Category Archives: Big Feeds & Feasts

Feasts for 10, 12, and 20+

What a Combo! Soup and Meatball Gathering for 25

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My father will often put two foods together and exclaim “What a combo!”  Sometimes these combinations are brilliant–like potato chips and chocolate and sometimes the combinations are more challenging (usually involving kimchi), but the phrase is used so often in my family that it has become an adjective.

I was thinking about this phrase while deciding what small bite to serve for soup night. My mother suggested the Turkey and Zucchini Burgers with Green Onion and Cumin from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, Jerusalem. Who doesn’t love a meatball? I thought. And why stop there? In honor of the late Marcella Hazan, I decided to make her classic Meatballs and Tomatoes from The Essentials of Italian Cooking. As my father might say “Soup and meatballs—what a combo!”

My soup gatherings often start small and get bigger until I don’t know how many people are actually coming. I alternate between panic that no one will show  (a scenario that has led to inviting random strangers while running errands) and dread that there is not enough food.  One of the best things about soup is that you can always round it out with bread, cheese, salad or in this case, meatballs.

A forecast of 81 degrees and a case of late summer tomatoes inspired double batches of gazpacho from the Bi-Rite cookbook, Eat Good Food and Joanne Weir‘s Smoked Ham, White Bean, and Tomato Soup from Soup’s On! and triple batches of each kind of meatball. 

Friends brought wine, cheese, and cookies for dessert.  As it turned out, about 25 people showed up and we had enough food (including a few bowls of soup and meatballs leftover for lunch the next day).

Below are the recipes as well as my basic big batch soup and meatball gathering strategy. Do you throw soup gatherings? We would love to hear from you.

What are your favorite “what a combos?!”


Big Batch Soup and Meatball Party Strategy:

Sunday soup and meatball night:   A an early evening Sunday gathering is a lovely ritual and most importantly, gives you Saturday to prepare.

Soups for all: I recommend making double batches of 2 or 3 kinds of soup–one meaty stew, one vegetable minestrone (usually vegan) and one bean soup. If people offer to bring a soup, always say yes!

Gather your sous-chefs especially small children: It is so much more fun to throw a party with a team–People love to be a part of the action!

Organize your refrigerator: This may seem like a simple step, but clearing out space is essential when throwing any party, especially when making dishes ahead of time.

Shop ahead; make ahead: Chose recipes that can be made ahead of time. I recommend shopping the day before and cooking off at least one soup (preferably a stew that is better the next day). Again, make sure you organize your refrigerator so you have room to keep things overnight. Making food ahead of time leaves more time for worrying that there isn’t enough and gives you the opportunity to make more ;).

What else to serve: Hand held edibles and small bites that don’t don’t require big plates like empanadas,  crostini, polenta squares, flat breads and roasted vegetables.

How to serve: You’ll need bowls of course (mugs will help in a pinch!) and little bamboo/paper plates and stacks of napkins are ideal for small bites. You can set everything out on the table along with mason jars filled with silverware.

Invite your guests participate: I usually ask 2 to 3 people to bring cheese, bread, salumi, and olives and another 2 people to bring simple desserts like cookies (again, no plates!)

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Joanne’s Weir generously donated include this recipe for our book, Soup’s On! I doubled the amount of beans in her original recipe to make a version that is more like a stew. Deliciously smokey with the flavors of ham and bacon, this soup is an all season go-to!

Weir Smoked Ham Soup

Pick over the beans and discard any damaged beans or stones. Rinse. Put beans in a bowl, add plenty of water to cover, and refrigerate for about 3 hours. Drain the beans and place them in a saucepan with the parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves and cool water to cover by 2 inches. Simmer uncovered until tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain the beans, and discard the parsley and thyme stems and bay leaves.

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and onion, and cook until the onion is soft, 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and continue to cook 1 minute. Add the stock, ham hocks and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and cook until the ham just begins to fall from the bone, about 1 hour. Add the beans, and continue to simmer until the ham falls easily from the bone, about 1 hour more.

Remove the ham hocks and let them cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Discard the skin and bones, and cut the ham into 1/2-inch pieces. Add the ham and mint to the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve immediately.


Luscious and flavorful,  this gazpacho from the Bi-Rite Cookbook  Eat Good Food, by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gough calls for whole tomatoes (no peeling or seeding!) which makes it faster and easier to make for a crowd.  While many gazpacho recipes rely on the addition of bread, this version uses olive oil instead, making it a good alternative for the gluten-free crowd. Use a light olive oil that is not too peppery and the season’s ripest and most flavorful tomatoes.

Serio's Gazpacho

Put the oil, vinegar, and Tabasco in the bowl of a blender and blend briefly. Add the onions, cucumbers, parsley, basil, garlic, and 3 tsp. salt and blend until smooth. With the blender running, add the tomatoes a few at a time. When the blender is about 3/4 full, pour out half of the liquid into a medium bowl. Continue to puree and add the tomatoes a few at a time until all the tomatoes are incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Pour the blender contents into the bowl and stir to blend.

If you want a super-smooth texture, pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer.

Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Whisk to blend, then taste and add more salt or vinegar as needed.  Garnish each serving with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


These herb and spice-laden meatballs  from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi will change your life. They are easy to make in big quantities, just make sure you don’t crowd the pan when searing in batches.   To make a richer burger, use ground dark meat. If you do not have sumac to make the yogurt sauce, it is still delicious without.
Sumac Sauce

First make the sour cream sauce by placing all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside or chill until needed.

Turkey Zucchini Burgers

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F/220 degrees C. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients for the meatballs except the sunflower oil. Mix with your hands and then shape into about 18 burgers, each weighing 1 ½ ounces/45 grams.

Pour enough sunflower oil into a large frying pan to form a layer about 1/8 inch/2mm thick on the pan bottom.  Heat over medium heat until hot then sear the meatballs in batches on all sides. Cook each batch for about 4 minutes, adding oil as needed until golden brown.

Carefully transfer the seared meatballs to a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and place in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until cooked through. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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This meatball recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, is a great project to do with lots of people, especially with kids who enjoy (and are often quite skilled at) rolling the balls in the bread crumbs. 

Tomatoes and Meatballs

Trim away the bread crust, put the milk and bread in a small saucepan and turn on the heat to low.  When the bread has soaked up all the milk, mash it to a pulp with a fork.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Into a bowl put the chopped meat, onion, parsley, the egg, the tablespoon of olive oil, the grated Parmesan, a tiny grating of nutmeg – about 1/8 teaspoon – the bread and milk mush, salt, and several grindings of black pepper.  Gently knead the mixture with your hands without squeezing it.  When all the ingredients are evenly combined, shape it gently and without squeezing into balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Roll the balls lightly in the bread crumbs.

Choose a saute pan that can subsequently accommodate all the meatballs in a single layer.  (or cook them in two batches) Pour in enough vegetable oil to come 1/4 inch up the sides.  Turn on the heat to medium high and when the oil is hot, slip in the meatballs.  Sliding them in with a spatula will avoid splashing hot oil out of the pan.  Brown the meatballs on all sides, turning them carefully so they won’t break up.

Remove from heat, tip the pan slightly and with a spoon, remove as much of the fat as floats to the surface. Return the pan to the front burner over medium heat, add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, a pinch of salt, and turn the meatballs over the meatballs over once or twice to coat them well. Cover the pan and adjust the heat to cook a quiet but steady simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes until the oil floats free of the tomatoes. Taste, correct for salt, and serve.


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Fondue Party on the Fly: The Good Food Awards and Making the Most of a Good Thing

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If life gives you lots of cheese, make fondue. That was the strategy for the Good Food Awards after party held this year at The Mill, Josey Baker’s wonderful bakery on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. Tia Harrison (co-owner Avedano’s and Sociale and co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild) and Marrissa Guggiana (co-founder of The Butcher’s Guild and author of  Off the Menu: Staff Meals at America’s Top Restaurants)  took charge of this year’s fondue extravaganza.

Created through a collaboration of food producers, farmers and independent grocers and organized by Seedling Projects , the Good Food Awards is an annual event celebrating the best artisan foods based on flavor as well as sustainability:

The Good Food Awards recognize that truly good food—the kind that brings people together and builds strong, healthy communities—contains all of these ingredients. We take a comprehensive view, honoring people who make food that is delicious, respectful of the environment, and connected to communities and cultural traditions.

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Seedling Project founder Sarah Weiner and her sisters.

Though the actual award ceremony isn’t until January, the panel of  130 judges were in town for the tasting which included beer, charcuterie, chocolate, coffee, oils, pickles, preserves, spirits and of course CHEESE.  Over 140 samples (approximately 200 pounds) of cheese were submitted this year. After all the cheese had been carefully tasted and evaluated, the mandate of not wasting any leftovers resulted in a thank-you party for all the judges and volunteers. Extra cheese =fondue =delicious and fun.  Understanding that extra cheese is a luxury, fondue is still relatively simple and inexpensive to make for a crowd. 

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Fondue comes from the French word fondre, or to melt.  There classic recipe calls for good melting cheeses Emmentaler (Swiss) and Gruyere cheeses and includes alcohol or acid, a binder, and flavorings.  Since in our case, we didn’t have much control over the cheeses, Tia used these basic guidelines, approximating the proportions and adjusting for flavor and consistency.  The key was making one large batch at a time and pouring into smaller fondue pots.  If you feel more comfortable making multiple small batches (that serve 6 at a time),  we highly recommend Laura Werlin’s tried-and-true recipe for Classic Cheese Fondue from her book The New American Cheese.   We served the fondue with bowls of cubed Josey Baker bread generously donated by the Mill and side platters of charcuterie, fresh sliced vegetables, and pickles.

Now you can fondue too.

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Josey Baker gives the fondue a swirl.

Big Batch Equipment, Cooking, and Strategy Notes:  Tia made big batches of fondue in a 5 quart-sauce pot before pouring into smaller-sized fondue pots to serve.  She would then make additional batches and re-fill as needed.  A large-sized whisk is recommended as are multiple packs of long bamboo skewers.

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Tia Harrison whisks up some fondue magic.

