DIY Delicious at Jimtown—ajvar, crackers, cheese, yogurt cake, sauerkraut canapés and more!

The inaugural DIY Delicious book event was held recently at Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, CA. Since working on the recipes for the Jimtown Store cookbook was my first foray into cookbookery, it only seems fitting. Plus it’s a warm, welcoming space that feels like home and Carrie Brown and her staff know how to make a party!

But first the food: My dear friend Ellen helped me make fresh cheese, crackers, ajvar dip, and yogurt cakes the day before—all from the book.

Upon our arrival, all we had to do was crisp the potatoes, assemble the canapés (which included homemade sauerkraut and mustard from the book) and arrange the other items on platters. Carrie and her staff provided the flowers, the space and all the gorgeous herb bundles.

It was a fabulous party. Both my sisters showed up, many friends, ex-husband, and even some folks from as far away as Palo Alto.

Ajvar Dip (from DIY Delicious page 74)

This is a wonderful dip to make this time of year when the eggplants and peppers fill the markets. If you take the time to really char the eggplants (don’t worry, the stove will clean up just fine) you will be rewarded with a lovely smokiness that reminds me of a very good baba ghanoush, only better. Look for this recipe on the Chronicle Books Blog later this week.

Time Required: 30 minutes active; 30 minutes passive

Makes about 2 cups

1 globe eggplant, about 1 pound

2 red bell peppers

2 garlic cloves, peeled


2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper or paprika

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the eggplant and poke it with the tines of a fork in several places. If you have a gas burner, lay it right on top of the grate, turn the burner to high, and roast until blackened all over, turning often with tongs, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.

Roast the peppers the same way and transfer them to the sheet as well.

Put the charred peppers and eggplant in the oven and roast until completely soft, about for 10 minutes for the peppers and 20-30 minutes for the eggplant. Remove the peppers to a bowl, and cover with a plate so they can steam. Leave the eggplant in the oven until it is very soft all the way to the center. Test it with a fork to be sure.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, and remove the seeds and stems. Transfer to a food processor. In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt until you have a smooth paste. Add to the food processor with the peppers and pulse until chunky smooth.

When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh from the skin and remove as many of the seeds as it is easy to do, without worrying too much about removing all of them. Transfer the eggplant to the processor with the peppers and garlic. Add the lemon juice, Aleppo pepper and pulse a few times. Add the olive oil slowly while pulsing. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate, well covered, for up to 10 days.

Posted in Books, DIY, book events, community, entertaining, stores | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chiles and Tomatillos in the Market: Time for Chile Verde

A couple of weeks ago I looked out the window and, though it was a hot day, I noticed that the light had the look of fall. It happens so suddenly—that subtle change in the quality and angle of the light, but it’s unmistakable.

So then I started to think about warming stews and soups, which led me to thinking about what’s in the market, which led me to chiles, then tomatillos, and finally, pork.  It was clearly time for Chile Verde. It’s one of my favorite dishes on the planet and one we used to make all the time at The Jimtown Store. In fact, I still use the recipe from The Jimtown Store Cookbook.

It’s rich and porky, tender and savory, warming and deeply flavorful and just spicy enough to heat your belly. It’s true comfort food. I like to serve it with Lupe’s Red Rice (from the Jimtown book) and some simply cooked beans and homemade tortillas. There are several steps involved in the making but none are hard and the actual cooking is effortless. It can be done in a low oven, on the stove in a heavy pot, or in the crockpot. Plus the leftovers get better every day and are so easily reheated for a quick lunch.

Speaking of Jimtown—I’ll be there this Sunday, the 19, from 2-4 with bites from DIY Delicious and I’ll be signing books and answering questions. Would love to see you there.

Here’s the method, if not the actual recipe:

Start by charring about a dozen poblano peppers right on the top of your gas stove. (if your stove is electric you may do it in a hot oven but they won’t get quite as charred)

Place them in a bowl and cover with a towel to let them steam

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil about a pound of husked tomatillos for 15 minutes until they turn a dull green. Cool.

Cut up about 3 pounds of boneless pork shoulder (this one from my new friendly neighborhood butcher shop run by Marin Sun Farms)  into stew-like pieces, removing some, but not all of the fat.

Puree the tomatillos in a food processor with salt, pepper, garlic, half an onion, a handful of cilantro, and 2 or 3 Serrano chiles, depending on heat desired

Peel the poblanos, seed, destem and dice.

