Balsamic Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

This evening, I’m meeting with a group of amazing women who work in various realms of the sustainable food movement. We meet for monthly potlucks, and needless to say, there is a serious intimidation factor as this a gathering of highly accomplished cooks.

I decided to bring one of my favorite springtime desserts to share – strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I’m generally a sucker for anything strawberry-rhubarb, and last year started experimenting with the addition of balsamic vinegar to this dynamic flavor duo. I was inspired by Bi-Rite Creamery’s fabulous balsamic strawberry ice cream; added balsamic to my strawberry-rhubarb jam (let me know in the comments if you’d like the recipe) and now, its made its way into the crisp. Try it at home – I bet you won’t be able to stop eating it once you start! And of course this is an easy kid favorite – a low sugar dessert with tons of flavor.


Crisp Topping (use on a variety of fruit crisps)

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison

Put 6 tbsp of cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks, into a bowl. Add 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2/3 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1/4 cup chopped nuts (or 1/2 cup oats only), 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 grated nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon if you like (I opted out for this crisp.) Using your fingers or the paddle attachment on a stand-up mixer, work the butter with the rest of the ingredients so that each piece is coated and a coarse mixture forms (you shouldn’t see chunks of butter, about 2-3 minutes).

This makes enough for one 8×10 or so crisp. I usually double the recipe and freeze the extras – crisp topping is great to have on hand.

Balsamic Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Makes one 10×13 inch crisp

Preheat oven to 375°

Wash, dry and hull 4-6 pints of strawberries. Chop berries into quarters and add to shallow baking dish. Chop 8-10 rhubarb stalks into 1/2 inch pieces and add to berries. Combine with 3-4 tbsp of cornstarch (to thicken the juices) and 1/3 – 1/2 cup of sugar (depends on sweetness of strawberries. I like to use turbinado/raw sugar). Add in 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Be sure all ingredients are well mixed and distributed throughout the baking dish. Top with crisp topping and bake for about 50 minutes.

I am waiting until the party to taste how it came out but it is extremely tempting to sneak a bite now!

Make-Your-Own Chicken Tacos

One of our favorite go-to weeknight dinners is chicken tacos. This is easily a 60 minute or less meal, including time to marinate the chicken breasts. I like to keep 4-6 chicken breasts frozen and on hand at all times. You can either leave them out in the morning to gently defrost throughout the day or soak them in hot water just before use. Fresh is great too, of course, but running to the store last-minute is not often an alternative for me. The rest of the core ingredients tend to be in the pantry in our house almost all the time – limes, onions, corn tortillas, avocados and a few basic spices. During the summer months when bell peppers are in season, these can easily be turned into fajitas too.


Serves 4 + a bit of leftovers

30 minutes prep time (including marinade), 45 minutes total cooking time

Whisk the juice of 1-2 limes, ¼ cup of olive oil, 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon paprika, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and a pinch of cayenne (or more, to taste) until combined. Butterfly (cut horizontally across breast to make one thick breast into two thinner pieces) two chicken breasts (about 1 pound of meat), place in a non-reactive pan (glass Pyrex works great here) and drizzle with marinade. Sprinkle chicken with freshly-ground pepper and dried oregano on both sides. Move chicken around in the marinade to ensure both sides are properly covered and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. If you have less time, that is OK too.

Grill chicken on the stove top in a grill pan or cast iron pan, or outdoors if possible. These thinner pieces should cook in about 5-7 minutes per side. Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for 2-3 minutes once it is cooked to seal in the juices, then slice thinly.

Warm tortillas in the oven or on the stove top.

Mash 1-2 avocados with a bit of lime juice and a pinch of salt and pepper for a quick guacamole.

If desired, sautéed one onion, chopped lengthwise, with about a teaspoon of cumin seeds in good olive oil. Do the same with bell peppers if in season (I prefer to cook the onions and peppers separately since one takes longer that the others). Quick hint: toast cumin seeds in olive oil first before adding the vegetables. This simple saute is a create opportunity to recruit kiddo assistance!

I like to serve all of the components separately and have the kids (and adults) make their own tacos to taste.

Adult version, with hot sauce

Ava's "kid's" version, with extra onions

Tis the Season: Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo ball soup is ALWAYS, without question, a huge hit in our family. Ava happened to eat three bowls worth as a first course at our Seder this week – a certain record for one whose eating habits typically resemble a small bird. Why I don’t make this more often, why save such a simple and delicious meal for Passover? I have no answer but I committing myself to make more of an effort to integrate it into the soup rotation over the next few months. After all, during a cold San Francisco summer, who wouldn’t appreciate chicken soup?

I’ll be the first to admit that there are endless variations to the basic matzo ball technique – and now that the store mixes have eliminated MSG from the ingredient list, they seem like a good option. But I happen to be partial to the version published about 5 years ago. Leave it to Martha Stewart to solve the fluffy matzo ball dilemma! Her secret? You may be able to spot it in these photos: separating egg whites and yolks, then whipping egg white and folding them gently into the mix.

