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Plums Plums Plums

9 Aug


We have a tree that won’t quit….even though we lost an enormous branch last year due to too much weight, it still produces like crazy. The plums have gotten larger and better every season, I don’t even like plums and I eat these. Sometimes we make jam but mostly we give huge bags away. We give them away to be transformed in to jams, jellies, cakes and anything else one can imagine.
This year we decided instead of tossing the remaining plums in the compost we would make Brandy. I took a few recipes for Northern European plum liquor and a traditional Italian recipe and mashed them together.

20130714-213438.jpgIt’s so easy, although we won’t know if it turns out for another 2 months, I’ll be sure to let you know. We usually make Nocino but our walnut harvest looks sparse this year. I want to leave as many nuts on the tree as I can. Nocino is made from green walnuts harvested early in July, If I pick them now I wouldn’t have many mature nuts left in September.  Last year I canned 40 pounds of cherries but we ended up eating them this year. So before summer ended I wanted to make something, and plums we have!  We will bottle it up, create a cute label and hand it out for holiday time.
We always gets the kids(s) involved, I let them put the sugar in and stir this time, and they were thrilled!




Plum Brandy

Make sure to sterilize your jar and spoon with boiling water.

The natural yeast on the fruit will act as a fermentation starter.

5 lbs washed plums, red or yellow, cut, pits removed
1 liter vodka
4 cups brandy or rum
5 lbs sugar

Put it all in a large jar and stir.
Let sit room temperature for 8 weeks. Covered or with a cheese cloth over it. I am alternating between the two. 
strain, drink.



Strawberry Vacation

25 Jun

photo photo copy 2

“So what are all these photos from?” you ask? They are from the land of strawberries, yes there is such a place, it runs from Orange County, all the way to the Monterey Bay, growing about 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries. (actually these were taken by Matthew Carden  the photos of real people are by me!)

There are 400 farmer families that grow all of those and countless workers that carefully harvest them. I had no idea how a strawberry got from field to market but I do now! The Strawberrry commission of California arranged fantastic tours, meals from famous chefs who made the yummiest and unsuspected delicious from the red fruit. I was so lucky to go stay at the beautiful Carmel Valley Ranch with a bunch of uber talented bloggers for two days. I feel like I learned so much about strawberries but even more than that I learned how the commission supports their farmers and helps educate the public about sweet sweet strawberries!  It was great to be on the coast, smell the salt air and stand in the fields, it’s rare that we get to be where our food grows.  I had the feeling of a larger world around us, something we don’t think about on a day to day basis. The farmers do, they work hard and care about the product they grow.   Check your strawberries the next time you buy them, I bet they will be from the Monterey area, if they aren’t then keep searching.

Yes there was a cooking competition, and Team Buffalo Strawberry took the gold (the Visa gift cards) With our LOW Sodium version of Buffalo Wings ala Strawberry BBQ sauce. You can check out that recipe below.  My contribution was a grilled corn and strawberry salad with grilled peach vinaigrette, I will share that recipe with you in a week or so.



I know, I know…lots of photos but my new friends peer pressured me into joining Instagram, and I kind of went nuts! It was worth it because I ended up winning the Instagram Strawberry scavenger hunt!


So are you intrigued by Strawbuffalo sauce?  My friend over at Sodium Girl  said I could share our secret recipe with you….make sure to go read her amazing blog, she’s funny!


LOW-SODIUM STRAWBUFFALO CHICKEN20130609-210651.jpg20130614-215146.jpg

recipe courtesy of Sodium Girl


  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 shallot or half a red onion, chopped
  • 3 cups strawberries, stemmed and washed
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tsp salt-free chili powder
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp salt-free garlic powder
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 chicken legs and thighs (bone-in and skin-on) or a bunch of wings
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar


In a medium-size sauce pot, heat up a tablespoon of oil and when ready, add the garlic and the onions. Cook until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Then add your strawberries, jalapeños, about 1/4 cup of water and lower heat to soft boil. Allow the strawberries to soften and break down into a slushy sauce, about 15 minutes. Add the chili and molasses and let it cook another 10 minutes.  Then, using a handheld or standing blender, give the sauce a whirl until it is pureed and smooth. Transfer the sauce back to the pot, add the vinegar, and continue cooking on medium-low heat for another ten minutes.

