Do Dip, Don’t Waste

During our St. Patrick’s Day feast this week, I discovered that Irish soda bread tastes even better when you dip it into the liquid goodness at the bottom of the crockpot that was used to cook the corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, and celery (no recipe to print here: just put in all in the crock pot and cook for 10 hours). I put a bowl of the juicy gravy on the table and dipped and dipped some more. My mom told me this would make my grandmother proud. My paternal grandmother (the Irish one) was the one who would make the Irish soda bread, but it was my maternal grandmother (the Italian one) who would use her bread to soak up or scoop up what remained on her plate. I remember vividly how she would use Italian bread to sop up marinara sauce on the plate or vinaigrette in her salad bowl and she would use a word we assumed to be Italian, pronounced “bon-ya” or “bahn-ya.” Bonya bonya, she’d say, savoring every bite. We believed this meant to “dip” but I’ve been told it sounds similar to an Italian word that means “don’t waste.” Either way, it works. I didn’t take photos of the Irish-American food from the other night, but the photo above shows a bowl that contained spaghetti and meatballs; one piece of Italian bread and that bowl would be cleaned right up.

Smilin’ Irish Eyes and Sweet Irish Soda Bread

I just took my Irish soda bread out of the oven. It’s my own version of my mom’s version, which is a version of my grandmother’s version (my sweet late grandma, Rosemary McDonald).

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 stick unsalted butter

Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.

Stir in caraway seeds.

Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly.

Add sugar.

Combine buttermilk, egg, vanilla, and baking soda. Stir into flour mixture until just moist. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead a few times until smooth. Shape into a large ball and place in the center of a well-greased 9 inch cake pan or cast iron pan. Press down slightly. With a sharp, floured knife, make a 4-inch cross 1/4 inch deep in the center of the dough. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees or until loaf is nicely browned. Cool on rack.

(If you don’t have buttermilk, you can sour regular milk by adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to the milk and wait 10 or 15 minutes until the milk turns.)

Hand-Me-Down Serving Pieces

I love a good nod to tradition. My friend Rebecca had a brunch for the girls recently and she explained in the invite that she was excited for the opportunity to pull out the china and silver gifted to her by her grandmother. It’s true that they don’t make things like they used to and hand-me-downs have more than sentimental value. I’ve started collections based on odd pieces I’ve received from my parents and grandparents, such as McCoy vases and Corning Ware serving pieces, and I always love to put them to use; the Corning Ware roasting pan pictured with baked ziti served our friends on Super Bowl Sunday.

Chocolate is Love

Chocolate for dessert on Valentine’s Day was an obvious choice but we went for double the pleasure with chocolates and fondue. The chocolates came from Jin Patisserie in Venice. Beautiful, yes, but also creamy and rich and delicious; our assortment included vanilla, yuzu, black sesame, caramel clove, and lavender flavors. The chocolate fondue was made simply with a bittersweet chocolate bar and heavy cream melted together and served in a vintage fondue set with wood and copper accents I picked up recently at one of my favorite local thrift stores. We dipped raspberries, coconut macaroons, and chocolate wafer cookies. Happily, the chocolate dripped on my silk top and the new French-country tablecloth came out in the wash.

Seafood Paella on the Grill

Last weekend, we put my shiny new paella pan to use on the grill and invited Dara and David, who had gifted me with the pan, to join us for the feast. I found a Food & Wine recipe online for Mario Batali’s lobster paella on the grill and then Dara said that they had a container of lobster stock in the freezer, so it was easily decided that we’d make seafood paella on the grill (Mr. MVP insisted we use the Weber). Because Dara doesn’t eat meat and I don’t eat bell peppers, we knew we’d have to adapt whatever recipes we found and we ended up using Batali’s as a base. We dropped the meat and bell peppers and added grape tomatoes, a chopped habanera pepper, and smoked paprika. It was delicious. Recipe below.

6 cups lobster stock
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 habanera peppers, sliced and without seeds
3 cups grape tomatoes
8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 cups Spanish rice
2 lobster tails
1 pound manila clams, scrubbed
½ pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1 tsp. saffron threads
2 tsp. smoked paprika
Hot paprika
Sea salt
Ground pepper
Lemon wedges

Light a grill with mesquite charcoal.

Heat the lobster stock on a saucepan, for use later. Chop 2 cups of tomatoes in half and set aside, separately from the remaining cup of whole tomatoes.

