My Story

I've always loved being in the kitchen. Isn't that the gathering place at parties and get togethers! That's where the action is, where delicious smells come from, and where I go to create some really great stuff! My Grandma was my inspiration. She lived her life in Baltimore and she was ALWAYS in the kitchen (or down at the VFW for a crab feast and beer) but Alice created so many wonderful meals for our family. I remember there was always soup before the meal, usually a steaming bowl of crab soup with a rich tomato broth and lots of vegetables. Her crab cakes were incredible, a recipe I use today, and undeniably the best. I would challenge ANY other crab cake recipe to match my Grandma Alice's. The first meal I made for my mom was macaroni and cheese from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook back when I was about 7 years old. I was very proud of it, and it was really good..a creamy white sauce combined with good old cheddar and shells sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs..yum. So off I went through life, cooking and baking, and came to realize that baking was the shizzy. I loved finding a great recipe and making it even better. Funny my kids didn't like sweets much, so I showered friends and neighbors with treats. Later down the road, when some real decisions needed to be made, I decided to attend the baking and pastry arts program at The California Culinary Academy. I was 47 years old and had no idea what I was in for (another blog). So I mastered the art of baking thanks to a dedicated and talented team of instructors. I did a gig in the basement of well known pastry kitchens and had a wonderful time working for a small caterer cooking with a great bunch of gals. But here I am now, still cooking, still baking and loving it, in my own kitchen where I can share my love of this sport with the world. I take all my own photos (another passion) and I hope you will have patience and stay with me in this newest adventure. So thank you Grandma Alice for all those delicious memories, stories and inspiration. Stay tuned..

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

32 lemons

We have a rather strange lemon tree in our backyard.  It's trunk reaches all the way up to the roof (about 7 feet) and then it branches out above the roof line.  This spring, my lemon tree started producing lemons...many lemons, and hasn't stopped since.  I've used my lemons in numerous meals and drinks, taken them on vacation, given them away to neighbors, and even sent them to work with my husband.

But being such a tall tree, I can't just reach up and pick the lemons, they're way out of my reach. When those lemons are good and ready, they fall to the ground.  But every now and then when I'm feeling rather peppy, I'll go in to the garage, get my 8 foot fruit picker (you know the kind with the basket on the end) and I'll go fishing for lemons.  I usually end up being showered with leaves, getting the tiny flowers and lemon dust in my eyes as I look up at my lemon tree to try and coax them down off the branches. The picker really isn't such a great system, so the lemons end up falling to the ground when they're good and ready, and where I go to gather them up.

 This summer I would go out nearly every morning with my coffee and look at the progress of my vegetable garden (sorry Jim, I know you planted it).  I'd water my lavender, sage, roses, gardenia and my herb garden (yes, I planted it).  So with my coffee in one hand and the hose in the other, I'd eventually end up under the lemon tree.

I'd always end up putting either the coffee down, or the hose, but sometimes both, and look around for something to bring the lemons in to the house with. Instead, I would end up gathering all my lemons in my shirt and there I'd be, 10 or so lemons in the pouch of my shirt holding it all together with one hand.  The other hand free to grab my coffee, which at this point is most likely cold.  It never occurs to me during all this figuring out, to walk back to the kitchen (which is all the way around the other side of the house) to get a bowl, or basket, or something to make things easier for myself.  But I guess I got into a routine of doing it this way, gathering those lemons.  Part of a ritual for me on those early summer mornings.  A summer break that has passed too quickly.

The last time I gathered my lemons was Friday.  I counted 32 (from the week) into a big beautiful bowl.  I squeezed them, froze most of the juice, zested 4 or 5,  and made a batch of my favorite lemon bars to share at dinner with our dear friends and neighbors.

This morning I went out as usual coffee and hose in hand, and walked over to my tree to gather the fallen lemons, but to my dismay, there were no lemons on the ground.  As I turned around to go, cold cup of coffee in my hand, one single lemon fell right on to my head.

I guess summer's not quite over yet...

The crust.  Buttery. Slightly sweet.  A hint of crunch with each bite.

The curd.  Tart and sweet.  Thick and creamy.

A to-die-for taste of summer.