In a heavy pot, sauté one diced onion and two or three cloves of garlic in olive oil or lard. Add the pork, the pureed tomatillos, the diced poblanos, salt, pepper, about 3 cups of chicken or pork broth, and some freshly toasted and ground cumin. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook until tender 1-1/2 hours on the stove, 2-2 ½ hours in the oven, or 6-8 hours in a crockpot. (in which case you just sauté the onions and garlic and then dump them, along with everything else into the crock-pot)

Posted in Latin American, from the market, hearty | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Life Gives You Zucchini Make O Konomi Yaki

Evidently I’m pretty good at growing summer squash, and not much else. Of all my garden plants the only two that bore much of anything edible are two very different heirloom squash varieties.

They sit next to a trumpet vine so they were pollinated and pollinated and pollinated. Did I mention I live alone? I’m just saying that’s a lot of squash no matter how many friends will continue to accept your offerings.

I’ve also gotten adept at inventing uses for squash. Shredded salads, pureed soups, steamed and mashed with cheddar (Thanks to Jimtown and Carrie Brown for that one) and then of course, the usual zucchini bread and a zillion variations on pasta sauce.

One day I was doing my usual, “what can I do with squash today?” mental exercise and I suddenly remembered a delicious O Konomi Yaki recipe from my old Fields of Greens cookbook. I swore it called for zucchini but when I looked at the recipe, it actually didn’t. That fact did not stop me.

Basically the dish involves shredding carrots and cabbage, (or zucchini) and adding some sliced shiitakes, green onions, and ginger then cooking the veg in sesame oil until wilted.

Next, add a little soy sauce, mirin, and some pepper flakes and cook until liquid is absorbed.

Transfer to a bowl and add just enough beaten egg (1 per 3 cups of vegetables) and flour (1 to 2 tablespoons) to hold the mixture together for cooking in a cast-iron pan.

Stir in some chopped cilantro just before cooking over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes per side and you’ve got it.

I made a little dipping sauce with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, sugar, and rice vinegar to go with, and, for an uncomplicated accompaniment, I wrapped fillets of wild salmon in parchment with mushrooms, lemon, and tomato and baked it at 350 for about 15 minutes. All in all, a quick and satisfying meal with minimum mess and fuss.

Posted in Asian, gardening, healthy, seafood | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

DIY Delicious Book Giveaway with FarmCurious


Win a signed copy of my book, DIY Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch. All you have to do to qualify for a random drawing is to submit a story about your catalyst for canning, preserving, or creating your own food from scratch. Your story can inspire others!


This contest is in partnership with FarmCurious. FarmCurious is a new company created by Oakland resident Nicole Kramer to educate, inspire and equip the urban homesteader. FarmCurious is running the Urban Homesteading General Store at Oakland’s Eat Real Festival on August 27, 28, 29. Stop by to learn more about how to grow, preserve, culture, and ferment your own food, as well as purchase everything you need to get started. The winner of the contest will be able to claim his or her copy of DIYDelicious at the FarmCurious booth.


Many of us didn’t grow up canning or making our own artisan food from scratch or, if we did, we lost it somewhere along the way. If your story is like many people’s, you were too busy with college exams, demanding jobs, and busy social lives to worry about where your food came from. But perhaps one day, the stars aligned and you had your ‘spark’ – that aha! moment when you realized that putting food away wasn’t a waste of time, that making cheese is sexy and that curing meat will win you more dates than a bikini wax.

For me, it was visiting my aunt’s farmhouse (the house where my mother grew up). Seeing the pantry lined with homegrown and home-preserved fruits and vegetables was an unforgettable moment. It was like experiencing a part of my history that my mother had left behind. I set out to reclaim it, and after several years of dabbling, my “from scratch” book, DIY Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food From Scratch, is being published by Chronicle Books.

For Nicole Kramer, proprietor of Farm Curious, her spark was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It changed the way she saw everything. Suddenly, dirt was soil and vegetables were miracles. Water became a resource to be conserved and appreciated and she started seeing time in seasons. Around the same time, she met an amazing friend with a similar interest in food who worked at an organic produce wholesaler. The stars had aligned and her cupboards were soon full of beautifully colored mason jars and her freezer packed with vacuum-sealed treats.


What’s your spark story?  Submit it today to either me or Nicole of FarmCurious for a chance to win a free, signed copy of DIY Delicious. The winner will be chosen through a random drawing from all story entries. Deadline to submit your story is August 24. Winners will be announced on our blogs and Facebook pages, as well as Twitter.

