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I went to the local farmer’s market the other day and snagged three fat bunches of Swiss Chard for a buck each. EACH! They’d been harvested about an hour before. It doesn’t get much better than that.

But what to do with them? Fortunately, I also recently snagged The Art of Real Food by Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny, who also wrote the fabulous Placer County Real Food Cookbook. Both books are beautifully photographed, the recipes are simple (though not always for rank beginners), and the books are arranged chronologically so that you can flip to May and see what is likely to be in the farmer’s market, and find a recipe that will showcase that ingredient. Like Swiss chard.
swiss chard by alex flickrPhoto by Alex on Flickr

I made this soup last night and it was wonderful. It was unusual in that the recipe did not include onions – odd for a vegetable soup – but when I tasted it, I understood why. Onions would have overwhelmed the other ingredients. I did include more broth than the recipe called for, but that’s a matter of taste.

The book also included a recipe to deal with those chard stems – deep fried with blue cheese dip. Next time.

This is a lovely and easy soup for this time of year when chard is springing up in home gardens and farmer’s markets.


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mined
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 big bunch chard, leaves only, chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 potatoes, halved lengthwise and then sliced into half-moons
1/4 pound penne pasta
salt and pepper

Heat oil in deep pot. Add garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to brown lightly. Add the chard and stir and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Pour in the broth and add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and add the penne pasta. Cook over medium-low heat until the potatoes and pasta are done.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and some crusty bread.


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We have this neighbor who has been bringing us Meyer lemons from the tree of another neighbor. Huge fat juicy lemons, more than could be used. I grated the zest from all the lemons, dried it, put some in a jar by itself, mixed the rest with black pepper to make lemon-pepper. I froze the juice in ice cube trays and put the cubes in a freezer bag.

This week Carol brought us grapefruit – the best ruby red grapefruit ever, so sweet they needed no sugar, incredibly juicy, and enormous. My husband suggested I make her a pie.

I had made this pie for her last summer with a blueberry topping, and she really liked it. This week I bought the most fabulous strawberries from a roadside vendor, so I thought that would make a good topping. Made the pie, sliced the strawberries, took it to her. She was very grateful and she said she would take at least half of the pie to the woman whose lemons and grapefruit she had picked and given to us.

A couple of hours later Carol knocked on the door. She had taken 3/4 of the pie to the 92 year old woman who owned the fruit trees. The woman started to cry. In all the years she had given away the fruit from her trees, no one had ever given her a gift in return.

Recipe by David Zafferelli from The Open Hand Cookbook. I have slightly adapted it. This is similar to my other Lemon-Buttermilk Pie recipe, but I think I prefer this one.

This pie is for Angie.


3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
zest of 2 lemons
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 9-inch pie crust, pre-baked and cooled

Have all your ingredients at room temperature before you begin to keep the filling from curdling or separating.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Beat eggs by hand until light; slowly add the sugar while beating until you reach the ribbon stage (mixture falls from the spoon in a ribbon-like shape when lifted out). Do not be tempted to use an electric mixer here; it will make the filling too frothy,

Add in this order, beating after each addition: salt, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Then carefully stir in the buttermilk, then the melted and cooled butter.

Pour into the pre-baked pie crust. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 15-25 minutes. The center of the filling should still be a little jiggly when you take the pie out of the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools.

When pie is cool, top with sliced strawberries. To make a pretty concentric design, start arranging berries in the center of the pie and work in a circle toward the edge. If you wish, warm 1/2 cup apricot jam and brush over the berries as a glaze.


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My mother always bought Sunset Magazine back when it was a truly regional magazine and not the generic corporate mess it’s become now. (Bitter much? Not me.) I still own a number of Sunset Magazines and cookbooks from their glory days. I was thumbing through Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes (1978, 16th printing, badly stained and falling apart but  I won’t buy a replacement because I’m afraid the editors might have decided to “improve” it) when I came across this old recipe. When I was a kid I thought this was sounded weird and as disgusting as something could sound, but I was a kid and totally brainless.

