Edible beans

I have been here and there and seemingly everywhere this past month. The last stop was Santa Barbara where I attended the Edible Institute, a 2-day conference put on by the Edible Communities magazines.* As I wrote over at Local Foods, I came home humbled and inspired – not a bad combination.

Of the many things I’m excited about after this conference – rooftop produce gardens, the notion of having food labeled when it’s been sprayed with pesticides instead of when it hasn’t, of food writing as the ultimate liberal arts exercise (thanks for that one, Molly O’Neill) – what I’m really jazzed about is beans.

I’ve been a fan of Steve Sando and his Rancho Gordo beans for years. I honestly don’t remember when I first had them or saw them or heard about them. I know, from his talk, that it was in the last 8 – 10 years, since that’s how long he’s been growing and selling heirloom beans. Now I could go into how Sando revives heirloom varieties of beans, or is forming partnerships with Mexican growers to create a market for their traditional crops and products, or emphasize the degree to which he should seriously consider changing his career path to include stand-up comedy. Instead, I will stick to what was most amazing.

Most of the dried beans sold in the U.S. are old. I sort of knew this. I thought they were all at least a year if not two years old by the time we all brought them into our kitchens.

If only.

A year or two is just fine, claims Sando. The problem is that for the most part we’re not getting beans a year or two old. We’re getting beans that have been sitting in silos for up to ten years, or even longer. Yeah. I know. It explains a lot. It explains why they are often so dusty – not dirty from the field, but dusty from being in storage. It also explains why they don’t tend to cook evenly and why they often go from pebble-like to mush in a single stir of the spoon.

Last night I cooked up a pot of Rancho Gordo cannellini beans just as Sando suggested: sauté some mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery peeled or cleaned and diced – I used 1 onion, 2 carrots, and 3 stalks of celery, but that’s me) and garlic (I used 4 cloves, but we’re a garlic-loving bunch at our house) in olive oil, add beans (I had put a pound of them up to soak that morning, but Steve claims it’s not really necessary) and enough water to cover generously; bring to a boil then down to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender – allow 2 hours but they are likely to be done more in the hour to an hour-and-a half range.

Besides just using water and not bothering to add any broth and not worrying too much about remembering to soak the beans, the other great tip I got was when to salt. Salt supposedly toughens bean skins, so many people warn against salting beans during cooking. Yet unsalted beans and unsalted broth are, well, not so delicious. I’ve always added salt at the end and allowed the mixture to sit so the beans pick up some of the salt added to the cooking liquid. Steve recommends salting 3/4 of the way through cooking – when the cooking smell shifts from the aromatics (onions, etc.) to the beans themselves. This involves paying a bit of attention, of course, but I find well-tended food tastes better in the end, anyway.

To these creamy, soft, distinctive beans I added a drizzle of fancy olive oil, a few grinds of black pepper, and a dollop of chile-green onion relish (1 red fresno chile, 1 anaheim chile, 4 green onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons lemon juice).

And that delicious liquid in which the beans have cooked? It’s called “pot liquor” (sometimes less appetizingly written “pot licker”). Oh yeah. Have a spoon or bread nearby with which to eat it up.

This “recipe” may not be original, but in the ever-sage words of Russ Parsons: stories that aren’t original are suspect, recipes that are original are suspect. Words for a food writer to live by.

* Full disclosure: As regular readers know, I frequently write for Edible San Francisco.


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Fancy food

Last week San Francisco hosted the annual Winter Fancy Food Show. It takes over the Moscone convention center downtown and runs roughshod on food professionals of all sorts for three full days.

Vendors bring their products, hoping to connect with buyers. Buyers come hoping to find products. Other people mill about getting in the way with their pesky questions and cynical journalistic tendencies.