Contest Rules:
Submit the story of what inspired you to dabble in DIY artisan food through any of the following ways:
* On Facebook – “Like” the Facebook pages for DIY Delicious or FarmCurious and add your story as a wall post
* On – Add your story as a comment to the DIY Delicious Spark Contest Post here
* On – Add your story as a comment to this DIY Delicious Spark Contest Post
* Use hashtag #DIYspark on twitter to link to a post on your own site with your story

The winner will be announced the morning of August 27 and the winner can stop by the FarmCurious booth at any time throughout the festival to claim his or her prize.

Posted in Books, DIY, community | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

DIY Delicious Promo Video

Check out this super fun DIY Delicious Video. Shot and conceived by the talented folks at 4SP films. I love it! And it was so much fun to shoot! Thanks to Chronicle Books for making it possible and Peter Perez, Marketing Manager at Chronicle, for loaning his kitchen, community garden and slightly goofy (yet totally hot!)  watering presence in the background.

Posted in Books, DIY, Film, gardening, healthy, hearty | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Really Underground Restaurant

The term “underground” as it relates to food had come to sound ridiculous. These days it’s code for places where droves of in-the-know people in a certain age range and from certain segments of the population gather to wait hours in line for homemade, DIY, fermented, foraged, bartered, guerilla gardened, dumpster plucked, or street vended foodstuffs.

As long as the food was produced outside the industrial (or legal) food system and doesn’t fit under the umbrella of the widely-seen-as-elitist Slow Food movement, it qualifies. Each new event creates its own tsunami of publicity in an endlessly well-fed loop. Sometimes I feel like I could spend every waking moment trying to keep up with all this stuff. But the thought of trying, frankly, makes me very tired.

That said, who doesn’t love to be one of the first to discover a new hot food spot?

I have a friend who runs an honest-to-goodness underground restaurant. It’s exclusive all right. It only seats 6–maybe 8– and you have to actually know the person who runs it or be a guest of someone who knows the person who runs it. Not only have I attended the dinners but also, I’ve had the privilege of hanging out in the kitchen as an assistant doing dishes, wiping plates, and eating the food.

Here’s my behind-the-scenes look at one illicit dinner. The phone photos just add to the underground ambiance, don’t you think?


  • Cucumber Lime Cocktails with Vodka
  • Caramelized Onion Tart with Tomatoes, Olives, and Goat Cheese
  • Kale Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons and Real Caesar Dressing
  • Heritage Pork Chop Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Breadcrumbs with a Wine-Plum Sauce, served over orzo with home-grown chard and wild arugula
  • Over-the-Moon Pies (soon to be found at an underground venue near you, hopefully)
  • Trio of Stonefruit Sorbets (not pictured)

Did I mention that the menus at this restaurant incorporate neighborhood foraged, homegrown, and farmers’ market produce, the meat is always always always sourced from local, humane growers such as the fine folks at Prather Ranch or Marin Sun Farms, the eggs are pastured, and that everything (often even the cheese) is homemade? For example, the plum sauce for the chops was made from plums my friend spied on a tree in the backyard of a nearby vacant house.

Yup, we snuck in and harvested them ourselves.

Enjoy! But remember, it’s really underground. If I told you where it is, I’d have to kill you. However, if you want to book a dinner, and you actually know me, send an email.

Frosty, Delicious Cocktails

Flaky crust, bold flavors

Kale Caesar, so garlicky, so green!

Porky Goodness

Homemade marshmallows, homemade graham crackers, great chocolate, organic peanuts. mmmmm.

Posted in DIY, Food and Drink, entertaining | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Dinner for One: Lamb Chop, Smashed Squash, and Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes

I have a confession to make. I haven’t been cooking all that much lately. I mean really cooking. I find myself making side dishes or desserts for gatherings I’m invited to, omelets and salads for dinner, brown rice with sauerkraut, a quick zucchini soup, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, you get the picture. This is all good food, but none of it takes much thought or is particularly inspired.

I think we all have dry spells, but I don’t think most of us food-type people like to admit it. In truth, with a cookbook coming out in a month, it makes me feel like a fraud–especially when my friends are canning, cooking jam, and making moon pies with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers.

That said, I do make sure that I sit down at the table and eat with a napkin, knife and fork, civilized-like–even if it is just brown rice and sauerkraut. Sometimes though, even in a dry spell, I’m inspired to have what I call a real dinner.

Part of the inspiration for this meal was the opening of the Marin Sun Farms butcher shop at Market Hall in Rockridge. I don’t eat a lot of meat and when I do, I want to know where it came from and how it was raised. At Marin Sun Farms, there is no mystery meat. The excellent butchers there can tell you where the animal that became your lamb chop was raised (Petaluma). That’s lovely. I bought this nice little lamb chop and took it home to combine with the produce in my fridge.

