Colorful Tuna Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes and Cornichons

I’m busy procrastinating on what (I hope) will be the penultimate (or close to it) rewrite on my young adult novel so I need brain food, but have no time to cook. Opening a can of IMG_2529tuna is a cheat but lunch must be prepared and an old yellow tomato is going fast and needs a friend.

I love the way tuna and fresh tomatoes taste together. My Mom used to stuff tomatoes with tuna salad when we were kids. Now that tomato season is winding down, I’m always looking for ways to use up aging heirlooms that have ended up in the fridge before they burst. (I know! Tomatoes and the fridge don’t usually mix but heirlooms get messy.) When I’m tired of boiling elderly tomatoes into soups, delicious though that is, they can add moisture and richness to salads.

For color and flavor, I also added red cabbage, green onion, celery, romaine hearts, and chopped cornichons. I really wish I were a better photographer because this salad was so pretty! (And I have tried taking my photos outside. Sigh!)

1_DSCN0050The bread I chose to go along with it from Grindstone Bakery may be gluten-free. I’m not even going to touch on the GF thing here. Living where I do, if I grab a bread that appeals to me because it’s handmade, dark, and full of seeds, chances are it might also lack gluten. This is ground zero for hand hewn breads and a fair number of them have gone GF on me. I will say this one thing on the matter: If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where you can buy handmade bread that is allowed to rise by itself, science has shown that is better for you to avoid the additives that make commercial breads rise quickly. Also, real sourdough from bacteria is good for the gut. If you know how to make your own bread, I’m jealous! I had to buy mine from these people, who have this dubious logo on which I have absolutely no comment.logo-hp The bread, however, is delicious, if you like nubbly bread.

Colorful Tuna Salad


A can of tuna
1 tablespoon mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise
1 teaspoon plain yogurt (I use Green Valley Organics lactose-free)
2 green onions, chopped (I discard the limp green part at the end but you don’t have to)
The juice of one juicy lime or two tiny ones
A pinch of tumeric (it’s anti-inflammatory!)
1 teaspoon dried dill weed or fresh
1 or 2 teaspoons soy sauce (depending how salty you like it)
One large tomato, chopped (discard the seeds if you want — I never do)
1/8 cup chopped celery
1/8 cup chopped red cabbage
3 or 4 chopped cornichons or substitute a tablespoon of relish
1/2 cup chopped and washed hearts of romaine or other crunchy lettuce like iceberg
Drain tuna. Give your dog the empty can to lick (if you have opened it cleanly). Mix all ingredients well. Serve with a plank or two of hardcore brown bread.


Dog photobombed me while I was struggling to take this picture. OK, he was stalking my lunch.


Posted in Lactose-free, Salad | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Instant Gratification from France


Ready-to-Bake Brownies

I don’t like the taste of cake mix. There’s something metallic about it that spoils the flavor for me. Plus, how much time does it actually save to use a mix, given that you have to add liquid, egg, and oil anyway? Not much and not worth it, because you get that nasty aftertaste in the end.

So when I heard we were going to do some work promoting pouches of completely ready to bake cakes (and brownies) from France, I was cynical. It’s true that I’ve rarely eaten anything French I didn’t like, but this product sounded too good to be true. Not a mix — rather a liquid batter that was all ready to bake, with nothing to add. And yet, authentic French recipes and taste?

It supposedly baked in under 10 minutes too and the pouches remained fresh for up to a year in your cupboard. Also stretching my credulity: the chocolate cakes and brownies didn’t contain any dairy at all.

lisa25cut-1Of course for some reason it immediately made me think of my Easy-Bake-Oven (or should I say my sister’s Easy-Bake-Oven, they gave it to her but I immediately took it over). I loved the horrible taste of those light-bulb baked tiny cakes.

But what a relief when the Ready-to-Bake cakes tasted nothing like that.

PrePat'33 Ready to Bake_CHOCOLATE LAVA CAKEThe chocolate and caramel lava cakes were amazing. Truly yummy. The brownies were just OK but I haven’t tried the gluten-free version of the brownies which are apparently fabulous. My favorite cake was actually when I swirled the chocolate and caramel lava cake together to make a chocolate-caramel lava cake.

