Mid East Feast

I don’t know about you, but when the weather is cold and blustery, I like to serve something exotic to make my family forget their blues and “visit” someplace foreign…at least for dinner. The La Honda Country Market has quite a selection of exotic foods that are easy to prepare. So recently we feasted on Middle Eastern delicacies: olives, hummus, falafel, couscous and pita bread. Ahhhhh. I felt warm all over.


  • 1 box of falafel mix
  • 1 box of couscous mix
  • 1 tub of hummus dip (the store has three varieties in the refrigerated case)
  • 1 bag of either pita bread or Naan bread (cut Naan bread in half or quarters and wrap around falafel patties)
  • 1-2 diced tomatoes
  • shredded lettuce (1/2 head)
  • 1 diced bell pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)


  1. Easiest recipe ever. Follow the instructions on the boxes of falafel mix and couscous. Make small patties or balls of falafels so they fit inside the pita bread more easily.
  2. Eat some olives while you are cooking, and put them out as appetizers.
  3. Gently split open the pita or Naan bread to form a pocket.
  4. Open the tub of hummus and spread a thin layer inside one side of the pita bread.
  5. Add two spoonfuls of couscous and 2-3 tiny falafel patties inside the pita, then sprinkle tomatoes, peppers, lettuce in too. Add any kind of hot sauce if you like it hot.

THAT’S ALL IT TAKES.  Julienne veggies such as celery, carrots, bell peppers, etc. to dip in the extra hummus.  You can also leave the couscous out of the pita and serve it as a side dish. Enjoy.

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Red Velvet Pancakes with Chocolate Chips


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups buttermilk (you can make buttermilk by adding a dash of lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons red food coloring
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (doesn’t matter what kind you use)

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, sour cream, food coloring and vanilla.

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just combined.

Add chocolate chips and fold in batter.

Pour about 1/3 cup onto medium-high griddle and lightly brown on both sides.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top and serve with maple syrup or cream cheese frosting if you want something totally decadent.

And if it’s a special occasion, such as Valentine’s Day or an anniversary, make your pancakes slightly bigger than a heart shaped cookie-cutter and once the pancake is done, cut the heart shape out of it by pressing the cookie-cutter down on the pancake and peeling the outside away. Nibble on the remnants at will!  J

CountryMarketCooking is an experiment in sustainable community. What you’ll find is a weekly recipe and story told by a woman in a small mountain town in northern California who hopes to encourage people to think globally and shop locally–in her case at The La Honda Country Store at 8865 La Honda Rd., La Honda, California, 94020, 650-747-9722.  Find this blog at countrymarketcooking.wordpress.com.  Mangia!



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Avocado Mondo!

I was in Morro Bay, CA, over the weekend and they had an “Avocado and Margarita Festival” on Saturday. Nice idea, yes? Maybe we should have something like that in La Honda. The Zucchini and Zinfandel Festival? The Bruschetta and Booze Bash? Nah. I’ll skip it. But anyway, in Morro Bay there were plenty of local farmers and vintners sharing their wares. And this one avocado grower was serving half an avocado with some miracle sauce in the indentation where the pit used to be that had people swooning. I sweet-talked him into sharing the recipe (actually I just asked if he could hand me one of the recipe papers he had stacked up on his table) so I could share it with you!


* 1 medium-sized avocado (or go big because this is tasty!)
* 1/4 pound of butter
* 6 Tablespoons of ketchup
* 3 Tablespoons of white vinegar
* 4 Tablespoons of brown sugar
* a pinch of salt

1. Carefully slice the avocado in half, twist the two halves apart. Remove and discard the pit.

2. Place the remaining ingredients into a small saucepan on medium-low, and heat until all sugar and butter is dissolved. Keep warm or let it cool to room temperature.

3. Pour the sauce into the indentation in the avocado and scoop the yummy goodness out with a spoon.


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Polenta Tamale Pie

Tamale pie is pretty easy to make anyway, but the polenta tubes at The La Honda Country Market make it downright simple! This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to bake. I made individual tamale pies in dishes, but you can also make it in a large casserole dish and serve from that. Add a green salad and you’re good to go.


* 1 polenta tube sliced into 1/3-inch rounds
* 1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey or vegetarian faux hamburger)
* 1-1/2 Tablespoons of chili powder
* 1 Tablespoon of ground cumin
* 1 16-ounce jar of salsa (spicy to mild, your choice)
* 1 can of chicken or vegetable broth (I save the water when I steam veggies for a great vegetable broth)
* 3 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or Mexican blend)
* 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
* 1 cup chopped ripe olives (optional)
* 1/4 cup sliced jalapenos (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease four individual casserole dishes or a 9×13-inch pan with olive oil or olive oil spray.

2. Place half the slices of polenta into casseroles so they bump up against each other (or near each other is fine).

3. Sauté ground meat until brown. Add chili powder and cumin for last minute of sautéing and then pour in salsa, beans, and broth. Simmer for five minutes to combine.

