keito potato

Spinach, Neon Rice, and Black Bean Casserole to use as a Filling for Burritos or Soft Tacos
June 26, 2012, 2:07 pm
Filed under: main dishes, recipes | Tags: ,

My mom found this recipe over 10 years ago in the LA Times Food Section, and my family often makes this for casual summer meals with guests.  She actually altered the recipe and submitted it to the Simply in Season cookbook in the Mennonite community, and got it published in the cookbook under her name.  This is a casserole built from contrasting layers of garlicky spinach, neon-yellow rice pilaf, and spicy black beans.  The casserole is used as a filling for vegetarian burritos or soft tacos.  The components of the casserole come together in a snap.  While it’s in the oven, you can prep the toppings which can include avocado, cotija cheese, lime wedges, salsa, fresh herbs.


For the Rice:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion

1 garlic clove

3/4 cup rice

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

1  1/2 cup vegetable broth

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Spinach:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

20 ounces fresh spinach

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the Black Beans:

2  15-ounce cans of black beans

1 tablespoon chili powder

For assembly:

1 cup grated jack cheese


Optional toppings:

lime wedges

cotija cheese

sour cream or Mexican crema

avocado or guacamole

salsa or hot sauce

cilantro leaves


For the rice:

Mince the onion and garlic.  Heat the olive oil in a saucepan.  Add the onion and garlic to the saucepan and saute until soft.  Meanwhile rinse and drain the rice in several changes of water.  Add the rice to the saucepan, along with the turmeric, vegetable broth, and salt.  Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed, around 15-18 minutes.

For the spinach:

Heat the olive oil in a wide skillet.  When hot, add the garlic.  After a few seconds, add the spinach a few handfuls at a time.  When the spinach wilts and reduces in size, add another handful, and repeat until all of the spinach fits into the skillet.  Cook, stirring often, until all of the spinach is wilted.  Add the salt and pepper.

For the beans:

Rinse and drain the canned beans very well in a colander.  Combine the black beans and chili powder in a medium mixing bowl.  Mix well.

For the assembly:

Spoon half of the garlicky spinach in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish.  Layer the neon rice pilaf on top, then the beans, then the remaining spinach.  Top with the jack cheese.  At this point, the casserole could be made in advance and refrigerated overnight.

Bake at 375F for about 45 minutes, covered with a lid.

Meanwhile, heat the tortillas on a griddle or skillet on the stove.  You can also use this time to prep the various garnishes in small bowls to be served at the table.

Italian Walnut Cake
March 23, 2012, 3:16 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is one of my favorite cakes in my Grandma’s regular rotation.  It’s a single-layer, round cake decorated with a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar.  The cake looks simple and spartan, but the flavors are bold and complex, with the fragrance of toasted walnuts, lemon zest, and rum.  When I asked Grandma Willa for the recipe on the phone, she told me the list of ingredients, then told me to dust it with powdered sugar when it comes out of the oven.  When I asked about the assembly process, she scolded me, “Don’t you know how to bake a cake?”  This is to say that it’s a pretty straight-forward and easy cake.

I have changed Grandma’s recipe by toasting the walnuts and adding salt.  Many old fashioned cake recipes omit salt, but I like a little salt in my dessert to bring out the rest of the flavors.

Also, I normally make the cake with whole-wheat pastry flour instead of white flour.  Both types of flours work beautifully, but the whole-wheat flour makes it a little more healthful.  This is a comparatively nutritious cake because it’s roughly half walnuts, with the batter essentially holding the cake together.

Serve with strong coffee, or small glass of limoncello or sherry.


2  1/2 cups walnuts

8 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum

2 packed teaspoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour

1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4  –  1/2 teaspoon salt


Toast the walnuts in the oven until fragrant.  Meanwhile prepare the cake batter.  

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand  mixer).  Add the rum, lemon zest, vanilla, and egg. Beat to combine.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt

When the walnuts come out of the oven, chop them fine.  Stir them into the cake batter.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.  Pour the batter in the pan, and bake at 350F for 40-60 minutes (depending on your oven).  The top will be golden brown, and an inserted toothpick will come out clean.  

Invert the cake onto a cake plate by placing the plate upside down on the cake in the pan, then quickly flipping it over.  The cake should easily slip onto the cake plate.  Dust with powdered sugar, using a sifter or strainer.