While the sauce is going, place your chicken on a roasting pan and drizzle some oil on all the pieces, rubbing it so they are all slick. Then in a small bowl, mix together the cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper and give all the chicken pieces a good rub down with the mix until they are covered. If you are using a bbq and it is ready to go, then place the chicken on the grill on a cooler part of the grill, skin side up. If you are using an oven, heat it to 375 F and throw that pan of chicken pieces (laid out in a single layer or even on top of a roasting rack on the pan) into the oven.

If you are using breast/leg pieces, let them cook 25 minutes. If you are using wings, let them cook 15 minutes.  Then, slather your chicken pieces with sauce and then continue cooking another 10 minutes, putting the sauce back on the stove on low to keep warm. If you are BBQ’ing, then you can move your chicken to a hotter spot on the grill.



Ten things I learned about Strawberries



1. They are delicious grilled (and wrapped with pancetta)
2. They are hand picked, boxed and shipped within a day, (that’s crazy because they are picked one at a time by workers who bend down all day and painstakingly pick, pick, pick!) Strawberries are picked and brought to a giant cooling facility where they are labeled and shipped that day.

3. They are also delicious in savory dishes such as in our winning dish Strawbuffalo wings, yes you heard right! For the yummy low sodium version visit my incredible team-mate over at Sodium Girl
4. California is the nation’s leading producer of strawberries.

5. Four hundred family farmers grow strawberries growing about 88 percent of the nation’s strawberries.

6. 8 strawberries contain as much vitamin C as one orange!

7. According to a recent study, eating strawberries more than twice a week appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years!

8. Dynamite for diabetics: The American Diabetes Association (ADA) identified berries, including strawberries, as one of the top 10 superfoods for a diabetes meal plan.

9. After being picked every extra hour the berries sit in the field (on the truck) the berries lose one day of shelf life.

10. Bloggers can party anywhere, even in a strawberry field!!

There is so much more to know from these beautiful and informative posts from these bloggers:

Superglue Mom Garlic Girl BlogPlayful Cooking,  Muy Bueno CookbookPinch My SaltSavory SimpleUknown MamiMy San Francisco Kitchen, Cooking with Amy, The Veggie Queen, Mitzi the Nutrition Expert

Join my friends at CA Strawberries

Twitter: @CAStrawberries

Facebook: CAStrawberries

Pinterest: CAStrawberries

Instagram: CAStrawberries

Ready Set Go…Thanksgiving 2012 (post 1 of 2)

17 Nov

Marinated Dry Jack

Yes, it is RIGHT around the corner, you know, TD, Turkey Day! I wanted to give a few ideas to help spruce up your gobble gobble party (I made that one up)  So I wrote a post on getting organized and shared some recipes for make ahead foods but you can’t see that yet! I couldn’t resist sharing this scrumptiously easy appetizer with you first.
So if you are going out or having the whole family over you may be needing some recipe ideas. This one is easy, beautiful and can be morphed into many many different ideas. This is a cheese you can marinate for up to a week (he hem, it’s less than a week away..panic sets in)
If you have some pretty jars around, mason jars or French Jelly jars save them! Never toss pretty jars, thy come in handy a lot, I especially love to give gifts in them. When my guests arrive I don’t want them to fill up on chips and junk, I want them to have small nibbles of highly flavored snacks. When I saw this recipe I knew it fit the bill, who doesn’t like cheese, olive oil and garlic?
The herbs are in the in the garden, the only thing I didn’t have on hand was the cheese. A Parmesan Reggiano would be fantastic or  marinate a fresh mozzarella or even olives. Be sure to check back tomorrow for my next post on getting organized  and see my menu for Thanksgiving.

 Cheese Marinated in Herby Olive Oil

Do not store this for more than 10 days, garlic in oil can eventually have botulism and can pose a health risk. Use the oil up for cooking a few days after you eat the cheese, and always refrigerate this recipe.

