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!

Salad for Lunch

by Caroline

One of my favorite things, among the many small things that I love about my kids being in school until 2 PM, is that I have time now to make and eat lunch at home.

Last year, when my youngest was in preschool, I left the house at 11:30 AM to pick him up. It was too early to eat before leaving the house, and usually by the time we got home, I was too hungry to do more than warm up some leftovers or make a quesadilla or something else not particularly inspired. A snack might have been a good idea, but then I wouldn’t have been hungry for lunch until 2 PM, which doesn’t work well when you’re living with small people who need dinner at 5:30.

You see the little problem.

Now, I don’t have to leave the house until 1:30. And that gives me the necessary time to work all morning, and then rummage around inside the fridge and pantry and come up with a salad like this. I realize we’ve been posting a lot about salads lately; Lisa’s herby green salad is a staple in our house, too, and garbage salad is a regular in my lunch routine. Earlier in the summer, when I was I reminiscing about our glorious French vacation I posted three new recipes. Because salad can be a great meal for lunch. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it doesn’t need to take any longer to make than to heat up leftovers. But sometimes, the right combination of ingredients doesn’t present itself to you unless you can give it a couple moments of thought. And then maybe the combination, once you see it, seems so obvious it’s hardly worth remarking upon. But if the ingredients are fresh and you have thirty minutes to eat in peace, perhaps with a book by your side, the meal feels like a remarkable gift indeed.

So here it is, today’s fall spinach salad:

Spinach leaves
Halved red grapes
Crumbled goat cheese
Toasted walnuts
Balsamic vinaigrette

Toss and enjoy.

Hayes Valley Farm

by Caroline

A lifetime ago, pre-husband and pre-kids, I lived in the not-yet-gentrified Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. My top floor apartment looked out over a vacant lot which had once been shadowed by the 101 freeway off-ramp, but after the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the road, the ramp was torn down and the lot — in all its weedy, broken-asphalt ugliness — was exposed to new light. The weeds started growing denser and scrubby trees started to sprout; the lot was surrounded by chain link fence, but that didn’t stop people from camping in it. I used to sit in my window looking out over the space, wondering if the city would ever pay attention to the lot and make better use of the area.

The rest of the neighborhood started improving; hip shops and cafes moved in, and although I moved away, I’d drive past frequently on my drive to graduate school in Berkeley. Eventually a sign went up on the chain link fence, announcing a condo development, but nothing happened. Then last winter, a new sign went up, and then lots of new signs:

We had to go see it.

We love to visit farms. We tend our own little garden in the backyard and for inspiration we have visited farms on the prairie and on the coast and even one tucked behind a suburban development.

I discovered that when the condo development plans fell victim to the recession, the city opened the site up for “temporary green space use” and the community has taken it from there. On our visit, one group of folks sorted through packets of donated lettuce seed to plant out in flats:

We planted some of it in flats ourselves:

And we admired the healthy salad bar that’s growing from seeds planted earlier in the season:

We saw another group sorting and stacking cardboard, some of the over 80,000 pounds the farmers have used already to create the farm’s “soil” out of layered cardboard, wood chips, and horse manure:

The ingredients for soil (like the seeds) are donated; the community farmers collect the cardboard, wood chips and manure free and with the city’s thanks, from the local waste stream.

These folks are serious about their farming. They are developing dwarf fruit trees that thrive in pots, so that apartment dwellers can harvest their own apples and pears:

They are refining potato columns, which grow in simple, portable chicken wire towers and yield lovely potatoes that my kids couldn’t resist harvesting:

“It’s really not scary to grow food,” commented our tour guide; indeed, for all their innovations here, they are also doing some things in ancient ways, studying the terraced farms of the Incas because San Francisco’s climate mirrors that of the Andes mountains.

The farmers are making it fun, too, hosting volunteer work parties followed by free yoga sessions, movie nights and picnics, plus classes on topics ranging from medicinal plants to soil health to permaculture to emergency preparedness. “The main thing we’re growing is a community,” our guide commented, and it’s growing beautifully. It’s like turning swords into plowshares: the Hayes Valley volunteers are farming the freeway:

Puffy Corn Omelete

by Lisa

A few weeks ago, Ella bit into her corn on the cob, and before she had even set it back down on her plate declared, “I love summer.”