I am interested in very little of what fills those giant halls. My big picture take-aways this year are:

  1. If you are thinking of starting a fancy tea company, you might want to go back to the drawing board because, to me, the market looks a wee bit saturated.
  2. I’m glad to see fewer people are risking their life savings trying to start a granola company, but sad to see so many people making “snack bites.”
  3. Apparently there is a large segment of the population that wants to drink water but cannot abide by the taste and there are many companies trying to bridge that gap for them. Many. I predict flavored water is tomorrow’s fancy tea.
  4. There is also plenty of fancy soda on the market and I was forced to consider whether “bits of real ginger” are something you want in your ginger ale. So far I’m thinking not so much. Vignette and Hot Lips still lead the fancy soda troupes on overall quality, flavor, and sweet-but-not-too-sweet sweetness.
  5. While it is possible to package delicious flavored popcorn (props to San Francisco’s own 479!), judging by all the examples I tasted it seems to be infinitely easier to make nasty flavored popcorn.
  6. Flavored popcorn is the new tortilla chips and salsa, at least Fancy Food Show-wise.
  7. I get it. Bacon is delicious. You can make lots of things taste like bacon. Guess what? None of it comes even close to being as good as, you know, bacon. Accept this and move along.
  8. Indian is the new Thai. Or something. Lots more prepared Indian dishes out there – frozen or shelf stable.
  9. The folks at La Tourangelle had already looked into the million dollar idea I offered up to them (I want a source of pine nut oil!), and found it just way too expensive. “No one wants to pay $30 for a little can of oil,” I was told. They are, most likely, correct. Lord knows I don’t want to pay $30….

Each year I do find a few gems among the processed crap, painfully not-quite-actually tasty baked goods, and endless array of tea. This year, those gems included:

  • Bermuda Triangle from Cypress Grove. It’s not new, I’ve probably even had it before, but it hardly ever sells retail (mainly at restaurants), so I had no memory of it. Totally crazy delicious. Note to cheesemongers in the Mission and Potrero areas of San Francisco: if you carry this, I will come to your store to buy it.
  • The folks at La Quercia continue to take those Iowa pigs and turn them into delicious coppa, prosciutto, and other luscious cured slices.
  • Wild Planet Foods now cans sardines as well as sustainably caught tuna. Yum.
  • Whitson Chile Products from Terlingua, Texas. They use a fourth generation recipe to make an aromatic chili base that is not quite hot but is fabulously and deliciously warm. The candied jalapeños are oh so right.
  • Olli Salumeria in Virginia is just getting started. They source locally pastured pork and have a nice Roman man (Olli!) cure it to great success.
  • In a  Pickle out of Fort Worth makes a dill pickle and then puts it through a “sweet and spicy process” with some Sante Fe Grand chiles to great effect. I sort of liked how cagey they were about the process, like maybe I’d go and open a rival pickle company which, let’s face it, no one needs to do because pickles are becoming a lot like tea.


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Radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad

Raw bitter leaves must have a tonic effect. Am I right? I feel virtuous eating them – not as some sort of penance because they taste bad, but because I feel so alive when I crunch into them. In a let’s-bleed-you-with-leeches-to-make-you-feel-better  kind of way, they taste like they will clean my blood. And that bitter edge? I love it. I find myself craving bitter greens – the kales, the collards – and chicories – the radicchios and endives – with great regularity this time of year. It may be sacrilege to say in these parts, but if I had to choose between only being able to have tomatoes or chicories for the rest of my days, I’d choose chicories.

Why, you may ask, does my blood need cleaning? Well, I’m not sure it does, but I find cleaning things incredibly anxiety-reducing. As I’ve written here before, my closets are never cleaner than when I have multiple projects due at once. If I’m going to clean out the kitchen cupboards and organize the tool shelves in the garage, why not scrape my blood clean with bitter salads, too?

Of course I wouldn’t want it to get too clean. That could be dangerous, right? So in this case I’ve thrown in a fair amount of blue cheese (I like a mountain gorgonzola – neither terribly soft nor rock hard) and a few toasted hazelnuts for good measure. I find the traumatically strong tastes of radicchio and blue cheese magically tone each other down. The sharpness of the cheese and the bitter of the leaves giving into each other, softening each other, as if by each being so difficult to take they understand each other and make the other one not need to be so very much like that. (I think I’m still talking about this salad but I’m starting to see why we like this salad so much at our house….)

The secret to this little addictive radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad is, I must admit, in the agrodulce. The fine people at Katz and Company once sent me some samples of their agrodulce – a slightly sweetened vinegar – and I found it so useful and we all loved the salads I made with it so much that one morning I discovered myself spending a rather ridiculous amount of money online ordering up a full assortment. I mean, I make very tasty red wine vinegar myself. Why not just doctor that up with some sugar in the dressing, which really does work just as well? I don’t know. Just know this: you can just add sugar to the vinegar and the salad turns out great. If, however, you’re in the market for some fancy “artisan vinegar” or find yourself in the happy possession of same, here is your chance to use it.

Radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad

First, make the dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl. I use equal part extra virgin olive oil and agrodulce. For a single head of radicchio, use 2 teaspoons of each or 2 teaspoons oil and good red wine vinegar plus a teaspoon of sugar. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. If you want to be a bit fancier, mince a small shallot and let that sit in the agrodulce or vinegar for a few minutes before you add the oil.

Second, trim the radicchio (trevissio is also tasty here), chop it into bite-size pieces or slices, rinse it, and dry it. Add to the salad bowl and toss with the dressing.

Third, you can now, if you like to keep things simple, just eat the salad. It’s great just like this and I’ve been known to down a whole bowlful by myself at lunch. Fancy it up, though, by adding about 1/2 cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts and 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese. Or just use one or the other – all the couplings are delicious! You can toss these in or make it fancy by dividing the salad between salad plates and sprinkling the nut and cheese on each plate. Top with a grinding or two of black pepper if you’re so inclined.


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Luscious. Silky. Salty. Fishy. Yum.

This gravlax was all of these lovely things. It was also cured in the trunk of my car. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It started, as all salmon do, as an egg (yum, salmon roe!) in a creek or riverbed in a tributary that drains into the Copper River in Alaska. It grew and swam (and was swept) downstream into the cold, rich waters of the Pacific Ocean. The cold water made it develop a lot of fat, tasty fat that doesn’t congeal in the cold and thus is healthful and all things good for us humans to eat. It ate lots of stuff – crustaceans, squids, jellies, and other things that eat lots of marine plants and even smaller things that eat more marine plants. You know those omega 3 essential fatty acids health people are always going on about? They are mainly found in marine plants. So when things eat those plants and then other things – like salmon – eat them, the omega 3s build up in a most pleasing and beneficial way. Yet, like magic, this salmon remained low in mercury – they eat fairly low on the food chain compared to, say, swordfish or sharks, and they also simply don’t live that long enough (about 3 to 5 years) to build up mercury the way longer-loved fish do. Nice work, salmon.

This particular fish then had the great misfortune (or is that supreme honor?) to end up in Bill Weber’s gillnet last September (it was on its way to spawn – and die– in the same river where it was an egg). If I know Bill, and I don’t know him well but I have met him and heard him speak at length about how he handles his fish, this salmon was hand-picked off the net, bled (which drastically slows down decomposition), and immediately put on ice. Bill has all kinds of special and advanced methods because, at heart, the man is an inventor of things, an improver of ways.

There are people who will say – and they are probably right – that the wild salmon population is not doing so well and that, really, we probably shouldn’t be eating any of these creatures. We should let them all spawn and reproduce as much as possible. Fishermen and the communities they support, of course, have many arguments against this stance. I’ve decided that if there are only so many salmon left and other people are eating them, I want my share. I don’t eat it very often and when I do I buy it from fishermen I know are fishing responsibly and with great care so the fish I get is as awesome as possible.

And I did. Behold! A thing of great beauty!

It was then packed and shipped to SFO where my editor and pal Bruce Cole picked it up and brought it to his garage. I arrived, fillet knife in hand, and – visualizing but in no way imitating the clean, swift lines of the professionals I witnessed in Cordova – filleted this lovely creature while Bruce laughed at my lack of upper body strength (it’s a BIG fish!). I then took full advantage of my excellent fine motor skills, superlative manual dexterity, and expensive professional tweezers to pull out the pin bones one by one:

I then lugged it home in a trash bag with a few of its equally mangled brethren and one to fillet at home (so I could photoshoot it for you! see above!), packed it up very carefully, and put it in the deep freezer.

The Sunday before Christmas, I pulled this salmon out (yes, the whole salmon, both sides) and let it thaw. I did this because there is Norwegian in me and every Christmas (usually on the Eve) we have gravlax. It is what we do.