French Mushroom Soup
January 24, 2012, 12:10 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

Yesterday’s rainy weather inspired me to make a pot of soup to warm up.  My mom has been making my Aunt Marty’s French Mushroom Soup for as long as I can remember.  Aunt Marty and her branch of the family have lived on communes over the decades, including the Hutterite variety, so it’s possible that this is a Hutterite soup.  Hutterites make fruit and grape wines, so I imagine they must cook with it as well.  This soup is quite similar to a French onion soup, except that it centers around mushrooms instead of onions.  Since I am a vegetarian, I have substituted vegetable broth for the other, and I like to make the vegetable broth from scratch when I have time, as I did today.  Yes, it’s indeed possible to make rich, dark, French-style soups totally vegetarian.   How could a soup made from white wine, meltingly-soft onions, mushrooms, parmesan, and herbs not be delicious?

I have improved on my aunt’s recipe by adding fresh herbs from my garden, as well as increasing the amount of white wine and garlic.  Aunt Marty’s recipe calls for white button mushrooms.  That’s what I used today, but I often substitute crimini mushroom instead, or use half-and-half.  It’s really quite easy to pull together, as long as you have an hour for simmering.


2 lbs. (4 blue boxes) fresh mushrooms (button or crimini, or a combination)

1 large onion

3 garlic cloves

4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons tomato paste

8 cups vegetable broth (here is my recipe, but you can use broth from the store)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup fresh parsley

3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

croutons are optional for garnish


Slice the mushrooms thinly.  Cut the onion in half, then slice it thinly.  Mince the garlic.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic.  Saute until tender, about 10 minutes.

During this time, chop the parsley and remove the thyme leaves from the stems.  When the mushrooms are tender, add the herbs and tomato paste.  Simmer about 1 minute.  Add the white wine, broth, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer 1 hour, then serve with more parmesan as garnish, plus croutons if you like.

Julia Child’s Mediterranean Tomato Rice Soup with Basil and Leeks
August 19, 2011, 3:04 pm
Filed under: recipes, soups | Tags: , , , , ,

My mom has been making this classic Julia Child soup for ages, so I have nostalgic summer memories of it.  My friend and I made it last week alongside a quiche, and I made another batch last night to welcome my parents home from  a long trip.  My mom was astonished, saying she had been craving this particular soup during her travels and had planned to make it once she got home.  This recipe comes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol 2. (the one with the blue cover).  On the first page I see my Grandma Erna’s handwritten note to my dad: “for Rick, to add to your knowledge of the good things in life – Love, Mom.”  What a treasure.

It’s a simple peasant soup, a breeze to make with basic ingredients.  Since I am finally experimenting with growing herbs, I was delighted to use basil and parsley from my backyard.

Julia tells us to chop the tomatoes to make a chunky soup, but my mom always purees the tomatoes smooth before adding them to the kettle.  I’m including both versions here.  If you don’t have a cheesecloth for the herbs, you can simply stir the herbs into the soup and let them be.  Chop the parsley and basil first, if you’re not using a cheesecloth.




3/4 cup leeks, or a combination of leeks and onions

3 tablespoons olive oil

1  1/2 lb tomatoes (fresh or good-quality canned whole plum tomatoes)

4 large garlic cloves

5 cups light vegetable broth

1/4 Cup raw white rice

The following tied in a cheesecloth:

6 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon thyme

4 fennel seeds

6 large basil leaves

a large pinch of saffron threads

salt and pepper

few pinches of sugar

1 teaspoon or more tomato paste

salt and pepper

2 or more tablespoons fresh basil, minced or sliced


Thinly slice the leeks.  Heat the oil slowly in a large heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook the leeks slowly in the olive oil until the leeks are tender but not browned. 

Meanwhile, either chop the tomatoes or puree them in a medium bowl with a hand-held immersion blender.  Mince or mash the garlic.  When the leeks are tender, add the tomatoes and garlic and stir over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

Then add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then add the rice.  Add the herbs and saffron.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Carefully taste for seasoning, adding pinches of sugar to bring out flavor and counteract acidity, and small amounts of tomato paste if needed for color and taste.  Remove the herb bouquet if using a cheesecloth.

Julia recommends serving the soup either hot or chilled (I’ve only had it hot), sprinkled with fresh basil.

Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake
July 12, 2011, 8:22 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , ,

Aunt Tillie was my grandpa Elvin’s aunt, and lived to age 102.  Her date cake recipe has been a family favorite over the decades.  It’s moist, wholesome, fragrant, and has an earthy spiciness. 

Medjool dates, toasted walnuts, lemon zest, buttermilk, cloves — what’s not to love?  I tend to prefer rustic, wholesome desserts, and this cake epitomizes my taste in baking.

