Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Love to Cook

I really do love to cook. I miss it when restaurant engagements get in the way. This week we are eating out five nights out of seven. Most weeks we eat out once or twice at the most. So you can imagine my delight that finally Monday to Wednesday I get to cook. Yippee! I am both pleased and excited. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating food I might not otherwise fix for myself, like deep-fried squash blossoms. I love having more time to work on my to-do list or to—shock—sit still for a moment. But if given a choice, I would much rather cook than eat out. I love both the process (the preparation) and the product (eating what I have prepared).

I love the creativity involved in cooking. I love creating a menu where the colors, textures and flavors work well with each other. I love imagining what the plate will look like with the food on it. I love choosing the dinner plate that best sets off the food. I love thinking about the best wine to go with the food.

I like being in control of the process: from deciding what I want to eat that evening, to buying the ingredients and preparing the food. If I’m hungry for steak, I can choose to fix it.

I love using up leftovers in imaginative ways, looking for recipes that use the little bits and pieces of fruits and veggies we all have in our fridges.

I love the challenge of cooking: figuring out the timing and the work flow. When do I need to start the preparation in order to get dinner on the table at 7:00? What is the most efficient and easy way to get the task accomplished? What can be made ahead? How can all the dishes come to the table at the same time?

I also like the challenge of dealing with food preferences, allergies, kids’ likes and dislikes, what’s available in my market and in season, the amount of time and money I have to spend, etc. I have to think really hard when someone can’t eat sugar, wheat, dairy products, eggs, or red meat. Coming up with a great dinner is exhilarating when faced with constraints—and there are always some constraints.

I love trying new recipes, cuisines, techniques, and exotic ingredients. Early on in my cooking history, the part of me that loved learning got engaged and found in cooking a new and endlessly fascinating activity.

Mindful Cooking at FCCB

I love being in the kitchen, quiet and alone, slicing carrots. Cooking as meditation. It knits me up. Being in the present moment—particularly important when the task involves sharp knives. Years ago I taught a Meditative Cooking class at First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Fourteen of us gathered in the church kitchen and cooked dinner quietly. Only whispered questions about recipes were allowed. A hush would come over the kitchen. It was really quite marvelous.I love eating good food and cooking for myself is the least expensive way to get it. For a long time when I was much younger, I couldn’t afford to go out to dinner very often and there was no choice but to cook. I figured that as long as I had to cook, I might as well have some fun with it and make it interesting. I still value the economy of cooking at home.

I wanted my kids to grow up to appreciate home-cooked meals and good food. I must say they didn’t always share my definition of “good” and would end up eating cereal. But they have grown to be both good cooks and adventurous eaters.

I like cooking for small dinner parties and sharing good food with friends and family. I especially love the conversations that happen around a dinner table at home. I think home-cooked food nurtures these conversations.

I love eating by myself or with Katherine. I really care about what food I put on my plate and in my mouth. I want my dinners to be interesting, beautiful, colorful, and delicious. Sometimes complicated, sometimes simple. Both just fine.

What about you?

Menu 10: A Cuban Dinner

Picadillo (Mexican [Cuban as well] Meat Hash)
David, the fellow who cuts my hair, and his partner Jason recently traveled to Cuba as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the Vinceremos Brigade. They had very full days beginning with early morning field work, meetings with Cuban dignitaries, long bus rides, and evening parties with music, dancing, and rum. I asked about the food, of course. Not a great report: meal after meal of rice and beans and very plain chicken. So I began to think about what a really wonderful simple Cuban meal might taste like and this is what I imagined.