  • 7 oz dry jack cheese, rind removed and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 4 fresh sage leaves (I didn’t add sage)
  • 5 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 sprig(s) fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon(s) pink peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) black peppercorns
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled,smashed
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) extra-virgin olive oi

Layer the cheese, sage, basil, and rosemary, the peppercorns and garlic  in a decorative jar and pour the oil over the top until the cheese is almost completely covered.  I leave the tops of the cheese dry so the guest can pick up the cheese stick without getting greasy.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, I used a large jar and wanted to eliminate air on the cheese so I used some seal wrap, pressing it down directly on the olive oil and on the sides of the jar.  for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Life is a Bowl Of Cherries!

8 Jun

Our cherry monkey!

The cherries almost always ripen the weekend of Claire’s birthday, May 11th which is also Mother’s Day. This year they ripened late, surprising but in the end a blessing. Let me tell you what usually happens every year…usually the cherries ripen over night, one day they are not ready and the next they are bursting. Well, do you know how smart crows are? Crows are they are really really smart. I have tried everything to deter them from eating our sweet delicious cherries, we really try. The sad part is, is that day when the cherries ripen, the crows call all their sleek feathered friends over and by 8 am the trees are empty. They suck them off the tree like a cartoon cat eats a fish, in one inhale! Sometimes you can find a half eaten cherry swinging in the breeze but more than not those trees are empty. Under the trees in a massacre of the unsavory cherries the birds rejected. They don’t even leave them on the trees to ripen they just toss them to the ground to taunt us.  Now I will tell you about the miracle that happened in our yard this year. We have a bird bath and I kept it full for the first time in forever, it attracted two Blue Jays, big beautiful ones, who love to splash around in our bath. They also like cherries but are much more polite than the crows, they eat one a day, not much.20120608-221023.jpg

The crows hate them, so it worked in our favor to host the Jays. They got very friendly and comfortable here in our yard one friend dubbed them “Guard Jay’s” and they were. Needless to say they kept the Crows away and we got an amazing harvest, almost 60 pounds of amazingly plump cherries. The problem is that I noticed the yard is very quiet the last few days, it seems that the Jay’s are gone, little freeloaders were just using us for our cherries. I thought they really liked us and were protecting our cherries, oh well they moved on. Today the crows enjoyed some of my baby lettuces, anyone have some Jay’s I can borrow? Darn crows!



Puffy custardy cherry pancake


Stems and bad cherries

I have never canned anything on a large-scale but I felt like I couldn’t let the cherries go to waste. I canned them in a simple syrup, it was easy and I may just be a convert to canning! Claire and I set out to can as many as we could, we ended up with about 50 jars! The kids can help if you keep organized, let them know you are using hot stuff! They can put the cherries in to the jars and help put the rings on the jars too.

Canned Sweet Cherries

Make use of a bot of boiling water to make utensils sterile and for making hot rags to wipe the jars with.  You can save the left over juice form the eaten cherries to use for drinks, like Shirley Temples!

(Rainier or Bing)

10 pounds sweet cherries (Rainier, Bing, or other sweet variety

16 cups water

8 cups sugar

vanilla beans

Wash jars and place  on a cookie sheet a 300 degree oven on their sides. For sterile jars leave in about 45 minutes to an hour.

boil lids to sterilize.

Wash cherries in a sterile sink or bowl and pit your cherries. I left mine with pits,in for a nuttier flavor.

Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Keep hot (but not boiling) while you prepare  your jars.

Keep your jars in the oven until and take them out in small batches as you fill them. Do not add hot syrup to a cold jar it will crack.

With a clean sterile spoon, stuff cherries as you can into each jar, press them down.


Washing cherries

I had tons of vanilla beans so I added 1 inch pieces of whole vanilla bean to some of my jars.

Using a ladle fill each jar with the hot syrup, stopping  just shy of the rim. I like to do this on a rimmed cookie sheet.  With a clean, hot, wet cloth, wipe the rims of the jars and place the sealers and lids on top. Tighten with your hands.

Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

Remove from the water bath carefully place jars on a towel, let cool, and listen for the pops.  Of course, refrigerate any jars that do not seal and eat them immediately.


The last of our harvest after removing stems


Claire stuffing jars


Using a sterile spoon to stuff jars



A custard-y cherry pancake made with our fresh cherries. I used Michelle Stern’s puffy apple pancake recipe from her book, Whole Family Cookbook.

Adapted from Michelle Stern’s Whole Family Cookbook

I made this batter in a blender, it was really easy and clean up was a breeze. If you have a Vitamix or Blendtec I recommend using them for this recipe. A regular blender works fine too. Add all the ingredients to a blender jar and whirl just until blended and follow the ecooking directions.

Serves 4

5 Tbs. Butter, divided
3/4 cup Milk
3 Tbs. Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
1  tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Salt 
1/2 cup Flour

1 cup fresh sweet cherries, pitted 

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.

In a medium-sized bowl, crack the eggs.

Beat the eggs lightly and then add the melted butter.

Measure milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, vanilla,  ground cinnamon, salt, and flour, and add them to the eggs.

Mix all of the ingredients until the batter is well blended.

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a 10″ ovenproof skillet.  Add cherries and cook until they are soft 5 minutes.

Put on oven mitts and take the skillet off the heat. Pour the batter over the cherries.

Place the skillet into the oven and cook for 15-25 minutes until gently browned and puffed. (Do not open the oven during the first 15 minutes of the cooking process, or the puff will deflate!)

Put on oven mitts, remove the skillet from the oven, and immediately place an oven mitt over the handle, so that you won’t accidentally burn your hand.

Cut the puff into wedges and serve immediately.





Chefs Move to Schools, my time at the White House abbreviated

8 Jun

When I was young every night at the dinner table my mom would say, “Would you behave that way at the White House?”She was referring to our manners, it’s like we were groomed to sit at a long fancy table with the president and all the dignitaries. We never took her seriously but maybe we should have. Of the three kids I was voted least likely to be invited to the White House, artist, free spirit, and I live in California to boot! My brothers are the “professionals” the doctor, the historian and then there is me, artist/chef. Well I did get invited, my culinary group IACP was invited and I jumped at the chance. I never got to sit at the long table with the president, which is a good thing because my manners are surly not up to par. I did get to be very close to the First Lady though, just close enough to see her beautiful skin.
So a plan was hatched, go to DC, take the family and make a vacation out of it. Life did get in the way, we had a family tragedy, so we diverted to LA and then to DC. This is why I am so behind on my blogging, I have not read any other posts or done much of anything but the everyday regular stuff. I’m going to tell you about DC in an abbreviated form, so forgive the lack of details. If I don’t just write something now I never will. I am not going to explain the politics, or how we are supposed to go about this huge task because you can read all of that here .

The Let’s Move Initiative was set in motion by Michelle Obama when she planted the White House Garden last year.

This is how it went:
On Friday morning, Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and and Education Secretary Arne Duncan told about 600 of us how we can make a difference in schools at a Share Our Strength breakfast.

After breakfast we all walked over to the White House to pass through, not one, not two but three security screenings. We all had to be pre-screened prior to getting there, I guess they were just checking up on us one more time for good measure.
Once on the lawn we had free regine to walk down to the garden and take photos.
There were photo ops with big cooking celebs like, Cat Cora, Ellie Krieger, Aaron McCargo, Jr. and Anne Burrell, Tom Colicchio, Marcus Samuelsson, and Lidia Bastianich. I think Rachel Ray was there although I did not see her. I was lucky enough to get a photo with Jose Andre

and Tom Coliccho, Carla Hall just to name a few.

Let me set the stage, it’s 95 degrees, about 100% humidity, close to 1000 chefs, in whites are bouncing with excitement. Cute as a button the First Lady steps on to the South Lawn and we stand an cheer, soggy as we were! The call to action has been heard and we are motivating, like a small army, different backgrounds, different skill levels but all for the same cause, the kids. Help us get our kids back on track, healthy eating, playing outdoors and the main goal changing school lunches!!