This sheet cake is a snap to throw together, and has become a reliable go-to cake for potlucks and informal gatherings.  I have made the recipe my own by toasting the walnuts, adding lemon zest for the fragrance, and adding a bit of salt.  I like salt in my desserts, and I think a scant quarter-teaspoon brings out the other flavors.  This old-fashioned cake has an unusual (but not complicated) assembly process.  You start by crumbling flour, sugar, and butter in a bowl with your fingers.  You measure out and remove 1 cup of the crumbs, reserving this small portion to add later as the crumb topping of the cake.  The crumbs that remain in the mixing bowl create the foundation of the cake batter.

Great-Great-Aunt Tillie’s Date Cake

1 cup walnuts
2 1/4 cups flour (separated as 2 cups and 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 cup medjool dates
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 heaping teaspoon cloves
scant 1/4 teaspoon sea salt


Butter and flour a 9 x 13-inch pan.  Heat the oven to 350 F.  While the oven is warming up, toss your walnuts into a small baking pan, and toast them.  They will toast in the oven while you are preparing the rest of the cake batter.

Combine 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and butter in a medium mixing bowl.  Mix and crumble with your fingers.  This is a great activity for kids.  Remove 1 cup of this crumb-mixture, and reserve it for the topping.  The remaining crumbs in the mixing bowl will create the foundation for the cake batter.

Chop the medjool dates.  I like to use my big, heavy Chinese cleaver for this.

Remove the toasted walnuts from the oven, and chop them.  Add the dates and walnuts to the crumb mixture in the mixing bowl.

Add the buttermilk, egg, and lemon zest to the mixing bowl.  Stir to form a batter.

Sift in the remaining 1/4 cup flour, the baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle with the reserved 1-cup of crumbs.  Bake at 350F for 28-35 minutes.

Chilean Christmas Drink
December 23, 2009, 12:05 am
Filed under: drinks, recipes | Tags: , ,

Cola de Mono (Tail of the Monkey) is a Chilean Christmas drink made from milk, cinnamon, coffee, tequila, and vanilla. Cola de Mono has become a Christmas tradition in my family, lovely to have around when extended family is up late playing cards. I’ll warn you that it’s deceptively strong. There are 2 full cups of tequila in there, but all you’ll taste is the cinnamon. It makes sense to serve it in tiny glasses.

I have altered the Sundays at Moosewood recipe in replacing their instant coffee with strongly brewed real coffee. I think instant coffee “crystals” are bizarre, so I don’t keep them in the house.

6 Cups milk
1 Cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 Cup strong coffee
2 Cups tequila
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring the milk, sugar, and cinnamon to a boil in a saucepan. In the meantime, brew the strong coffee. When the milk mixture has come to a boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the coffee. Cool to room temperature, then chill it even further in the refrigerator. When well chilled, add the tequila and vanilla. Pour it into capped bottles or carafes, and return to the refrigerator. Let the cinnamon sticks remain in the bottles to continue infusing the beverage.

Serve very cold. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Fresh Tangerine Layer Cake
April 12, 2009, 8:40 pm
Filed under: desserts, recipes | Tags: , , , , ,

My family uses the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts for most celebratory cakes. Their orange layer cake is especially vibrant, with fresh juice and zest in both the cake batter and frosting. It has become a leading favorite for birthdays. When tangerines are in season, I use them instead of oranges for this cake. Tangerines offer a more complex and assertive citrus flavor. I buy a flat of tangerines, using some for the cake, and keeping the rest of the cuties around for snacks.

This seemed like the perfect cake for Easter this weekend. I highly recommend pairing it with dark chocolate ice cream.




2 2/3 cups unbleached white flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, separated

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon pure orange extract, or 1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate

1 tablespoon freshly grated tangerine peel

1 cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice


1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed tangerine juice

1 tablespoon freshly grated tangerine peel


Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly oil the cake pans and dust them with flour.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth and light. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla, orange extract, and grated tangerine peel and beat well. Beat in the flour and tangerine juice alternately in thirds. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold them into the batter.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges pull away from the sides of the pan and the top springs back when touched. Cool the cake in the pans on a rack for 5-10 minutes. Run a knife around the outer edges of the cakes and invert them onto a rack to cool completely.

To prepare the frosting, beat the butter until light. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the tangerine juice and grated tangerine peel and beat well. If the frosting is too stiff, beat in more tangerine juice. If it’s too soft or if it curdles, beat in more sugar.

Frost the cake when it is completely cool.