On Tuesday I rinsed the salmon, patted it dry, lay the two halves on a very clean counter skin-side-down, and sprinkled each half with 2 tablespoons of horseradish-infused vodka (usually I’d use aquavit, but we were out – yes, we usually have it in the freezer and yes, we ran out; what can I say, it was a trying fall). I then sprinkled each half with about a third of a mixture made of 1/3 cup fine sea salt, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper. A person could add dill to this mixture – about ¼ cup chopped – if they were so inclined and I would be so inclined except that my dashing husband really doesn’t like dill and really, really, really loves gravlax and Christmas is, despite how some people may choose to proceed, not a time to torture loved ones.

I put one half of the salmon skin-down in a large baking dish and laid the other half skin-up on top of it so the flesh more or less matched up. I covered it with foil and plastic wrap, weighed it down with a cutting board that fit inside the dish, put it in the fridge and laid a few wine bottles on top to weigh it down further.

On that Wednesday morning I woke up at the ass crack of dawn. I took the salmon out of its dish, patted it dry, and transferred it to a small baking sheet I had sprinkled with half of the remaining salt-sugar mixture (leaving the two sides cleaving to one another the whole time but flipping it so the fillet on the bottom was now on the top) and sprinkled the top of the salmon with the rest of the sugar-salt. I then wrapped this whole thing in foil and plastic wrap and transferred it to its new home – a small $1.99 Ikea cooler lined with a kitchen garbage bag with several ice packs at the bottom. I then worked a small cutting board (that fit into the cooler) on to of the wrapped fish, put the various bottles of champagne we were bringing to Christmas on top to weigh it down, added more ice packs to top the whole thing off, tied the garbage bag shut, and zipped the cooler closed.

We put the cooler – FACING UP AT ALL TIMES FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DON’T MOVE THE COOLER! – in the trunk of my Honda Civic with scads and scads of presents (our luggage had to go in the backseat), filled our travel mugs with coffee, and carried a very sleepy son to the backseat where I’d made a nest with his favorite quilt, a pillow, and all our luggage. We hit highway 101 before the sun rose and drove north for two days (with plenty of stops to hike in redwoods, eat seafood, and buy one hell of a fabulous late-60s dress at a junk shop) until we got to Manzanita, Oregon.

On Thursday evening, I ransacked the cupboards of my friend’s mother’s beach house for a baking dish, unpacked the fish, flipped it again while transferring it to its new home, re-jiggered the fridge and found place for both fish and champagne. Then I said hello to the various lovely people with whom we were to pass our holiday.

Christmas morning, after Santa’s good will had been fully investigated, we got out the fish.

My dashing husband carved it and we put it – with or without cream cheese and red onion and capers as individual tastes dictated – on rye crackers, baguette, pumpernickel, and/or lefse.

We ate, we drank coffee, and before we knew it, our work was done.

I hope you all had holidays that were just as delicious and lovely and extended as mine were. It’s good to be back.


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Christmas tea cakes

Two things conspired to make me feel oh-so-nostalgic this past week. First, my best friend from high school called from Minneapolis to tell me that my brother was in the local paper. This did not surprise me. He is not regularly in the paper or anything, but he has the kind of job that one can imagine he might end up in the paper every now and again. No, she said. Third-grade Dave.

Our third grade teacher was looking for former students and the Star Tribune ran a story about her search that included (in the print edition only) a picture of my little brother – young enough so he still had his angelic blond curls (in the way of younger brothers he drove me crazy, sure, but he looked like an angel doing it) – and his best grade school buddy with our universally adored third grade teacher.

Of course this made me think of our neighborhood school and its mostly excellent teachers and walking on our own without adult supervision to and from school about half a mile everyday (well, the moms walked us on the first day of kindergarten, but after that they figured we had enough sense – and neighborhood kids  – to find our way back again). And yes, sometimes this walking took place through truly tremendous amounts of snow (check the snow records for the 70s – those snow levels were high!). And, as my neighbor friend pointed out when we reunited this summer, we had to go over a hill so it really was uphill both ways.

Then this weekend my little family of three snuggled into bed and watched Charlie Brown Christmas and I was back at St. Joan of Arc church in South Minneapolis during Christmas Eve mass or in our living room watching the same cartoon with my brother or walking home from a friend’s house in the dark of a December late afternoon looking into our neighbors’ windows to see their trees. In my mind’s eye, of course, there is a picturesque dusting of snow falling and it is so quiet that the snow crunches loudly beneath my snowboot-clad feet.