1½ pounds lean ground beef (or a combination of ground beef and pork)
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons oil
2 fresh tomatoes or 4 fresh Romas, seeded and chopped
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chile powder (molido, ancho, or passila)
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup raisins
¼ cup slivered green olives
½ cup slivered blanched almonds
A mix of chopped parsley, cilantro, and green onions, optional
Corn or flour tortillas, warmed in the oven or microwave
Sour cream, optional

1. Cook the onions in a sauté pan or pottery skillet until translucent and soft. Add the meat and cook until done. If you are using the pottery skillet, keep the heat on medium to prevent cracking. This process will take longer.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients except the almonds. Bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
3. Stir in the almonds. Place in a serving bowl or bring the pottery skillet to the table and sprinkle with the optional parsley, cilantro, and green onions.
4. Fill the tortilla with a nice amount of the picadillo and sour cream, as desired. Wrap and eat with your hands.

4-5 servings
Adapted from Elena Zelayeta’s Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking

Ensalada criolla (Creole Salad)

1 large avocado, peeled and pitted, cut into chunks
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
6 tablespoons Vinagreta Cubana (see below)
Salt to taste

1. Right before serving, place the avocado, tomatoes, and onions in a mixing bowl.
2. Add the vinaigrette and mix to combine. Season with salt to taste.

4 servings
Adapted from Alex Garcia’s In a Cuban Kitchen

Vinagreta Cubana (Cuban Vinaigrette)

1 teaspoon Grey Poupon mustard
1 small garlic clove, pressed
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or white vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste

1. Combine the mustard, garlic, and lime juice in a small mixing bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream.
2. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Makes ¾ cup
Adapted from Alex Garcia’s In a Cuban Kitchen

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Real Food in Schools: Labor Day in Sonoma

On Labor Day I joined about two dozen people (and one perfectly adorable baby) at the Sonoma Community Garden for National Day of Action to get Real Food in Schools. Sponsored by Slow Food USA, more than 300 of these gatherings were held across the country to show support for bringing healthy food to the school-age population.

The gathering in Sonoma began with a delicious potluck lunch followed by a conversation, led by Gary and John, the co-conveners of Slow Food Sonoma Valley. Lauren spoke about trying to get the school system’s Snack Committee to include healthy food. Two young women, interns at the Garden, gave us a reality check when they described the high school’s menu for breakfast and lunch and how they choose to bring their own. Many others joined in to make the conversation both lively and far-reaching.

It was a good start. Even though many of us no longer have kids in the school system and are not regularly checking school lunch menus, we showed up to support a better school lunch policy. Good for all of us.

But I am left with questions that move beyond the schoolyard. While it is important to focus on institutions, like schools, which are subject to regulation and hence can be changed by creating a new set of guidelines, it is, to my mind, equally important to think about the larger cultural issues that affect us all, including what to eat for breakfast and dinner. Most of these issues can’t be legislated or regulated and most can only be solved in our communities.

How can we learn how to prepare good food? My Home Ec classes in 7th and 8th grades were not the answer. I couldn’t find a grandmother for advice and encouragement. I did find some really good cookbooks. Is the Food Channel really teaching?

How can we make cooking dinner a priority, see it time well spent? I used (and still use) cooking as a form of meditation. But you could equally consider it a happy hour (with a glass of wine), a quiet time to separate from work, or a time to cook while helping with homework in the kitchen.

How can we educate and encourage everyone to eat more wisely? The USDA food pyramid doesn’t do it for me. My friends help. Conversations help.

How can we make cooking and eating together fun and enjoyable for everyone? I love having friends over for supper. I think it would be fun to close off the street for neighborhood potlucks or have cooking parties. But I run into the time issue.

How can we make it easier for working moms and dads, our friends and neighbors, to cook fresh food for themselves and their kids? We might cook for them—to give them a break. But what about friends or neighbors cooking for each other on a regular basis or developing and sharing really easy one-dish recipes that everyone loves. What about dropping off a casserole and a salad one night.

How can we make nourishing food available and affordable to everyone? This is a big one and I don’t know the answer, but it is so important.

How can we model good cooking and eating habits to pass along to our kids or grandkids? I seem to have passed along my passion for cooking good food and gathering around the dinner table to eat it, sharing meals with friends, having riveting (!) conversations, and creating family traditions.