4. Pour half of the meat mixture over polenta slices, then top with half the cheese, half the ripe olives and half the jalapenos. Create one more layer of polenta slices, meat mixture, cheese, olives, jalapenos.

5. Bake for 30 minutes and serve by sprinkling cilantro on top.

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Polenta Stacks

The La Honda Country Market has the most convenient form of polenta around…a tube of goodness that doesn’t even have to be refrigerated and can be found on the same aisle where beans and pasta and such reside in the store. I sliced it into eight round spheres and slid them onto a lightly oiled baking pan where they could be topped with just about anything. Pop them into a 350-degree oven for half an hour and your family will be asking for seconds. They also make perfect hors d’oeuvres for parties or a first course for that special dinner. Vegetarian and pulled pork versions are detailed here, but the varieties are endless.

Vegetarian Italian Stack
* 2 Tbsp olive oil or olive oil spray
* 1 package of premade polenta (sliced into rounds)
* 4 ounces mozzarella cheese (sliced into rounds or shredded)
* one medium or two small zucchini (shredded)
* half cup red pasta sauce (or pesto sauce if you prefer)
* 2 ounces shaker Parmesan cheese (or grated Parmesan)
* salt and pepper to taste

Mediterranean Roast Pork Stack
* 2 Tbsp olive oil or olive oil spray
* 1 package of premade polenta (or make it from scratch, but it’s a lengthy process)
* 1 small jar of roasted red peppers (chopped) or roasted red pepper tapenade
* 2 cups roast pork (shredded) Note: you can also use chicken or leftover pot roast
* ½ small red onion (finely diced)
* 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (around 1/2 cup)
* salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 350°. Lightly grease baking pan with olive oil or olive oil spray.

2. Place slices of polenta onto baking pan leaving half-an-inch between rounds.

3. Stack toppings in the order the ingredients are listed above, split up amongst the eight polenta rounds.

4. Bake for 30 minutes and serve either hot or at room temperature.

To serve, carefully slide these stacks off the baking tray with a spatula and place on a serving platter or on each individual’s small dish. Great to serve when you’re having Tapas (Tapas is a meal of small appetizers prominent in Spain).

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Roasted Cumin and Chickpea Salad

How about a vegetarian entree that can easily be a main course or a fantastic side dish. It looks festive in the bowl and tastes both light and delicious! The toasted cumin makes it special. Perfect for a summer evening or picnic lunch.


* ¾ tsp ground cumin
* 2 Tbsp olive oil
* 2 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice
* 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas (rinsed)
* 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
* 1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
* ½ small red onion, finely chopped
* 1 ounce feta, crumbled (around ¼ cup)
* salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin and cook, stirring, until toasted and fragrant (1 minute). Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Add the oil, lime juice, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper to the bowl. Whisk to combine.

3. Add the chickpeas, celery, tomato and onion and toss to combine. Let sit, tossing occasionally, for 15 minutes.

4. Fold in the feta cheese immediately before serving.

Yummalicious! Pretty too!

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Several folks in my family are crazy about BLTs. Which is bacon, lettuce and tomato to the uninitiated. There’s just something addictive about the salty bacon, crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes piled high on your favorite bread. They order this sandwich when we go out for lunch. They make them at home all the time. But when I saw this version, I had to share it. Because everyone needs a change up to their old standards I say. Hope you enjoy it too.


* 12 ounces of small rigatoni or other short pasta
* ½ pound sliced bacon (about 9 slices)
* 1 medium red onion, sliced
* 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (we pick them from the garden!)
* 1 bunch of arugula (stems discarded ) or romaine lettuce, torn into pieces. You can also substitute mixed baby greens.
* salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and return to pot.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp (6-8 minutes). Transfer to paper towel-lined plate. Break into pieces when cool enough to handle.

3. Discard all but 2 Tablespoons of bacon drippings and return skillet to medium heat. Add the onion, season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (5-6 minutes).

4 Add the tomatoes and arugula (or other herbs) and cook, tossing for one minute.

5. Toss the onion-tomato mixture with the pasta and fold in the bacon.

Serve hot or at room temperature. Big wide rimmed pasta bowls make an excellent presentation for this dish.

You can prepare this recipe without the bacon (substitute 2 Tablespoons of oil for the drippings) and refrigerate for up to two days. Before serving, bring the pasta to room temperature. Cook the bacon, break into pieces and fold it into the pasta.

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Fish Tacos

I love fish tacos. Especially in the summer. They’re fresh-tasting and light. Plus they are so versatile with all the different kinds of salsa and veggies you can pile on top. Diced avocado, tomato salsa and shredded cabbage for traditionalists. Shredded carrot-zucchini slaw and a squeeze of lime for risk takers. Homemade tartar sauce with one or two french fries layered in for a fish-and-chips approach. The sky’s the limit with creativity. And you can grill, deep fry or saute all kinds of different fish for even more variety. I could have these once a week for a healthy, hearty summer dinner that you can hold in your hand.

So pick your favorites from all these items below and mix and match your way to a summer full of fun-tastic fish tacos!