Like most, we love corn here and eat it as often as we can while it’s in season. Purist that I am, we usually don’t do anything more than a quick boil or grill and  then serve it with butter.   But  a few years ago this recipe was published in our my & Caroline’s Gourmet and it was an immediate hit with everyone.  This dish involves your good friend, the egg, butter, corn, and chives. It turns out a light, puffed, sweet and tender omelete,  loaded with fresh corn.  It works as a main course, which is how we usually eat it, a side dish, or even an elegant first course. It’s great right out of the over or at room temperature (potluck or lunch party anyone?).  I’ve served it many times to guests, who rave.  The kids could east the whole thing themselves. And while we’re still in corn season out here, I think you could easily substitute a few cups of frozen corn if the crop near you has already waned. It’s a good way to keep a burst of summer on your plate.

Puffy Corn Omelete

The original recipe is here. I modify the process slightly so it uses fewer bowls and a pie plate instead of a skillet, which I’ve found makes clean up a little easier. Also, you can skimp on the butter, but it definitely is better if you don’t.

  • 3 ears of corn, husked
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat convection oven to 350°F.
  2. Add corn to a 4-quart pot of boiling water , then remove from heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, cut kernels from cobs with a sharp knife into a bowl, then scrape cobs over bowl to extract “milk.” Scrape into a large bowl.
  3. Melt butter in a 10-inch ovenproof pie plate  (I use a glass one, set right in the microwave) and remove skillet from heat, then transfer 3 tablespoons melted butter to bowl with corn (leaving remaining butter in skillet to cool).  Toss corn to coat and stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
  4. When the corn is cool, whisk in the egg yolks with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until combined.
  5. Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl using an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold one third of whites into yolks to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Gently fold in corn mixture.
  6. Spoon mixture into pie plate and bake until pale golden and set, 10 to 12 minutes. The omelete will puff nicely as cooks.  Loosen omelet with a heatproof rubber spatula and slide onto a plate, or cut and serve directly from the pie plate. Serve sprinkled with chives.

Garbage Salad

by Caroline

critical tools for garbage salad

When I was in 3rd grade, I ate lunch with my dad nearly every weekday. Although my school day went to 3 PM, the school didn’t permit children to eat lunch at school until 4th grade. I remember my mom grumbling that this was a conspiracy to keep moms from working outside the home, and she endured it awhile, but finally when her youngest child (me) hit eight, and having been out of the workforce since her oldest child was born (sixteen years earlier) my mom was ready to get back to work. She cobbled together a schedule for me of lunchtime playdates with friends and — since her job didn’t allow her the flexibility to drive home for lunch each day, but my father’s did — Lunch with Dad.

Lunch with Dad was great. We would sit at the dining room table, he at the end and me around the corner next to him, and play double solitaire between bites. I have no recollection of my meals – a rotating menu of sandwiches, I expect — but Dad always made what he dubbed Garbage Salad. He’d start with a plate, a big carrot and maybe one of the enormous white daikon radishes he’d grown in our front yard, and the box grater. He’d grate himself a bed of vegetables, then rummage in the fridge for good-looking leftovers and toss those on top, together with perhaps a scoop of cottage cheese and a sprinkling of peanuts and a splash of vinaigrette. He ate this nearly every day when he was home, the ingredients varying with the seasons and the contents of our refrigerator. Now that I don’t have kids coming home for lunch any more (happily, mine are fed well at school, from kindergarten on), I find myself reaching for the box grater, looking for good leftovers, and composing Garbage Salad, too.

You might want to rename your version of this salad, though sentiment and honesty will always keep it Garbage Salad in my house. As for the ingredients, I find people have strong feelings about cottage cheese, and while I like it well enough I’m not going to risk family harmony by bringing any into the house. Today, my version of Dad’s salad used more salad greens, because our CSA share is bursting with lettuces, plus a shredded beet, a shredded kohlrabi, a tomato, some leftover stir-fried green beans and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I take the time to boil an egg and chop that into the salad, sometimes I toss in some cannellini beans. Tonight, we’re roasting potatoes for dinner, so any leftovers will likely go into tomorrow’s salad. The main thing is to get out that box grater and some shreddable vegetables – carrots, summer squash, beets, kohlrabi, parsley root, radish – and start with that base, because as my Dad taught me, they soak up your vinaigrette and make a delicious bed for just about anything you find to put on top.