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Category Archives: Composting

Forks and Corks at Chez Panisse and Strawberry Pie Recipe

Forks and Corks at Chez Panisse and Strawberry Pie Recipe
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Me and my son Andrew at Chez Panisse in Berkeley

Had the best lunch today with my son Andrew in Berkeley. We ate at the #ChezPanisse Café, Alice Waters’ farm to table restaurant, open since 1980. It’s commonly referred as one of the best restaurants in the country. We visited The Local Butcher Shop which is where many of local chefs like Alice purchase their protein. Then we went to see the inspiring organic and sustainable Edible Schoolyard garden located at King Middle School a few blocks from the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant. At the end of this post you will find my strawberry pie recipe if you hang around long enough.

I was fortunate that my son had time to have a leisurely lunch with me. I decided to treat us both and give him (and me) the 5 star dining experience. Sometimes it’s nice to have one on one time to really appreciate your loved one. Andrew appreciates good healthy food more than most and today’s lunch was exceptional.

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Spring Flowers to brighten your day from my garden

I had been to Chez Panisse twice before when celebrating special occasions. The first visit was a dinner with my Mom Diane and my Step Dad Tom. They took my husband and I out for my birthday. The second time, I spoiled my friend Marie for her birthday and took her there for lunch. The attention to detail on every level is top notch. I’m speaking about the professional staff who greet you at the top of the stairs and graciously seat you. Of course, it’s best to have a reservation since it is very popular. Andrew and I were fortunate enough to get a table calling the day before. The atmosphere was delightful, people imbibing in a glass of wine (in my case) or beer (for Andrew) to go along with lunch to enhance the experience. Because you never feel pressured to eat quickly here and why not relax a little?

 

The menu is packed with seasonal fresh produce from local farms, fruit from orchards, ranches and the best fisheries that practice principles of sustainability. Chef Nathan Alderson is the Cafe’s culinary artist. Here is the menu we were presented when perfectly seated.

 

It’s actually a dream of mine to work at Chez Panisse. Still recovering from toe surgery, so I’m taking it easy these days. Easter is coming up and everyone is asking if I will host again. I’m not feeling 100% and I’m of the opinion that it’s okay to let others carry the burden of the holiday party once in a while. After all, I’ve been entertaining ever since Ken and I got married almost 30 years ago.

 

My Mother hosted Easter when the weather was good. For several years she had chickens and a bunny which the grandkids loved. And she has a picture perfect garden with a pond, big trees and a nice brick patio. But my mom hasn’t been well for about 5 or 6 years now and it’s not an option. I don’t like feeling pressured to host even though I love to cook and bake. I’m ready for the younger generation to step up and “take the reigns.’ After all, they have the young ones who like to hunt for eggs and like waiting for the Easter bunny. Luckily, my brother Rick and his wife Aly graciously offered to have Easter at their home. Hopefully, we can all be together this year.

 

So, enough of my ranting. Chez Panisse is a great Berkeley destination if you like good food. We were greeted at the top of the stairs with a beautiful flower arrangement with ranunculus, jasmine, and quince branches with gorgeous pink blossoms.

 

The lunch menu was full of seasonal vegetables like fennel, cauliflower, beets, carrots, parsnips and garden lettuces. We started with their fennel and citrus salad,  plate of rosemary olives, Spanish anchovies and parsnip-carrot soup with crème’ fraiche and chives. Delish.

 

Then I ordered the halibut with snap peas, spinach and Meyer lemon beurre blanc, and Andrew ordered the pork loin. After a bit, the waiter explained that they needed to substitute the pork with a roasted chicken breast, which was served with  roasted asparagus and shoestring potatoes. Andrew absolutely loved it. He said he could cry after taking the first bite. He said it was his second best meal of his life, the first being in Europe.

 

Later, the waiter brought us the coconut panna cotta with tangerine-passion fruit coulis and a cardamom cake with blood orange caramel and Chantilly cream on the house. Our generous waiter also gave me Mary Jo’s email who is the pastry chef at Chez Panisse. Of course I tried to look her up on Instagram immediately to follow her. And I will definitely be reaching out to her to see if she needs an assistant.

 

 

With full satisfied bellies, we walked into The Local Butcher shop and bought a pork chop so my son could finally get the pork he was looking forward to. This place had everything you could think of from chicken, sausages, deli meats, bacon, smoked ham hocks, hot dogs, pates, duck, turkey, rabbit, quail, varieties of lard, stocks and bone broth.