On the Fly Fondue

Tia created this recipe adjusting the seasonings and the proportions to the characteristics and flavors of the cheeses  available. Making fondue isn’t difficult but you must pay attention and “listen” to what it needs.  Cheeses have different moisture and fat contents and they react differently to heat. If you have the choice, chose cheeses that melt well and yield a smooth consistency. The ingredient amounts are approximations so you will need to taste and test for flavor and consistency as you go along and  we offer this recipe to you in this spirit. For the bread, a rustic thick loaf cut into 1-inch cubes makes the best swirling. 

Serve with platters of sliced vegetables, charcuterie, and pickles!

Makes 3 to 4 quarts or 12 to 16 cups; serves about 50 people at a party supplemented with other edibles. 

1. 6 pints (1 bottle) dark beer

Approximately 4 pounds good melting cheese, (Emmentaler, Swiss or Gruyere, Fontina, Jack, or Cheddar), cut into 2-inch cubes, approximately 8 to 10 cups.

Approximately 1/2 cup whole grain mustard

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 bunch rosemary

1-2 cups heavy cream

Approximately 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Approximately 5 to 6 loaves rustic-style bread cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Pour beer into a large (5-quart) stock pan. Add 8 cups of cheese and bring to a simmer over medium high heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts and the consistency is smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too runny add more cheese xx at a time.

3. Use a large whisk to stir in the mustard, rosemary, chopped garlic, and stir constantly until blended.

4. In a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup of the cream and the cornstarch to create a slurry.

5. Pour the slurry into the cheese mixture and continue to whisk until smooth. Whisk in the rest of the the cream 1/2 cup at a time, checking to make sure the consistency is thick and smooth.  Check the consistency by dipping a cube of bread into the fondue to see how the cheese coats the bread adding more cheese if needed.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Pour into the small fondue pots and serve with the cubed bread.

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Feast of the Momo—How to make Nepalese Dumplings for a Crowd


momo and filling

The day we met Bini Prathan, owner of Bini’s Kitchen  at La Cocina, she had just finished making 15,000 momos (Nepalese dumplings) for the San Francisco Street Food Festival. Big batch cooking is in Bini’s blood. Born in Nepal, her mother cooked for the Nepalese royal family in the 1960s and big gatherings were the norm. “A typical party at my house was 160 to 180 people, it wasn’t unusual to have 35 people over for dinner.”

Whether for a party of for a mid-week dinner, friends and family would gather in the kitchen to cook together  “It’s how you catch up on the days events. It’s one of the things you love to do together.” When she was a child, she and her friends would run to her house from school because everyone knew there would always be good food. Nowadays, Bini counts on her assistant Sopa who is from Tibet as well as family members to help with big events. But she doesn’t have much trouble convincing people to help, even some of her clients have joined in the fun,  “They like to be a part of it.”

Big gatherings are typical in Nepal where it is said “the Nepalese people observe more festivals than there are days in a year. There are different festivals celebrated to honor Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses and others to recreate important events from ancient mythology and epic literature.”  Bini is looking forward to the Dashian, a religious festival that lasts for 15 days at the end of October.  For this festival, her family would cook a goat and buffalo and make curry with chicken and “whatever else was possible.” Usually 100 to 250 people would come to that event.

Bini went to culinary school in Mumbai before moving to San Francisco and joining La Cocina’s business incubation program nearly a year ago. Her menu includes sumptous curries, dahls, rotis and other Nepalese specialties including her beloved momos.

Also found in Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, and other parts of India, a momo is a type of steamed or fried dumpling that boast numerous variations of filling. Bini’s specialties include turkey, lamb, and cabbage (vegetarian).  She says the secret to her momos is her spice mixture that includes spices she brings back from Nepal.

Folding a momo is like making pleats for a fan. It takes a bit of practice and technique shown here by  Sopa.

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happy bini

The little hole in the top is for putting in the sauce.

momo closeup

Bini says that when you eat a momo, it is important to grasp the top with all 5 fingers  and place the whole dumpling in your mouth. “God gave you 5 fingers. When you eat with your hands you are saying thank you to god; when you lick your fingers you are serene from the inside, and this means you are feeding your soul, not just your stomach.” 

Cooking  For  Crowd Strategy: As noted above, having lots of eager volunteers is the best way to make momos for a crowd. For steaming the dumplings, if you don’t have an industrial scale steamer (!!), Bini recommends the Asian stacked steamers in which you can steam 20 to 30 at a time. For big gatherings you will need a dedicated person to steam the dumplings in batches.

Serving a Crowd Strategy: At big events, Bini spoons about 8 momos per person into little paper boat bowls.  For the sauce, pour into plastic bottles with squirt tops for more fun and easier service.

Bini’s Turkey Momos

Bini recommends using a sturdy round dumpling wrapper.  She prefers Nasoya round wrappers which come in packs of 60.  For the filling,  you can add spices to taste; fry a little pinch to test the flavoring before you stuff the wrapper.

momo grid

*Note that the proportion of spices is to taste. To test your filling fry up a pinch and taste it before you stuff your dumplings. Also each pack of Nagoya round wrappers includes 60 wrappers, so count on 1 pack per batch.



1.  Combine the filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix gently until all the ingredients and spices are evenly disbursed. Try to handle as little as possible.

2. To fill each dumpling, place a table spoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and gather the edges together pasting with little water. Fold, wrap and pleat to make neat joint for each individual momo leaving a little “well” at the top.

