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Making Peace with Whole Foods Butchers

For years, those three little words neatly summarized my feelings about Whole Foods, and made for a Flintstones-sized bone of contention between me and every food-snob I came across; where my friends and family chomped at the bit to feel good about parting with their paychecks, I saw only a business model predicated on sloughing-off expensive products of inconsistent quality, remarkably mediocre prepared foods, and egregiously priced dry goods encased in very clever branding.

My Favorite Black Bean Soup, in 30 Minutes or Less

Inasmuch as complex events can be said to have their roots in a single moment, I credit my first attempt at this delicious soup – an assignment for my Fundamentals of Stocks, Soups, and Sauces course at the ICE Culinary Institute some 10 years ago – with much of what I’ve produced in the kitchen ever since. I might as well call it my Butterfly Effect Soup.

The Costco Report: Organic Beef

I cooked this steak – with a simple red wine-honey reduction and a creamy parmigiano-peppercorn salad – in honor of one of my especially snarky fans, someone who objects strenuously every time I buy something from a supermarket for what I’ve billed as a “cooking locally” weblog. I’ll stipulate the point, but my money says I’m not the only parent in the County who’d like to serve their kids a decent, healthy steak for a few less bucks. But is it a decent, healthy steak?

Fussy Cookies


Cooking with flowers has never thrilled me. Call me crazy, but not once have I thought, “You know what this salad needs? Nasturtiums!” I leave the blossoms in the garden and call it a day. Then along came a lavender bush…A guest post by Katie Githens. You can follow Ms. Githens on her own blog, Clary Sage, where she writes about the quirks and comforts of cooking and life on the West Coast.

30 Minutes, 3 Ingredients, 1 Dinner

Sometimes, it’s fun to see how much we can do, with how little. I could list the underlying moral imperatives – saving money and time would presumably occupy the penthouse suite – but in the main, I just think it’s plain fun, a sort of Sudoku with pots and pans. Case in point: How do [...]

Because it rhymes with ‘orange’

I may have seen a cloud this week, but if I did, I don’t remember it. Really, our weather has been impossibly nice. And really, it ought to worry me – the lack of rain, the risk of budbreak before a frost – but it’s hard not to simply soak in it, the whole of our little wine country valley like some great, tickly bubble bath of pea shoots and sunlight.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Cook Them

Road Trip: Sunday night red-eye from SFO to JFK; mythical quantities of food and booze; a cumulative loss of sleep bordering on some chapter in FM 34-52, the field manual of interrogation techniques. Many of my best and oldest friends and much personal history remain rooted in the concrete canyons of Manhattan, so normally I’d [...]

The Costco Report: Organic Chicken w/ Meyer Lemons & Rosemary from My Garden

The Costco Report: Episodic observations on where to port safely, and what to avoid like a pestilence, when navigating an ocean of consumer non-durables under a sheet metal sky… In today’s edition, a pretty good deal on organic chicken, and a nice way to use your seasonal garden while you cook it. If you insist [...]

A Seasonal Twist on the Tuna Sandwich

Of the many things not to like about a crappy job market, working longer hours for less money has to be near the top of the list; worse still, however, are the all-too-inevitable hours spent working for nothing, the hours spent trying to secure employment instead of actually doing something productive, like riding your bike [...]

“Parker House” Dinner Rolls

Somewhere, in a squat little cardboard tube, lies a row of Pillsbury dinner rolls, mashed into one another as if caught in some evil baker’s version of airline seats… and each of those rolls, as it pays its Karmic debt to the gods of flour and water, thinks of one thing only: Please, please let me come back as a Parker House roll, baked from scratch in somebody’s kitchen, pulled apart by the chubby little fingers of happy little children.

Make-Up Bread

My eldest daughter is one of my very favorite people in the world. Really, that’s not just a parent talking: The child has an innate happiness, a fullness of heart, and a spontaneous grace that simply disarms everyone she meets. Like her good looks, I take very little credit for any of that, but I cannot abdicate her Mr Hyde self, so we have to find ways to make up with one another, and this is what we’ve found: There is no better splint for fractured family love than the baking together of fresh bread.

A Red Lentil Soup w/ Meyer Lemons

Red Lentil Soup w/ Meyer LemonsSo, back to school: As I mentioned last week, with the wanton optimism of the truly ignorant, I enrolled myself in a continuing ed course. Now, having survived Week 1 (technically, my first grade pending, survival remains a speculative condition), it is Week 2′s turn with the lash; the good news is, my homework has converged with my dinner, in the form of this wonderful recipe for red lentil soup with lemons, and my lemon trees are hemorrhaging little egg-yolk colored balls like some vainglorious tree at Christmas.

Sauce Slut: A Glossy, Crimson, Zinfandel Reduction

I confess, I’m a total sauce slut: My wife could legitimately accuse me of infidelity, if only she had thought to proscribe lustfully leering at the 5 mother sauces in our vows, and I might happily eat a shoe, if only it were first slathered with a demi glace of sufficiently high quality.

