comfort food

Pumpkin & Black Bean Tacos

by Lisa

It may be almost Halloween, but we have other important things to think about these days, too.

This very quick game night meal was inspired by Caroline’s Giant Enchildas and these pumpkin tacos from Sunset Magazine–which sound terrific to me, but I just didn’t have all the ingredients in my pantry.

For this very seasonal meal–pick your team or your holiday, or both–you need:

  • 1 can pumpkin1 orange
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • salt
  • 1 can black beans, cuban style or homemade Cuban black beans
  • Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Taco shells or soft tortillas
  1. Heat pumpkin, juice of 1 orange, cumin, cayenne, and a pinch of salt.
  2. Heat black beans.
  3. Top warm tortillas or soft taco shells with a generous spoon of pumpkin, sprinkle with shredded cheese, and top with a tablespoon or so of beans.
  4. Serve with a side of your favorite slaw or salad.

Eat, pray, dream

Pumpkin Toast

by Lisa

Our children’s school has a great tradition of hosting a social for the parents (only!) of each grade in the early months of the year.  Some of Ella’s third grade class has been together since pre-school & it’s a terrific group of parents and children. This year, our enterprising room parents decided on a wine tasting + bring your own tapas party, and it was inspired.  We have a lot of great cooks in the class who brought things like sesame glazed chicken drumettes, bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with an almond, several varieties of stuffed mushrooms, a warm artichoke dip, etc. etc.

Staying with our theme of fall rooting for our team, I made Pumpkin Toast, a recipe I found in Food and Wine years ago and have been making every fall I remember.  The original recipe is here. Below is the version that has evolved in my house.

Pumpkin Toast with Cilantro Pesto

  • Pumpkin puree (from a can, or roasted and pureed fresh)
  • Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese, finely grated, about 1 cup, depending on pumpkin
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch
  • garlic, 1-2 cloves
  • Toasted walnuts
  • Olive oil
  • Bread–whatever you like, a whole grain loaf is terrific with the pumpkin, but I use Italian all the time–sliced into rounds or thin strips.
  1. Mix equal amounts pumpkin puree and grated cheese.  One can of pumpkin + an equal amount of cheese is a good amount for one loaf of bread. Set aside
  2. In a food processor, mix one bunch cilantro leaves, garlic, a handful of walnuts, more cheese + enough olive oil to make a pesto.
  3. Spread a layer of pesto on each bread slice.
  4. Top pesto with a generous spoonful of pumpkin + cheese.
  5. Top, if you like, with toasted walnuts, or a little shredded cheese. Or nothing.
  6. Toast in a 400 degree oven until bread is slightly crisp and pumpkin is warmed through.

We ate a variation of this last night with our dinner. To make it quicker for a weeknight, we toasted just the pumpkin + cheese mix on bread. It’s not quite as good without the pesto, but it’s a great family side dish/appetizer for a cold night.

More orange appetizers for the SF Giants Game!

Another One for the Team: Panelle

by Lisa

I found this recipe watching one of the 13 episodes of Lidia Bastianich’s television show, Lidia’s Italy, taking up space on my tivo, and it’s exactly the reason why I love her & her show.

I had never heard of panelle, nor could I have made this up. It’s a regional street food of Palermo and it is unusual for an American kitchen but it’s one of the most fun, satisfying and delicious things I’ve come across in a while. It’s also sort of addictive.

Basically, panelle is fried chickpea polenta made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, and salt served on fresh sesame bun.  You cook the polenta, pour it onto a baking pan, then refrigerate it.

Then you cut it into small squares and fry in olive oil.

That’s it.  I’ve made it twice now, so I know that the kids enthusiasm for it is no fluke. They love it. We love it. It’s one of those things that when, they ask “What’s for dinner?” and I say “panelle,” they cheer. And not just because they get to watch baseball while they’re eating it.

Panelle is an easy, healthy, high protein, fun, vegetarian dinner. It makes great leftovers.  And it’s a simple, no mess, satisfying food that ‘s perfect for eating in the living room while your baseball team battles it out for the pennant. Add salad, dessert, a festive beverage inspired by your team, and you’re set.

It takes a bit of planning because the polenta needs to chill for at least an hour, and frying anything can be a little messy, but it’s basically a simple and stress free process. Below is the recipe taken exactly from here, which is exactly what I saw on TV.


  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 lb chickpea flour
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • A rimmed baking sheet, rubbed with olive oil.

***NOTE:  Chickpea flour is available at my local Italian deli, and it may well be available at yours.  Try specialty stores, well stocked markets, and if you can’t find it, you can make your own by grinding dried chickpeas into a very fine, well, flour.***

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk chickpea flour into water, olive oil, and salt. Try to get it as smooth as you can.
  2. Over medium high heat, cook chickpea polenta until it thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan as you stir.
  3. Quickly pour the polenta into the baking sheet and with a wet, offset spatula or knife, spread smooth. The polenta should be fairly thin and in a smooth even layer.
  4. Refrigerate for one hour or over night.
  5. Cut the panelle into squares, about 3 x 3 for sandwiches.
  6. Pour enough olive oil into a frying pan to cover to about 1/8″ depth, and fry pieces until they are golden brown. They will puff slightly.
  7. Drain on paper towels and serve on fresh, soft, untoasted plain old sesame buns. Adults can eat 2 panelle per sandwich, the kids will eat one larger one.

Horseradish Cheddar Cheese Dip

by Lisa

Caroline makes a fine garbage salad, and a long time ago, I started making a kind of garbage cheese dip.   Like so much of what goes on around here, there is no single recipe but rather a set of strategies and tips.  This is what you can do if friends stop in unexpectedly. This is another thing you can do if your kids are starving and dinner isn’t ready. This is what you do if you have too many little hunks of cheese lying around in your cheese bin and you don’t know how to use them.  There are two basic ways to go about mixing up a fast, delicious spread that you can use for snack, appetizer, or even a quick lunch.

The first, and my favorite, is Jacques Pepin style, a technique culled from one of his classic cooking shows.  In a Cuisinart blend together:

  • all your leftover little pieces of cheese–especially a little piece of blue cheese. The more eclectic the mix, the better.
  • a splash or so of white wine
  • one garlic clove

Of course, if kids are going to eat this, you will want to make sure the cheese mixing did not require too much wine–or you can substitute or add some mayonnaise as in the version below for a Horseradish Cheddar Cheese Dip:

  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • mayonnaise
  • a teaspoon or two of mustard
  • a tablespoon or so to taste of horseradish

I like keeping things like this around, because anytime you bring out a pre-dinner snack, everyone slows down, gathers together and your weeknight can feel a little bit more like a weekend.

Coconut Ice Cream

by Caroline

Even though it has been cold enough all summer in San Francisco to turn on the heat, one recent day we also turned on the ice cream machine. This recipe comes from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, by Bruce Weinstein, and it is absolutely fabulous.

1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 c sugar
3 large eggs
1 t cornstarch
1/4 t salt
1 c half-and-half
1 1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1 c heavy cream
2 t vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for 7 minutes or until the coconut turns light brown. Set aside to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the eggs until thickened and pale yellow. Beat in the cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

Combine the half-and-half with the coconut milk in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and slowly beat the hot liquid into the eggs and sugar. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the eggs will scramble (yuck!) Remove from the heat and our the hot custard through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then stir in the toasted coconut, cream, and vanilla.

Cover and refrigerate until cold, or overnight.

Once the custard is nice and cold, give it a good stir and then freeze in your ice cream machine according to its instructions. Put on a wool sweater and eat.