Saturday, January 14, 2012


I painted The Cooking Shop, pictured above, about ten years ago when I was contemplating all the various "shops" of my life, a metaphor for the way I spend my time. Of the 13 shops I painted, only this one was always Open. "Open" in this context means that I am always cooking, writing, and blogging, reading cookbooks, sharing dinners with family and friends, eating delicious food at home and while traveling around the world, and much much more. As you can see, my head is popping out of the top of the shop saying "Yum, yum..." The shop is still wide open. And my latest addition to the shop is this blog.

Welcome to Keepers: The Cookbook. It contains the same recipes as my original Keepers: Recipes Worth Keeping and many of my favorite stories. But it is superior in a number of regards. Here are some of the features:

  • All the useful information comes right at the top of this blog: tips on creating the kitchen you want, pantry suggestions, and my favorite cookware, small appliances and tools.
  • It is arranged in cookbook form starting with Appetizers and working through to Dessert.
  • Each recipe is a separate entry. When you scroll down to the very next entry entitled Table of Contents, you will see all of the recipes listed, chapter by chapter. When you click on one, the recipe will be there. No fuss, no muss.
  • You can also click on the Labels to the right to find recipes with a particular ingredient, in a particular chapter (like desserts, for example), or part of an ethnic cuisine (like Persian). As you will see, there are many vegetarian and gluten-free recipes included.
  • The font is large and easy to read.
  • You'll find a lot of suggestions for putting together dinners, with links to the appropriate recipes. And you'll find a number of "How to..." instructions, with the appropriate link.
  • I'm continuing to add more photos to help you "see" what words can't convey.
I want to turn Keepers: The Cookbook into an e-book and perhaps into a bound book in the not-too-distant future. In both cases, I have technology hurdles to over come. But I'm game. Just look at what I've accomplished over the last two and a half years of blogging!  If you're interested in having a copy of one sort or another, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list.

Meanwhile, I am so glad you’re here. Please leave me comments and do let me know if there is anything you spot that needs fixing. I'm pretty good at that too. 

Table of Contents

This Table of Contents, slowly and lovingly constructed, will give you direct access to every recipe in the blog simply by clicking on it below. If you want to find the recipes by ingredients or ethnic cuisines or whatever, you'll need to go to the Labels at the right. Of course you can still casually scroll through the blog, clicking on Older Posts when you reach the bottom of a section.  

You wonder about the chicken? I have a "thing" about chickens. I'm afraid that I will never have any of my own. But my younger son, Ben, has recently acquired four of them. And to my great joy, I was allowed to hold one and talk to her.

Chapter 5 Dal and a Story about Indian Food  
   Chickpeas with Mango Powder 
   Dal with Coconut Milk
   Red and Yellow Lentils                               
   Sesame Chicken and Asparagus Pasta Salad and How to poach chicken breasts
   New Wave Salad with Red Wine Basil Vinaigrette
   Grilled Pancetta-Wrapped Figs and Arugula
       with Mustard Lavender Vinaigrette
   First Night Dinner Salad with Red Wine and Paprika Vinaigrette
   Prosciutto, Pear, and Parmesan Salad with Lemon/Chervil Vinaigrette
   Warm Potato Salad with Garlic Sausage
   Shrimp and Black Rice Salad with Vietnamese Vinaigrette
   Thai-Style Steak Salad with Thai Vinaigrette
Chapter 10 Side Salads and a Story of Lurking Fruits and Veggies 
   Moroccan Two Reds Salad and How to cook beets
   Beet and Yogurt Salad
   Erasto's Coleslaw
   Gujarati Cabbage Slaw
   Caramelized Carrot Salad 
   Couscous Salad with Apricots, Pine Nuts, and Ginger
   Cucumbers with Yogurt and Mint and How to drain soupy yogurt
   Cucumber Salad 
   Fruit Salad with French Fruit Salad Dressing
   Everyday Green Salad with Everyday Salad Dressing
   Iceberg Lettuce with Tangy Blue Cheese Dressing
   Jicama Slaw
   Mango and Hearts of Palm Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
   Orange and Black Olive Salad 
   Avocado-Papaya Salad with Papaya Seed Dressing
   Papaya Salsa
   Parsley, Celery and Herb Salad
   French Potato Salad and How to steam potatoes
   Quinoa Salad with Pistachios and Cranberries with Sherry Vinaigrette
   Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Toasted Almond Dressing
   Grilled Patty Pan Squash with Smoked Bacon and Olive-Caper Vinaigrette
   Summer Squash Salad with Feta
   Tabbouleh Cracked Wheat Salad
   Cherry Tomato, Mozzarella and Corn Salad with Basil
   Ensalada criolla (Creole Salad) with Cuban Vinaigrette

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Creating the Kitchen You Want

Here I am cooking in my kitchen just outside Kyoto, Japan in about 1972. Look for the sauce pan sitting on the cutting board in my post of Essential Cookware below.

I spend a lot of time in my kitchen so I have some thoughts, gathered from nearly 44 years of working in 11 apartment or home kitchens, on what makes for a workable, healthful, and lovable space. From graduate student housing (see my very first blog for a photo) to Taiwan and Japan, from four kitchens in Durham, North Carolina to Berkeley and Sonoma in the present, I’ve put my mark on all of them and have extensively down-to-the-studs renovated two.

I renovated this kitchen in Durham, North Carolina in about 1991. 

Just one thought before I begin: If I think that I need the fanciest, snazziest kitchen around in order to cook good food, I am dead wrong. I can cook good food in almost any kitchen, primitive as it might be. Two propane burners (which always run out mid-cooking of course), cold water, and a counter that was 2 x 2 feet square may not be the ideal cooking space but I was able to cook pretty good Chinese and Japanese food in it. I remind myself that those conditions were a lot nicer than what many folks around the world use daily, squatting over an open fire on a dirt floor or a charcoal-burning brazier on the street. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook in a nice, well-accessorized kitchen, but it is not necessary.