The packages say to use the batter within 24 hours after opening but I liked the way the chocolate cake tasted after the batter sat in the fridge for a while. The cocoa got more intense tasting but the moist, tender texture of the crumb wasn’t compromised at all, in spite of the fact that the liquid batter got less fluid over time (just like fresh batter does).

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Salted Caramel Lava Cake Combo with Chocolate Lava Cake

I thought it might be my imagination that the cake in a pouch was so good — I mean, it bakes in under 10 minutes! — so I threw a dinner party and invited foodie snobby friends from Berkeley.

They loved the cake too! And they aren’t the types to hold back.

After being on my feet all day preparing an elaborate dinner, it was a great feeling to snip, pour, and create a dessert in under 10 minutes that everyone went nuts for. Why can’t someone come up with marinated steak, gratin dauphinois, and salad you can squeeze out of a pouch all ready to go?

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Salted Caramel Lava Cake

The salted caramel lava cake contains cream and butter (from France, people, have I mentioned that?) but it is their heritage and you have to forgive them because it is their signature dessert. The fleur-de-sel in the recipe is even sel de guérande, the finest salt Europe has to offer.

Fun Halloween idea for kids: throw a cupcake making party with chocolate and caramel Ready-to-Bake batter, cans of frosting, orange and black sprinkles and candy corn. Because the cupcake batter is all ready to go, you can spend the entire party perfecting your decorating.

Ready-to-Bake batters are available in the south, select states in the Midwest, and Fairway Supermarkets in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, but anyone can order them on Hurry up and order them before they raise the price again on there. Remember, the pouches keep for a whole year and you can have French cake in 8 minutes. Whenever you want.

Ready-to-Bake Batters currently available in the US

Ready-to-Bake Batters currently available in the US

Posted in Baking, Cake, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dairy-free, French food, Lactose-free | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Do You Want This Man’s Successful Restaurant and Bar?


Mumblemore the Magician aka Chef Nicholas

You can see it in his eyes. This man is an eccentric. He is also a really good chef, a devoted family man, and the only full-time professor in the Culinary Arts program at Mendocino College.

Instead of continuing to run his award-winning restaurant in the old lumber company headquarters in Fort Bragg, CA, this chef has decided to give it all away in order to spend more time with his son and his students.

You heard me — Chef Nicholas Petti is giving away lauded Mendo Bistro and BarBelow, which is, d’uh, the bar on the floor below the bistro.

For $100 and a statement of 250 words or less, you can be the proud owner of both his popular restaurant and a fully-licensed bar. You don’t even haove to type the 250 words (or less) if you have nice, clear handwriting.

Mendo Bistro, which serves what I would call locally-sourced high-end comfort food, (minus the pretension) seats 88 people. Some of the signature dishes include award-winning crab cakes, succulent steaks served with your choice of sauces, and a fried banana split. The likes of the New York Times, Sunset Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle have all recognized your future eatery as one of the best on the coast.

I’ve never been to BarBelow but it’s in Fort Bragg so I’m guessing it’s hopping. There’s not a ton to do in that part of the world when you’ve finished diving for abalone, foraging for mushrooms, brewing your own beer (or brandy), or simply enjoying the views of migrating whales.

Did I mention that the harbor that supplies the restaurant’s fresh seafcharterbtsood played Cabot Cove Harbor on the beloved TV show Murder She Wrote?

What’s the catch?
Other than the crab and salmon coming from that harbor? You have to be 21 to enter (because you are winning a bar), you do have to pay that $100 entry fee, and I can’t enter because I’m affiliated with some of the team who are getting the word out about this crazy giveaway and neither can you if you already work for Ingest, Inc., the company that holds the shares in Mendo Bistro and BarBelow. Click here for the official rules and form to enter.

