A Fall Treat: Spaghetti Squash with Herb Butter

Bright yellow, orange and red leaves swirl around us this time of year.  It is also close to Halloween and Trick-or-Treaters are busy getting their costumes ready.  Many memories of childhood come to mind — dressing up as a lion made out of a large paper bag with orange and brown paint to create my lioness face and mane.  Walking hand-in-hand with my brother and sister through the neighborhood hoping to collect a mountain of candy.

The following recipe is a truly a worthwhile treat to make, and it’s easy. Squash of all colors is in season, just waiting to be baked, steamed, creamed and transformed into something simple, and delicious.  A favorite of ours is Spaghetti Squash.    This beauty contains many nutrients, including Vitamin A, beta-carotene, folic acid, and potassium.  It is also low in calories and makes a fun substitute for pasta, making it ripe for similar sauces that we normally cook for pasta.  The recipe below is very simple, and was enjoyed by all today at lunch.

Spaghetti Squash with herb butter and tomato-basil sauce.

Ingredients:  One Whole Spaghetti Squash, 1 stick of unsalted butter, 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley and oregano, 3 large cloves garlic finely minced, salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe:  Preheat oven to 375 F.  Wash outside of squash and pat dry.  Carefully cut ends off, then stand on straight end and cut in-half lengthwise (you need a large, sharp knife).  Scrape out seeds (you can roast these just like pumpkin seeds).  Place on large cookie sheet and place with rind side up, then add 1/2 cup of water.  Cook until tender, about 45 to 50 minutes depending on the size of the squash.  All to cool enough to handle.  Use a fork to separate the strands by scraping side to side.   Place butter in large, deep sauce pan and slowly melt.  Add garlic and simmer until garlic is fragrant (do not brown).  Turn off heat and add fresh herbs.  Add in Spaghetti squash and gently toss in with herb butter.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and/or your favorite marinara sauce.

BerKelly’s Garden Zucchini Parmesan

We don’t have an upscale kitchen (a relic of 1979), and the ingredients we cook with are simple – but we have purpose in our little kitchen and we are cookin’ this summer. Do you like the scrumptious yumminess of Eggplant Parmesan? This dish is similar, but BETTER, and made with, the season’s most prolific queen of vegetables, zucchini. We made this nutritious, crunchy, cheesy, layered, vegetarian dish with an enormous zucchini from the Anton Zucchini plant in our vegetable garden built this spring with help from family members and from our church family at Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma (podcast to follow soon).

The recipe has its own history, coming from our favorite hardbound cookbook, My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur. With Berkley’s roasted tomato, garlic, and basil sauce, this dish reached its full potential; however, feel free to use what works for you – a jar of your favorite tomato sauce will do just fine.



1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 14-oz can plum tomatoes with juice
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon water
Salt and freshly ground pepper

5 medium (or one GIANT) zucchini
Salt (we use Kosher salt) and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion (we use red onion in this dish), halved then sliced thinly
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1/3 cup homemade fresh bread crumbs (we added about ½ teaspoon dried basil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt to 4 pieces of lightly toasted bread ground in the food processor, but you can use or your favorite ready-made brand).
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.

For the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, whole tomatoes with juice, and sprig of rosemary. Gently crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Swirl the water in the can to pick up the last of the tomato juices and add to the pan. Decrease the heat and gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until thick and jamlike. Season to taste with salt and pepper (we add a sprinkle of chili flakes). Discard the rosemary sprig. This sauce can be made 4 days in advance or frozen and used later.

Trim the zucchini (at the ends) and slice lengthwise into 4 or 5 ribbons each. (If using a GIANT zucchini, cut in half first, then slice lengthwise.) Season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or cast-iron pan (we used a cast-iron skillet). Add the zucchini, in batches, and fry until browned on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to soak up some of the oil (we placed it directly into our baking dish). Cut each piece in half, crosswise (we didn’t need to do this).

In a separate skillet (we used the same cast-iron skillet for everything), heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt; transfer to a small bowl (we just added the onions on top of the zucchini in the baking dish).

In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat. Stir in the bread crumbs and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.

Arrange the zucchini in a 2 quart baking dish (we doubled the recipe and used two baking dishes), overlapping the slices to make one dense layer. Top with the onion mixture and cover with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese, then with the bread crumbs. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 45 minutes (we baked for 25 minutes). Remove the foil and bake for 5 to 10 minutes longer, until golden brown on top.

This dish tastes as good as it smells when it’s baking!

