Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Farmers' Market Fast Food

We have a Sunday routine. Our friends Annette and Ron come over. We watch 60 Minutes, catch up, and have dinner. Last Sunday I didn't think they could make it because they'd been in Japan all that week. I assumed that if they were back in town they were probably jet lagged and wouldn't want to leave the house. But I didn't want to break the weekly tradition, so I emailed them anyway that if they were up for it, Sunday dinner was still happening. Then I went about my business and forgot completely about the invitation.

30 minutes before they would normally come over, Ron called to say that they would be arriving as usual. Knowing that they're usually a half hour late, I had an hour to make dinner.

That's where the farmers' market comes into play. For my mother's generation quickly pulling together a meal meant using prepared foods, canned or frozen. Because we shop at our local farmers' market, we always have a good selection of fresh vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator.

That morning I had picked up flowers for the dining room table and fresh corn, carrots, Haas avocados, scallions, cantaloupe, and romaine lettuce.

From what I had bought at the farmers' market, I made a salad, corn on the cob, and cut up a cantaloupe. I added a feta cheese-tapenade appetizer plate with olives and a fresh bread from Bay Cities in Santa Monica and I pulled out a banana chocolate-chip cake I'd made a few days ago. I could have stopped at that point. We had a full meal, vegetarian except for the salami in the salad, but our friends needed protein after their long trip so to fill out the meal, I grilled a rib-eye steak and a half dozen lamb chops.

The heart and soul of the meal was the farmers' market produce. Making the whole meal only took 45 minutes. Everything was ready when Ron and Annette arrived, jet lagged and very hungry.

Romaine Lettuce with Julienned Salami, Cheese, & Carrots

Yield 4 servings
Time 10 minutes

The felino salami and comte cheese came from Bay Cities. I recommend both.


2 hearts of romaine (washed, dried, cut into bite sized pieces)
2 tablespoons felino salami (julienned)
2 tablespoons comte cheese (julienned) cheddar or swiss would be good as well
2 tablespoons croutons (homemade preferred)
2 tablespoons carrot (washed, julienned)
1 scallion (washed, thin sliced, green and white parts)
1/2 small avocado (peeled, roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper


Heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over a low flame until reduced to 1 tablespoon. Let cool.

Put the ingredients in a salad bowl, dress with the olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, and season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

OCC - Obsessive Compulsive Cooker

I don't think there's a 12 Step Program for people who are obsessive about cooking. I saw an analyst once who told me I shouldn't cook so much. Common sense suggested to him that someone who spent 8-10 hours cooking when he didn't have to has a problem.

I don't mind admitting that I am compulsive about cooking. My defense is that working in the kitchen is relaxing. I put on the radio and listen to NPR or plug in an iPod and play music. I enjoy the concentration required by cutting, measuring, and seasoning. I'm intellectually stimulated by the different possibilities of flavor, texture, and presentation. I'm challenged by the effort it takes to get a complex meal with multiple courses finished in time for a dinner party. And I get enormous pleasure when my family and friends enjoy my cooking.

When our son Michael was 7 years old he made a placard that praised what he thought were my significant qualities. At the top of the list was "Daring Cooker". At that young age he could see how important cooking was to me.

Even when I'm not home--when I'm traveling--I'm thinking about food. I wrote an essay for Peter Greenberg, the travel guru, with food tips when you're on the road. This weekend on Bitten I posted about my last trip to Utah to visit Michelle. Staying at the resort includes well-prepared meals three-times a day...and yet I started calculating how I could 'repurpose' what they serve. So was born my recipe for "Salad Bar Soup".

Ultimately maybe all this compulsiveness is a guy thing. But instead of obsessing about sports, cars or pursuing an esoteric hobby, I think about food and cooking.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bivalves Reign Supreme During Father's Day Week

I have a Father's Day recommendation: visit One for the Table, a web site devoted to "Food, Politics, and Love"--a good mix of interests in my book--and read the Father's Day essays.

For these dozen writers the memory of their fathers and grandfathers is forever tied to food: eggs over easy, mackerel, crustaceans, deli food, apple pie and caviar... Amy Ephron, who created this beautifully written site, was kind enough to include the post I published in February with Frank and Michael's remembrance of my cooking their favorite dishes: rosemary chickens and flourless chocolate cakes.