That said, I want you to have a kitchen you love. If you don’t like it or haven’t made it your own, chances are you will cook less and that would be a pity.

So I’m going to tell you first what I’ve done to improve many of my kitchens and second what I think is important if you are renovating.

I bet some of you, perhaps all of you, have suggestions to add. Please let me know and I’ll update this post in a few weeks. Send me photos too if you have them.

Five Kitchen Improvements

This photo is from the Sonoma kitchen prior to the extensive renovation in 2006. With paint and some imagination, I made this old-fashioned kitchen into a colorful and friendly spot to cook.

Color adds zip to the kitchen. A bright container for my favorite tools. Repainting cabinet doors or the walls in colors I love. Repainting kitchen stools in a smashing color or getting a couple of new bright kitchen rugs.

Good lighting is essential. I replaced florescent tubes with track lighting which brightened everything, including my mood.

This is a photo of my Berkeley kitchen before we repainted the cabinets. Check out the next photo to mark the difference.

Floor mats save your body. I have an iffy back, hips, knees and feet situation. If I stand on any hard surface too long, they start speaking to me. Michelle, my daughter-in-law, pointed me to GelPro kitchen mats which have solved the problem. I put them in front of my chopping and prep space. You can find them at Sign of the Bear in Sonoma and on line.

A big wooden cutting board. Mine is made by Boos and is 15 x 20 inches. I also find thin plastic cutting sheets useful when I’m cutting up raw meat or for transferring chopped items from the board to a pan on the stove.

This is my Berkeley kitchen after we had the cabinets painted and the floors refinished in 2010. It made such a difference.

De-cluttering the counters. I like to keep my counters as clear as possible. It’s an aesthetic thing but it also means that I have more workspace however large or small it may be.

Nine Kitchen Renovation Suggestions

All these photos are from the most recent Sonoma kitchen renovation done in 2006.

An island or peninsula with stools is a great place for friends and family to hang out in the kitchen without getting in my way.

Glass doors on the cabinets which hold plates and dishes are so pretty. I use closed cabinets for food and pots and pans which aren’t so attractive.

Wooden floors are great in the kitchen. In two kitchens I’ve been able to scrape through multiple layers of linoleum to get to the sub-flooring which, in both cases, was a little funky but perfectly usable. With sanding and finishing, the wood adds a nice warmth to the space.

Bookshelves in the kitchen allow me to have my cookbooks readily at hand.

Having my prep/chopping area right next to the stove and large enough to hold my cutting board with some space on either side to spare is essential to me. I don’t like transporting chopped veggies across the kitchen.

Drawers for below the counter storage make it much easier to retrieve what I want.

Well-designed drawer pulls and switch plates are like good accessories to your favorite outfit. They make all the difference.

I chose to purchase more affordable models of appliances this time around. They work very well indeed and kept the renovation expenses a bit more within reason.

A splendid spice rack from the old ironing board cupboard is a great use of space.

Color, good lighting, floor mats, big cutting boards, and clear counter space are just as important in renovating as in improving.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Your Basic Pantry

I keep most of these items on hand all the time. When something is close to running out, I buy another. With milk, cheese and eggs in your fridge, there is no telling how many dinners you can put together. Add some sausage, tomato sauce, and pasta or cornmeal and you are set for a good long stretch of time. Add some salad greens—quickly picked up from the closest grocery store or farmers’ market—and you have quick, nutritious and delicious meals available to you, your friends and family whenever speed is of the essence. What would you add to this list?

salt: kosher and any kind you fancy
dried herbs and spices, I buy as I need them and then refill the bottles from bulk jars
soy sauce
fish sauce (if you do Thai)
Worcestershire sauce
Mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
dried pasta, couscous, polenta or cornmeal
nuts and dried fruits
garlic and various dried chiles

Canned or bottled goods
tomato paste in a tube
artichoke hearts
chicken stock
garbanzo beans
olives like kalamata (I buy pitted)
coconut milk
peanut butter
jar of pasta sauce
vinegars: balsamic, white & red wine, rice, sherry
olive oil
canola oil

Baking supplies
white sugar
brown sugar
baking powder & soda
rolled oats

cheeses: Parmesan, Swiss, cheddar
lemons and limes
greens of some sort for a salad
green onions

Fridge door
Dijon mustard
various Chinese sauces
anchovies (in a jar)
maple syrup
sundried tomatoes
bottled horseradish
oils that need to be refrigerated

fresh pasta
frozen peas
frozen chopped spinach
ice cream or sorbet

Essential Cookware

Here are a few of the pots and pans that I use all the time. And I mean all the time. Some are newish, some are quite old and a little beat up. But they are all very useful. Of course, you don't have to have exactly the same thing. If you were to pare the essentials down to bare-bones, you'd need a stock pot, a stew pot, a saucepan, and a frying pan. I've included a couple more items that I love.

Stock pot 
Great for making soups, cooking pasta or steaming veggies.

Sauce pan
I acquired this pan in Japan in 1971. It is my very favorite sauce pan.
Dutch oven or casserole
You don't need this high-end enameled model which we've had forever. A cast iron or regular metal stew pot will work just fine.
Cast iron skillets
Heavy, well-used, seasoned, and indispensable, these pans are used nearly every day.
Large sauté pan
I've gotten rid of my teflon-lined pans, whose coatings were compromised by stirring with metal spoons and by hard use.

I cook with these wonderful ceramic pots both on the top of the stove and in the oven. On a stove top, they need to have a "simmer mat" under them and need to be kept on a moderate heat to prevent cracks.