Turning Japanese

My kids told me that this year we will be making sushi. They did it through their birthday gifts. Zoë gave me some beautiful Japanese bowls. Zach was a little more direct; he gave me a book on how to make sushi. Neither one knew of the others gift, giving us all a laugh. My Mom followed up with tempura recipes in a cookbook she gifted to Kelly for Christmas. We found a nice rice cooker (a very important part of sushi making) at the local kitchen discount store and found a tempura cooker for $10 at another local discount store. Next step: send out  invitations,  roll up your sleeves and be fearless.

Check out our recipe links above. Don’t be intimidated, sushi is surprisingly simple.
Let us know if you have questions or suggestions and Be Fearless!

Mickey and Rachel Thomas in the Kitchen

As temperatures dipped in the Bay Area, Kelly and I headed south to soak up some good old Southern California sunshine. Our trip included some of my favorite things in life: Family, friends, food, music and baseball. The culmination of our road trip was a fabulous meal prepared with friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas, and an interview with Mickey about the role cooking plays in his life.

The beginning of our trip was in beautiful Pismo Beach where we enjoyed dinner with Kelly’s mom, Linda and her stepfather, Travis. Kelly frequently talks about how much she enjoyed her mom’s cooking growing up and Linda’s delicious barbecued pork sandwiches did not disappoint.

Kelly and Dad with the StudebakerOn the way to our second stop in Pasadena, we managed to fit in some disc golf at the historic Oak Grove Course. Our second evening was another treat – I met Kelly’s dad, Bruce, and his partner Cynthia. They are a couple of gourmets. Cynthia treated us to the most delectable baked salmon with potatoes (roasted with bacon drippings, yum!) and her famous orange cake. After dinner, Bruce took us for a spirited cruise in his custom modified ’38 Studebaker.

Day three’s itinerary led us east to Joshua Tree National Park for a night of camping on the desert floor. We enjoyed leftovers of salmon and potatoes and were treated to a brilliant night sky before bed.  The sparkling stars provided some comfort overhead, Palm Deserthowever the desert floor did not.  Our next trek was by foot on a 9-mile hike to and from Lost Palms Oasis following which we headed directly to the nearest store we could find to buy camping air mattresses.

Four nights of comfortable beds and comfort food lied ahead with my dear friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas. I consider them family, and they treated us like family in their lovely Palm Desert home. Many of you know Mickey as a talented musician from his days with Jefferson Starship and Elvin Bishop. He continues Rachel's "To die for" BBQ Wingsmaking fantastic music as he records and tours as Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. We spent our time telling stories, creating some incredible meals, drinking great wine, watching playoff baseball and ending each evening with a scary movie in the spirit of Halloween.

What many of you may not know about Mickey is his passion for food. Dinner with the Thomas’ is always a treat, whether Mickey or Rachel is cooking. They are both very talented in the kitchen and two of the sweetest most down to earth people you will encounter. After greeting us with a fresh Pasta Primavera dinner, Mickey and Rachel graciously allowed us to take over theirTapas Plate kitchen the following night for a meal we prepared with risotto and mussels. We spent our last day making a video for Noah’s Wish – Mickey and Rachel’s favorite charity – and planning our last feast. Creating this feast was like a musical performance with all four of us in the kitchen creating six dishes that were to die for:  Rachel’s secret barbecued chicken wings, stuffed eggplant rolls in marinara sauce, Vietnamese shrimp meatballs, Southern scallops with black beans, Greek salad, and spicy shrimp lettuce wraps.

Mickey, Rachel and Berkley The story of this feast unfolds here, in this slide show and interview with Mickey Thomas.

Prawn Tacos

Nicole, Mark and Zoe

Family Night

Mexican food has been a long time favorite of mine. I can still smell the rice pudding from Gonzales’ in Richmond. My parents would take me there, as a toddler, after church every week to meet my grandparents for a family meal. I thought of it as my reward for quietly enduring another Sunday service. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. Every part of the food we eat has a story: from the earth it’s grown on to the farmer who tends it all the way to the table on which it is celebrated. I like to know as much of the story as possible and I believe the fewer steps involved between the farmer and my table the better.

We had Kelly’s kids, Mark and Nicole and Nicole’s friend Zoë for Prawn Tacos last week. Kelly refers to them as my Mexican Spring rolls for the fresh veggies used. While we loved the meal, the conversations TacoVeggiessparked by the food were truly a highlight of the evening. Kelly captured Zoë on video sharing the role food plays in her family.

The Prawn Tacos were very simple to make and largely influenced by what we’d picked up at our CSA that week. Many of my favorite recipes arise from the challenge to use all of the bounty in our refrigerator, this meal was no different. We had frozen prawns from Trader Joe’s on hand a vegetable bin full of wonderful produce from Tolay Valley Farms and some corn tortillas. Hmmm…. what to do with it all?