I love this photo of the first lady, she looks like a warrior, the queen of fennel!

(Photo by Marvin Joseph /The Washington Post)

If you are a chef or culinary educator and want to get involved go here and sign up.

For a creative look at Washington seen through the eyes of Renegade Kitchen click here.

Dirt Made My Lunch

9 Apr

Dirt made my lunch,
Dirt made my lunch.
Thank you Dirt, thanks a bunch,
For my salad, my sandwich
My milk and my munch ’cause
Dirt, you made my lunch.

Dirt is a word that we often use,
When we’re talkin’ about the earth beneath our shoes.
It’s a place where plants can sink their toes;
In a little while a garden grows.

A farmer’s plow will tickle the ground,
You know the earth has laughed when wheat is found.
The grain is taken and flour is ground,
For making a sandwich to munch on down.

A stubby green beard grows upon the land,
Out of the soil the grass will stand.
But under hoof it must bow,
For making milk by way of a cow

I learned this song last summer at our Dirt To Dine Summer Camp. Before the kids went onto the farm they sang this song with the farm educators and they loved it. Well, we are getting ready for camp again, this summer we are doing three one week sessions in Napa. We have a new web page describing how it all works right here.

A few weeks ago My partners and I held a one day Dirt to Dine event at Frogs Leap Winery. Here is how it went: The kids got to tour the garden, get fresh eggs, study bees and chickens. They chopped, whipped, squeezed, emulsified, baked and sauteed
while and working with Michael Chiarello and myself in the kitchen. We wound up with a Spanish torta, granola, honey lemonade, herbed homemade mayonnaise and the kids served a huge feast for all the parents.
They also left with fresh eggs, granola and a jar of mayonnaise each.
It was perfect.

Dirt to Dine Camp – 28 kids, 2 locations, a lot of happy campers!

9 Aug

I never would have thought that in one week 28 kids could learn as much as they did.  This camp took the kids from farm straight to table every day, and they got it, they really got it. Lucky for me, my connection with Eileen Gorden and her great idea and great people, has made this has a reality. She came to me with an idea to start a camp where the kids could spend time on a working farm and then translate the knowledge in to cooking class. Marie Sayles was the brains behind the

 farm side and I acted as the chef and coordinator of the cooking part. Eileen worked tirelessly to put all our ideas together, working to secure beautiful locations for the week.  It worked out beautifully!

These kids now know how to milk a cow or goat and make fresh cheese within hours. They know that the animals have to be taken care of, fed, and cleaned. They know how to grind wheat from the stalk into flour for dough. They know how important bees are to our world and how to extract honey from a hive. They did things I have never even done!

They know carrots come from the dirt not from a plastic bag, and how much work it is to pull sunflower seeds from the flower. They know that a farm fresh egg tastes so much better than one stamped with a date from a store. They have the knowledge to make informed choices at a young age!

Here is a sample of one of our days:
  • Day 3: Chickens & Eggs
    • Animal care, farm chores, chicken diet, harvesting fresh eggs from chickens
    • Making chicken stock with whole chicken
    • Make fresh egg pasta noodles
    • Make chicken noodle and Italian egg drop soup
    • Make savory french toast with Parmesan 
    • Compare raw eggs for color; conventional versus farm fresh free range 
    • Taste test: fast food nuggets versus free range chicken breast
    • Feast on the food they made, discuss and recap the day.



At Connolly Ranch in collaboration with Chef Michael Chiarello & Bottega Restaurant 

Dirt To Dine is week-long summer camp bridging farming, gardening and cooking experiences in a dynamic, hands-on, youth-driven environment. The camp brings your young epicurean’s enthusiasm for all things cooking back to the source of the ingredient’s: land, soil, seeds, animals, plants and more.

Dirt To Dine is set in two locations: the epicurean center of the Napa Valley, Yountville; and Connolly Ranch, Napa County’s only family farm dedicated to education. Visit the website for bios of the “Dirt to Dine” team, click on camps.

 I would also like to thank our volunteer teachers Greer Westerink and Kim Kendall-Stubbe who worked so hard to make this camp a success. 
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