Pasta Alla Vodka

Pasta Alla VodkaHittin’ The Sauce
There are a number of reasons to use alcohol when cooking. The most obvious one is to add flavor, and some ingredients just scream for a shot of something. Adding some white wine to garlic sautéed in butter and olive oil makes for a fast and fabulous weeknight pasta dinner. And is there a better combination than peaches, pecans, and bourbon? (Or is that just my inner Southerner?)

Using alcohol in recipes can serve another purpose. Adding a small amount of alcohol to your food can enhance and bring out the flavors of the ingredients you are using. The Italians are the masters of this. There is a reason that they use wine in their sauces and it’s not just because they enjoy a nice glass of Sangiovese. Besides adding great flavor to your dish, adding a small amount of wine to, say, a red sauce, actually gives the sauce a bigger tomato flavor than if you left it out. Even if you are using the good San Marzanos. The same principal applies when using the harder stuff—but with a little twist.

Pasta Alla Vodka can be found on the menus of Italian restaurants everywhere. And, while it may seem strange that you would use vodka, a basically flavorless alcohol, to improve your pasta sauce, the fact is that you aren’t using it to add more flavor per se but to make the other flavors better. While vodka does add a hint of peppery flavor, its main purpose is to release the flavors that are hidden in the tomatoes and other ingredients. This is where we get all scienc-y.

The trick is not to use too much. Full strength vodka will overpower the natural flavors in your sauce because it traps the other molecules. Smaller amounts of vodka will actually release new flavors as the alcohol is cooked off during a slow simmer. It sounds like witchcraft but the results are so so good.

This weekend looks like we might have lower temperatures which should make it feel more like Fall. (Hallelujer!) It’s a great opportunity to fire up a big batch of this pasta sauce for your Sunday dinner with a little left over to save for later in your freezer.

Pasta Alla Vodka
Yields 4 to 6 servings Read more…

Chicken Thigh Pasta

Chicken Thigh Pasta Distracted Living
I’m looking forward to Thursday night. I am looking forward to Thursday night because I need a distraction from our current daily experience and it has offered up the perfect opportunity. Thursday night at 5:20 PM the NFL returns.

I am usually not one of those people who waits with bated breath for the NFL season to start every year—though I do enjoy watching the games. This year, for so many reasons, I really am looking forward to a few hours of not worrying about fires, viruses, or politics. I anticipate being more concerned about first downs and yards per carry. And, of course, I am looking forward to football food.

Now, since the game takes place in Texas and involves teams both from Texas and Kansas City you would think that BBQ would be on the menu. You would be wrong. I am steering clear of all things involving smoke and fire. So, because this first game is happening mid-week, I am not going to do the usual football spread and will go in a totally different direction.

I am going to go with a family comfort food favorite, Chicken Thigh Pasta, which I am shocked I haven’t written about before. This is my go-to recipe when I don’t know what the heck I wanna make for dinner. I could do it in my sleep at this point—and everyone in the family devours it. Also, I almost always have the ingredients on hand because, for me, they are pantry staples. The bonus is that it isn’t too bad for you health-wise. It’s easy, and tasty, and perfect for a no-hassle football meal.

Thursday night will be a short return to normal, whatever that means at this point. But, it won’t be “normal” for everyone. For those of you packing up your homes and preparing to evacuate, stay safe and know that you are in our thoughts. For our firefighters on the front lines, there aren’t enough words to express our gratitude for your herculean efforts. For the rest of us Californians as well as our friends to the north in Oregon and Washington, we can and will get through this.

Chicken Thigh Pasta
Adapted from Ree Drummond and the Food Network
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…

No-Knead Rustic Bread

No-Knead Rustic BreadStill We Rise
I struggled with bread making for years. It was only in the last few that I figured it all out. Since then I have mastered a couple of recipes, Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread and Hearty White Sandwich Bread. And, have experimented with others with a decent amount of success. Lately, since I seem to have a little more time on the weekends, I have branched out to make some of the harder stuff. And, by harder I mean those beautiful crusty loaves that you would normally purchase from people who know what they are doing.

