Matzo crunch gilds Passover staple

matzocrunch2Quick: Passover is only two days away and  you’ve been invited to a seder.  What can you bring for dessert?

That question can be challenging enough for cooks who were raised in the Hebrew tradition and understand all the dietary restrictions on flour and leavening associated with this celebration of the Jews’ escape from Egypt in biblical times.

For the rest of us, there’s matzo crunch.  This addictive treat pairs bland and brittle matzo–an unleavened bread that could qualify as the poster food for Passover–with the caramel and chocolate flavors of toffee.  It’s crisp, sweet and impossible to resist.  Only the most self-disciplined can eat just one piece. Continue reading Matzo crunch gilds Passover staple

Asparagus, Part 2


Wandering around San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, camera in hand, for Penny de los Santos’ food photography workshop last week, I spotted this sandwich through the window at Tartine Bakery & Cafe.  It was so tempting with its plump asparagus spears tucked beneath a luscious blanket of bubbling cheese and bechamel.  But the line was long and time was short.

I left without tasting it, alas, and I couldn’t get that sandwich out of my mind.  So I resolved to make one for myself when I got home.  Continue reading Asparagus, Part 2

Asparagus and the promise of spring


Can it be?  Is that the sun blazing in the sky for the third day in a row?   After a long, wet winter, even an elusive promise of warm, sunny days to come is cause for celebration.

For me, that calls for an asparagus binge.  No vegetable is a better harbinger of spring than the slender spears of grass-green asparagus that finally have arrived in the farmers markets here.  Yes, you can get asparagus year-round in restaurants and supermarkets anymore, but those crops are grown thousands of miles away.  By the time the get here, the stalks have lost all the fresh, green flavor  and crisp texture I adore.  There is no substitute for local asparagus straight from the fields.

At one time, nearly two-thirds of the asparagus consumed in the U.S. was grown in California, most of it in the fertile San Joaquin Delta region west of Stockton. Production has dropped precipitously, however, as the high labor costs for harvesting the stalks has made the price of California asparagus less competitive year after year with the asparagus imported from Mexico and Peru.  Fortunately, farmers markets have created a profitable outlet for small farmers. Continue reading Asparagus and the promise of spring

Brownies inspired by Sylvia


My friend Susan’s mother passed away recently, just two weeks shy of her 99th birthday.  With her went the secret to some of the best brownies I’ve ever eaten.

Sylvia Cohen was a charming, gracious and accomplished woman who graduated from Radcliffe in an era when few females went to college. As was expected at the time, she gave up her personal ambitions to raise three children and support the academic career of her husband, Nathan Cohen, who went on to become dean of the School of Social Welfare at UCLA.  She was a lifelong defender of social justice and surely wouldn’t have considered her brownies a significant contribution to the world.

Yet her incomparable brownies came up time and again as her family remembered this remarkable woman last month.  Although Sylvia had shared her recipe freely, no one else had ever achieved the voluptuous texture that she did using the most common ingredients: Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, margarine, sugar and flour.  Her brownies were dense, moist and incredibly silky with a generous portion of walnuts for a crunchy counterpoint. Continue reading Brownies inspired by Sylvia

Roasted vegetables for a winter salad


Spring may be on its way, but the farmers markets where I live are still dominated by winter vegetables.  California asparagus has arrived in some markets, it’s true.  Yet even if it shows up where I shop this week,  there’s no question it will be expensive.  I’ll wait until the quality goes up and the price goes down.

In the meantime, we’re taking a new perspective on cold weather produce at our house with this roasted vegetable salad tossed in a sprightly vinaigrette.   I spotted this combination of brussels sprouts, squash, and broccoli in a salad displayed at Carried Away, an Aptos take-out shop, a couple of weeks ago and was tantalized by the concept.  It sounded so good, I just had to make my own.

The results were every bit as tasty as I’d imagined.  Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetables, adding a little sweetness.  At the same time, it brings out the nutty, savory flavors of the sprouts.    The butternut squash becomes soft and yielding while the brussels sprouts and broccoli retain a little crunch. Continue reading Roasted vegetables for a winter salad