I’m trying to wrap my arms around these bigger issues. I don’t have all the answers by any means. In fact I don’t even have all the questions. I could even be totally off base. And none of us has a lot of time to devote to the questions, answers or the doing. But as with our Labor Day discussion, it’s a start. What do you think? What can we do?

Breakfasts: Passing Along the Tradition

The Kunst family, the four or us in Durham, North Carolina, had a long-standing tradition of Sunday breakfasts. On Saturday I would ask Ben and Franz what they would like to have the next morning. They would choose from a couple of coffee cakes, various muffins, biscuits, Irish soda bread, pancakes and waffles. I would get up the next morning and make what they had chosen, along with an omelet and maybe some bacon. Nothing, but nothing, got in the way of our Sunday breakfasts.

In June, Katherine and I drove south to visit Ben. We arrived at his house in the Santa Cruz mountains on a Sunday morning, just in time for brunch. What he fixed for us in his new kitchen was a good old-fashioned Kunst family breakfast. A mushroom, spinach, and cheese omelet, biscuits with jams, jellies and our favorite lemon curd, strawberries and blueberries, orange juice, the works. Among his friends, he has become known for his biscuit and omelet brunches. Just great. The tradition lives on.

Cheese Omelet

3 or 4 eggs
1 clove garlic, pressed
¼ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
½ - ¾ cup grated cheese, cheddar works well
3 tablespoons fresh herbs, like dill, chopped or dried herbs in a pinch, optional
2 green onions, finely chopped, optional
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Break the eggs into a bowl. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Stir together until they are well combined.
2. Heat the oil in a cast iron frying pan (or an omelet pan, of course) until the oil shimmers and is very hot—but not smoking.
3. Pour in the egg-garlic mixture. It should sizzle and immediately start bubbling around the edges. As the edges firm up, push them to the middle and tilt the pan so that the juicy egg moves to the outside. Keep pushing the sides to the middle until there is no more juicy part to run out. Shake the pan a couple of times to make sure the omelet isn’t sticking. If is it, carefully scoot your spatula underneath to loosen.
Note: I pick up the pan if it seems that the heat is too high. For me this is easier than changing the temp on the burner—but this may be a leftover from when I cooked on an electric stove which was slow to change.
4. Sprinkle the cheese and optional herbs and green onions evenly over the omelet. Fold one side of the omelet about a third across. Then fold over the next third, enclosing the filling. Let it sit for a few minutes with the heat off so that the cheese can melt and the herbs soften.

Note: If you are making omelets for a group, make multiple omelets rather than one or two giant ones. I think that dealing with more than 5 eggs at a time is really hard. When making multiple omelets, put the finished one on a plate in a 250ºF oven while you make the remaining.

2 servings
My own devising, but not original to me of course

Mother’s Home Biscuits

1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
4 tablespoons butter, cut into roughly ½-inch squares
¾ - 1 cup milk

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture is crumbly.
2. Add ¾ cup milk and stir until the dough follows the stirring. If the mixture doesn’t hold together with ¾ cup milk, add a bit more. (It all depends on the dryness of the flour.)
3. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently 7 or 8 times. Roll out to about ¾- inch thickness; cut into desired size with a floured glass or a biscuit cutter. Mush scraps together to make additional biscuits. (The boys vied for the misshapen ones.)
4. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 450°F for 12-15 minutes.

5-7 2¾-inch biscuits
Adapted from Uncle John’s Original Bread Book by John Rahn Braue

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why I Write in my Cookbooks

How did I know that I had cooked 66 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking? (See August 15, 2009 blog on the movie Julie and Julia.) Actually all I had to do was flip through the pages and count up every recipe that had my penciled notes in the margins. They were the sure give-away that I had cooked it. And I could give you a count for every one of the more than 500 cookbooks that I have amassed over the past 43 years of cooking. I have written in them all. I owe this habit to my mom whose battered and speckled Better Homes and Gardens was sprinkled with her black ball point notes. How useful, I thought.

But why, you might ask? Here are my thoughts.