Place the paella pan on the heated grill and add the olive oil. Add chopped onions, garlic and the 2 cups of cut tomatoes. Stir occasionally until onions are softened, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the rice and stir it in with the vegetable mixture and stir for 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the warmed stock, saffron, paprika and a pinch of salt to the pan. Cover the grill and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until the stock has reduced to 2 cups.

Drizzle olive oil and a dash of hot paprika on the lobsters and place them on the grill beside the pan, shell side down.

Add clams, mussels and remaining tomatoes to the paella pan and cover the grill. Cook for 10 minutes, checking occasionally to see if the clam and mussel shells have opened.

Remove lobster tails from grill and serve on top of a platter with the paella. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon juice and garnish plate with lemon wedges.

Finish with ground pepper.

Serves 6 to 8.

Uses for Kitchen Leftovers

Here’s another self-promotion for a story I wrote for This one is about how you can use almost everything in your kitchen. I’ve been making stocks from leftover chicken bones and veggie scraps, finding inventive uses for leftovers (like the pictured Thanksgiving cranberries, which were used for a jam) and I’m zest-crazy, using lemon and orange zest for baking and vinaigrettes. I have not started composting yet, but that’s next. . .

Cookie Time: Peanut Blossoms and Butter Cookies

I don’t feel compelled to take risks when it comes to baking holiday cookies. Classic cookies are beloved because they’re perfect, like the roll-out butter cookie (I used a recipe from Bon Appetit) and peanut butter cookies with a chocolate kiss on top. We call them peanut blossoms in my family and they’ve been a perennial favorite since I was a kid. I have the fondest memories of baking them with my mom and helping to push the chocolate kiss on the cookie while it was still on the cookie sheet. Eating them right from the oven is always best, when the chocolate is still gooey from the heat of the oven (pictured, Kristine and Rebecca digging in). I make them with a mixture of dark chocolate and milk chocolate kisses. The recipe from mom, which came to her from Aunt Ruth, is below.

Peanut Blossom Cookies

Makes 7 dozen

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Chocolates kisses

Preheat oven at 375 F.
Cream together sugars, butter and peanut butter.
Stir in eggs, milk and vanilla.
Sift together flour, salt and baking soda.
Combine dry and wet ingredients.
Shape into balls and roll in sugar.
Place balls on ungreased cookie sheet, leaving an inch between each ball.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and press on chocolate kisses, then return to oven for 1 minute.

Bite Size Delights

One sweet, one savory. A friend asked me recently for a quick starter she could bring to a dinner party and I suggested tuna with olive oil and capers on my new favorite chip—a multi-grain tortilla chip from a company called Food Should Taste Good (I know, genius). For a post-dinner snack: raspberries and chocolate wafer cookies (I love the ones from Newman’s Own Organics). Mr. MVP came out last night with the raspberry on the cookie and called it berry caviar.

The Perfect Grilled Artichoke

I went to an excellent restaurant last night to catch up with a friend and we started by ordering the grilled artichoke appetizer. I rarely pass up anything with artichoke on a menu and I always get them when they’re in season and available at my farmers’ market. This one we ordered was very good—but not nearly as good as the ones that Mr. MVP and I grill at home. That sounds like a big boast, but we give credit to the Hitching Post restaurant in Buellton for the grilling technique. Mr. MVP met the chef from the restaurant (yes, it’s the one from “Sideways”) and asked about how they grill the artichokes so that they’ve got that great smokiness but still remain tender. The trick: Steaming them first, then chilling them before you halve them and put them on the grill with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Ours are so good I don’t even bother with dipping the leaves.

Amelia Saltsman: On Farmers’ Markets and Good Food

The complete version of this interview was originally published on

Below, my interview Amelia Saltsman, an educator and the author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook.

How did you get involved in your line of work?
I thrive on a sense of community— that’s how my connection to the farmers’ market began. I began to write about my experiences and the farmers’ stories and the ingredients themselves and then the farmers’ market became a focal point.

Best part of your job?
When a reader or student comes to a demo or class and says, I can do that. We think everything is so hard and we’re reluctant to change habits and we often think we need to have to do everything all at once or it’s not good enough. But you can do a little at a time.

Is there a particular environmental nonprofit you support?
Sustainable Table and I do a lot with the Southland Farmers’ Market Association. Also Heal the Bay.

What’s an eco-friendly gift you like to give?
Small food items that are unique to Southern California. For instance, I love to bring freshly dried dates or special citrus—an offering from my area and something that evokes a sense of place.