After finding similar-but-not identical recipes online, I made this somewhat enhanced version a couple of weeks ago and let it age. Yesterday we had a ham for Easter and I served this alongside. It was great with the ham. It would be wonderful with turkey, pork, duck, lamb, or anything gamey like venison. It tastes similar to mincemeat, somewhat savory yet sweet with brown sugar. Make it now while rhubarb is in the market. It’s super-simple. I saw other recipes that  increased the cayenne to a teaspoon, cut the brown sugar in half, added garlic, pickling spices, and so on. This would lend itself to any number of variations.


  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 4 cups chopped white or yellow onions
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 scant tablespoon salt
  • 4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon each cloves, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, and celery salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Combine all ingredients in a large pan.


Cook slowly over medium heat.


It will turn a vile and unappetizing brown but smell heavenly. Keep cooking and stirring occasionally until it gets fairly thickened (like warm jam).


Pour into sterilized canning jars and seal. (This entry discusses the process of sterilizing jars and basic canning of high-acid foods.) The recipe says it makes 8 cups, but I got about 6 cups.



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Most pizza in the USA is Godawful. You don’t have to agree with me, but it’s still true. What you get at Round Table or Godfather’s or almost any other American pizzeria is horrible. Worse than the pizza itself is the indoctrination: people actually believe that a extra-large combination with pineapple and ham is what you get in Italy.

Excuse me while I go take a shower. I feel dirty just typing that.

The closest you can get to actual pizza in America is either a place in an Italian neighborhood that sells by the slice (proper etiquette: fold the slice in half lengthwise to allow the oil to run down onto your shirt, then walk like hell while eating it) or a place with a wood-burning oven, but even then you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting decent pizza. But! You can approximate decent pizza in your own kitchen. If all you’ve ever had is franchise pizza, it will be strange and unfamiliar in many ways, but you might experience an epiphany and begin to cry over all the bad pizza you’ve eaten all your life.

Sadly, this isn’t fast. It takes 2 1/2 days before you can have pizza, but that’s how it rolls sometimes with good food. The dough can be frozen after two days in the refrigerator, then completely defrosted and allowed to stand at least two hours at room temperature before using, though it will be much stretchier and difficult to work with.

Because this pizza is much smaller and lighter than American pizza, it doesn’t fill you up in the same way, so it’s easy to use all four pieces of dough in one meal for two people.  But because they go together so fast and take only a few minutes to bake, it’s no big thing to eat one pizza and then make the next so you can eat them fresh out of the oven.

This recipe is by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab on Facebook and Serious Eats. His recipe is exacting and I am not an exacting type, so I made a few slight adaptations. However, there are a few points that are very important and I have tried to note those in the recipe.


  • Parchment paper is required here. Do not use wax paper or aluminum foil. Just don’t.
  • A pizza stone is not required but it will make the pizza much better; you can also use it for baking bread. You can often find them in discount grocery stores or places like Big Lots. If you use one, be very careful to not bang it around or subject it to sudden temperature changes (i.e. straight from the oven onto a cool surface) because it will break.
  • Semolina acts like a bed of little marbles under the pizza – it will allow the baked pizza to release easily. Nice but not required.
  • Use good-quality toppings. This is not the place for Kraft cheese.


  • 4 cups bread flour or unbleached white flour or Italian style 00 flour (measure by spooning flour into measuring cup and sweeping off excess)
  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 13 ounces of water (1 1/2 cups plus one tablespoon)

Combine flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl and stir or whisk until salt and yeast are distributed. Pour the water in and incorporate it into the flour using your hands until no dry flour remains on the bottom of the bowl. This will take patience to continually work the dough. If you absolutely cannot get all the flour mixed in, add another teaspoon – that’s teaspoon – of water and mix again. The dough is going to be more on the dry side than on the damp side. Do not expect this to be like bread dough.


Put plastic wrap over the bowl – you might be tempted to oil the bowl like you do for bread dough, but don’t – and let it sit overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours. On top of the refrigerator is a good place.

Have a look in the morning. It will have risen slightly.