1. I make notes because I want to remember that I’ve cooked a particular recipe. I want to record whether we liked it or not. God forbid that I should cook a recipe again if we hated it. But other comments are useful too like “too weird for my taste” or “just great” or “too much trouble for the end result” or “the best.” I also note any changes I might have made, like adding less olive oil or more salt or making a substitution, like red onions for shallots, or if some procedure simply didn’t work and what to do about it.

2. I make notes because my cookbooks have been my cooking teachers from the very beginning. Like notes from a good lecture, the recipe notes help cement the learning and help me remember the experience. I want to record what I have learned so I won’t forget.

3. I make notes because I am an historian (BA in History, University of Michigan, 1965 after all), recording/archiving my cooking history. Flipping through a well-used cookbook is a trip down memory lane. The notes reveal the likes and dislikes of my sons Franz and Ben through the years. They reveal how our tastes have expanded. They reveal that at one period we were eating chicken livers, salmon cheeks, and finnan haddie. They tell me what I ate for Thanksgiving dinner in Japan in 1972. Ah yes, jujubes in the stuffing. Might future historians enjoy looking through my cookbooks and seeing what I was cooking and eating in the late 20th and early 21st centuries? Without the notes, how could they tell?

4. I make notes so that as my memory gets increasingly sketchy, I don’t accidentally cook the same dish for guests that I made for them on another occasion or serve bread salad to a treasured guest who hates it. So on each recipe I write the month and year I made it and for whom, including any relevant comments.

5. Most of all, I write notes because I am making these recipes my own. Over the years some recipes, especially “the keepers,” have a vast array of notes scribbled all over the page. The dish that results is still recognizable as being Chicken Marbella, for example. But it has become “my” Chicken Marbella. Isn’t that the whole point? To make the dish our own?

So you, my dears, are the beneficiaries of my learning and my note-making. I have taken these scribbled up recipes, typed them up fresh and clean, including helpful notes and worthy changes, and put them on this blog. Now I turn them over to you so that you too can write on them, change them to suit your tastes, and make your own.

Menu 9: Roman Holiday

Last summer, 2008, we spent a week in Rome with our son and daughter-in-law, Franz and Michelle. We stayed in a wonderful apartment which gently shimmied every time the subway went underneath the building. It didn't bother us much because we were mostly out eating. Franz and Michelle who know the San Francisco food scene had talked to their savvy friends about eating in Rome and came equipped with a thirty page document of recommendations. Oh my, how to choose? As the week drew to a close, they started double dining--two lunches and two dinners a day. Katherine and I cheered them on but declined to join them. One dinner and one lunch was more than enough for us. A great time and fabulous food.

Penne with a Slow-Cooked Sausage Sauce
As summer draws to a close and there is just the first hint of autumn in the air, I get hungry for pasta, especially the ones calling for a lot of fresh tomatoes. With a really simple salad, it is the perfect dinner.

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 Italian spiced, fresh pork sausages, meat removed from skins and crumbled
Note: I use Caggiano Sweet Italian sausage from Sonoma Market.
2 small red onions, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 or 2 small dried hot chile pepper, seeds removed if you desire
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine (preferably Chianti or Sangiovese)
1 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (or grate your own)
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup heavy cream
1 heaping cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and more for the table
11 ounces penne rigate

1. Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the sausage meat, stirring and breaking up the pieces. When the meat is cooked, add the onions, garlic, chiles, and bay leaves. Cook gently for 20 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Pour in the wine, increase the heat and cook until the wine evaporates.
3. Add the tomatoes, lower the heat and simmer gently until the sauce is thick, an hour or more depending on the juiciness of your tomatoes.
4. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the cream and keep warm over a very low heat.
5. Cook the penne until al dente. Drain well. Place it in a warm bowl and add the sauce and cheese. Stir together and serve with additional cheese.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ Rogers Gray Italian Country Cook Book

Everyday Green Salad

Greens including arugula, watercress, romaine, butter, red or green leaf or a mix
I usually count on a good-sized handful per person
Treats might include pinenuts, raisins, avocado, grapefruit, apples, pears, artichoke hearts, green onions, herbs
I don’t add more than two or three to keep it simple
Simple Everyday Salad Dressing