Worth every calorie.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lazy Girl Breakfast

Since my husband and I dined on our favorite frozen yogurt for dinner last night, we both woke up slightly famished and in need of some protein.  Trying to stay on the healthy side of things this morning,  and still feeling a bit sleepy, I pulled out organic eggs, whole wheat bagels, low fat cream cheese and went to it. That's what my husband had for breakfast.  But as I stood at the stove flipping his eggs to his desired "over hard", I spied the two green tomatoes sitting on the counter.  I had picked them up last week at the farmer's market with the intention of frying them up..(salt and pepper the slices, dredge in a little flour, fry them in a little olive oil until golden brown) but just never got to it.  So being the tomato lover that I am, added the green tomatoes to the mix.  This is what I came up for my lazy Saturday morning...

Lazy Girl Bagel
one whole wheat bagel
1 organic egg
light smear of low fat cream cheese
2 slices green tomato

Toast the bagel, add the cream cheese~Use a tiny bit of oil to fry up the egg~Salt and pepper the tomatoes, then fry them up (same pan as the egg) until their golden on each side~Plop the egg on the bagel, then the tomatoes on top~A bit more salt and pepper...Yum.


Friday, August 20, 2010


Basil.Olive Oil.Garlic.Pine Nuts.Parmesan.Salt

A blender full of fresh basil

A generous pour of fruity, fragrant olive oil


3-4 garlic cloves and a fist full of roasted pignola's

Parmesano Reggiano and salt to taste

A float of olive oil

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I have a love affair with Italian food. Most of the cook books that I have in my little library are from Italian kitchens..Lidia Bastianich, Giada DeLaurentiis, Mario Batali, and then there's all the recipes I've collected over the years from other sources. I've always loved Italian food. I remember being 5 or 6 years old, standing at our neighbor Vera's sink nibbling on a crumari cookie. She spoke very little English, but always welcomed me in to her big Italian kitchen. I loved watching her chop, stir and create wonderful smells coming from those huge pots on her ever lit stove. Sometimes I'd follow her down the steps to the dark, cool basement. There, just at eye level, were rows of colorful jars of tomatoes, beans and other vegetables that I didn't recognize. I thought those rows of jars were so beautiful!

My next experience with real Italian cooking came many years later when I was fortunate enough to have known the wonderful Italian grandparents of my boys. I learned from this family that pasta sauce is called "gravy". I'm not sure why, maybe it was related to the region in Italy that the family came from, but I do know that the pasta gravy that came out of their household (and one that I remember dearly) was delicious. The grandfather was the Italian, and when he could, he loved to cook the meal. But their Irish grandmother knew how to cook a mean Italian dinner just as well. The smells that drifted from that kitchen were so wonderful; you could almost taste the steaming plate of pasta, (and all that went along with it) that would soon be presented on that dining room table.

I was given the recipe for the long version of gravy, and the shorter one as well (to which I am very grateful). I made it many many times over the years, but never as good as what came out of their kitchen.

With the majority of Italian recipes that I use, I feel the longer versions, in my opinion, are just that much better. With a longer, slower cooking time, the gravy has a chance to develop a rich delicious flavor...and then of course, there's that wonderful aroma throughout the house that says,"garlic, tomato, olive oil, basil, oregano..."

So, after all that being said, there's always a time for a quick version of a dearly loved gravy. All of my books have these scaled down versions, and as I mentioned I have a treasured copy of "quick gravy" that is really delicious. From these, and my experience eating my way through Italy in 2006, (it wasn't just me; my husband, sister and brother-in-law were right there with me) I've come up with some really delicious Italian meals. I don't usually write them down (I know..) but I make them so often they're right here in my head, always at the ready.

So last week when I was craving something Italian for dinner and didn't have much time, or tolerance for a hot kitchen, I put together a fairly quick, scaled down version of my husband's favorite...

Turkey Bolognese with Spaghetti
  • your favorite cooking olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3-6 cloves garlic (depending on size)
  • salt and any other fresh Italian herb (I use oregano or basil from the garden)
  • 1 # ground turkey
  • 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes (the best there are unless you have a bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, then use those!)
  • a splash of a red wine you'd be happy to drink
  • freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese

Heat the oil, add the onions, give them a good sprinkling of salt. Let the onion caramelize (resist the urge to stir; once is enough for 5-10 minutes). When they're close, add the garlic. When you can smell the garlic, add the turkey. Add more salt and let it brown on a med heat. Don't be afraid to let the turkey brown. As it does, it caramelizes, adding another layer of flavor to the gravy. Add the tomatoes, (if you like a smooth gravy, give them a whirl in the food processor) and turn up the heat. Taste the wine, if you like it, add a splash to the mix. Let it simmer for 30 min or so. Taste every now and then; add salt to taste and herbs. Boil and drain your pasta (always reserve a cup of pasta water, to thin sauce if needed) Put a little sauce in your hot pasta pan, a small knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add some cheese to the gravy, then the pasta. Plate it, then top it with the sauce. Delicioso!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

2 Peaches and a Pint of Blackberries..

galette [gah-LEHT]
"Hailing from France, a galette is a round, rather flat cake made of flaky-pastry dough.The term also applies to a variety of tarts. They may be topped with fruit, jam, nuts, meat, cheese, etc. Galette des Rois, the traditional cake served during Twelfth Night festivities, often contains a bean or other token, which is guaranteed to bring the recipient good luck."