 

This butcher shop focuses on providing local proteins: Such as Wolfe Ranch in Vacaville, Devils Gulch in Marin County, Paine Farm in Sonoma, Farmer Joy in Petaluma, Tomales Bay Pastures in Marshall and many more. They offer sausage making classes, a poultry butcher class, a stock making class, duck confit classes and much more. I would check out their website for more information on dates and classes.

Next, Andrew and I we on to the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School which I’ve heard so much about, a few blocks from Chez Panisse. Kids learn about gardening, cooking, composting, edible education programs, and the program is committed to forging a just, sustainable food system. We saw rows of organic kale, arugula, leeks, borage and much more.

 

 

“To spend time in an Edible Schoolyard is to realize how much more is going on here than teaching kids how to garden or cook. Kids begin to learn about food in all its dimensions – as an edible medium of culture, science, ecology, and even social justice. The Edible Schoolyard is an eloquent and practical answer to some of the most pressing questions facing us as a society.”

MICHAEL POLLAN Journalist and Author

Here the children learn about fungi, bacteria, and how food scraps become rich organic compost in six weeks. Andrew and I saw cuttings of fruit trees that had been grafted and placed into pots. Last year, I took a class last year on grafting trees and learned a lot. Unfortunately, my apple tree didn’t survive, but plenty of Alice Waters’ students trees were thriving. There was even a greenhouse with new plantings that the students grew from seeds.

 

I was impressed by the curriculum of pressing cider, learning about global warming, making kale pesto, the study of bees and pollinators, and the process of orienting kids into a kitchen and what happens there.

 

We even came across a friendly neighborhood cat who looked content supervising our visit. It was even more exciting to walk by a plant share kiosk in front of someone’s house. People leave extra plants that they don’t need and share them. I could place one of these stations in front of my house since I have many plants that reseed everywhere. They call it the “give and take garden” and I’m in love with the concept. After all, I started out gardening when my friends gave me cuttings of perennials from their gardens.

 

Overall, it was a fabulous day spending time with my son and exploring Berkeley. We loved Chez Panisse, The Local Butcher Shop, and The Edible Schoolyard. I hope you and your loved ones are getting out and trying something new. It’s exciting to be inspired by what’s going on in the community.

 

Are you inspired to cook when you see fresh produce at your market? What dish are you looking forward to making this Easter? I saw an adorable cake on Instagram by TheTipsyCakery that I could try making with my four year old niece Josie.

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Isn’t this the cutest cake by thetipsycakery? Found on Instagram

Please subscribe to my blog to get the latest posts. And thank you for reading. It means a lot. Happy Easter!

Here’s my recipe for Strawberry Pie

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Simple Tips to Compost in Your Garden and Make the Best Fennel and Goat Cheese Tart for Mother’s Day

Simple Tips to Compost in Your Garden and Make the Best Fennel and Goat Cheese Tart for Mother’s Day

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Today I took a class on composting in the home garden. Luckily for me, The UC Master Gardeners of Contra Costa County http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/OurGarden/ offer weekly free classes at Our Garden on Wiget Lane and Shadelands Drive in Walnut Creek, California. This place was started in 2009 to grow food for the hungry and also to teach sustainable gardening practices to people like me. I go to learn new techniques on how to grow organically, how to compost efficiently, and to learn the secrets to growing my own vegetables and herbs.

In early April, I bought over 25 varieties of tomatoes, egg plant, tomatillos, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, and herbs like cilantro, dill and tarragon. Last season’s compost was ready to move into my raised planter box and I planted these beautiful plants into the organic soil. It’s being able to go out and pick fresh herbs that makes my dishes come out delicious, I believe.

Composting is nature’s way to turn fruit, vegetable and yard trimmings into a dark, crumbly soil amendment. I’m all for that. I’ve been composting for several years, not really knowing what I’m doing. The class taught me I should be chopping the leaves, fruit peels, greenery, etc into smaller pieces before adding to the pile. Compost is made by the breakdown of organic material primarily microorganisms like bacteria and fungi and macro organisms like worms, insects, and their relatives. The pile heats up because the bacteria decomposes the organic matter.