 3.  Take a tray spray it with nonstick spray and place each wrapped momos in a row and put it in a freezer until ready to cook.

4.  To steam the momos,  fill the steamer to the half-point half  with water and boil. Place a colander (steamer) on top of the vessel and grease it with nonstick spray.

 5.  Lightly spray each momo with oil and place on the greased colander leaving inch between each momo .Cover the steamer with lid and steam for 15  minutes.

 6.  Serve steaming hot momos with spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Recipe follows:

Spicy Tomato Cilantro Sauce

This recipe calls for a Nepalese spice called timur which is available online. If you can’t find, it just leave it out.  If you are making a big batch, it is helpful to place sauce in bottles with a squirt top for easier serving.

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1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In a baking sheet,  roast the tomatoes for about 3-5 minutes.  Set aside to let cool.

3.  Place all of the ingredients in a blender or a food processor  (roasted tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, timur, asafetida powder, salt and oil). and process until the sauce is smooth and light orange in color.


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Focaccia di Recco or How to Attach Yourself to Someone Else’s Dinner Party and Bask in the Reflected Glory–Plus Bagna Cauda


My no-fail strategies for a throwing a big dinner party: 

1. Always invite people to your party who are better cooks than you.

2. Attach yourself to someone else’s dinner party (obviously a very good cook) to learn and capture reflected glory.

The key is cultivating a community of great cooks—an overall strategy that makes for a long and happy life.

Last week I volunteered to help in the kitchen at Belcampo Farm in Shasta valley where my amazing friend Anya Fernald  was hosting a dinner party for 20 people.

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Prior to running Belcampo, Anya had worked for Slow Food Italy and her cooking reflects a strong Northern Italian influence. Cooking with us that day were two other amazing Belcampo cooks: Gavin Erezuma and Bronwen Hannah-Korpi.  While Gavin grilled top round and butterflied chickens, I helped Anya prepare the appetizers—bagna cauda (a rich dip made with anchovies, garlic and olive oil) and focaccia di Reccio (a crispy stuffed flat-bread from Liguria).

Well, the truth is that I  actually only peeled the garlic (10 heads!) while Anya, Bronwen, and Gavin skillfully put the meal together. I watched and took notes on how to properly de-bone an anchovy and stretch dough to paper-thin consistency.  My main helpfulness, however, was that I generously offered to serve the food (and thus, bask in the glow of it all).  Melted cheese oozed out of the focaccias as Anya placed, cut, and stacked them on a rustic wood platter.

As I expected, the guests had high praise for the food and thanked me profusely!  “You are so welcome!” I said, “It’s my pleasure!”

What are you serving at your next party? Need some help?

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Now walk the party with tray in hand.
Everyone will say “Thank you!” Just smile and say, “You are so welcome!”

Focaccia di Recco

Stuffed with tangy cheese, Focaccia di Recco is a thin-crusted flat bread from Liguria near Genoa. It tastes nothing like the thick chewy bread we think of as focaccia (it is not made with yeast) and is instead crispy and rich with the flavors of olive oil, salt and melted cheese.

Gavin prepped the dough about an hour and a half before the party and  we (well, really Anya) assembled and baked the focaccias ahead of time, timing the last 2 or 3 to arrive hot out of the oven during the first hour of the party. Focaccia di Recco is usually made in round pans but we made our on a square baking sheet. Also, we had access to a wood burning stove but the instructions here provide for a conventional oven.  Also a high quality olive oil is a must. For the cheese, you can also use Fontina.

*Also, please note that we (well, Anya and Gavin really) used metric measurements. The conversions listed below are estimates.

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Place the flour in a large bowl or a mixer with a dough hook.  Add a pinch of salt the cold water and extra virgin olive oil. Start mixing the dough (with a fork if by hand, incorporating the flour, little by little).  Once the dough has come together, start kneading it with your hands.

Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes, until smooth and uniform. It should be pliant and soft. When the dough is ready, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

Place a pizza stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat  to 475 degrees F.

For the smaller batch (4 focaccias) divide the dough into 8 balls; for the the bigger batch (8 focaccias)  divide the the dough into 16 equal parts. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough and then shape with your hands trying to keep it round and gently stretching until the sheet is as thin as possible, almost transparent.  Once you have rolled out the pieces of dough, begin assembling the focaccia di Recco.

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Grease a 10-in baking dish with extra virgin olive oil or line a baking sheet with tin foil (also greased with oil). Making one focaccia at a time, place one layer of dough on the bottom of the dish or baking sheet. Add the cheese in pieces using your hands or a spoon. Cover the cheese with the second sheet of dough. Party Strategy note here: We recommend assembling and baking off half of the focaccia before the party and finishing the rest just before/during the party. 

photo (26)Pinch the edges together to make a seal. Poke or pinch holes into the top layer of dough so that the steam can come out during cooking.  Brush with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt.

Place in hot oven and bake on a pizza stone until dark golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes or more depending on your oven.


Remove it from the oven and let cool slightly. Cut it into squares and serve warm.

