Polenta Lasagna

This is a wonderful comfort dish for a gray day. I first had something similar at the Jazz School Café in Berkeley, and later went home and experimented. If you make this when golden-red heirloom tomatoes are available, they make a lovely contrast with the polenta. If you use vegetable stock for the polenta, it’s a vegetarian treat. Otherwise use light chicken stock—stay away from beef or dark chicken stock to preserve the yellow color of the polenta. I go very light on the cheese and it’s yummy, but if you are insouciant about dairy and calories, more makes it even creamier. Of course you can add or substitute in the sauce with just about anything: fennel, yellow peppers, bok choy, carrots, corn, squash, whatever fall vegetables please you.

1 Cup coarse, yellow polenta
6 Cups stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ C mushrooms, sliced (Chanterelles are best, but any kind or assorted work, too)
1 large onion, sliced (or mix of onion, shallot or leek)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 large very ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped (about 2 pounds)
Handful of greens, rinsed and chopped (baby spinach, baby kale or chard)
Olive oil
Tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Dash of hot pepper (cayenne or dried chili flakes, I use crushed chipotle)
1/3 C or so grated Gruyere cheese
¼ C or less shaved Grana Padano or Parmesan
Salt, pepper

Heat stock to just under a boil. Stir in polenta. Cook, stirring, about 20 minutes or till about the consistency of cream of wheat. Add salt and pepper to taste. (For those of you who like a bit more spice, add some pepper flakes to the polenta now—simple red chili flakes look terrific in the polenta and add a kick to this dish). Cook a bit longer till about the consistency of oatmeal. While polenta is cooking, sauté the onions and mushrooms in the oil. After they brown lightly, add the garlic, thyme and a dash of red pepper to taste. Sauté briefly and add tomatoes. Cook down till most of the water from the tomatoes evaporates and the mix is about the consistency of gravy. Add greens and set aside off the heat while polenta finishes cooking.

Spread one third of the polenta in a casserole dish. Add half of onions, mushrooms and tomatoes and cover with half of the gruyere. Add another layer of polenta, another of mushrooms and gruyere and a final layer of polenta. Sprinkle top with shaved cheese. Bake 450 for 20 minutes or till golden brown.

South Indian Vegetable Curry

When my friend Tung came back from a wedding in India, she was raving so much about the perfectly delicious vegetarian food, that I began looking for recipes. This simple curry is a winner. And if you can’t find curry leaves, it’s still delicious:


  • 4-5cups mixed vegetables, cut into chunky slivers about 1 1/2 inches long (I used half a cauliflower, 1 zuccini, two carrots, and a cup of green beans)
  • 1/2tsp turmeric or one piece of fresh turmeric, grated
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 15 oz can coconut milk (not the light kind)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp yellow split peas
  • 1large dried chipotle or other med hot chile
  • 1-2tbsp coconut oil (more oil means more flavor)
  • 2sprigs (about 25-30) curry leaves
  • 1tsp black or brown mustard seeds
  • 1-inchknob ginger (cut into thin slivers)
  • clove grated garlic
  • 1/2cup greek yogurt
  • Salt to taste
  • lime
  • chopped cashews and grated fresh coconut, if you have some, for garnish


  1. Place all the carrots and cauliflower into a large pot with 1 cup of water and turmeric and salt. cook 10. min or so and add other veges. cook another 5 min.
  2. Place the coconut milk in the blender with the ground cumin, pepper, garam masala and split peas. Blend into a paste. Set aside.
  3. When the veggies are cooked — it should take no more than 15-20 minutes — add the coconut paste to the veggies and stir well to mix. Let the curry come to a gentle boil over medium-low heat.
  4. Turn off the heat and add the yogurt & lime juice. Stir to mix but be careful not to mash up the veggies because they’ll be very tender at this stage.
  5. Heat the oil. Add mustard seeds and when they sputter, add the curry leaves, garlic and the ginger. Saute for a minute or two until the fragrance permeates the house.
  6. Pour the tempering over the avial and stir to mix.  Garnish, if you wish, with cashews and some fresh coconut.
  7. Serve hot with rice.


Potato Casserole

This is a dish that I have made hundreds of times. The whole family loves it. Part of its charm is that you essentially make it in the food processor really quickly. It ages well, heats up to have with eggs at breakfast of by itself for lunch. The onions in this dish caramelize and sweeten the taste. When my son was young and wouldn’t eat onions, my daughter told him these weren’t onions, they were “chiapas.” He happily ate many portions.