People not from there don’t tend to understand how a person can miss snow and cold, but this time of year – as the fog and drizzle of rain more or less set in here in San Francisco – I do. I have no doubt trying to bundle a kid up for months on end would make me nuts, and I’m happy to skip the endless rounds of cold and flu that circulate in the heated indoor air. I certainly don’t miss the toxic gray slush that forms in the streets or that dreary tail-end of the never-ending winter known as March and even April in Minnesota. But I do miss the way the sharp cold air can reach down into your lungs to check to see if you’re really breathing and mostly I crave the peaceful calm that descends on a household when everyone is home and safe and the snow starts coming down.

Charlie Brown Christmas captures so much of this. The kids skating endlessly, catching snow on their tongues, walking here and there as independent as can be – all really speaks to my own childhood (Charles Schultz was, after all, from St. Paul). And when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas, that sounds about right, too. I was raised Catholic, but a 70s-style progressive Catholic. My mom wasn’t so into the whole “sin” thing and I remember a very intense debriefing after a Sunday school teacher had gone on and on about hell. Sure, Jesus was the son of god, that was always around and about, but what was played up to me was that he had some good ideas about how to be loving and kind to other people. Christmas was about “peace on earth and goodwill towards man,” just as Linus explains, it wasn’t a birthday party.

I’m going to spend the next few weeks creating a little peace on earth and goodwill towards man in my own world. I’ll be spending time with family and friends and seeing that my son enjoys that wonder of wonders – winter break when you’re seven – as much as possible. Then I’m taking off for a week without work or family on this thing called a vacation. I’m thinking that is going to be a fairly awesome way to usher in 2011.

See you back here in January. Check over at Local Foods this week, though – I’ll be posting the Christmas cookie recipes I worked on Sunday with the help of Very Cheery Cousin Katie. It was a bone-tiring day in the kitchen. That may be, however because we cooked up a few New Years cocktails, too.

Walnut buckwheat tea cakes

Swedish tea cakes were my favorite Christmas cookie (other than the rosettes my grandpa used to fry up) as a kid. Then I learned they were also Russian tea cakes and Mexican wedding cookies and Snowballs – everyone, it seems, would like to claim these as their own. I made these with walnuts, but pecans or hazelnuts (roasted and peeled), work, too. I used buckwheat flour because it has such a sandy texture when you bake with it, which is exactly what you want in these cookies. Plus, it gives the interior a cool dark color that contrasts so nicely with the snowy white powdered sugar on the outside. Use regular flour instead, if you like.

1 1/4 cup walnuts

3/4 cup butter

1 1/3 cups powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar), divided

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 300. Pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely minced. Transfer to a large bowl. Put butter and 1/3 cup of the powdered sugar in the food processor and whirl, stopping and scraping down as necessary, until butter and sugar are combined. Add vanilla and salt and whirl to combine. Add flours and pulse to combine. Turn the dough into the bowl with the walnuts and stir (or knead with your hands) to combine thoroughly.

Roll dough into bite-size (or two-bite-size) balls and place on a baking sheet about an inch apart. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Let cool a few minutes and gently roll each cookie in the remaining powdered sugar. Set on a rack and let cool completely. Then gently toss each cookie in the powdered sugar a second time. It’s like painting a room – two thin coats are infinitely better than one thick one, which gets gloppy and doesn’t cover as well:


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Walnut pie

One thing about being a grown-up: it can be tricky to make new friends. Sure, I meet people that seem like I’d like to be friends with them, but finding the time to become friends is tough. Then there is staying in touch with old friends. People you’d love to talk to everyday. People who make you smile and feel good about the world and the way you go through it. People you truly love but to whom you only speak or see occasionally because everyone has not just jobs but careers and not just families but small children. Some days I feel very forlorn that so many people I love live far away and in any case we’re all so busy as evidenced by how infrequently I see dear friends who live within an hour (hey, even a five minute walk is too much to navigate much of the time!) of my house; on better days I feel extraordinarily lucky that I have so many people to miss.

On top of all this is the difficulty of finding couples with whom one can, if one is in a couple, be friends with as couples. My dashing husband and I definitely have an ample shared section of the Venn diagram of people we like. And yet… so many factors have to come together for it all to work.  The least of which may be the extent to which couples come in the very oddest combinations sometimes.

