Posts Tagged ‘seasonal eating


Momo’s chicken soup

PJ’s “small and beautiful”* celery soup from a couple of weeks ago made me want my grandmother’s similarly delicate and unassuming chicken soup.

Yields about 3 quarts

Phase 1

  • 1/2 pound chicken scraps (backs, necks, wingtips, whatever)
  • water to cover
  • salt to taste

Put the chicken scraps in a stockpot with water to cover and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes.

Phase 2

  • 1 medium potato, chopped large
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped large
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, quartered
  • 3 small stalks celery, chopped large
  • 1 medium jalapeño (seeded and deveined if that’s your thing; I don’t), chopped large**
  • 1/2 pound bone-in, proper cuts of chicken (I prefer legs and thighs); remove skins and excess fat (there’s already plenty in there)***
  • juice of half a medium lime
  • more salt
  • a generous dash ground cumin
  • lots of fresh ground black pepper
  • about 3 cups more water


While Phase 1 is simmering, prepare the ingredients for Phase 2. Skim the gunk off the top, then add everything on the list above. Return to a simmer and let cook, covered, until the freshly added chicken is done (another 20-30 minutes).

Phase 3

  • 1 ear corn, hacked into rounds that will just fit on a soup spoon to be nibbled at****
  • 1 double handful cilantro*****
  • maybe some more salt, pepper, cumin and/or lime juice, to taste


Fish the chicken out of the soup and put in the ingredients listed above, returning to a covered simmer for while you shred the proper chicken parts. Discard the bones and the chicken scraps from Phase 1. Return the shredded chicken to the pot for 5 minutes or so, and you’re done.


* Small and beautiful, as opposed to aiming for the TV chef goal of “bigass flavor.”

** My grandmother has ulcers and has been told not to eat spicy foods, but at least one chile always makes it in. When I asked her to describe what she put in this soup, the jalapeño was an afterthought. “Oh, and a pepper.” For flavor, of course.

*** I used boneless this time and relearned the important lesson that it cooks too fast and gets rubbery. Bone-in is the way to go. Can’t get it falling-off-the-bone tender without a bone to fall off of.

**** I may help my diners by shredding the chicken before serving (my grandmother certainly doesn’t), but the rounds of corn are non-negotiable. Nibbling them is half the fun. (For a non-summer version of this soup, just leave the corn out.)

***** Every time I rake a fork through a handful of parsley or cilantro to get the leaves off the stalks, I think of John Kraemer, who taught me that quick and easy technique.


blackberries and fennel

San Francisco has huge stands of feral fennel, and something in their smell reminds me of the smell of blackberries. I didn’t think of trying the two together in time to do it last summer, but tonight, the two met, in two preparations.

Savory: Fennel and blackberries tossed with a lemon-olive oil dressing, a variation Mark Bittman’s fennel and apple salad with mustard vinaigrette (number 16 here). It was alright, but not great. Maybe I should have taken inspiration from his fennel and prunes with ginger vinaigrette (number 12 here). Ginger might have helped.

Sweet: This is a winner. I wilted some fennel in olive oil on the stove, to simulate the effects of baking. Drained the fennel and tossed it and some blackberries with a little sugar and cinnamon. That would make a wonderful pie filling. Now if only I can get enough blackberries for a reasonable enough price before the end of their season…

And the end of their season is clearly coming soon. I bought my half pint at Bi Rite around 2 this afternoon, and long before I got home (around 10), they were deliquescing and smelling more fermented than herbal-tangy-sweet.


Blackberry on FoodistaBlackberry


changing of the guard

Click through to see my plans for the week’s produce.

Despite the evidence of this haul, summer is clearly on its way out and autumn on its way in at the Noe Valley farmers’ market. Apples and grapes have appeared. The blueberries, blushing an unripe pink, sit under a sign announcing that it’s their last week. The stone fruits are underripe, too, and I overhear one clerk I see often telling another, apparently new, that people like them “suavecito” (soft), even though buying ones that are “un poquito duro” (a little hard) right now will ensure “una mesa llena” (a full table) throughout the week.


corn and tomato tart

salad and tart

Last night, J-P and I swapped chores: he did the overdue laundry, I made a fancy dinner.

I got the recipe online a few years ago, probably after looking at yet another week’s delivery of CSA corn and tomatoes with a mixture of delight and despair. I’ve made it enough times at this point that it didn’t matter last night that I couldn’t find my printed recipe and couldn’t be bothered with looking it up online again. Here’s what I did:

  • Before work, take a bag of pie crust scraps from the freezer and put them in the fridge to thaw.
  • After work, roll out enough dough to form a 9-inch or so round.
  • Put the rolled dough back in the fridge; the rest goes back in the freezer.
  • Heat the oven to 350 F.
  • Heat some olive oil in a large pan.
  • Slice 3/4 of a large yellow onion, chop half a yellow bell pepper, and chop one small jalapeño.
  • Cook those in the olive oil with some salt until they are soft and sweet.
  • Slice the kernels off three ears of corn.
  • Add the corn to the pan and cook briefly, then let vegetables cool.
  • Slice one medium-large tomato.
  • Grate some cheese in the gruyère range. Last night I used an idiazabal.
  • Beat an egg with a little salt. (Are those veggies cooled yet?)
  • Dust a flat cookie sheet (no sides–I turn mine over for this) with cornmeal.
  • Put the crust on the cookie sheet.
  • Pile the corn-onion-pepper mixture (as much as you can fit) in the middle of the crust, leaving an inch or so bare around the edge. (Reserve the rest of the filling, or make less in the first place.)
  • Put tomato slices on top and sprinkle with cheese.
  • Pinch up the edges of the crust, then brush exposed crust with egg and sprinkle with cornmeal.
  • Bake about 40 minutes.
  • Top with fresh black pepper and serve.

