping by with a bottle of good Merlot to see the sunset. As life has been more than hectic lately, I wasn’t up to a full-on meal.  Greg and Jess live in North San Luis Obispo County where hunting abides, so I pulled out a wild boar shoulder from the freezer and invented a new dish inspired by my years in North Africa.

The nomads cook their tajines (also spelled tagine) with camel or goat, so wild boar seemed a logical progression.

This stew was designed to eat around the bar. Instead of dipping into the sauce with chunks of bread in the North African fashion, I rolled up the shredded boar with a couple of spoonfuls of sauce in whole wheat tortillas to create a North African, Mexican Moo-Shoo wild boar.

Where do you get wild boar? Either you need to hunt yourself – or have generous friends that do. In this case, a friend of a friend passed the meat to me. P.S. Our wines are listed at end of post.


traditional tajine dishes by

traditional tajine dishes – photo by

My favorite tajine dish (of 3) that I purchased at IKEA for $60. Bottom is aluminum made to look like cast iron. Lid is ceramic.

My favorite tajine dish that I purchased at IKEA for $60.
Bottom is aluminum made to look like cast iron. Lid is ceramic.
note: I also own a 2-persons silicon dish bought at Marshall’s for $15
plus a yellow glazed ceramic dish from Portugal ($50).

There are many kinds of tajine dishes on the market now. I prefer ones with metal bottoms with one-step cooking on top of the stove. Ceramic tajines (traditional ones) do not do well for stove-top cooking. The ceramic was designed to be placed over charcoal. In Morocco, the circumference of the bottom dish fits exactly its own charcoal cooker.

The web shows many pictures of ceramic dishes on a gas fire, but as I’ve had a couple dishes break while cooking, I feel obliged to caution you. If you have a ceramic or silicon dish, then I advise you to do all the sauteing in a frying pan, then transfer to tajine dish and cook in oven. The temperature should be medium heat.

This stew could also be made in one of those French-style iron cookers with heavy lids (also called Dutch ovens).  But I’m a firm believer that the conical lid of the tajine dish adds a dimension in savory moistness.

For a little history note, the Romans cooked stews in pots with conical lids. I’m wondering which came first, the Romans’ introduction into North Africa, or the Berbers teaching the Romans?

Wild Boar Tajine (Moroccan stew)

Serves 6.


shoulder of wild boar, cut into big chunks with the bony piece left whole
tortillas, strongly advise whole wheat for texture and flavor
garlic, 5-6 cloves, minced
onions, 2 large yellow, cut in 2-3 inch wedges
olive oil, enough to generously cover bottom of pan
tomato paste, 2 Tblsp
salt, rock, sprinkle generously
black pepper, fresh ground over all
apricots, dried, generous handful
raisins, big and black, generous handful
carrots, 4 large, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced in narrow wedges
red wine, 1/3 bottle
Guinness, ½ bottle
diced smoky bacon, 1 Tblsp
***Please note: You will never find wine/beer or bacon in a traditional Moroccan recipe
beef stock (paste), heaping Tblsp
cumin, 2 heaping Tblsp
paprika, 1 generous Tblsp
cardamon, very generous pinch
ginger, very generous pinch
cloves, very generous pinch
cinnamon, 2 generous pinches


Take a Tajine dish and set on medium fire
Sauté garlic, onions and bacon in olive oil until onions soft and starting to clear
Add in tomato paste, turn well
Sprinkle with salt
Add wild boar
Sprinkle meat with spices, one at a time, turning the pieces to make sure coated
Salt more if desired
Add apricots and raisins to pan, distributing evenly
Add red wine
Add beef stock paste, turning well
Add Guinness
Mix in carrots
Put on lid, reduce heat to low – as low as possible while still cooking.
Cook 3-4 hrs – longer is best – removing lid and turning meat chunks every 45 minutes or so for even soaking in sauce.

Let sit as long as you want and reheat with lid on to serve.
note: the longer the spices sit, the better they taste. The flavors meld together with time.

  • Remove boar meat onto carving board and shred.
  • Warm tortillas in microwave.
  • Spoon on shredded meat, then sauce from Tajine dish. Amount of sauce subject to taste. I recommend each guest building their own.
  • Wrap tortilla like moo shoo pork so doesn’t drip.


Sandra adds “This is simply marvelous (ain’t it grand to love your own cooking!) if you want exotic spicing combined with the wild taste of the boar. You could use any meat, but the very long cooking is especially good for tougher cuts.