If my sons write another essay and talk about my favorite food, I'm certain they'd focus on my love of shellfish. I would eat lobster, crab, oysters, scallops, clams and mussels regularly if anyone else in the family liked them. Since I prefer to cook what my family wants to eat, I stick with beef, chicken, and pork.

When I went to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market, I hadn't intended to buy any shellfish, but talking with Rob at Carlsbad Aquafarm, I couldn't resist. Michelle was at Sundance for the month. Frank has his own apartment. Michael was working late. I was going to be eating dinner alone anyway. Besides which, this was Father's Day-week, so a little shellfish indulgence could be tolerated.

I bought clams and mussels and had one of those exceptionally agreeable Home Alone evenings. They were deliciously tender and sweet. I was very happy.

For those of you who don't care for clams or mussels, please indulge me and read the recipes. There's always the off-chance that you didn't realize your father or grandfather loves bivavles and now you'll know how to prepare them.

If you get the urge to cook bivalves for Father's Day, fresh shellfish is available at Santa Monica Seafood. Carlsbad Aquafarm will be at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market on Saturday. If you're in New York on the Upper West Side, stop by Fairway Market or Citarella.

Steamed Mussels

Yield 2 servings
Time 20 minutes


2 pounds live mussels (washed, "beards" removed)
2 slices bacon (finely chopped)
2 shallots (peeled, sliced)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, sliced)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, stems removed, finely chopped)
2 tablespoons butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


In a large sauce pan sauté the bacon, shallots, garlic, and parsley with a little olive oil until lightly browned. Add 1/4 cup water and the mussels. Cover and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium for 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that haven't opened.

Serve the mussels and broth in bowls with a fresh baguette.

The mussels can be removed from their shells and served with the broth as a soup, topped with croutons.

Clams with Pasta

Any pasta goes well with clams. Usually I like spaghetti, ziti, or shells, but for this meal I used a small pasta called tubetti. The effect was very good. The pasta was so small, the clam flavor dominated each bite.

Yield 2 servings
Time 30 minutes


2 pounds live clams (washed)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
2 bacon slices (finely chopped)
1/4 cup corn kernels (fresh not canned)
3 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
2 mushrooms, brown or shiitake (washed, dried, sliced thin)
2 tablespoons onion or shallot (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 box De Cecco pasta (tubetti, ziti, spaghetti, or shells)
1 cup pasta water
1/2 cup chicken stock (homemade) or water
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


Put the clams in a large saucepan with 1/4 cup of water, cover, boil on high heat for 5 minutes, remove all the clams that have opened, continue cooking another 5 minutes, discard any clams that have not opened, and reserve the clam juice. Strain the juice to remove any grit or shell fragments.

The clams are delicious by themselves and no one would blame you for eating them all at this point. If you have the discipline to continue on, you'll be rewarded with a superlative pasta dish.

Boil 4 quarts of salted water, add the pasta, stir frequently, taste after 8 minutes, and drain. Remember to capture 1 cup of pasta water to use in the sauce.

Drizzle olive oil in the saucepan and sauté the parsley, bacon, corn, garlic, mushrooms, and shallots until lightly browned, add the butter, pasta water, and chicken stock--if you don't have stock, use plain water--season with pepper. Hold off adding sea salt until the very end. The clams are salty, as is the pasta water.

Reduce the sauce by half, add the pasta, toss to coat well, taste and adjust the seasoning (for more sweetness add butter and chicken stock; sea salt and pepper if needed) remove to a bowl and top with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano.


For more heat add pepper flakes or a dusting of cayenne.

Substitute cilantro for parsley and add grated fresh ginger.

Add quartered cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped spinach leaves to the sauté.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From Father to Son: A Dinner Menu

I enjoy cooking so much, I was happy when my older son Frank asked if I could help him plan a dinner he was going to cook for a friend.

The best meal is one that starts with great ingredients, which means shopping at farmers' markets and specialty shops. Supermarkets are fine for household supplies but only a few--like Gelson's, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Fairway Market, Canyon Market--carry quality produce and meat.

Since Frank will be in San Francisco for the weekend, I suggest he and his friend go to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Saturday morning. Located on the Embarcadero at Market, he'll find premium vegetables, fruits, cheeses, olives, freshly baked breads, desserts, and flowers. The market is open from 8:00am until 2:00pm. If they go early they'll avoid the lunch-time crowds.