The original recipe calls for a crust from a softer dough that contains cornmeal, but using what I had with a tactical dusting of cornmeal gave a pleasantly crunchy result. The original lacks peppers but has basil; we had peppers and lacked basil. The change gave just the tiniest hint of bite, not enough to mess with the tart’s otherwise delicate flavor.

The inside bottom crust came out a little damp from the huge pile of vegetables I put on top. Next time, I will poke holes in the bottom (it also inflated a bit), brush it with egg before adding the filling, and put a layer of tomato slices in the bottom before adding the corn-onion mixture.

Note that the filling is very loose and won’t hold together when the tart is cut. I don’t find it a problem, but if you do, I can think of two fixes. One, use less filling and hope the cheese on top acts as a binder. Two, add some beaten egg to the filling.


dry farming

My precious

It’s funny the seasonal favorites you forget from year to year, Yesterday, it was dry-farmed tomatoes from Happy Boy Farm (nestled here with the first jalapeos I’ve seen at a San Francisco farmers’ market).

In-season tomatoes are great; dry-farmed tomatoes are greatness concentrated. They taste like sunshine.

Dry farming has the same effect on figs. Sure, California has figs, and I appreciate that. But they’re watery and bland compared to my grandfather’s central Texas figs, which get minimal rainfall and maybe a weekly watering during the fruiting season. Those figs are like candy.


a very San Francisco summer dinner


Hot, nourishing celery soup to ward off the chilly blue fog, next to a BLT with amazingly sweet-tart, in-season tomato (not to mention free range bacon).

The celery soup recipe comes from PJ, who requested my calabacitas* recipe. For a celery soup that “tastes small and beautiful,” you will need:

  • cooking fat
  • a head of celery
  • a large yellow onion
  • salt
  • herbs that you enjoy (to borrow Gwen’s phrase; tonight they were thyme and garlic chives)
  • two medium starchy potatoes
  • pepper
  • zest of 1-2 lemons
  • six cups water

Heat the fat and get the onion and celery softening in it with some salt. Let that cook, stirring occasionally, while you prep the other ingredients. Add the potatoes, herbs, pepper, lemon zest, and water, along with some more salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and keep it there, covered, until the potatoes are done (another 20 minutes or so). Puree, adjust salt and pepper, and serve.

To puree, we use the immersion blender that Kelli, whom we will love forever, gave us. It replaced our 2-cup food processor for the purpose, and even a couple of years on, it still surprises us how easy the immersion blender is.

* PJ reports that her father’s family, who called summer squash cymlings, made something similar to calabacitas. The American Heritage Dictionary says that cymling is an alteration of simnel, which is a type of marzipan-covered cake served in Britain at Easter. I assume the association is through the shape of the patty pan squash, which kind of looks like a little cake.

simnel cake



three summer salad recipes

July in San Francisco is cool and foggy, but I have been hearing cries of “too hot to cook!” from friends on the east coast. (The Texans, one presumes, are blithely air-conditioned.) These minimal-heat recipes might help; they’re even useful to San Francisco summer chefs, since we have all of this glorious fresh produce to use up.

Carrot and blueberry salad: Grate three medium carrots. Add a handful of blueberries. If you can stand the heat, toast a half teaspoon of cumin seeds and then a handful of slivered almonds and add these to the salad. (If not, omit the toasting.) Chop the leaves from a dozen or so sprigs of parsley and add them, too. Zest half a small lemon, add the zest to the salad. Put some salt in a glass or jar, then juice the lemon over it. Stir to dissolve the salt, then add extra virgin olive oil to make a dressing. Mix the salad and dressing and let sit a while. You can add a dollop of strained yogurt to this when it’s time to eat. Yield: my lunch yesterday. Good for two as a side salad.

Watermelon and cherry tomato salad: Cube a small watermelon. Halve a pint of cherry tomatoes. Add slivers of red onion, crumbles of feta, and a good handful of spearmint, chopped. Season with coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper. J-P and I gorged ourselves on this last night; you could probably serve it as a side salad at a dinner for 4-6 people.

Green salad with cheese, mint, and honey: I had a version of this at the Fountain Inn on the Isle of Wight. Combine mixed greens, cubes of cheese (they used Wensleydale; I’m going to try it with feta tonight), and cherry tomatoes. Add a generous helping of chopped spearmint and some sweet fruit (they used grapes; I’m trying nectarine tonight), and dress the whole thing with just a little honey. Season with salt and black pepper.

In other news, we tried Montezuma’s milk chocolate with nutmeg last night. With five flavors tried, this is the first that we haven’t absolutely loved. It’s not bad at all–it’s just a good but unremarkable milk chocolate with the tiniest hint of nutmeg. We wished the nutmeg was bolder.

As to what makes good versus bad milk chocolate: Montezuma’s ingredients list implies that, although sugar is the dominant ingredient by weight, it can’t make up more than about 42% of their milk chocolate bar. Cocoa solids are 34%, and milk solids clock in at 22.5%. For comparison, Hershey’s milk chocolate is 53.5% sugar, leaving the cocoa matter and milk solids to fight it out for most of the remaining 46.5%. Hershey’s ingredients list indicates that there’s more milk in Hershey’s than either cocoa butter or “chocolate” alone, but whether the latter two combined make up more weight than the milk is an open question. The short answer seems to be that good milk chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa matter and a lower percentage of sugar than bad milk chocolate.

Pictures from our trip to England and Finland here and here.

Tex-Mix's Photostream