Bagna Cauda

Bagna Cauda literally translates to “hot bath” or “hot dip.”  Made with olive oil, garlic and anchovies, it is so good you might want to bathe in it! When eaten as a meal, it is served in individual portions in special bowls equipped with heating candles.  When making it for this crowd however, we (well, Anya really) served it as a dip with plenty of fresh fennel, carrots, and other fall roots. Unlike a green salad, these sturdy vegetables won’t wilt. Anya recommends using salt packed anchovies and a very high quality olive oil. If you don’t want to use butter, you can substitute an additional 2 cups of olive oil instead.


In a bowl, soak the salted anchovies in water for 30 minutes. Remove the anchovies from the water, mince and grind with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor.

Meanwhile place the garlic in a saucepan and cover with the milk and simmer over medium low heat until the garlic is soft, about 10 minutes.  Strain the garlic and rinse in cold water. Set aside.

Place the garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and butter in a medium saucepan and cook over very low heat for 1 hour. Do not boil.

Remove from heat and run the mixture through a food mill on the widest mesh or press it through a sieve with a spatula. Pour into a serving bowl and place among a bounty of fresh vegetables.

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La Cocina–Big Batch Cooking in the Heart of the Mission


Last week I stopped by La Cocina where the kitchen was full of women food entrepreneurs and volunteers baking, stirring, wrapping, and roasting—prepping for the annual Night Market and San Francisco Street Food Festival.


These ladies really know about big batch cooking!  Bini Pradhan of Bini’s kitchen had made over 15,000 lamb momos (Nepalese dumplings ).  “It took 17 volunteers working for over 2 weeks!,” she said. Meanwhile, at least 6 women dressed in lime green tee shirts from Alica’s Tamales  Los Mayas scooped and stuffed corn while a giant pot of crimson-colored jamaica (hibiscus tea) by Chiefo’s Kitchen boiled on the stove.  Mariko Grady of Aedan’s fermented Foods,  broiled pans of chicken yakitori while Azalina Eusope, a beloved Malaysian food entrepreneur, folded crepes with her crew.


The room was full of energy, purpose and hope. La Cocina, a non-profit incubator kitchen, is all about hope: Its mission is dedicated to ” changing San Francisco’s food scape by working with food entrepreneurs doing what they love to do.” In addition to providing state of the art kitchen space, La Cocina also provides mentors, business classes, and a real community.

“la Cocina was born out of a belief that a community of natural entrepreneurs, given the right resources, can create self-sufficient businesses that benefit themselves, their families, their community and the whole city. The food that has come out of this kitchen and the whole city since 2005 reflects that aspiration and, quite simply, tastes amazing….As a result of these businesses and La Cocina’s support, community jobs have been created and thousands have been introduced to the flavors of the world. As a testament to their quality, the businesses of La Cocina sell their products locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally.”

 The festival and the Night market brought together the Mission community as well as chefs and food enthusiasts from all over the city.   In addition to the La Cocina businesses, the 80 plus vendors included booths by local businesses and some of San Francisco’s most beloved restaurants.

A gift, provided by la Cocina at the Night Market, included this  lovely quote by  Cesar Chavez:

“Las Personas que le dan su comida, le dan su corazon.”

which translates to

“The people who give you their food, give you their heart.”

Over the next few months, we will tell stories (with recipes!) of many of these big-hearted people.

La Concina

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Feast of a French Childhood–Le Grand Aioli

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A photo of Sara Remington in the book Paris to Provence

When I was 10 my family spent a year in Paris. We lived in an apartment in the 13th arrondissement and I went to a French school.  As a family, we explored the city visiting historical monuments, museums, churches and luxurious palaces.

But it was really the small details of everyday life that I remember with the most pleasure; the warmth of roasted chestnuts on a cold winter day; the red flare of tulips in the Jardins des Luxembourg, the swirl of traffic around the Arc de Triomphe; and the crushed violet flavor of a sorbet de cassis from Bertillion. When you are small, you notice the small things. Even now as an adult, I am enchanted with those same small observations of childhood; the odd and unusual moments that make Paris so compelling.

The pleasures of a French childhood are many because the small sensual experiences of France abound.  From the bakeries to the parks to odd little museums, Paris offers some of the most beautiful, quirky, and delicious things to see, do, smell and of course, eat.

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Paris to Provence, a new cookbook beautifully written by Ethel Brennan and Sara Remington, is a beautiful paen to the intimate wonders that make France a magical place for children and adults alike.  Filled with poetic, luscious images and delicious recipes, the book includes moving stories of childhood and of the sensual pleasures of growing up in France.  In Ethel’s recipe for Le Grand Aioli, she includes a marvelous description of summer celebration in her tiny French village—“a party that lasts for days culminating on the last days with the feast and petanque (French bocce ball) The feast itself consisted of platters of boiled vegetables, salted cod, and bowls of homemade aioli cooked by the men and women of the town.”

My favorite memory of Le Grand Aioli actually took place with Ethel at her mother Georgeanne Brennan’s, house in Winters California. Great cooking and writing and generosity run in their family and Georgeanne and her husband Jim invited my parents, brother, sister-in-law and nieces up to join their family feast.  Ethel’s boys and my nieces ran around under the walnut trees while we drank rose in the shade.  Luckily Ethel  included this recipe in the book so now it is my turn to cook this feast. Petanque, anyone?