While they walk around the market enjoying the cool breezes off the Bay, they can pick up snacks from Hog Island Oyster Company, a muffin from the Downtown Bakery, or sample cheeses from Andante Dairy. The market is definitely an eat-as-you-shop kind of place.

Because I know Frank won't want to spend more time in the kitchen than necessary, the menu I'm suggesting relies on quick-and-easy techniques. And since I know he understands the importance of cleaning as he cooks--a meal is so much more pleasurable if the kitchen is clean when the cooking is finished--I've tried to minimize the number of pots and pans required.


Serve a plate of 2-3 cheeses, ones that contrast with each other. A Triple Cream (soft) for example and a Comte (firm). Tasting cheeses at the market is a good way to find the ones you like. Olives, fresh fruit, a baguette, and wine all go well with a cheese.

Putting together the appetizer plate will take only a few minutes. Frank and his friend can snack on the appetizers while he prepares dinner.


For a salad something simple: fresh arugula tossed with crushed roasted hazelnuts and dressed with olive oil and reduced balsamic dressing, seasoned with a little sea salt and pepper.

Or a tomato and avocado salad with a touch of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper.

Pasta with Mushrooms and Parmesan Cheese

Yield 2 servings
Time 15 minutes

Ziti or penne takes about 10 minutes to cook in salted, boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. A cup of the pasta water is a key ingredient. When the pasta is strained, put a heat-proof container under the strainer and capture a cup of pasta water.


1/2 box of De Cecco pasta (ziti or penne)
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown or shiitake (washed, dried, thinly sliced longitudinally)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, leaves only, finely chopped)
1 teaspoon sweet butter (unsalted)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup pasta water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt for the pasta water
Sea salt and pepper


Boil 4 quarts of water with the Kosher salt, add the pasta, stir and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir every couple of minutes to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Cook until al dente. Strain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water, return the pasta to the pot, drizzle with olive oil, stir well, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

In a frying pan, sauté the garlic, mushrooms, and parsley until lightly browned, add the butter and pasta water and simmer, reducing the liquid by half, then add the pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.


Add to the sauté, quartered cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped up spinach leaves.

Sauté fresh corn kernels ( 1/4 cup) and shallots (1 tablespoon) with the mushrooms and parsley.

Chicken Fillets with Parsley-Bacon Topping

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes

Buy either chicken tenders--which are pricey--or skinless, boneless breasts and cut them the long way so each breast makes two 1/2" thick fillets.


2 chicken breasts (washed, cut into 1/2" thick fillets) or 4 chicken tenders (washed)
2 slices of bacon (finely chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 avocado (peeled, roughly chopped)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


Season the breasts with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan and sauté the bacon and parsley on a low flame. Use a fork to break up the pieces and cook until lightly browned. Remove and drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil into the frying pan and season with sea salt and pepper. Get the pan hot on a medium flame. Add the chicken. The fillets cook quickly because they are thin. Lightly brown on each side.

Top with the sautéd bacon-parsley bits and garnish with chopped avocado on the side.

Salt Steamed Broccoli or Spinach

Yield 2 servings
Time 10 minutes (broccoli) or 5 minutes (spinach)


1 bunch broccoli or spinach
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil


Wash the broccoli and cut off the florets. If you're using spinach, wash well to get rid of the grit, remove the stems and discard. Put a steamer in a pot, add the water and salt, bring to a boil, add the broccoli florets or spinach, and cover. Steam the broccoli for 10 minutes or the spinach for 5 minutes.

Transfer to a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with the chicken.


Good fruit is available now at the farmers' market: cherries, apricots, early grapes, pluots, cantaloupe, and lots of berries. A plate of fresh fruit and a small cake from the farmers' market would make a delicious dessert. Or, with very little effort, baked pluots and apricots, coupled with ice cream or yogurt, make a beautiful finish to a meal.

Baked Pluots and Apricots

Yield 2 servings
30 minutes


2 apricots
2 pluots or plums (washed, cut in half, pits removed)
Raw sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the halved apricots and pluots on a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet, dust with raw sugar, and bake for 30 minutes until softened.

Serve with ice cream or yogurt.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sunday Mornings at the Palisades Farmers' Market

Farmers' markets are enjoyed throughout the country. Southern Californians are uniquely blessed because almost every neighborhood has a market and we can buy locally grown, fresh vegetables and fruit all year long.