1. Wash the lettuce if necessary. Spin dry in a salad spinner if you have one or dry with paper towels.
2. Place in a salad bowl. If you are doing this ahead of time, put a damp paper towel over the top of the lettuce and place the bowl in the refrigerator.
3. Just before serving, add any of the treats and the salad dressing. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Makes as much as you desire
My own devising, but not original

Everyday Salad Dressing

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or vinegar such as sherry, balsamic, red or white wine
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 small shallot or 1 garlic clove, finely minced, optional

1. Mix everything together in a bowl and whisk with a fork until it combines. Taste to make sure the balance is to your liking.
2. Pour over the salad just before serving. If you have any dressing leftover, store in clean glass mustard jar in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.

Makes about ½ cup
My own devising, but not original

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Eating from the Garden

I’ve just returned from two weeks of vacation. We spent the first week on Lake Michigan at the cottage of two dear friends. Lots of cooking, blueberry picking, my first experience in a kayak, and the chance to watch glorious sunsets and storms across the lake, sometimes at the same time. We shopped at farm stands for corn, purchased eggs from a 13-year-old future farmer, Joseph Marsh, and went to the Montague Michigan Farmers Market. I overheard a vendor mentioning that a customer had complained to her about finding a worm in his corn. She wanted to ask him if he preferred to find a worm or to get cancer. She said, “I know the choice I would make.” Maybe a different kind of farming is seeping into the mid-west or maybe it’s always been there on family farms. Whichever it is, I’m pleased.

I spent the second week with my brother, George, and sister, Barbara, in Athens, Ohio. After our mother died in July 2008, Barb suggested that we three sibs have a reunion every year. Last fall we gathered in Chicago. And now here we were in southern Ohio on George’s land. He bought this property in the early 1970s and has, over the years, refurbished two structures, a dilapidated old farm house and a converted chicken coop/shed. He and his wife Louise (who was away traveling in Malaysia with her sister) raised their three kids in the ever-expanding coop/shed which is now a four bedroom house. George and Louise have created a lush garden adjacent to the deck on the back of the house. Windows on two sides of the house overlook this verdant and thriving vegetable and fruit producing site. I was in heaven.

The first night my brother fed us Chicken Enchiladas. He explained that the chicken came from a farm down the road and the tomatoes that went into the sauce were in the garden that morning, along with our side dish of green beans. He had picked raspberries for dessert with a choice of raspberry sorbet or chocolate ice cream. My sister and I, weary from our travels, could not have been more satisfied.

The next morning, he gave us a tour of the garden and the rest of his land. By lunch time, I could no longer contain myself. I had to pick some veggies. I roasted some golden cherry tomatoes (you’ll find the recipe in the July 27 blog) and pulled some beets. I got them roasting below the tomatoes and cooked the well-washed and shredded beet greens until they were soft. The tomatoes and beet greens were lunch, along with some cheese and crackers, perfectly delicious, but just a hint of what was to come.

For dinner, I made a Summer Squash Casserole (adding some shredded salami) from my brother’s Joy of Cooking. My 1997 edition calls it Summer Squash Gratin, a little more highfalutin’ a name I suppose. Same dish. You’ll find the recipe below. Then a Beet Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing, also from his Joy of Cooking, and more roasted cherry tomatoes. My sister baked a splendid Rhubarb Cake for dessert. All the produce for the dinner came from the garden. Amazing.

By the next morning, I had come up with a possible menu for that evening. After a strenuous day that included yoga, a Mexican lunch, naps and a tour of the Snowville Creamery, we gathered to put our dinner together. Nathan, the youngest of George’s three, joined us and seemed to enjoy both the food and the conversation. We made Lentil Salad with Curry Spices and Yogurt from Field of Greens, Herbed Carrot Salad and Two Reds Salad (given below) both from Flatbreads and Flavors. George and Barb peeled and seeded a rimmed baking sheet full of broiled Italian peppers to which we added roasted onions and a bit of fennel, of our own devising. And finally we had more raspberries with whipped cream from the Creamery we had visited in the afternoon. Totally delicious and brilliantly colorful. Everything except the yogurt and the lentils from the garden.