The other catch is, you might get fat if you win the restaurant. I know I would. If the Bourbon butterscotch pudding and smashed potatoes being served at Mendo Bistro didn’t get me, the Mendocino Cookie Company (in the same beautiful historic building filled with rare hardwoods), which serves over a dozen fresh baked varieties of cookies daily (not included in the prize) would be my downfall.

Why is this man (along with his wife) giving away a restaurant and bar to anyone who can express his or her love for purveying housemade pastas et. al. to the masses in under 250 words? fort-bragg-beach-485x332

They say it’s because the community on the Mendocino, California coast embraced them when they started cooking affordable haute cuisine sixteen years ago and they’d like to give something back. Chef Nicholas talks about having more time to hang out with his 9-year-old and work with his students at the college.

But that doesn’t really answer why someone is giving away a bustling restaurant and a popular bar in what amounts to a raffle. Unless it’s the simplest answer of all:  the same reason the chicken crossed the road. Because he can.

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Dairy-Free Junk Food Files: Golden Rolls

81Qv8SiuWTL._SL1500_-1These crisp and airy yet densely buttery-tasting confections feign dairy effectively, yet contain none.

Equally at home in a fruit salad or an ice cream sundae, their only downside is that they are maddeningly hard to find in the United States. I think I picked up my most recent box at a local German deli that has a great selection of British and German groceries but I can’t swear to it!

The seal on the front of the box intimates a Royal warrant but actually says that they have been making these beauties in Carlisle since 1841. According to the internet, they usIMG_2066ed to have a warrant but lost it in 2012. They lost it for their water crackers — which are also excellent.

I think it’s very unfair for the water crackers to have tanked these wonderful little cookies. If you can find them, let me know how you did it — and buy a bunch.

They are also great with blueberries and lactose-free yoghurt.



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Biscuits d’Affinois

Fromager d'affinoisLe Dauphin (or dolphin) means lots of things in France — the son of the king (when there was one), a beautiful region which includes the Alpes, and several delicious cheeses, including Fromager d’affinois which is a corruption of “dauphinois.” (I blatted on about this when I was making Gratin Dauphinois all the time and trying to do it without real cheese.)

A word about real vs. fake cheese
My blog tries to be lactose-free (to mirror my life!) but in seeking out cheese substitutes while still needing to eat a certain amount of protein each day, I have discovered that most fake cheeses, in addition to tasting terrible, also don’t contain much nutrition. Yes, very aged cheeses don’t contain much (or any) lactose but I’m still not really able to eat them. This a topic for another day, but I wanted to explain why I sometimes use real French cheese in my recipes (see Macaroni and Mimolette). It’s not just because the French pay me to eat their cheese! Although, that is a combo that’s hard to resist…Panorama_grenoble

Speaking of good friends, my lovely friend Sabine is from the Dauphin. She’s a big reason I’m so fond of the cuisine of that region. She took me in when I was having an existential twenty-something crisis and she was living in Grenoble, the biggest city in the Rhône-Alpes (see above). She let me sleep on their beautiful couch in her gorgeous apartment in one of those old buildings with wrought iron railings and an elevator that is basically a glorified cage. She kept me sane. I owe her!

One of the outstanding cheeses of Sabine’s home region is Fromager D’Affinois. It has the tang of brie but with more richness — stopping just short of Saint André (which might as well be considered butter). It stands up to baking and infuses these biscuits with the flavor of France.

Biscuits d’Affinois
modified from Real Simple Brie Biscuits


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
A pinch or two of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces or a stick of Earth Balance
6 ounces Fromager d’Affinois, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces (including the rind)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onions
3/4 cup half and half (I used lactose-free kind from Organic Valley)

FDA Plain Wedge w-backgroundDirections:

Heat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

Add the butter or Earth Balance and, using a pastry blender or a knife, cut it into smaller and smaller pieces until crumbly. Add the Fromager d’Affinois and green onions and toss to combine. Add the half and half and stir just until moistened. Don’t overwork or your biscuits will be tough.

At this point you can either roll out the dough and cut round biscuits or do what I did and drop them on the parchment-covered baking sheet for a free form scone-like appearance. I find this kind of dough incredibly sticky to work with but you may not. Remember to use ample flour and keep your kitchen cool if you go the rolling out route.