Dinner was simple and sublime. I made a quick little pesto in my mortar/pestle with anchovies, garlic, parsley and olive oil. I salt and peppered the lamb and seared it to medium rare. I served it with Massa duck-fat roasted fingerling potatoes from the farmers’ market, and some squash I grew myself that I steamed and smashed with butter, salt and pepper, and a little grated raw goat milk cheddar. I topped the lamb with the pesto, and the pesto’s umami combined with the lamb’s natural savoriness was so delicious, it almost tasted like there was a truffle in there somewhere. It was a meal that made me moan with pleasure, and one I didn’t have to work that hard for. Now that’s what cooking should be. I hope that if you too are in a cooking rut, that this post has inspired you to go out and get the best ingredients you can and do the simplest thing you can think of with them. I promise it will be good.

PS: Welcome to the new website. I’ve moved from having a static website and a Typepad blog to an all-in-one WordPress platform. I hope you like it. This is where you’ll find all the exciting DIY Delicious related events that are coming up soon!

Posted in Uncategorized, from the market | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Finally Did with my Massa Organics Duck

Last fall, Greg tweeted that he’d be selling rice-paddy raised ducks at the Berkeley market if folks wanted to order ahead. I did. I picked mine up on a bright day in September or October. I have no idea which. It was frozen so I put it in the freezer thinking I’d cook it within the month.


All sorts of crazy life stuff ensued, including a move. The duck, of course, came with me to my new home and took up residence in my new freezer. Sitting there in my freezer all winter and into the spring, the duck took on a gigantic importance. It was a special duck. A Massa-raised duck. Not just any old duck. I had to DO something with it. Just roasting it would not do at all. I was waiting for an occasion.


Finally Haven’s mother was in town and since the two of us had been meaning to cook a dinner together out of Niloufer’s wonderful book, My Bombay Kitchen, we decided it was time. Only problem is that there wasn’t really a recipe for a whole duck in the book.  Improvisation was in order.


I decided to make the Green Curry Masala (page 135) that Niloufer says is versatile enough for lamb, brains, or chicken. My thought was to rub the duck with ginger garlic paste (page 36) and steam it for 15 minutes to render the fat. Then I’d rub it with the masala and roast it. I also made the Watercress and Turnip Salad (page 215). Haven made a variation on the Fresh Turmeric and Ginger Pickle (page 234) and her mother (appropriately) made Mother’s Khichri (page 165).  Sorry about the white rice! We didn’t use the Massa Rice.


All went swimmingly. In the end I decided the duck needed a little sauce so I whisked together some white wine, butter, and Green Curry Masala and we spooned it over the duck. Four of us picked that thing clean. It looked as if buzzards had gotten in and taken up residence at the dinner table. The appetizer was a real coup. Instead of flatbread we ate the pickle with Cowgirl Fromage Blanc (they were out of paneer) on toasted Massa Whole Wheat Tortillas.


I’m hoping for another duck this fall. Greg: are you listening?


Just before steaming. Steamer insert rigged up in wok with foil covering it for 15 minutes.

Just after steam bath.

Rendering fat to use for roasting potatoes.

After roasting. It wasn't that pretty but it sure was good. PS: 1 duck is barely enough for 4 people.

Posted in Asian, Books, Food and Drink, entertaining, from the market | 3 Comments

DIY Delicious is Here!

I got the email yesterday. It said, "I'm holding advance copies of your book in my hand, it looks beautiful. Which address should I send them to?"

I was excited but a little numb I guess. Or maybe nothing can really prepare a person for the feeling of opening a package and pulling out a HARDCOVER book with your name on the cover. I think that's it. 

So there I was trying to concentrate on work all morning, with an undercurrent in my brain saying, "it's coming," quietly, insistently, constantly. The second I went upstairs to do something, I heard the dog bark. Here it was.

I ran to the door and stood in front of it, waiting for the Fedex guy to ring the bell. I guess I didn't want to appear too eager. I opened the door, shoved the dog inside, signed the electronic thingy shakily and then grabbed the package with a feeling in my stomach like being in love. I ripped it open and just kept saying "oh my god", "oh my god", "oh my god." The dog looked worried. She shouldn't have been. 

There it was, real, concrete, and gorgeous beyond belief. The design of the cover is raised and embossed and it has a super cool blurb on the back by Novella Carpenter. I am feeling very lucky right now and also so thankful for the opportunities I've had. In the end, the dog wasn't really that excited. These are the times you wish you worked in an office, where if you shout, people will hear. I guess, that's what Twitter and Facebook are for. 

Stay tuned soon for a gorgeous new WordPress site to do justice to this book!