Just look at the colors. Aren't they spectacular? I think I had already eaten some of the dark green peppers.

The last night we went out for dinner in town to a great place called Zoe’s. All of us ate meat in one form or another for our main course. It’s not that any of us was tired of vegetables or eating a primarily vegetarian diet. Far from it. In fact, I was sorry that I didn’t have a chance to use the chard, new potatoes, more tomatoes, and the still baby eggplants. But I am an omnivore. I appreciate and want diversity in my diet, even as I hold on to Michael Pollan’s wise counsel from In Defense of Food “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Mostly plants. But not wholly plants. There you go.

Recipes from the Garden

Summer Squash Gratin
You can serve this as a side dish. With the addition of some salami or bacon, you could also serve it as a main dish with a nice green salad.

1¼ pounds yellow squash, cut into ½-inch squares
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
½ cup salami, prosciutto, bacon, or pancetta, coarsely chopped, optional
1 cup diced Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese (actually any melting cheese would work)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1 tablespoon white vermouth or dry white wine
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
Generous pinch of cayenne or Aleppo pepper
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1½ cups fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter

1. Lightly butter a 10-inch gratin dish or casserole.
2. Steam the squash until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  Maybe less. Remove to a medium bowl.
3. Heat the butter or oil in a small skillet and add the onion and the optional meat. Cook until soft but not browned. Add to the squash along with the cheeses, the crème fraiche or sour cream, the wine, coriander, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
4. Pour into the prepared dish. Combine the breadcrumbs and melted butter; sprinkle over the top of the squash. You can also cook the breadcrumbs in a frying pan with the butter until they are toasted and crisp.
5. Bake at 350ºF until bubbling and nicely browned, about 35 minutes.

4-5 servings
Adapted from Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker’s The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking (from 1997). Earlier versions of this cookbook called this recipe Summer Squash Casserole.

Moroccan Two Reds Salad
This salad has an astonishingly psychedelic color and a unexpectedly great flavor. Almost makes you want to say "Cool, man."

1 pound beets (3 medium), washed, stems cut off
1 pound (4 medium) tomatoes, seeded, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ medium red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped flat-leafed parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, mint, or oregano or a mix
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place the beets in a glass or metal 8 x 8 pan or something comparable. Pour about ½-inch water into the bottom of the dish and cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Place in a 400ºF. oven and roast until the beets are soft, about 1 hour. You may need longer if the beets are larger. Let them cool slightly and then peel. The skins and stems should slip off easily, leaving your hands nicely pink. Cut off the beet tails.
2. Cut the beets into ½-inch cubes and place in a medium-sized bowl along with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro or other herbs.
3. Add the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and mix well.
4. Serve at once or chill in the fridge for up to an hour. I prefer the salad at room temperature.

Serves 6-8
Adapted from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Flatbreads & Flavors

Oven-Roasted Tomato Variation

I tried something slightly different with a current batch of tomatoes I purchased from The Patch.
I did the usual washing, cutting in half around the equator, taking out as many of the seeds as I can with my finger, placing them close together in a glass dish and seasoning with salt and pepper. You can also use a rimmed baking sheet. I didn’t sprinkle any olive oil over them.

I roasted at 400ºF. for about 15 minutes and then lowered the temp to 300ºF. until they were much reduced in volume but still nice and squishy, about 2 or 2½ hours. Maybe more. (If you need to roast some beets--or anything else for that matter, you can do them at the same time. They’ll just take longer than at their usual temp.)

I let them cool, placed them on a serving plate and drizzled them with Maple Smoked Olive Oil and then placed a small mound of Délice de la Vallée, a combination of cows’ milk and cream and goats’ milk on top. Both products are made in Sonoma County. You can substitute any good olive oil or soft cheese.