The Secret:  USE FRESH SPICES! I get mine from Penzeys Spices. If you use from grocery store, then DOUBLE at least the above. Also LONG slow cooking vital to bringing out flavors.

SUGGESTED WINES: We started with EOS Estate Merlot, Sonoma,  2009 and finished with Red Carpet Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, 2011.

April 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm 2 comments

Summer means tomatoes and purple basil

Summer is the season of glorious fruit and veggies in California – and my favorite time because we love tomatoes most of all. Just a few miles down the freeway, back on a winding road at the foot of the Mesa, is a little wooden stand tucked away behind a gate. It’s kind of a secret place, so I won’t give you exact directions.

But there you can find paper bags of very ripe tomatoes for $3 and little square baskets of plump, firm, perfect ones for $4. I make my own tomato sauce these days. Just chop the super ripe tomatoes in chunks, throw them in a saucepan with some salt and boil until the consistency you want. Soup, sauce or paste. It all depends on the cooking time.

Wanna make a ratatouille? You’ll find everything you need – lavender, round eggplants the size of grapefruits, shiny green bell peppers, juicy white onions with their long bushy stalks. Did I mention ripe peaches with no bruises and sunflowers with four foot stems?

Do you need more to be impressed? You leave your money in a small box with a slat on top. The honor system. A little bit of heaven right here on our tumultuous earth.

This is a Caprese salad I made for lunch today. Tomatoes from the Mesa, fresh mozarella from DePalo & Sons and purple basil from Avila Beach Farmer’s Market. The flavor of the basil is super intense, so I chop and sprinkle rather than put whole leaves like I would with green basil. I know I’ve written about the purple basil and caprese salad before. But can good things be repeated too often?

Caprese Salad with purple basil and my friend Peg’s pink dahlias

August 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm 4 comments

Caprese Salad with Purple Basil

Avila Beach CA has a trendy little Farmer’s Market on Friday afternoons with a handful of produce booths selling only top quality. A real find for me was purple basil which is incredibly rare.

I wish I had adequate words to describe the rich, heady aroma with almost a hint of licorice or anise.

Sensing the potency of the taste would match the scent, I chopped it fine on a caprese salad instead of using whole leaves as I would with standard “green” basil.


Cari and Craig Clark at Chaparral Gardens in Atascadero CA grow the basil to use in their artisan vinegars. Check out their website at

The tomatoes came from a local farmer and the mozzarella cheese from DePalo and Sons Deli in Shell Beach CA. The cheese is hand-crafted daily from grandfather Dr. Tedone’s recipe. The good doctor, retired now, starting making the cheese to work out his grief after his wife passed. DePalo’s is a family affair with an excellent Italian-California style deli, tremendous wine collection and shelves stuffed with every imaginable delicacy.

August 4, 2011 at 5:51 pm 1 comment

Papaya Tilapia for lunch

I love to cook and my favorite approach is to make something out of whatever ingredients I have in the fridge.

Today I prepared some Tilapia fillets which were on special in the fish department of the local supermarket.

After sauteeing slim rondelles of white onions and small, whole garlic wedges in olive oil, I tossed in the last of my yellow baby bell peppers, sliced also in rondelles.

Next came sprigs of fresh thyme from my herb garden.

I scraped the veggies to the side and put the tilapia in the pan, turning gently after one minute. Remember, these are fillets and very thin and delicate.

Of course, I salt & pepper to taste before adding a generous amount of dry white wine to cover. A Charles Shaw Chardonnay is just fine for cooking this dish. Why spend more? Let simmer very gently to boil off the alcohol from wine and reduce sauce. DO NOT overcook fish.

At the last minute, I sprinkled with cubed papaya which warmed slightly by the time I got the pan to the table and served. This really turned out delicious and was so fast, simple and cheap.

I served the tilapia with steamed green beans and a romaine salad with a vinaigrette and chunks of fresh parsley. The parsley also comes from my herb garden. We’re trying to watch calorie intake, so I didn’t serve any bread or rice. Obviously both would be great with this.

The white wine is Panilonco, a Chardonnay from Chile – crisp, dry and very reasonable at $4-5 a bottle.

Bon appetit! Velbekomme! Guten Appetit! Buon appetito! Smacznego! Bom apetite! Dobru chut! Smaklig maltid! Buen provecho! Bonum appetitionem!

July 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm 1 comment

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