Posted in Books, DIY, food news | 19 Comments

Mendocino Abalone Plus Recipes: Abalone Ceviche with Kumquats and Abalone Chowder with Bacon


I’m not a diver but I’m a cook so I feel fortunate to have been invited on a camping trip with a bunch of abalone divers. I’m always happy to let my imagination run wild in the camp kitchen. And even happier to be able to eat copious amounts of one of the last wild foods available to us.

After my chilly weekend at Van Damme State Park in Mendocino, I have a new appreciation for abalone and the divers who harvest it. Because you know what? It’s not that easy to catch abalone. You may think, “How hard can it be? It’s not like they run away or anything, right?” And though abalone can’t technically move fast enough to flee from divers, they do have other deterrents at the disposal. As does the Calfornia Department of Fish & Game. 


First of all, while there are seven of species of abalone in California, the only ones the divers are allowed to take are Red Abalone no smaller than seven inches in diameter. To preserve the population, licensed divers are allowed three abalone per day with a maximum of 24 per season. The season runs from April through November with a closure in July.


Regulations also prohibit the use of oxygen tanks, so would-be abalone divers have to be highly skilled.  Imagine diving down to a depth of 20-30 feet in freezing water, while holding your breath. Once you’re down there, you have to find the abalone, make sure they are the proper size and species and then move swiftly to pry them off the rock with a special tool. Tip them off to your presence and they seize onto the rock, making it impossible to remove them. One strike and you’re out. The seas can be rough, and visibility can be low, adding to the difficulty.

For these reasons it’s also dangerous. Emergency responders in Mendocino County rescue about 15 abalone divers each year. Nearly every year, somebody dies while diving for abalone. Last year’s death count was three.


Lets say you’re diving and you make it back to the surface with your abalone and head to the campsite to relax. First you have to pry the abalone out of their shells (this sounds nicer than saying you have to kill the live mollusks), and then you must trim out their goopy reproductive and digestive organs, as well as the black edges and the tough bits of the “foot.” Finally you have to pound the hell out of them or they’ll be too tough to eat. Then you can relax while someone else cooks them (if you’re lucky). In reality, most divers do cook. Usually they grill it, poach it, or slice, pound, bread, and pan-fry it. All are perfectly respectable ways to enjoy the sweet, oceany flesh.

On the third meal, something a little different was in order. I’ve made ceviche with abalone at home previously, but I wanted to do something a little different, so I brought along some kumquats to go with the usual ceviche flavors. The chowder was entirely unplanned. It was an incredibly cold weekend and, on one of our frigid hikes, Haven and I were fantasizing about chowder. We had potatoes in the cooler. We thought if only we had cream and bacon, we could make a fabulous abalone chowder. Luckily one of the other campers had both cream and bacon so our dream came true. 

Here are the recipes—proportions are estimated. We cook by feel in the campsite.


Abalone Ceviche with Kumquats

2 abalone, sliced thinly into strips

6-8 kumquats, sliced as thinly as possible

2-3 serrano chiles, finely diced (seeds removed or left in depending on how much heat you want)

1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped

1/2 of a red onion, cut half, then thirds lengthwise and then thin, half-moon slices

Juice of 5-6 limes

Salt to taste

Toss all of the above in a bowl and let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.


Campsite Abalone Chowder

This was truly a camp collaboration incorporating the ideas of many. One of the beautiful things about this chowder was that we were able to use the tough abalone trimmings to make a super flavorful stock. If there had been celery, I definitely would have put some in both the chowder and the stock. I used leftover cooked bacon from breakfast for the chowder, but if you don’t have cooked bacon you could sauté it in its own fat, add the onion and skip the butter if you want (or pour off some of the bacon fat and still use butter for flavor)


2 pounds abalone trimmings

1/2 of an onion, roughly chopped

1 slab bacon


1/2 stick butter

1/2 of an onion, diced

2 to 3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 abalone, diced

4 to 5 pieces of cooked bacon, crumbled

Cream to taste (about a cup)

Salt and pepper to taste

Put the abalone trimmings, onion, and bacon in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer slowly for 1 to 2 hours, strain. (can be made one day ahead and refrigerated).

In a soup pot, melt the butter, add the onion and sauté until translu
cent. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer until tender. (I added water to stretch it here because the broth was super flavorful) Add the abalone, bacon and cream and simmer until the abalone is tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Posted in Latin American, food sustainability, healthy, hearty, seafood | 2 Comments
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    The recipes and images on this site belong to Vanessa Barrington. Feel free to link here and if you’d like to use a recipe or image, please ask permission first. Thank you.