Tips for making big quantities:  The aioli recipe can be doubled but is best not made in big batches as it can be tricky. When cooking for a crowd, Ethel recommends prepping multiple batches of aioli in advance. Aioli will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  

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Photo credit: Sara Remington

Le Grand Aioli with Vegetables and Salt Cod

Every Summer, for the fifteenth of August, Fox Amphoux where my bother and I grew up, hosts a village feast, a Grand Aioli, a party that lasts for days, culminating on the last day with the feast and petanque (French bocce ball) tournament. The feast itself consists of platters of boiled vegetables, refreshed salted cod, and bowls of homemade aioli, all cooked by the women and the men of the village. The days preceeding are filled with the first rounds of the petanque competition, lots and lost of pastis and rose wine, and in the evenings very eclectic, if not somewhat embarrassing, DJs or rock bands. As kids we would dress up a bit in party clothes. I remember sporting my skinny-leg Gloria Vanderbilt yellow cords, wedge espadrilles, and possibly a side ponytail, then dancing away with all of my girl friends to Abba, the Bee Gees, and Donna Summer. Too young for drinking or boys, the evening fun usually included spying on Aileen’s older brother and his friends, strange and curious teenagers; the girls all smoked and wore lightweight cotton scarves, a look I still find undeniably French.–Ethel

6 pieces salted cod, 4 to 5 ounces each

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 egg yolks

1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil

12 boiling potatoes, such as White Rose or Yellow Finn, peels intact

12 medium sized carrots, peeled

1 pound haricots verts or other small green beans stem ends removed

6 eggs

To refresh the cod, rinse it well in water, then place it in a large bowl, cover with water, and let it soak for 6 to 8 hours, changing the water every two hours. To test, bring a small pan of water to a simmer over low heat, drop in a 1-inch pice of the rinsed fish, cook for 3 to 4 minutes, remove and taste. It should be pleasantly salted and edible. If still too salty, continue soaking for several more hours.

In a small bowl, crush together the garlic and salt using a wooden spoon. In a larger bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Very slowly drizzle in the olive oil, a teaspoon at a time, into the yolks, whisking constantly. Continue this slow process until all of the oil is incorporated and an emulsion has formed. Aioli is finicky and sometimes just doesn’t set; if this happens, try again (with all new ingredients?) Once the mayonnaise has formed, stir in the garlic mixture and the black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add potatoes and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove them from the water and set aside on a platter.

Using the same water, cook the carrots until they are tender but still firm, about 15 minutes. They too should be easily pierced with a fork. Using the slotted spoon, remove from the water and set aside on the platter.

Continue the process for cooking the green beans, but just cook for 5 minutes. Drain the beans and rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry and transfer to the platter of vegetables.

Place the eggs in a pot of water, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and run cold water over the eggs for about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, let cool, and peel. Cut the eggs in half length-wise and arrange of the platter.

To cook the fish, bring a large skillet of water to a simmer. Poach the cod fillets until they gently break apart, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the skillet and pat dry.

To serve, arrange all the vegetables, eggs, and fish on a large platter and put the aioli in several bowls on the table.

Photos and recipe from Paris to Provence: Childhood Memories of Food and France by Ethel Brennan and Sara Remington/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2013″

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Crazy for Paella

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I feel like Bill Cunningham when I say “paella is the feast food of the summer”  but it is showing up everywhere—at farmer’s markets, food truck events, community gatherings, and on restaurant menus. This traditional food from Valencia Spain is infinitely versatile. It can be humble or elegant and made with meat, fish or whatever is available. It is also infinitely expandable: In 1992 the city of Valencia prepared a paella for 100,000 people! Paella is the ultimate big batch dish.

As longtime Barcelona resident,  Spanish food expert (and dear friend) Jeff Koehler notes in his wonderful book, La Paella, the origins of the word “paella” which translates to “pan” in Catalan. The pan itself is wide and shallow with sloping sides and two handles. The size of the pan is crucial in that it must be big enough so that the rice cooks in a thin layer (1/2 to ¾ inch thick). “The more rice, the wider the pan.” When everything is in the pan, the liquid should ideally reach the pan’s handles.

You can find these pans online (just Google “giant Paella pan”) though for smaller batches you can use a cast-iron pan.

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The traditional and most festive method of preparing paella is outside over an open fire. According to Jeff, in Spain this ritual remains in the domain of men, “who savor their moment of epicurean glory. Dishes of marcona almond are set out as groups hover about. They might be talking passionately of politics and futbal (soccer) but are keenly following the progress of the paella.”

I recently cooked paella at my house for 10 people and it was surprisingly easy and delicious. And because I started the prep late and my guests arrived early, we all cooked together as a group. My friend Dahlia was an especially good sport and cleaned all the squid! We added chorizo and drank wine and talked and tasted and marveled when all the broth evaporated and we were left with a savory dish and a reason to celebrate!

To find more of Jeff’s amazing recipes:

la paella

Tips for making big quantities: Jeff says the following recipe can be easily doubled but you must use the right-sized pan (see chart above). For a doubled batch you can use less oil.