1 large, deep casserole dish
4 or 5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed, skins on
2 good sized onions
5 or six cloves garlic
bunch spinach, washed, chopped
3/4 lb cheddar or other favorite cheese
half a stick of butter in small pieces
1/b bulk sausage in small pieces
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Wilt the spinach by putting it in a pot with a small amount of water and cooking till it softens. Peel the onions and garlic (a tip from James Beard—cut the little bottom part of the clove off and give it a whack with a strong knife—the peel falls right off). Use a garlic press or drop the garlic into a food processor and let it whirl around till minced. Remove the chopping bade and add the slicing blade (no need to wash the processor between steps). Slice the onions. Dump the onions and garlic into a bowl. Slice the potatoes Dump the potatoes into another bowl. Replace the slicing blade with the grating blade and grate the cheese. Layer ingredients into the casserole in three layers: potatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper, onion/garlic mix, spinach, dots of butter, thick layer of cheese, dot with sausage if you’re using. Finish with cheese. Cover with tinfoil and bake for an hour and 15 minutes. Remove tinfoil and turn oven to 425. Cook till beautifully brown on top, about 15 minutes.

Potstickers (or Gyoza)

I’m sure there’s a difference between the two, but I’m not sure what it is.  Whichever you want to call them, here’s a recipe.  It takes some time, but they are delicious.

INGREDIENTS (You can find these at an Asian market)

For the Dumplings:

  • 6 oz finely minced Napa cabbage (about 1/2 a medium head)
  • 4 oz finely minced shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 oz finely minced Kimchee
  • 1 finely minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 pound ground pork shoulder
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) minced fresh garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • little grated lime peel
  • 2 ounces minced scallions (about 3 whole scallions)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 package dumpling wrappers (40 to 50 wrappers)
  • Vegetable or canola oil for cooking


For the Dumplings: Combine cabbage, mushrooms and 2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer and set it over the bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Transfer cabbage and mushrooms to the center of a clean dish towel and gather up the edges. Twist the towel to squeeze the cabbage, wringing out as much excess moisture as possible. Discard the liquid.

Combine pork, drained cabbage and mushrooms, remaining teaspoon salt, white pepper, garlic, ginger, scallions, and sugar in a large bowl and knead and turn with clean hands until the mixture is homogenous and starting to feel tacky/sticky. Transfer a teaspoon-sized amount to a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power until cooked through, about 10 seconds. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, white pepper, and/or sugar if desired.

Set up a work station with a small bowl of water, a clean dish towel for wiping your fingers, a bowl with the dumpling filling, a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet for the finished dumplings, and a stack of dumpling wrappers covered in plastic wrap.

To form dumplings, hold one wrapper on top of a flat hand. Using a spoon, place a 2 teaspoon- to 1 tablespoon-sized amount of filling in the center of the wrapper. Use the tip of the finger on your other hand to very gently moisten the edge of the wrapper with water (do not use too much water). Wipe fingertip dry on kitchen towel.

Working from one side, carefully seal the filling inside the wrapper by folding it into a crescent shape, pleating in edge as it meets the other–just like they look in the picture. Transfer finished dumplings to the parchment lined baking sheet.

At this point the dumplings may be frozen by placing the baking sheet in the freezer. Freeze dumplings for at least 30 minutes then transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag for long-term storage. Dumplings can be frozen for up to 2 months and cooked directly from the freezer.

To Cook: Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add as many dumplings as will fit in a single layer and cook, swirling pan, until evenly golden brown on the bottom surface, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, add 1/2 cup of water and cover tightly with a lid. Let dumplings steam for 3 minutes (5 minutes if frozen), then remove lid. Continue cooking, swirling pan frequently and using a thin spatula to gently dislodge the dumplings if they’ve stuck to the bottom of the pan, until the water has fully evaporated and the dumplings have crisped again, about 2 minutes longer. Slide dumplings onto a plate, turning them crisped-side-up before serving with the sauce.


  • 8 tablespoons ponzu sauce
  • 4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
  • 4 teaspoons grated fresh peeled ginger
  • 4 teaspoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


In a small bowl, combine ponzu, scallions, ginger, mirin, sesame oil, and salt. Serve.


Aimee’s Coffee Cake

This coffee cake is so easy to make and pretty foolproof. It was made on many Sundays in my house growing up, and meant that one of my mother’s sisters was probably coming over. You can whip it up and be eating it in an hour. It looks sort of like this picture, except we always served it upside down from this, with the raisins and nuts making a beautiful, golden top.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a standard bundt pan.

Mix and set aside:
1/3 C sugar
1 C raisins
½ C chopped walnuts (optional)
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a mixer, cream:
¼ lb (one stick) butter (room temperature)
1 C sugar

Beat in:
2 eggs, one at a time

2 C flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Add to butter and sugar in three parts, alternating with:
1 C sour cream (I use full fat Greek yoghurt) mixed with
1 teaspoon vanilla

Spoon half the batter into the bundt pan. Add half the raisin/nut mix. Spoon in remaining batter. Sprinkle remaining raisin/nut mix on top. Nuts are optional.