So when on Sunday night we had dinner at a couple friends’ house and were served scrumptious roast chicken and mushroom risotto and all the adults had a bit more wine than perhaps they should have while the children entertained themselves in other parts of the house, I was very happy I had spent the afternoon baking them a pie. It is a sad cliché, but it is true (and the reason why I have never ever wanted to work in or run a restaurant) that when I cook for you I am saying “I love you,” or at the very least I am saying “I think you are a lovely/funny/interesting person, I hope you enjoy this pie.”

Wait a second, you ask, back up. Why would it take all afternoon to bake a pie? Well, I didn’t get started until 2 because my son and I had spent the earlier part of the day with my Very Tall Cousin Sam being thwarted at every turn: it rained at the flea market and instead of leaving with a coffee table and a dining table and nightstands and a few chairs and a desk and vintage Christmas ornaments and “toys” we left with a coffee table and not one single other thing except a now-broken once-favorite umbrella, the Pixar show at the Oakland Museum was sold out, the tofu place wasn’t open.

So around 2 I donned my apron and started in on the walnut pie I had in my mind’s eye. The first walnut-laced crust was a disaster. It melted into a puddle of an overly buttery cake-like-but-not-delicious thing in the middle of the pie pan.

So I made a regular crust and what was essentially my world-famous pecan pie with walnuts and maple syrup in lieu of pecans and corn syrup. It wasn’t the pie I imagined but it was, by all accounts, fabulous. Best crust I have ever made. Ultra-flaky. I finally tried that trick where you use vodka instead of water. There simply isn’t as much water in 2 tablespoons of vodka as there is in 2 tablespoons of water, so there is less water to develop the gluten in the flour and take away from the flaky-tender potential inherent in flour and butter. The dough, however, is tender and delicate too, so it requires a kind hand when rolling out and getting into the pie pan.

May I suggest bringing it to people who make you smile?

Walnut pie

This is basically my pecan pie recipe. I love pecan pie but find most of them cloying. The bitterness of the walnuts tame the already not-too-sweet nature of this particular version. Plus I used maple syrup in place of the corn syrup, but I think we’ve established that I’m a bit maple-crazy these days.

2 1/2 cup walnuts

1 9-inch pie crust (buy one or make one – I used this pie crust recipe but left out the sugar and used vodka instead of water)

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light, either works)

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons whiskey of whatever sort – including bourbon – you prefer (optional but very tasty)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Lay walnuts on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, 5 to 10 minutes. Watch them very carefully. Walnuts go from toasted to burnt in a snap and this is a lot of walnuts. Let them cool. (Alternatively, you can toast them in a large frying pan over medium-high heat watching constantly and stirring frequently for 5 to 10 minutes.)

Roll crust and place it in a pie pan. Oil or butter the shiny side of a piece of foil and place it, oiled side down, on the pie crust. Fill with pie weights or dry beans. Bake 15 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and bake another 5 minutes. Let cool a bit.

While pie crust bakes, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the syrup, sugar, cream, and salt. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves. Take off the heat and let cool to at least a warm room temperature. Stir in cooled off walnuts. Pour into partially-baked pie crust, place pie pan on a baking sheet (to save your oven in case it bubbles over), and bake until the entire filling is bubbling vigorously – and that includes the very middle of the pie, about 40 minutes. Let cool until set (see above) before serving.

Be warned that this pie has some body to it. It’s basically caramel-coated nuts in a crust. It is not for the weak of jaw or the newly crowned teeth. If you want that gooey, soft style nut pie there are many recipe out there that use a lot more cream and a fair amount of corn syrup and even eggs. Those are not the nut pies for me. This one is good on its own and sheer perfection with whipped or ice cream.


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Parsley walnut pesto

Yeah, I still have walnuts about. Five pounds is a lot of walnuts!

I’ve tried making winter pestos in the past – and I’ve tried them with walnuts. I’ve never been thrilled with the results. I realize not the error of my ways, though. I kept turning to arugula as my green, as my winter “basil.” I kept things a bit more simple and used flat-leaf parsley instead.


It will be delicious for the coming winter months – and its simplicity can serve as a perfect tonic to the insanity of the Thanksgiving feast you may have enjoyed.