A Rainy-Day Braise: Ancho Chilis, Zinfandel, and Beets

Goat shanks braised with Zinfandel, Ancho Chilis, and Beets I think this is a killer one-pot dish for a dank, inclement night although, in point of fact, I’m cheating, because neither beets, nor my protein of choice – young goat shanks, from the Owen Family Farm up in Hopland – are technically in season right now. But the mild heat and smoky undertone from the chilies, together with the spicy-sweet peppery jam of the wine, seemed a natural bedfellow for dense, rich, and slightly gamy flavors…

In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” Onions, Home Edition

Caramelized Onions, In-N-Out "Animal Style"At some point, I’ll get around to writing a longer treatise on the wonders – consisting, in roughly equal proportion, of cardiac perfidy and gustatory revelation – of In-N-Out’s “Animal Style” offerings. But not today. Today – and, if you saw my recent column on Savory Onion Jam, I guess you’d say all week – I have eyes only for condiments, and few condiments inspire like In-N-Out’s insanely caramelized onions.

Savory Onion-Cranberry “Jam”: My New Favorite Condiment

Pork Loin sous vide sandwich, w/ Pt Reyes Bleu & Onion-Cranberry MarmaladeYesterday, as I was blabbering about cooking with friends, I tried to argue that the biggest prize from letting another cook into your kitchen is, aside from some help with the dishes, the potential to eat a meal that you’d not otherwise have thought of. A case in point comes courtesy of a dear friend’s torrid love affair with thermal immersion circulators and my new favorite condiment: A pitch-perfect finger sandwich of pork loin sous-vide, local blue cheese, and savory onion “jam”.

A Nicoise Salad in Winter, and The Rules

Perhaps Will Shakespeare lived in Northern California and craved a salad in winter when he spoke of those days, green in judgment and cold in blood; or maybe I’m just projecting because, as recently as yesterday, I was talking about this salad I had made, borne of winter crops, which still I took to be a very-nearly-classic Salade Nicoise, but for the outrage of tomatoes in absentia, and it got me thinking: What, really, constitutes the One, True Thing, the Nicoise that casts its shadow on the wall?

A Salade Nicoise in Winter

Autumn Nicoise Salad with Tuna Belly (without tomatoes)The degree to which this – a Salade Nicoise, sans tomates – is, in fact, a Nicoise salad remains debatable. What is incontrovertible is that, while I won’t eat out-of-season tomatoes, I’m not waiting around until next summer for the league leader in salads-as-meals, and this, my Jack Frost version extant, still tastes damn good.

Braised Lamb with Bitter Chocolate, Rosemary, and Syrah

Lamb shoulder, braised with Syrah, Chocolate, and RosemarySometimes, despite all the planning, the wearing-thin of cookbook pages, the carpal-tunnel-clicking through epicurious, I’ll find out the hard way that it’s what I didn’t plan for that determines whether my food ultimately succeeds, or merely sucks. Typically, I’m undone by good, old fashioned pilot error; typically, but not always, because sometimes it’s the black swan crapping on my mise, and it’s just such an exception to the rule that inspired this edition of Meat, Braise, Love: A slow braise of shoulder of local lamb with bitter chocolate, rosemary, and bad-ass Syrah.

The Accidental Vegetarian: Fire-Roasted Peppers

fire roasted peppers on a home stoveI’m not sure what (if anything) this strangely cool, damp year in Northern California says about global warming, but it definitively changed the relationship between the physical calendar on my wall and my erstwhile sense of the natural culinary seasons: I didn’t eat a ripe tomato until well into August, and I’m still picking chili peppers from our garden in mid-December. And, in a proximal vein, I managed to procure a Technicolor Dreamcoat of richly hued, perfectly ripened late-season peppers from Soda Rock Farms at our very last farmer’s market of 2010

Sunny Eggs, Crispy Polenta & Creamy Mushrooms

Sunny Eggs with Crispy Polenta and a Creamy Mushroom Sauce Recipe

What Obama and Bush both know about wine

Chicken/egg, TV/commercial, show-me-yours/I’ll-show-you-mine; which came first, the food or the wine? In our house, such questions carry weight, a seriousness you might consider more properly reserved for electrocardiograms, or matters of national security. The thing of it is, in wine country, the ordinal structure of food vis-a-vis wine matters, not least because you’ll neither be fed nor drunk until we’ve settled the matter. To wit, a wine that my wife adores and that Presidents Obama and Bush Jr uniquely agree upon, because it’s been spilled on the official tablecloths of Republican and Democratic White Houses alike…

A nearly perfect French fry, from the oven

Oven Roasted French Fries (Heston Blumenthal method)The extraordinary potato: A poisonous, inedible plant whose tuber provides one of the world’s most critical food sources and is equally at home in a Michelin-star kitchen as it is in a McDonald’s fry basket. Is there any food that is simultaneously simpler and more spectacular than a perfectly french-fried potato?

Last-Minute Thanksgiving Upgrades

With less than 36-hours until the feast hits the table, I’m sure we all have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, so today’s is a post with a purpose: Fast, easy, small little things you can do to elevate some of your Thanksgiving Day standards – mashed potatoes, green beans, glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, stuffing – from the delicious but possibly tired to a more lively yet still traditional level.

The Accidental Vegetarian: Cooking Green

Green Salad: Arugula, Green Zebra Tomato, Green PeppercornI’ve been thinking about cooking green. And no, I’m not pandering to my more aggressively environmentalist brethren, I’m talking about the color green, the shades of which the human eye is more sensitive to than any other part of the visible spectrum: The haughty, peacock green of my grandmother’s emerald broach; the brooding, mossy green of the Russian River pooling under Wohler Bridge