Paella a la Marinara

 By Jeff Koehler (from La Paella)

This paella celebrates the flavors of Spain’s coasts, mixing both shellfish and fish. Monkfish, with its sublime flavor and firm flesh, is ideal, though any other firm-fleshed white fish will work well. Use what looks best and freshest at the market.

 Yield : Serves 6

 8 1/3 cups water

½ pound small clams, purged of sand (see Notes)


½ pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded

1 pound monkfish steaks, or 10 ounces grouper fillets, or another firm-fleshed white fish steak or fillet, deboned and broken into pieces

Freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Flour for dredging

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch-square pieces

1 pound cuttlefish or squid, cleaned and cut into 2-by-½-inch pieces (see Notes)

18 large raw head-on shrimp with shells

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

4 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped or coarsely grated (see Notes)

½ teaspoon sweet pimento

2 pinches saffron threads (about 20 total), lightly toasted and ground (see Notes)

3 cups short or medium grain rice

1. In a medium saucepan, bring 5 cups of the water to a boil and add the clams and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat and simmer, partly covered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered, leaving the clams in the water. (Discard any that do not open.)

2. Put the mussels in a small sauté pan, add 1/3 cup of the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until all of the mussels have opened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered. Do not drain. (Discard any that do not open.)

3. Season the fish generously with salt and pepper. In a 16- to 18-inch paella pan, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, dredge the fish, piece by piece, in flour and then cook in batches, turning just once, until golden on the outside and just cooked through in the middle. Transfer to a platter.

4. Remove any solids left in the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and then prepare the sofrito in the same pan. Add the bell pepper, and cook, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown and become fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add the cuttlefish and cook until its moisture has been expelled, about another 5 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping anything that sticks to the pan.

5. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 2 minutes on each side. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, tomatoes, and 2 pinches of salt, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the tomato has darkened to a deeper shade of red and the sofrito is pasty, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, strain the broth from the clams and reserve it. Discard one shell (the empty one) from each clam, and set aside the rest.

6. When the sofrito is ready, sprinkle in the pimentón and saffron, letting the flavors meld for a few seconds while stirring constantly.

7. Add 4 cups of the reserved clam broth plus the remaining 3 cups of water, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Sprinkle in the rice. With a wooden spoon, probe the pan to make sure the rice is evenly distributed. Do not stir again. Lay the pieces of fish on top and then the shrimp. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes over high heat.

8. Reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 8 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al punto, with just a bite to it.

Remove the paella from the heat, cover with paper towels, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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You want some Cherry Clafouti? Come get it!

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I was at my parents house sorting through some old papers when I came upon a recipe for cherry clafouti, brought back from summer camp when I was 11.The summer camp was called La Joie de Vivre (the Joy of Living!) and it was a French summer camp run by a woman who studied mime with Marcel Marceau. She believed that to learn a foreign language, one had to skip the step of translating and use your body instead. So the idea of the camp was to substitute mime gestures for English on the way to learning French.  It was 1976 and the camp was in the hippy time in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I didn’t really have an opinion about mimes at the time but I did learn how to press my palms into an imaginary wall and point to objects and raise my eyebrows to ask questions.  My camp buddy Rachel and I spoke French the whole time but most of the other campers hung out in the “American Embassy,” spoke English, and smoked cigarettes.

The best part of the camp was the food—every day there were homemade buttery croissants and pains au chocolat for breakfast; savory soups and croques Monsieurs for lunch. For dinner it wasn’t unusual to have a rich meaty dish like beef Bourgignon, or a Choux Croute or roast duck.  Out of the kitchen came profiteroles covered in chocolate fudge sauce and madelines (all this for a bunch of bratty kids?) but my favorite dish by far was the cherry clafouti—a golden cake-like pudding filled with sour cherries.

I loved that pudding and even though I didn’t know how to cook, I wanted that recipe.

Babette, the cook, was a buxom woman with a loose blonde bun and a high booming voice.  Her sous-chef Michel was also her husband and he was skinny as she was big.  You could hear them swearing at each other in French at all times of the day.  To go in the kitchen was to risk being yelled at but sometimes you couldn’t avoid it.  One time, a camper went into the kitchen to ask for a glass of milk and Babette chased him out holding her breast while she cackled:

Tu veux du lait? Tiens prends le!” [You want some milk, come on take it!]

Those breasts! That laugh! She terrified me but the clafouti was so good…so I sucked it up and asked her in my best French for the recipe.  I remember sitting at the camp table while she yelled out the ingredients and what to do with them. Since she cooked for the camp, her recipes were already scaled for large quantities.  How did I know at that time that I might one day need a recipe for 50?

Trader Joe’s sells delicious sour cherries.  And they speak English—no miming required. Bon appetit!

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A Crawdad by any other name…

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My friend Tami Lipsey Linde, and her husband Peter hosted a crawfish boil for ten over the weekend.

(Tami in overalls)
Tami in overalls.

Tami and I used to work together at Chronicle, way back in the days when I was just starting on cookbooks.  A Jewish girl from Louisiana, Tami can make a great raunchy joke and mean cocktail while maintaining a delicate Southern charm.  I found myself inebriated after the first batch of her signature pink Hurricanes and into the festive spirit of the boil.