The compost process requires three components: organic matter, air and water. To begin composting you need brown items that include carbon like dry leaves, egg shells, straw, coffee filters, wood shavings, pine needles, shredded paper, and chopped woody prunings. You also need green items which include nitrogen such as grass clippings, well composted herbivore manures, flowers, coffee grounds, green leaves, tea leaves/bags, sod, and fruit and vegetable waste. Food scraps should be buried in the center of the pile 6-12 inches deep. Roughly 1 volume of greens to 2 volumes of browns are the starting proportions for building a compost pile.

You need a bin made out of chicken wire, welded wire fencing, or one that is purchased at a local garden supply. Geo Bin https://www.amazon.com/Compost-Bin-by-GEOBIN/dp/B0085O6NXQ came highly recommended. The optimal size bin is between 3X3 ft or 5X5X5 ft. The bin requires air holes for good circulation and someone needs to turn the pile daily/weekly to speed the compost process. Water is needed for the pile and should be kept as damp as a wrung out sponge.

I learned that compost piles are hottest in the center and can sometimes reach above 160 degrees. The ideal temperature for the best decomposer bacteria is between 122 and 131 degrees. Turning the pile brings fresh materials (food) to the bacteria and maintains the heat in the pile. Keep the pile watered and the compost should be ready in 6 to 8 weeks if the pile stays hot enough. If it’s not turned or watered enough it could take 3 to 8 months.

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Growing your own vegetables and herbs is very rewarding. Here is a pic of my raised garden in my front yard. There is nothing better than walking our to your organic garden and picking fresh herbs to add to your recipes. I’m inspired to use my composting techniques and build a healthier soil which in turn will grow healthier plants. I hope I’ve inspired you to try it in your back yard garden. You’ll be glad you did. Secrets to getting more vegies into your diet. 

Maybe you will bake this savory fennel and goat cheese tart for your friends and family this Mother’s Day. I made it recently for my garden club and they loved it. Here is the recipe:

 

Fennel, Goat Cheese and Tarragon Tart

 

Pastry Dough Recipe

1 ½ C Unbleached Flour

¾ Stick (6T) cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes

¼ t Kosher salt

4 to 5 T Ice Cold H20

 

For Tart Filling

2 large fennel bulbs @ 2 ½ lbs

1 large leek

8 green cardamom pods (or 1 t cardamom spice powder)

¼ C white wine or champagne

¼ C H20

¼ C Olive Oil

1 t Kosher salt

½ t black pepper

2 T unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 large egg yolk

½ C heavy cream

½ C whole milk

¼ C goat cheese

3 Oz (½ C) Taleggio Cheese cut into extra small cubes

1 T chopped fresh Tarragon from the garden

 

Make pastry dough for tart:

 

In a food processor, blend flour, salt and butter until blended. Or use pastry cutter or fingers just until most of  resembles coarse meal. Add cold water and blend until combined. Do not over mix or pastry will be tough.

Gather dough onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and make into a ball and flatten. Cover completely and let it rest in fridge to chill.

 

Directions for filling:

Cut off and discard fennel stalks and fronds. Cut out core and cut up fennel into ¼ in thick slices. Wash and cut leek into ¼ in slices using white parts only. Flatten cardamom pods with side of large heavy knife, then remove black seeds and discard pods. Crush seeds with side of knife and chop finely. Or sprinkle cardamom spice powder onto leeks and fennel in a 12 inch heavy skillet. Add wine, water, butter, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer, covered over moderately low heat stirring occasionally until tender about 20 to 25 min. Cool.

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and make sure rack is in center of oven.

 

Roll out dough into a 15 in round tart pan. I use plastic wrap to  prevent dough from sticking to rolling pin. Trim dough so that it is flush with rim of pan. Lightly prick dough with a fork, then chill for 30 min. Line shell with foil (I spray with Pam first)and fill with dry kidney beans, rice or pie weights.Bake on a large baking sheet for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and bake 10 -15 min longer or until tart shell is golden brown. Remove from oven.

 

Whisk together eggs, yolk, until foamy and add milk, cream, goat cheese, chopped tarragon, salt and pepper. Transfer fennel and leek mixture into pastry shell spreading evenly, and dot with taleggio cheese. Pour custard into shell and bake until set about 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving. Serves 6-8 people

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about composting and making delicious tarts. Please follow my blog and feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.

Touring and Eating My Way Through Iceland

 

 

 

 

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