We regularly shop at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market and the Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market on Sunday.

In today's Bitten I posted a description of the Palisades market: A Farmers' Market on the Edge of the Pacific.

If you have time, please take a look and come by the market on Sunday.

Up on the Mountain

It's such a pleasure to break the routine and get out of town. A long weekend out of LA revives my spirit. Right now I'm at Robert Redford's Sundance Resort in the Wasatch Mountain Range, just below Mount Timpanogos.

On the mountain all signs point to summer. Wild flowers have started to bloom; the sky is bright, blue and sunny; the meadows are covered with lush green grasses. And yet winter hasn't given up entirely. A week ago there were snow flurries. Two days ago rain pelted the mountainside.

Coming up from LA, what a pleasure to enjoy the cool air and quiet of the mountain. The reason for the trip is to visit my wife, Michelle, who works at Sundance several months out of the year heading up the Feature Film Program. Every June she's on the mountain for most of the month. I'm here for a connubial visit. While she works I can catch up with old friends, read, write, and--of course--cook.

The food at the resort is exceptionally good, from the upscale Tree Room to the casual and rustic Foundry Grill Room. But after several weeks of eating all her meals in a tent with a group of 100 director fellows, creative advisers, staff, and crew, she appreciates a break from the buffet table. At least while I'm here she can have some home-cooked treats. The great thing about liking to cook is that it's not only fun for the cook, it's good for the person who gets to eat.

As a man who likes to cook, I pride myself on taking a few ingredients and maximizing them efficiently. For this trip I asked Michelle to buy 4 chicken legs when she stopped at the supermarket in Orem. When I came up I brought an onion, garlic, rosemary, a carrot, flour, parsley, sea salt, baking powder, mushrooms, and my traveling knife set. From the resort I would be able to get butter, half and half, and olive oil.

Chicken Stock

You can buy chicken stock in the supermarket but I recommend making your own. It's easy, tastes better, doesn't have the high salt content of packaged stock, and only adds one simple step.

Yield 2 cups of stock
Time 1 hour

4 chicken leg bones & skin
Olive oil


Debone the legs, reserve the meat for another dish, put the bones and skin into a stock pot and sauté with olive oil until lightly browned. Add 4 cups of water and simmer 30 minutes. Strain and discard the bones and skin. Refrigerate so you can skim off the fat.

Dumplings with Vegetables

Yield 2 servings
Time 45 minutes


1 carrot (washed, peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 yellow onion (washed, peeled, finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
4 mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
1 rosemary sprig (washed)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup half and half
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


Sauté the carrot, onion, garlic, rosemary, and mushrooms with the olive oil in a medium sized sauce pan until lightly browned. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the rosemary sprig and discard.

In a bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, sugar, season with sea salt and pepper. Finely chop the butter, add to the flour and mix well. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until the batter has a thick consistency. Using 2 spoons make dumplings and ease them them into the hot liquid. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Chicken with Parsley

Yield 2 servings
Time 30 minutes


4 chicken legs (skinned, deboned, meat only; bones and skin used to make stock)
1 bunch Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped)
1/2 yellow onion (washed, peeled, thinly sliced)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon sweet butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


Chop the leg meat into bite sized pieces and marinate an hour or overnight with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. In a medium sized sauce pan, sauté the chicken pieces until lightly browned, add the parsley, onion, and garlic, stir frequently, cook until browned, add the stock or water and butter. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.


Add capers and pitted black olives.

Add cherry tomatoes to the sauté.

Use rosemary instead of parsley.

Top with homemade croutons.

Serve on pasta.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Crispy Baby Artichokes & Spaghetti

In today's Bitten, I talk about making crispy baby artichokes with capers and shallots. I find steamed artichokes very satisfying. The creamy sweetness of the heart combined with butter is comforting. Crispy artichokes are a very different experience. Salty, crunchy with a caramelized sweetness they are delicious in a completely different way. Sold at upscale markets they can be pricey but at Trader Joe's they're very affordable.

The artichokes can be served as an appetizer, side dish, or a main course. They take a bit of work--trimming the outer leaves, cutting out the fuzzy-choke-- so this is something to enjoy making on the weekend when you can have some company while you're cooking.

The recipe on Bitten is vegetarian, although you could add bacon or sausage if you were so inclined.