Parsley walnut pesto

Parsley stays nice and green, no there is no need to blanch it.  Toss it with hot pasta or just smear it onto toast. It keeps well in the fridge for a few days and in the freezer for, I’m guessing, several months without trouble. If you plan to freeze it, I’d hold off on adding the cheese until you’re ready to use it.

1 1/2 cups walnuts

2 – 3 cloves garlic

Leaves from 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup walnut oil

1 – 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar

1/2 cup freshly grated aged pecorino cheese, plus more for serving

Salt to taste

In a large frying pan over medium high heat, toast walnuts, shaking the pan frequently until walnuts start to smell toasty good and take on a bit of color, 3 to 5 minutes. Take care not to let them darken too much in the pan – they will continue to toast up when you take them off the heat. Transfer to a plate or cutting board and let cool.

In a food processor or blender, pulse garlic until minced – scraping the sides down as needed. Add parsley leaves and pulse until reduced a bit. Add oil and lemon juice and whirl until fairly smooth.

Add walnuts and pulse until as smooth as you like (I prefer to have some chunks of walnut in there). Add cheese and pulse to combine. Taste and add salt as you like.


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Walnut cake with maple hard sauce

I never would have come up with this recipe if 1) some lovely walnut folks hadn’t sent me five pounds of fresh walnuts in the mail and 2) I hadn’t just gotten back from Quebec City.

I had walnuts to use and maple on the brain.

Walnut cake

While not health food, there isn’t much refined nonsense in this cake. It is part very moist nut torta and part cake-like date sticky pudding. Top is with whatever you want – ice cream, whipped cream, or, if you serve the cake warm, hard sauce or even maple hard sauce (see below). It would be a lovely change from all that Thanksgiving pie, you know?

1 1/2 cups walnuts

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 pitted fresh dates

1 egg

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup walnut oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a 10-inch cake pan (spring form is nice here) with oil, line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray the paper with oil.  You can also rub the pan/paper with oil if you don’t like the spray stuff.

Spread walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until just starting to color, about 10 minutes but watch them carefully and take them out early rather than risk burning them. Seriously, walnuts will burn while you take a moment to blink your eyes. Let walnuts cool before going to the next step.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, walnuts, baking soda, and salt until walnuts are fairly well pulverized. Transfer to a large bowl.

Pulse dates, egg, maple syrup, walnut oil, vinegar, and vanilla in the food processor until dates are chopped. Whirl until the mixture is puréed. Pour into flour mixture and stir to just combine. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean – a few bits clinging to it are fine.

Let cake sit at least 10 minutes before you take it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Maple hard sauce

Cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add 1/4 cup maple syrup and 2 – 3 tablespoons whiskey or brandy. The addition of the liquid will make the lovely fluffiness you’ve made fall apart and separate and look a bit nasty. Keep beating it, it will all come together again, more or less. You can leave the maple syrup out for plain hard sauce (add another 1/4 cup sugar), or the whiskey/brandy out for just some maple-tinged yumminess that would also be good on a warm cake or, really, pretty much anything.

maple syrup

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Spiced butter squash

First you roast squash, then you mash it in a bowl, then you add salt to taste, then you melt some butter, then you add some warm spices (I used my homemade garam masala), then you pour the spiced butter on the squash, then you sprinkle on some extra fleur de del or other sea salt:

Then you dig in and reveal the layers:

It’s a gentle twist on classic mashed squash. Perhaps even gentle enough for your stick-in-the-mud family that insists on the same Thanksgiving menu every year. Or, perhaps your crew likes to play with the side dishes. In any case, I suggest giving this easy yumminess a whirl.

For a more complete recipe, check out Spiced Butter Squash.

winter squash

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And the winner is….

She has been notified, the lucky lady, and the Sunset Cookbook will make its way to her “tiny kitchen” that “is already bursting at the seams.”

I know you’re going to ask: I got the hat in Paris many moons ago and I wear every and all summer long. Someday I would like to take a millinery class and figure out how to make and block a new one (it seems to just be ribbon sewn together in a very particular way). When I do I will make scads of them and sell them here. It really is a fabulous hat. You can form the brim to hang low or rise up to show your pretty face. You can squish it into a suitcase and it emerges happy as can be. It works well for drawings, too.


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