When I asked her the difference between a crawdad and a crawfish, she explained,

“There is no difference between a crawfish, a crawdad, or a crayfish. Different places call it different things. In Louisiana, we call it crawfish. It’s clear that someone is not a Louisiana local if they call it crayfish or crawdad. It’s like the difference between y’all and you guys.”

Tami’s husband Peter added that some people somewhere call them “mudbugs”.

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A couple of mudbugs.

Whatever you want to call them, a pot of crawdads is a great thing to make for a crowd—an extravaganza of shellfish, vegetables, and spice!

How to Cook Crawdads

The first thing you need is a pot. Tami and Peter’s looked like this Bayou Classic Stock Pot and Steamer which they set up over a gas flame in the backyard.  The longest part of the process is waiting for the water to come to a boil.

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And of course you need crawdads! When Tami and Peter plan in advance, they order their crawdads from a source in Louisiana but for our spontaneous Saturday gathering they bought the last 10 pounds from Ranch 99, a Chinese market in El Cerrito.

To make the crawdads, you boil the water with classic seasonings, add corn and potatoes, and boil some more,  then add the crawdads for 2 minutes before turning off the heat and letting the crawdads soak in the spicy broth.  After 20 minutes, you pull up the strainer, pour the mess of steaming shellfish and vegetables on to a newspaper-lined table, and serve with hot sauce and cold beer.

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Now comes the hard part: Eating crawdads is more work that than cooking them! Tami demonstrated the best way to eat crawdads. First you pull off the heads and suck the “brain fat”…

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Then you squeeze the body until the shells crack and you can pull out the meat.

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This often takes a long time, encouraging good conversation, drinking, and raunchy jokes if you are lucky!

Tips and Notes

How many crawdads?

It is normal in Louisiana for someone to eat 3 pounds per person, but if you have lots of corn and other accompaniments 1 pound per person is very satisfying.

How to clean them?

The crawdads are often dirty when you buy them so make sure to rinse them a few times.

Where to cook them?

You will need a good sturdy place to set up your boil. An outdoor set up is best.

Do they go into the pot alive?

Nope. They don’t survive long out of water so they will not be alive or “screaming” in the pot.


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April 2, 2013 · 4:57 am

Vodka and Latkes

It’s my biggest scam:  Every year, I invite my mother to my vodka and latke party.

“I’m going out of town,” she tells me. “I can’t make the latkes this year.”

“Ok, Mom,” I say, “Have a great trip.”

Ten days later she calls me,  “I’ve made 180,” she says, “how many people are coming?”

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My mom is the latke fairy.  She is my secret strategy for throwing an excellent party.   I find the location, invite the people, and she shows up with my father and a massive cooler.

Many purists would disagree with her process of freezing off batches and that she uses a food processor, but if they had one of her crispy, golden pancakes sizzling hot out of the oven, they might change their minds. Also the alternative of standing over the stove frying for 2 at a time is not as fun as feeding seventy-five happy people.  We serve our latkes with bowls of sour cream, apple sauce, wild smoked salmon, and braised brisket.

Then for the vodka:  My dad’s dear Russian friend taught us this tradition: First you exhale and take a shot; inhale while eating the pickle and yell “Whooooo!”

Here is to celebrating the potato in all its forms!


My mother’s recipe is a variation on Marlene Sorosky’s version in Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays.  When making latkes for a big group of people, my mother makes batches of 25 at a time and freezes them in resealable plastic bags. It is a lot of work, so she might make 4 batches over a month. Then she reheats them in a hot oven the night of the party.

  • 2 tablespoons hot tap water
  • 1 vitamin C tablet, crushed into a powder
  • 2 1/2 pounds peeled russet potatoes
  • 1 peeled yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons matzo meal
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Applesauce and/or sour cream, for serving (optional)

Mistaking my mother’s latke preparing expertise for my own, I agreed to do this video for with then senior producer Meredith Arthur.

  1. Place the water and vitamin C tablet in a large bowl and stir until the vitamin C is dissolved; set aside.
  2. Shred the potatoes through the shredding blade of a food processor. Remove the shredded potatoes and fit the food processor with the blade attachment. Working in batches, return the potatoes to the food processor and pulse until they are the size of rice grains. Add the potatoes to the vitamin C mixture and stir to combine.
  3. Shred and pulse the onion in the food processor using the same method as with the potatoes. Add to the bowl of potato mixture along with the matzo meal, eggs, measured salt, and baking powder and stir until incorporated.
  4. Pour 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the oil into a large frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot enough to fry (you can check by sticking a wooden utensil into the oil and seeing if bubbles form around the edges), use a large spoon to drop 3 to 4 mounds of the potato mixture (about 2 generous tablespoons each) into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Flatten the latkes slightly with the back of the spoon.
  5. Fry until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the latkes to paper towels to drain and season with additional salt. Repeat with the remaining batter. When you reach the end of the batter, pat the mixture with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid before frying.
  6. Serve immediately or to freeze: Let cool completely and store in between wax paper in large sealable bags. Store in freezer.
  7. To reheat frozen latkes: Preheat over to 425 degrees F.  Let latkes thaw for 20 minutes. Place latkes on cookie sheet and bake until hot and sizzling, about 10 minutes.

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December 1, 2012 · 5:50 am