Bake 35 min or until cooked thru. My mother used to test this with a broom straw. I use an actual cake tester. If it comes out clean, it’s done.

A kale salad I actually like

I reverse-engineered this delicious salad after Larry began bringing it home from Poulet, in Berkeley. It changed how I feel about kale. It takes a bit of prep, but what else is there to do?

Kale Salad

1 bunch flat (Lacinanto) kale
a wedge of red cabbage (about 1/4 as much as you have kale)
1 large or 2 smaller carrots
1 apple
a chunk of jicama or yacon
handful of roasted pine nuts, raisins
grated ginger
Peach or other sweet vinegar
Olive oil
salt, pepper. a bit of sugar

Slice the kale and cabbage into thin strips–think of bean sprouts–long and skinny. Grate or julienne the carrot, apple and jicama. Add nuts and raisins. With a microplane or other fine grater, grate in ginger to taste.

Make a dressing with good oil and a sweet vinegar, add salt, pepper, a bit of sugar to make a sweet dressing and dress the salad. The sweet dressing offsets the bitterness of the kale. Dress to taste. Sorry, this always gets eaten before I remember to take a picture. But it’s lovely and colorful as well as delicious.

The simplest dinner

About the simplest comfort food I know is pasta. For a quick, delicious dinner, you can make a sauce of melted butter, garlic, salt and herbs, and simply toss cooked spaghetti with it.

For a pound of spaghetti, about 1 stick butter, five or six medium cloves of garlic, and salt and herbs to taste. If you have some fresh parsley, oregano or basil, chop one or more up (a very generous handful). If not, just use dried herbs of your choice.

Peel and mince the garlic (or use a garlic press). Melt the butter in a sauce pan on low heat and add the garlic and herbs. Add salt to taste. Leave on very low heat while you boil the pasta in a big pot of heavily salted water.

The garlic should just turn a faint brown; then stop cooking and let the sauce sit. Drain the pasta and toss with the butter in a bowl. Sprinkle w a little grated parmesan.

A nice side dish is a Greek salad: chunks of tomatoes and cucumber and thinly sliced onions with olive oil and red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano. These days, I actually wash the vegetables first with soap and water, then with plain water.

Sunday breakfast

I cut out a recipe from the Wall Street Journal on Saturday and modified it for breakfast this morning. Essentially, you soft boil eggs and cool some eggs, fry sourdough bread lightly in olive oil, sear some asparagus in the oil and lay it on the toast. Cover with burrata or ricotta mixed with herbs, lemon zest and salt. Open the egg on top:

I had to take a picture. Then I had to eat!

New, not necessarily better

I read the Wednesday food section of the NY Times and occasionally try one of the recipes. This week, I tried a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi for moussaka. I’ve been making moussaka for years based on a recipe by Craig Clairborn from the old NY Times Cookbook. That recipe calls for slicing and salting the eggplant and setting it in a strainer to drain for 15 minutes or so, which reduces the liquid in the eggplant and takes away the bitterness.

Then you fry the eggplant slices in olive oil first before adding them to a casserole with a ground lamb tomato sauce and covering with a bechamel that includes fresh ricotta. It’s delicious, reliable, and a bit fiddly to make.

I decided to try the new recipe because it was much simpler: cube the eggplant, add the lamb, onions, tomato, etc. to a pot and roast together, then top with a mix of yoghurt, cheese and egg yolk.

But I’m always wary when they leave out one of the ingredients in the prep instructions–in this case, they left the garlic out of the big roasting mix. Also, on tasting, I had to add a little honey to offset the bitterness the salting hadn’t taken care of.

The resulting moussaka wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Craig Clairborn’s recipe, and really not that much easier. So here is a link to the old standby if you’re feeling like some moussaka.

Egon Schiele

In New York I went to see an exhibit of drawings by Picasso, Klimt, and Schiele. Schiele, who died at 28, saw Klimt as a mentor, but took his erotic drawing further, I think. These certainly seemed like the best of the show to me. I wonder what it is that makes a line on paper come to life?

Continue reading “Egon Schiele”

Desultory Saturday

A friend asked that I post more recipes, and this morning I made one of my basic breakfast variations–so delicious.

You may not be able to go out and pick greens from your garden, but any greens will do. In my case I picked baby broccolini and my only two asparagus stalks, sautéed onions and garlic, added herbs, and fried an egg on top with a little cheddar cheese. For crunch I used a little leftover brown rice. To get the egg to set before the vegetables burn, I just cover the pan for a minute or two. Continue reading “Desultory Saturday”