I also used this as an opportunity to make a huge pot of chicken stock to freeze in batches – this time, working with raw wings, thighs and legs rather than starting with a roasted carcass. This creates a lighter broth which compliments the heft of the matzoh balls, but any stock will work, even vegetable.


Adapted from Martha Stewart Living circa mid-2000’s

Serves 10

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup chicken fat, melted (or substitute vegetable oil)
  • 12 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons coarse salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • coarsely chopped fresh dill for garnish (I added chives as well)

Whisk yolks, fat, 1/2 cup stock and salt in a medium bowl. Season with pepper. Stir in matzo meal and parsley.

Transformation of a humble ingredient

Beat egg whites in a mixer on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Add matzo mixture, whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.

Bring remaining stock to a boil in a large pot. Form 1 1/2 inch balls with wet hands and add to stock. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer matzo balls until they are slightly firm and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Garnish soup with dill.

Pizza at Home

I used to think I hated pizza. The thin limp/lifeless/Domino’s versions I typically encountered in my teen and childhood years really were awful. Then I was introduced to deep dish via Zachary’s in Berkeley and everything shifted. Fast forward fifteen years and a full explosion of fabulous Neopolitan-style, crispy thin crust creations all over San Francisco. Guess what? I love pizza! So as typical when I love a food, I eventually embark on the process of learning how to recreate it home. I tried various recipes; I took a class; I lowered my expectations. And voila – I learned that pizza at home is actually a simple 30-minute meal, provided you make the dough in advance.

Before we proceed to instructions, I wanted to share a few things I’ve come to terms with in order to make the most successful and enjoyable pizza at home:

1) A home oven – even the “prosumer”  variety – can never match the high temperatures of wood-burning ovens so unless you have a real pizza oven at your disposal, crust expectations have to be adjusted. But the pizza will still be delicious.

2) Flour matters.  To some extent. I’ve played with a variety of flours at this point – the superfine “00” flour favored by pizzerias, soft whole wheat, bread flour, etc. The combo below is what I’ve finally settled on but I’m not averse to using what’s on hand in a pinch, and encourage you to experiment as well.

3) Because the pizza will bake at a lower temperature in  your home oven, it is far easier to use fresh mozzarella that is not packed in water or if using fresh that is packed in water, you need to drain it thoroughly to avoid a liquidity pool in the middle of an otherwise lovely pizza. Any dry cheese – Gruyere, soft goat,  provolone, etc, will work great.

4) When in doubt or low on time, store-bought dough  is a good option (Trader Joe’s dough comes to mind). That said, I usually struggle to roll the store-made dough – no matter how much I warm it up or how much flour I add, the damn thing bounces back upon stretching. Which is why I ended up learning to make my own dough in the first place – it’s a breeze to roll out.

Pizza Dough

Inspired by The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook

Active time: 10-15 minutes

Total time: 2 hours

Yields dough for 2 8-10″ pizzas and freezes beautifully if you don’t use both

1. PROOF 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast in 1 cup of very warm water: 100-110° water to yeast along with a teaspoon of sugar. Stir gently several times and allow yeast to develop for five minutes. If you see foaming or bubbling at the top, your yeast is alive and ready to use. If you see no activity after 10 minutes, this yeast is no longer viable.

2. ADD 3 cups of flour to a mixing bowl: my favorite combo is 1 c. all-purpose, 1 c. whole wheat flour + 1 c. cake or pastry flour. Use a soft wheat flour here, it will work best. Add 2 tsp. of kosher salt (about 1 tsp. with other salts). Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in yeast mixture.

3. Gradually MIX flour and liquid together, stirring with a wooden spoon at first, then with your hands.

4. When the mixture is ragged and pulls cleanly away from the bowl, turn in out on a lightly floured board to knead OR leave in bowl if using a  stand mixer.

5. KNEAD dough for about 6-8 minutes by hand or 2-3 minutes using a dough hook in a stand mixer on a low setting. The dough is ready when it is light and elastic, like a baby’s bottom, apparently.

6. Coat another mixing bowl with a light layer of olive oil. Set dough in the oiled bowl. Turn it to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a 60-70° room to RISE for 1.5-2 hours.

7. Once the dough has doubled in volume, turn it back onto the floured board, punch it down and knead briefly just to knock out air holes.


Active time: 5-10 minutes

Cooking time: 5-8 minutes

1. If using a pizza stone, set it in a cold oven and PREHEAT oven to 550° for at least 30 minutes. If you have a convection setting, turn that on too. Anything that brings up the heat in the oven will result in a tastier pizza. Otherwise, just preheat oven to 550°.