The most difficult thing about baking bread right now is finding the flour and even the yeast. I was fortunate to be able to order a 10# bag from the King Arthur website but I had to keep checking to see if they had stock before I got lucky. I will say that we have been able to get some flour in here at the store, though it’s been spotty. (But, it’s getting a little better.) Yeast is a different issue. The good news is thousands of years of bread making on this planet have taught us that you don’t need foil packets of yeast to make bread. It’s in the wild, man…

There have been a number of recipes popping up that require using “wild yeast” which for all intents and purposes means making a “starter”. The most obvious example is a sourdough starter. I have mostly tried to avoid making sourdough during my bread making journey because of the requirement of using a starter. Starters can be labor-intensive. They require daily feeding to keep them active. It can take over your life and become a real chore if you have an active calendar. As my calendar has become less active in recent weeks, I was working up the courage to start the process but I was saved by a friend of mine who not only dropped of a tasty loaf of her rosemary sourdough but some of her starter as well. This is a common practice amongst sourdough bakers. You gotta do something with the “discard” so why not dispense it to your friends? You can only make sourdough waffles so many times…

Because I am unable to share my starter with all of you I am sharing a few recipes for your viewing pleasure. The first is a fairly basic recipe for a rustic sourdough. Please note it does use packaged yeast as well as starter. And here are instructions for how to get your started going. If you are unable to get yeast, I encourage you to do a little research about natural yeast. (The King Arthur Learn section of their website is great.) Yeast from dried fruit is a very old but effective method of baking bread and might be a good option. ( It’s also a great science lesson for your kids.)

The recipe below is a fantastic peasant bread for those who want crusty loaf but aren’t big into sourdough. I made this one last weekend and it was so tasty. Also, remember that these recipes and ideas require time. Good news is, right now, we have that time…

No-Knead Rustic Bread
Adapted from the Food Network
Yields 8 servings Read more…

Fresh Homemade Pasta

Fresh Homemade PastaKeep Calm And Cook On
When you have been in business for 118 years you see a lot of things. When our store first opened in 1902, we were the only supply option for the people who had “country homes” in Piedmont. The situation changed dramatically in 1906 when people escaping the destruction of the earthquake crossed the bay to Oakland and they all needed groceries. But we survived that and will get through this too. We survived the depression and two world wars. We’ve survived fires and even more earthquakes. And we weathered the uncertain times after the 9/11 attacks. This time will be no different and we will do it because of our people.

To say we broke some records in the last week would be an incredible understatement. Through it all, our amazing employees have remained steadfast and dedicated to the community they serve. Some even volunteering to come in on their day off to help keep whatever stock we had on the shelves. It was exhausting and stressful but their commitment to our neighbors is awe-inspiring. And, I am personally humbled and beyond grateful to work with this extraordinary group of people.

I would also like to thank our surrounding community for making it easy to serve you in these past days. Through all the hysteria of long lines and empty shelves, our community remained patient and calm—even when we had technical difficulties with our pin pads. Every person who came through our check stands made it a point to thank our checkers and baggers for being there to help. Their gratitude and support made it that much easier to get through those crazy shifts.

Now we focus on learning our new normal. Here at the store, we have new business hours. We have signs posted all over the store but in case you missed it, they are listed on our website.

We will be closed tomorrow March 19th to give our staff a rest and to get the store cleaned and stocked. We will be open again on Friday at our normal time of 9 AM. We are hoping to be able to fill all of those holes I mentioned as we should be getting a big truckload in on Thursday…but we can’t be certain. The vendor warehouses are just as depleted as we are so we may not get everything we requested. We ask for your patience with us as well as them.

Since we don’t know for sure what will arrive on the truck, right now is the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill like, say, making your own pasta. Making fresh pasta is not really as difficult as you might believe. It requires only a few ingredients. Though, I will concede that flour could be an issue. (Cross your fingers for Thursday). If you are lucky to have all the ingredients, give it a shot. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect the first time around. Keep in mind that Italians have been making pasta for centuries without fancy equipment. Just elbow grease and time—which is something we have a lot more of right now. Clean wire hangers are great for drying your pasta. Give it a try or better yet make it a family activity to get people off the screens.

Let’s everyone just take a deep breath. Remember we’re in this together and we’ll get through this. Hopefully while learning new skills and, frankly, eating pretty well… Read more…