Corn Tortillas
Prawns- 1.5 per taco seemed sufficient
Carrots- shredded or chopped very thin
Mustard Greens- shredded
Red Onion- diced
Cucumber- sliced thin
Tomato- chopped

YogurtSauceYogurt Sauce
Yogurt (we like Straus Whole Milk Plain) – about a half cup
Chipotle Sauce (I love the Frontera Enchilada sauce) – to taste (I used about 6 tablespoons)
Hot Sauce- to taste

Begin with the yogurt sauce. Pour the yogurt into a bowl, mix in your favorite sauce or salsa to taste then add the hot sauce of your choice. You can put out in a serving bowl along side some tortilla chips and use this sauce as a dip as well as a topping for your tacos.

After this I set up the chopping board and got busy with my vegetables while I preheated the broiler. Once done with my chopping I popped the prawns into the broiler for 7 minutes and Nicole started heating some oil to ready the tortillas. Pop the prawns out of the oven and remove the shell, breaking each prawn into several pieces.

Place your prawns on the warm tortilla, top with the vegetables and a few dollops of the yogurt sauce. Many substitutions can be made. The ingredients for this meal were dictated by what we had on hand. Many different types of greens would work. I found the bitterness of the mustard greens was balanced nicely by the sweetness of the carrot and cucumber.PrawnsOnBroilerPan

Tacos Try ours or make your own. We’d love to hear about your creations and the stories around your dinner table.

Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

You Can’t Beet a Good Story

Don't miss a Beet

Beet photo from ourhomeworks.wordpress.com

Garden beets have been a nutritious cultivation of human kind for a very long time – since the second millennium BC, when the pharaohs of Egypt ruled and chariots were the latest and greatest in transportation. Berkley and I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and since they are in abundance right now we are researching recipes that feature these deep purple beauties. The best place to get them is at your local farmer’s market.

Both the leafy greens and the roots are edible. The greens can be sautéed with onion or garlic in olive oil, much like spinach or Swiss chard (a close cousin of the beet) and are high in vitamin A (needed for good vision), while the roots are a great source of vitamin C (needed for a healthy immune system).

Beet Season is here!

Beet photo from blueheronlocal.wordpress.com

Beets grow best in a cool climate. Perhaps this is why we see so many delicious beet recipes from Russia and nearby countries, i.e. cold beet borscht soup.  (Not to be confused, however, with Russia’s large production of Sugar Beets, used for making sugar and not for eating.)



To serve garden beets as a hot side dish, Berkley roasted beets in the oven,and after they cooled a bit, removed the skins, cut them into large chunks, and served them with a warm, buttery balsamic vinegar sauce. I highly recommend this yummy recipe to beet lovers as a good contrast to the large variety of cold salad recipes.

Russian Beet Salad

This week’s featured dish is a cold but hearty Russian beet salad. We prepared this salad for a Sunday potluck with our friends from the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma. While we blog about cooking food to feed ourselves, families and friends, it is our UUP community that feeds our souls.

Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

On that topic, if you have a recipe that “feeds the soul,” please feel free to share it with us in a comment!

Our Version: We used extra virgin olive oil instead of the recipe’s call for sunflower oil, which worked very well. There is no need to use vinegar in this salad – the root vegetables flavors of carrot, potato, and beet come alive with the fresh dill. We didn’t include peas, as the recipe calls for, and didn’t miss them, as the root vegetables seemed to go so well together. Don’t over salt – a little goes a long way with this dish. Tips for cooking the vegetables: The key to this beet salad is to boil the vegetables together so that they become just barely tender, but not soft. We recommend using Russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut in half (or if they are really big, into thirds), use medium sized beets (or cut large beets in-half), and keep the carrots whole (use large carrots, not the baby carrot variety) and place them on top of the other vegetables.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

We used a 1:1:1 veggie ratio for this salad (same number of potatoes, to beets, to carrots.) Place washed and cut vegetables into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 17 to 20 minutes (after 17 minutes test a beet or potato with a knife, which should pierce with ease, but also a little resistance.) Drain carefully, and let them cool. Take the skins off of the beets with your hands (they should slide off easily), and cut them into hearty dices (use an apron or wear clothes you don’t mind staining with the bright beet juice!). Place in a large salad or mixing bowl. Cut potatoes and carrots into hearty dices and add to salad bowl, then let them chill in the refrigerator ahead of time if you can. When you toss the diced vegetables with the onion, oil, dill, and salt and pepper, do it lightly and sparingly or you could end up with a reddish mashed potato salad.