Divide the dough up into four even parts. You may need to flour your hands and a surface to do this. Place each one in a zip-lock plastic bag or a plastic bag that you then tie tightly.


Place bags in refrigerator for two days and up to five days.

After two days, the dough is ready to use. Remove from the refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for at least two hours before baking.

To make pizza:

If you have a pizza stone, put it on a rack in the oven and turn the oven up as high as it will go. Most American stoves only go to 500F or 550F. Let it preheat at least 15 minutes.

Put a piece of parchment paper on a regular metal pizza pan. (Dampen the pan to keep the paper from sliding around.) If you have semolina, sprinkle the paper with a couple of tablespoons and spread it around.

Take the dough from one of the plastic bags. (Turn the bag inside out to get it out easily.) It will be stretchy and a bit gummy, so you may need to flour your hands. Gradually work dough into a disc shape, holding it by one side and letting its own weight stretch it down. This is not an exact science so take your time.  When you have a vague circle of dough about 9″ in diameter, place it on the parchment paper.


Patch any holes with dough from the edges.

Spread a little sauce of your choice on the pizza, going close to the edges. Do not drown the pizza. Less is more.


Top with best-quality cheese, and not too much of that. Here we used three different cheeses to test them out. Top, aged Gouda. Right, fat-free feta. Bottom left, smoked Gouda from the Czech Republic. We sprinkled a few chopped green onions on too.


Do not overload the pizza with toppings. I can’t stress this enough. The dough will not get done in the center and the toppings will just steam instead of bake.

To bake pizza, open the oven door. Pull the oven rack with the stone out a little bit. Bring the pizza close to the stone; using the parchment paper, pull the pizza onto the stone. Close the door quickly to maintain high oven temperature. If you are not using a pizza stone, place the pizza on its metal pan in the oven.

Watch the time carefully. It might take as little as seven minutes to bake. Look for large bubbles to appear around the edges, for the cheese to melt, and the crust to lightly brown. A blackened spot or two is okay as well.

Pull the pizza by the now-blackened parchment paper from the stone back onto the pizza pan. If using metal pizza pan, just remove it to a cooling rack.


This is a good time to drizzle pizza with olive oil and toss on some fresh basil leaves.P1000691

Our consensus on the cheese: quality matters. The Czech smoked Gouda never really melted, but just kind of softened reluctantly and tasted artificial. The feta didn’t melt either, but it isn’t a melting-type cheese. Best of all was the 1000-day aged Gouda, which simply gave up and became part of the pizza, salty, sharp, and smooth. Fresh mozzarella would be swoony.

The crust was light and airy. We cut it with scissors but it was easy to tear apart too. While I can’t honestly say this is an exact replica of the best pizza I ever ate, it’s far better than anything from a chain pizzaria.


As I understand it, real ricotta cheese is made from whey left over from other cheese making.  But since I didn’t have any whey, leftover or otherwise, I made this ersatz version. This is from Ina Garten (AKA The Barefoot Contessa) and is incredibly simple. Since ricotta cheese purchased at the supermarket costs $4-and-up, I will be making this instead of buying it from now on.  Thanks to Lynn M. Kennedy for pointing me in the right direction.


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Thoroughly wet two layers of cheesecloth or a clean dish towel (not terry cloth unless you like little bits of fabric in your cheese) and wring out. Lay cloth over a mesh strainer placed over a deep bowl or pot.


Combine milk, cream, and salt in a heavy saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Do not attempt to speed this up by turning the heat up – milk scorches easily.


Bring mixture to a rolling boil. When it starts to boil, it will froth up and boil over fast and makes a really awful mess, so remove it from the heat right away.


Pour in three tablespoons white wine vinegar, stir, and let sit until curds form. Might take one minute, might take 20. If it doesn’t start to separate, stir in another tablespoon of vinegar.


Pour mixture into the damp cloth and let drain.


It will slowly start to sink in the middle.


When cheese is as creamy as you like, scoop into a container, cover, and refrigerate four or five days.