2. DIVIDE the dough you just made into two even balls using a knife or pastry cutter.

3. Pat ball of dough into a thick circle then ROLL using a rolling-pin to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.

4. Generously SPRINKLE the pizza peel with coarse flour or cornmeal to ensure that pizza slides easily onto the pizza stone. Transfer dough onto the peel or if not using a peel, onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.

5. Finally, the fun part! TOP with various toppings and slide into the oven.I like to also “paint” the pizza edge with olive oil and sprinkle gently with salt.

6. BAKE for 5-7 minutes, until the crust is blistered brown and the toppings bubbling.

7. DRIZZLE the top with olive oil once it comes out of the oven and serve.

I tend to make one simple “cheese” pizza Margherita and a more complex one with greens if I’m making two. It used to be that the kids would squarely stick with the Margherita. But last time, both tried and approved of the “adult” option much to my delight. My favorite pizza combos include:

  • mozzarella, basil, oregano
  • mixture of grated cheeses (Asiago, provolone, mozzarella, etc).with mushrooms and a good salami
  • any pizza topped with slices of capocollo cured meat
  • greens sautéed with garlic and topped with either fresh goat cheese or shredded Gruyere. Not only is this a great way to use up leftover veggies, it is simply delicious.
  • Any of the above with capers, olives or artichoke hearts

What are your pizza favorites?

A Most Welcome Obsession: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe updated September 4, 2011

I fell in love with this chocolate chip cookies recipe from the Orangette blog the first time I made it and the second time, I’m fairly sure a lifelong commitment has been made. The whole wheat flour part totally compelled me. We’ve been adding more and more whole wheat flour to our baking repertoire, but I’ve never tried it to make cookies without at least some all-purpose flour mixed in. A friend asked this morning when I offered up the goodies, “Is there lots of butter in them?” and the answer is a resounding YES. LOTS of butter – which results in soft, chewy chocolaty melt-in-your-mouth cookies that I’ve never managed to create at home before.

Baking these with Talia made for a fun afternoon on a stay-at-home-sick day.


Makes about 24 2-inch diameter cookies

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
  • 5 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans if desired

Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats, or  butter if no lining is available. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix together. Cream butter and sugars in a mixer until well combined – about 2 minutes. Add egg, beating well on low-medium speed. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture, 1/3 at a time, until just incorporated – be sure not to overmix. Add in chocolate and nuts and briefly mix on low speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and give the batter a final hand-mixing to make sure the add-ins are well distributed.

Scoop 1 tbsp. sized mounds onto two cookie sheets. Refrigerating or freezing part of the dough is also a good option – I’m curious to see how they’ll taste after the dough matures for a day or two.  Be sure to give the dough scoops a lot of space – they spread quite a bit as they melt. Bake for 15-17 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Cool for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack. Be sure to try one warm! And by the way, the raw dough is darn good too.

Stone Soup

The classic folk tale “Stone Soup” was a favorite of my daughter’s when she was a preschooler. We read that book endlessly, yet neither of us grew tired of the story, with its wise messages of cooperation and community through the lens of sharing food.

So imagine how excited Ava was when her after-school “Cooking in the Garden” teachers decided to make “stone soup” one cool Monday afternoon in October! At pick up time, she couldn’t stop raving about how delicious the soup was, how healthy, how she loved it DESPITE the (judicious) addition of canned tomatoes (not a favorite), and how thrilling it was to share some with me. “Stone soup” was the topic of conversation all evening long and could not be laid to rest until I promised to make some at home. So we did. As luck would have it, the soup fit all of our respective criteria for a successful dinner: the girls loved how “good” it tasted and emphasized that making it was “fun!” The soup became a veritable rainbow of vegetables – that holy grail of healthy kid cooking. Add a side of bread and cheese, and you’ve got yourself an easy weekday meal.

“Stone Soup”  (Adapted from “Cooking in the Garden” after-school class, Grattan Elementary School)


Dice carrots, celery and onion and saute this mirepoix with olive oil in a soup pot until soft, about 10 minutes.

Rough chop a variety of vegetables* and add to the base.

Add a bit more olive oil for flavor, a bay leaf if you desire, about 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt, a dash of pepper and enough water or broth to cover all of the vegetables plus an inch. Bring to a boil then reduce to a rolling simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add ½ cup of chopped, canned tomatoes (or more/less to taste) and any quick-cooking vegetables like spinach and mushrooms toward the end of cooking. Enjoy!







* This is the perfect soup to empty out the miscellaneous vegetables floating around in your crisper drawer or pantry. All you need is 1-2 of each, with the emphasis on variety and color. Suggested options include but are definitely not limited too: purple/red/white new potatoes; sweet potatoes; rutabagas; parsnips; kale; yellow/red/orange beets; corn; spinach;

(I originally posted this on my friend Simran’s excellent blog, A Little Yumminess)