* Fish (try tilapia, salmon, halibut, catfish, shrimp or even fishsticks!)
* Small tortillas (corn or flour, but get the smallest size)
* Shredded lettuce, cabbage, swiss chard, baby mixed greens, spinach, etc.
* Salsa (green or red; or go wild with tartar or curry sauces, malt vinegar, etc.)
* Toppings of your choice (this is wide open too…try any combination you like from guacamole or diced avocado, chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions, diced yellow onions, chopped green or red peppers, diced cooked potatoes, diced or shredded zucchini or summer squash, shredded carrots, tiny broccoli or cauliflower florets, hot french fries…)

1. Either saute, grill or deep fry your fish until it is done (non-translucent). If your fish is large (whole fish, steaks or filets) break it up into bite sized pieces for easier consumption.
2. Place the taco tortilla in the curved palm of your hand.
3. With tongs or a spoon, place a few pieces of fish in the bottom of the tortilla.
4. Spread, drip or pour the salsa, curry sauce, tartar sauce, malt vinegar or whatever sauce you like, on top of the fish.
5. Top with your favorite ingredients to finish your masterpiece.

To serve, it’s fun to have the ingredients out on the table and let everyone make their own creations. Or you can carefully place two tacos on their sides next to each other on a plate and add rice and beans or whatever side dishes you enjoy.

They have frozen Tilapia at the La Honda Country Market in the freezer section and this fish defrosts quickly, so this is a wonderful quick dinner idea even for an unplanned occasion or weeknight dinner.

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Marinara Meatloaf

I love making meatloaf. There, I said it. I mostly use ground turkey because it is like a blank canvas and lets me add spices and vegetables to give it flavor and texture. But ground beef or meatloaf mix is equally good for this versatile and hearty main dish. I also just returned from a two-week business trip to New York City, which has more Italian food than anyplace outside of Italy. Every corner had pizza, pasta, antipasto and more. The smells were authentic and astounding. So when it came time to create yet another meatloaf for the family, I decided to make it like Meatloaf Parmesan–except without the breading on the outside and with mozzarella instead of Parmesan cheese.  It received major thumbs up and I think I’ll repeat it whenever I want to flash back to those days and nights in Little Italy.

Marinara Meatloaf (or Italian Meatloaf or Meatloaf Parmesan)

2 lbs ground meat (turkey, beef, chicken, etc.)
1 teaspoon Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil)
1 teaspoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 can diced tomatoes including liquid
1/2 cup cooked green beans (cut up in 1/4-inch segments)
1 jar marinara sauce
4 slices mozzarella cheese (or can use 1 package shredded mozzarella)

1. Mix first 8 ingredients in a large bowl with your fingers. Be careful to toss without compressing the meat. Place in a bread pan and put the bread pan on a pizza pan or cookie sheet (to catch drips). Put into a 350 degree oven for 75 minutes. Try to do this hours (or even a day) before dinner so the meatloaf can solidify and be easily sliced at dinnertime.

2. Cut meatloaf into 1-inch thick slices. Top each slice with marinara sauce and then mozzarella cheese. Reheat in microwave for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes until cheese is melting.

3. Add cooked pasta (premixed with marinara sauce) to the plate. Include green salad and garlic bread if desired to make a pretty meal.

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I was listening to KCBS radio in the car yesterday and my favorite part of the day came on…Narsai David’s food minute.  I love his perspective on wine, food, travel, and pretty much everything. He did not disappoint me. He shared his four-minute recipe for a traditional Mexican sauce that I love in restaurants but have failed miserably to recreate at home–molè. So I cheated this week and am offering up a recipe that I didn’t invent. But I know you’ll forgive me when you taste this savory chocolate-y sauce that is perfect over chicken…especially when I tell you that it only takes 4 minutes to make so you can have it for a weeknight dinner!


1 3 lb. fryer, disjointed and skinned
2 TBS salad oil
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 TBS sesame seeds
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 TBS chili powder
1/4 – 1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes
1-1/2 cups chicken broth (or 1 – 14-1/2 oz. can)
2 TBS peanut butter
2 TBS raisins
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
*salt, if needed, but since most canned chicken broth has enough salt, be careful.

Brown chicken parts in oil in a large covered frying pan. Remove from pan and set aside. Add onion and sauté until golden brown. Stir in garlic, sesame seeds, cinnamon, chili powder and chili peppers flakes and continue stirring over medium heat for one minute. Add chicken broth and stir until all the pan residue dissolves.

Pour pan contents into a blender or food processor. Add peanut butter, raisins and chocolate. Process until a smooth puree. Adjust seasoning with salt. Return sauce to pan.

Add all chicken parts except breasts and simmer covered for 15 minutes. Add chicken breasts and simmer 10-15 minutes until chicken is tender.

Serve with steamed rice flavored with minced bell pepper.


Narsai David is the KCBS Food and Wine Editor. He has been a successful restaurateur, chef, TV host, and columnist in the San Francisco Bay Area spanning four decades.

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