You will be left with whey. I have read that this can be added to soups, bread dough, mashed potatoes, and so forth. I have also read it can possibly be made into cheese. Right now I have it in my refrigerator and I will investigate further.



A few notes:

I made this with an additional two cups of half-and-half along with the cream and milk.  The addition of vinegar is what causes the curds to form, so any combination of milk/cream/half-and-half ought to work nicely to make ricotta. Play around.

Ultrapasturized dairy products may take more vinegar to clabber up.

This can drain as little as 25 minutes or you can let it drain a few hours for a really creamy cheese.




We seem to have quite a few chocolate bars. Not the crappy American ones, but decent ones we bought in Amsterdam at the grocery store for cheap- Swiss, Dutch, Belgian. Minimum 55% cacao. The good stuff.

Except even when you get to the better stuff, you get picky. The 70% cacao dark chocolate rules.

hot chocolate

I opened a bar of Frey from Switzerland and had a bite, then a bite of a Dutch chocolate bar from Ikea. The Frey – meh. What to do? Hot chocolate.  This really isn’t even a recipe. It’s just what I did. Kicks the ass of Swiss Miss.


  • 2 cups whole milk, more or less
  • 2 ounces really good chocolate (about half of one of those good-sized bars, more or less)

Break up the chocolate. Mix with milk and heat in a pan over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Serves 2 or 3.

Try adding a little bit of espresso powder for a mocha chocolate, or a tot of whatever your particular poison is.


“So it doesn’t have any dairy in it?” a friend asked.

“No, just eggs.”

“Then…. it’s not eggnog. There’s no nog.” I agreed, though I wasn’t actually sure about the etymology of the term and wasn’t in a position to look it up at that moment.

Since then, I looked it up. It appears that nog may come from noggin (a wooden cup) which comes from nog, ale from Norfolk, England. Hence: eggnog = eggs + booze = delicious.

I didn’t like eggnog for most of my life. Every year or two I’d buy a carton at Christmas and round it out with some brandy or rum or both, and be unable to finish it. It was just… gummy, weird-tasting, and nasty. I decided I was an eggnog Philistine and that I would probably get along just fine the rest of my life without it.  I now know that I was buying cheap-ass eggnog that wasn’t worthy of the name.  I don’t remember just how we discovered Clover-Stornetta brand eggnog – dear knows at the price it wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment extravagance – but it’s become our Christmas heroin. Eggnog is one of those things that you get what you pay for. It’s a good thing it’s only available about seven weeks a year because it would kill us to drink this stuff year-round.

In the Netherlands they make this thing called advocaat, which is sort of a Dutch eggnog.  The name may or may not have come from a drink of Suriname made with avocados (the Dutch ruled Suriname for 300 years and there are quite a few Surinamese in the Netherlands). Personally, I can’t get too enthused about the idea of an avocado-based drink, but maybe you had to take what you could get in Suriname.

You can buy advocaat in liquor stores here in the liqueur section and apparently it’s pretty good, but I decided to make it. I found a number of recipes online and they all followed pretty much the same format, varying only by a few ingredients.  This is what I came up with. This cannot be considered healthy, but it is delicious.


  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brandy (use good-but-not-great stuff)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

Break all the eggs into a sturdy pan. You can use only the egg yolks if you want, but then you’re stuck with a dozen egg whites. Unless you have plans to make angel food cake and divinity, it might take a while to use all of them.



Add the sugar, brandy, and salt. Place pan over medium heat, whisk to combine, and keep stirring constantly.


If you run into problems with the eggs cooking too fast – i.e. you see bits of scrambled egg – remove pan from heat and employ the stick blender, or pour the mixture into a blender and blitz it.


The mixture should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but don’t sweat it if it isn’t quite that thick.

Add the vanilla and store in covered jars in the refrigerator.

005To serve, shake or stir, then pour into liqueur glasses or small cocktail glasses. Top with whipped cream if you like. If your advocaat turns out very thick, eat it with a spoon (as is done in the Netherlands).

You can substitute rum for the brandy. I suppose other liquors like bourbon or  Amaretto would be quite tasty also.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.



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