No matter which way you go, bake until golden– about 15 to 18 minutes. Yields a couple of dozen biscuits depending on size.

Biscuits daffinois: Printer-ready recipe

Biscuits au fromager d'affinois

Posted in Baking, Biscuits | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Making a Hash of It

hashI honestly can’t figure out how the expression “making a hash” of something, which has a negative connotation and means to mess things up, is related to that delicious solution to leftover meat (or almost any protein) — the culinary hash.

I had a sandwich at Assemble, one of three restaurants that is walking distance from my house, and the Tri-Tip in it was too rare for me. Or maybe I don’t like the taste of whatever is being fed to the trendy cows these days, because lately beef tastes odd to me. At any rate, I saved the beef — and the giant slices of red radish that they used instead of a pickle or whatever in the sandwich — and sliced them both up with some tiny potatoes that I had parboiled beforehand. I fried the whole thing up and presto — lovely hash.

I associate hash with my Dad, whose cooking philosophy was basically, “Fry it up with some potatoes.” No matter what it was. Or maybe I associate hash with him because of red flannel hash, the hash that includes a bit of cooked beet with the potatoes, beef (and typically onions — I’m just too lazy to chop onions in the morning), turning the whole thing red. He was a big wearer of flannel shirts, even in summer time.

I think hash, like my parents, is a New England thing (via Britain) and there’s no more comforting meal.

Assembling Hash(For the record, Assemble has astonishing desserts — memorably good — and amazing pot pies on the menu. Their fries are pretty epic too.)

Standard Hash Recipe


Leftover beef, corned beef, salmon, chicken or whatever you’ve got (already cooked — the exception to this would be tofu which can cook along with the potatoes)
Potatoes, preferably Yukon gold or a small, tasty variety.
Oil or butter for frying
Onions — finely chopped (about half as much by volume as you have potato)

Parboil your potatoes which means boil them until you can pierce them easily with a fork but drain them and cool them down before they start to fall apart or the skin gets loose.  Cool and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

hash close upHeat oil — or butter if you are being traditional — in a good, no-stick skillet and brown your onions, keeping the heat low so that they are allowed to caramelize. Just before all of the onions are soft and clear, add the meat and potatoes. Cook on a medium heat, avoiding stirring, to allow the potatoes to get crispy on both sides.

You can crack an egg on top at the end and let it cook on one side (also traditional) or garnish with plain yoghurt and avocado as I have.



Posted in Breakfast, Cooking with leftovers, Family recipes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sanctuary Bistro Opens Friday!

Sanctuary ceilingI have written before about my friends Barry the Vegan Chef and Jennifer the Teacher and Amazing Organizer. In my post, Some of My Best Friends are Vegans, I mentioned their Kickstarter campaign to open a restaurant as an offshoot of their gluten-free and vegan catering business.

Tonight, I attended the soft opening of that restaurant — dubbed Sanctuary Bistro — and it is everything I had hoped and more. Even though they have vowed to keep a low environmental profile by recycling much of what was already in the space (formerly a beloved Berkeley sushi spot), the touches they have added make the new place elegant yet friendly. There was already a fun, community vibe going (with many well-behaved small children in attendance) and lots of local wines and beers being poured.

They brew and tap their own kombucha!IMG_0964

Of course the food is amazing — especially Barry’s killer desserts. I had the soup of the day, a mushroom chowder, followed by the fried soca cakes and then the pan-seared tofu with garlic roast potatoes.


sanctuary soupsanctuary soca










10487396_253255868196935_3879308611549967384_nHurry up and make a reservation today, unless you want these adorable children on the left to starve (plus Jenn and Barry’s three rescue dogs and two rescue cats).

Doesn’t look as if they are on Open Table yet, but you can find all of their contact information here:

Their official opening is this Friday, August 1st but I will consider the place really open when the ice cream freezer arrives and they start serving Bananas Foster.

Posted in Gluten-free, Reviews, Vegan | Tagged , | 2 Comments