In the middle of a fairly busy afternoon, I made a galette, or free-form pie, in 15 min. (bake time is about 45min). I had the dough already made (the second disk from the blueberry pie) so all I needed was fruit.

The last time I was at my little market, I noticed how lovely the peaches looked. The local peaches here in the East Bay are from Brentwood, a farming community about 45 minutes to the east of us. Brentwood is known for growing delicious corn, tomatoes and summer fruit. The country roads are dotted with U-picks, but our favorite is Mike's, family friends who produce delicious peaches and cherries each year.

So off I went to the market, and picked out 2 lovely, fragrant peaches (once again, give it a sniff, if it smells like a peach, it's done) and a pint of dark, plump blackberries. The combination of the two would be perfect for a colorful, sweet taste of summer. Total cost..$3.15

There's really no right or wrong way to make this lovely little galette, and it's so quick and easy, I made it in under 15 min (bake time is approximately 45 min) and no bowl needed!

The secret though, is to make sure you have wonderfully ripe fresh fruit. You want all the flavor to come from the fruit, not any additional ingredients.

So grab a piece of parchment (useful in so many ways, and always in my kitchen) roll out your galette crust, pour the chunks of peaches and the blackberries onto the parchment, and sprinkle on only enough sugar to add a bit of extra sweetness. I always add a squeeze of lemon juice to bring out the flavor of the fruit.

In order to thicken the juices from the peaches and blackberries, add a tablespoon or so of flour.

Start by folding up one side of the dough, then gather a section at a time up and around the fruit, mounding it as you go.

Remember to give the crust a quick egg wash and a sprinkle of sugar, and it's ready for the oven..or if the it's too hot to turn the oven on in the afternoon, move the whole thing, parchment and all, onto a cutting board, and pop it in the fridge until your kitchen cools down. When it does crank the oven up to 400º and bake for about 30 min until the galette is golden brown. Cover it lightly with foil, bake another 10-15 min or so (some ovens run hot, so adjust as necessary). Let it cool while the smell of freshly baked pie floats through your house..delightful!

..This one's for you Becky and Jenna!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Great Pairing

While I was out yesterday, I stopped at my local produce market and picked up this melon for under $2. As far as checking for ripeness, my husband Jim, says to push on the stem and if it gives, it's ripe. He also says to give it a sniff. You should actually be able to smell the aroma of the melon.

I sliced it open and found it to be juicy and sweet. Jim and I both like fruit room temp (the flavors become more intense) so it stayed out on the counter, where I nibbled on it as I prepped. But also out on the counter, was a big chunk of Parmesan Reggiano cheese, which I needed for dinner. I can't resist a small chunk each time I walk by.

It was quite warm in my kitchen, but there was a nice breeze flowing through, and the smell of the cantaloupe and the Parmesan was

I popped a piece of the melon, and with it, a sliver of Parmesan into my mouth. Wow! The wonderfully sweet melon and buttery Parmesan (and slight crunch from crystallization) were a perfect combination of sweet and savory.

A simple, delicious nibble for a gathering..
  • Wedges of cantaloupe
  • A good, imported Parmesan Reggiano
  • A sprinkling of basil ribbons

Monday, August 9, 2010

A "Really Good" Pasta Salad

I'm a big believer in using what I have in the garden, fridge and pantry to create a meal. I will do almost anything in order to stay out of the supermarket. I would much rather prefer to run to my small, family owned neighborhood market that carries almost everything I need, including some very lovely produce.

So as I wandered (sleepily, I might add) through my garden this morning and noticed a dark green, ready to be picked zucchini and 6 or 7 perfectly red, plump, cherry tomatoes ready to harvest, I thought of the perfect summer meal..pasta salad.

Knowing I had at the least, a red onion in the fridge, my ingredient list was being formed in my mind. I checked the pantry for pasta. Found a pound of brown rice pasta from my favorite (small specialty market). I figured the dense texture that brown rice pasta provides, it would fare well with what I had in mind.