Do you have a favorite environmental book?
Omnivore’s Dilemma. I love the way Michael Pollan writes and I think he has the most wonderful way of writing about the issues.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Blenheim apricot tree. We had one in my backyard when I was a kid and my grandmother would come to visit from Israel and make apricot jam. It’s a beautiful tree with sun-kissed fruit.

Describe your path to green: how and when you became eco-conscious.
Flavor. When you look for foods that taste great naturally, everything falls into place. Once I found farmers’ markets in my local community, I never looked back.

Behind the Green Scenes: Amelia Saltsman

Originally published on in December 2007

I meet Amelia Saltsman at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona on a Wednesday morning as she’s preparing for a cooking demo and book signing for her just-published book, The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. She’s pushing a cart that is already loaded with cardboard boxes full of heirloom tomatoes when I greet her and then she stops to speak with a vendor about cucumbers. “Whatever’s best,” she tells him.

Next she selects a bunch of purslane and invites me to taste it. “A lot of people consider this a weed,” she says. “But it’s great to throw into salads.” She unloads the vegetables at a table in an area that’s being set up for her cooking demo before she making a final stop for olives and olive oil. She moves quickly through the crowd and navigates the cart with ease, stopping occasionally to greet others in her path and to invite them to come to her tent for food.

Today she is serving a plum crisp with a corn meal topping and tomato and cucumber bread salad-both recipes from her book-and she’s demonstrating how to make the salad. Under the tent, students from a local culinary school have already begun to prep for the day’s offerings, slicing the cucumbers and chopping tomatoes, as market shoppers approach to find out when the food will be ready. Two friends of Saltsman have also come over to help with the book sales and passersby have begun to thumb through the pages of a display copy.

“Look—you’re in it!” Saltsman says to a vegetable vendor when she walks over, opening the book to the “History of the Market” chapter that features portraits of smiling faces and still life shots of fresh produce from the market. Through her work in print and on TV as the host, writer, and producer of Fresh from the Farmers’ Market on Los Angeles cable TV, Saltsman has become an ambassador of sorts for the farmers’ market. The food stylist, teacher, and author had published numerous magazine and newspaper stories on her farmers’ market experiences when suddenly she had found a niche—and a platform to celebrate and support local farmers who produce sustainably and without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other additives. “I feel passionate that people need to understand what it takes to choose to be a small farmer, what it takes to get beautiful produce to market within 24 hours of harvest—and what a difference it makes to shop at a farmers’ market.”

The Los Angeles native’s own love of the farmers’ market is “about flavor and community,” she says. “I started as a shopper looking for delicious vine-ripened and tree-ripened and field-ripened ingredients. My passion for writing about farmers’ markets and farmers started with childhood food memories and childhood experiences shopping abroad in open air markets with relatives.” She fondly recalls foods from her youth and named her publishing company Blenheim Press for the Blenheim apricot tree from her childhood backyard. “We took it for granted but it has great importance to me.” Taking history for granted is not something that sits well with Saltsman, who is also passionate about the history of culinary arts and vintage cookery. For this, she also edits The Food Journal, a publication for the Culinary Historians of Southern California.

A sense of community is evident at the market today, just as Saltsman’s passion for food and cooking is revealed. At the table, she’s getting ready for her salad-making demonstration when a book-buying customer asks if she has a recommendation for a dinner for her son’s birthday. “Try Rustic Canyon,” Saltsman says, adding that the menu includes seasonal offerings from this same farmers’ market. “The chef is probably walking around right now getting food for the week.”
Quite a few books are sold—some purchase multiple copies and explain they’re starting their holiday shopping early—and quite a few more friends from the market stop by. A line forms and she needs to delay the cooking demo for a few minutes to sign books.

When she begins to make the salad, she tells her audience about the importance of using seasonal ingredients that are fresh and produced by local farmers. The time is right for heirloom tomatoes and she tosses them with pieces of bread (“it’s good to use day-old bread for this”), then the cucumbers. She’s using basil in the salad but encourages others to try different herbs they find or grow themselves. While working, she’s greeted by the chef from Wilshire restaurant and then the owner of Michael’s—both local restaurants that serve dishes made with farm-fresh ingredients they get here or directly from nearby farmers. “She knows what she’s talking about,” shouts Michael as he walks away with his full cart.

Also: Q&A with Amelia Saltsman