Now pasta salad can be a great light summer meal, full of vegetables and flavor, but it can also be rather boring. So my challenge on this Monday afternoon was to make this salad with not only flavor and texture, but one with a bit of kick as well. The dressings on most pasta salad's (including those that we see sitting in various deli cases..don't get me started there), tend to be heavy with way too much tang. My goal here is to create a pasta salad where you can actually taste the ingredients; pasta, fresh vegetables, herbs and the creamy addition of cheese. In this case I opted for feta, which has the creamy consistency I like with just the right tang. But go for the real Greek feta, it costs a bit more, but it's well worth it.

So after cooking the pasta, I took a look in the vegetable bin and found a couple of carrots. Just the right thing for color and crunch. I also opted for the red onion instead of the shallot that was hiding behind the lettuce. Red onion is a bit sweeter, and will add more color. Now with all three chopped and added to the pasta, in went salt and pepper, the lemon zest, and using that same lemon, several good squeezes, all to taste. Next, the olive oil, a generous pour, and a splash of red wine vinegar. I gave it a taste and it was good, but still didn't have that I went back to the garden. I spotted a red jalapeno, grabbed some basil, chopped again and added it to the mix. Yummy, but still wanted something to add more crunch and flavor. Tucked in the freezer were some roasted pine nuts, so in they went. It was good, but I needed a taster just to be sure. In comes Tess (my 19 year old daughter) who was happy to grab a fork and have a sample.

"Hmm, really good Mom"...and that's good enough for me!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jenny's Tea

I love my sister-in-law's ice tea. She always has it her fridge, or on the stove ready to go. When you walk in her door you can smell it brewing. She uses the bags that have been around for years, you know, that cinnamon-y, spicy and slightly sweet black tea blend. It is almost a bit too sweet for me (how do they get it so sweet in that little tea bag?), so I tend to add a little water to mine. It's a great thirst quencher! So one hot, sunny day last month (one of the few we've had here in the east bay), I decided to make sun tea.

I had an old, very large mason jar that belonged to Jim's, grandmother. So I ran out and bought some of those tea bags fore mentioned, threw them in with a couple of mint bags (I used 3 of the spice and 2 mint) and let 'er steep out in my garden. The jar sat there most of the day (I admit, I had forgotten about it) and when I went out late in the afternoon, there it was, dark and warm and ready to be poured over ice, and I loved seeing it in this old jar, one that no doubt, was used many time in the past.

Tasting it, I decided that even with the mint, it was still a bit too sweet, so I squeezed a couple of lemons and added the juice to the mix, and there it was, Jenny's Ice Tea..Perffeto!!

from this to that..

In our travels this past weekend, my husband and I stopped in Clovis to see a friend's garden. That Central Valley soil, along with the heat of the summer (actually it's pretty warm there year round) creates prime growing opportunities for a bounty of summer veggies.

This gal doesn't have alot of space in her back yard since they designed and put in a lovely pool and sitting area, but she's designed the yard for optimum use, included in the design,
a little putting green!

Instead of one contained vegetable garden, my friend has put her veggies and herbs around the perimeter of the yard that gets the best sun.

There's a bounty of tomato's along the fence, basil next to the pool (yes! they can smell it while they swim!) Italian peppers tucked next to the lavender and squash basking in the sun sharing a space with a rose. As we strolled around the yard chatting, she grabbed a fist full of peppers, a healthy looking yellow squash and passed these gems on to me.

So, home once again, I plucked the two banana peppers in my garden and perused my books looking for a delicious idea on what to do with the peppers and squash, and this is what I came up with:

Tessie's Italian Peppers
  • Take a handful of Italian peppers, slice up a shallot, whack 6 garlic cloves
  • Grab a large skillet, add a generous pour of your favorite olive oil and turn up the heat
  • Add the peppers, garlic and shallots, a good dose of salt and pepper
  • Cover with another heavy (but smaller) skillet to weigh it all down
  • Cook for a few minutes then check for caramelization (you might want to pull the garlic out..don't let it burn!) While the pepper mix is browning, slice the squash 1/4 in or so
  • Continue to brown the peppers and shallot, then turn and do the other side
  • Remove the pepper mix to a plate (don't forget the garlic!) and slide the squash into the pan
  • Throw in some salt and pepper, turn up the heat a bit and let the squash caramelize
  • Turn and do the same for the other side
  • Throw in some bread crumbs if you have them, a little more s and p and there you go!