Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

Granola: A Sweet Start to the Day

January 8, 2010

Fresh starts. New adventures. The whole unexplored landscape that is the year ahead. I welcome January, when anything seems possible.

Except, of course, when there’s transition week. Anyone else having a transition week? Come on, you know you are.

I can see it in my son as he struggles to get back in synch with the school schedule. (And not just him; it was tough to return to the early morning, make breakfast, pack lunch, check homework hustle). I can see it in other kids at school as they squirm in their seats during reading or space out during lessons.

I can feel it in myself as I scramble to set up work systems for the year, finish writing projects that didn’t quite get squared away before the holidays, and pitch new stories for 2010.  All in a week when the Los Angeles Times reports that the freelance writer’s life is in dire straits.

But right now, just for today, I refuse to give in to doom, gloom, and ennui. It’s a new year. Ripe with potential. Let’s begin at the beginning.

And where else to start but breakfast, that first meal of the day? I’m a big fan of brekkie, though I’ve yet to embrace the au courant trend of eating lunch or dinner foods first thing in the morning.

Good luck to all those folks who chow down on pho, pizza, or korean barbecue for breakfast, that stuff leaves me cold when I’m still shuffling around in my slippers. For my money, granola makes a great early morning, gotta-hightail-it-out of the house breakfast.

Discovering granola after growing up with sawdusty muesli ranks high on my list of culinary discoveries in my move from Sydney to San Francisco. Some sniff that granola is just a fat-, calorie-, sugar-laden treat, but it’s got serious hippie pedigree: old-fashioned oats, nuts, and dried fruit, along with maple syrup or honey and oil or butter.

Of the grocery store granola offerings, I’m partial to local, handmade, unfussy Cafe Fanny Granola, and Partners Gourmet Multigrain Granola, which comes in toasty chunks of nutty-grainy goodness.

My boy likes the Arrowhead Mills Breadshop Organic Vermont Maple Granola and, ever since I attended a granola tasting hosted by 18 Reasons, he’s become obsessed with the exxy and excellent 18 Rabbits Gracious Granola with pecans, coconut, and pumpkin seeds. (It was one of his fav stocking stuffers.) He likes to fix a bowl for dessert.

In our house, we prefer our granola served with yogurt; it makes for a pretty parfait, layered in a long glass with berries adding visual zing along with vitamins. And while some cafes serve their granola sprinkled on top of a generous mound of yogurt, we like to layer granola, yogurt, and fruit in equal measures. How ’bout you?

Everyone’s got an opinion about the best tasting granola on the market; for a comparison of other commercial brands check out this Serious Eats review. And feel free to let me know yours.

Truth is, though, it’s easy and cheaper to make your own granola and custom it to suit your palate. You can often significantly lower the amount of sweetener in recipes, I’ve found, without sacrificing flavor.

When I’m not feeling lazy, I make the Crunchy Fruity Granola from Mollie Katzen‘s Salad People cookbook, a simple, satisfying recipe popular with kids in the cooking classes I’ve taught.

Recently, I sampled a delicious batch of granola, recipe to follow.

But first, the back story.

I am fortunate to have a good friend, also a fellow freelancer, who covers the travel beat. Specifically, healthy, eco-travel on her blog Health * Conscious * Travel, mostly geographically centered in the Wine Country.

To do her job, my pal Melanie Haiken has the tiresome task of checking out high-end spas and resorts which she then writes about for her readers. Someone has to do it, right?

She visits said spas and resorts as a perk of the profession, and she’s often invited to bring a guest, known in the biz as a “plus one”. Do you know how delightful it is to be the plus-one person? You enjoy all the facilities without having to take the hard-hat tours or copious notes. And, if you’re lucky, you might eat some very good granola.

That’s exactly what happened recently when we stayed at the ultra-sleek Hotel Healdsburg, where we enjoyed a room with a super groovy green-tiled bathroom and — full disclosure coming — a comped breakfast that included granola that made us both happy.

It’s concocted by the chefs at the Dry Creek Kitchen, adjacent to the hotel. They graciously agreed to give me their recipe so I’m sharing the swag with my readers.

It’s very moreish. As in you’ll want to eat more of it. Trust me.

Let me know if you agree — or if you have your own granola recipe you want to add to the mix. Enjoy.

Dry Creek Kitchen Granola

Ingredients:

6    cups    oatmeal
2    cups    sliced almonds
½    cup    pecan pieces
½    cup    walnut pieces
½    cup    peanuts
½    cup    shredded coconut
1    tbl        ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp     salt

¼   cup   brown sugar

½   cup   honey

4    oz       butter

½  cup    maple syrup

Method:

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in a bowl.

2. Melt brown sugar, honey, butter & maple syrup in a pot.

3. Mix until well combined.

4. Pour over dry ingredients and toss until everything is coated.

5. Spray a sheet tray with non-stick coating.

6. Spread granola evenly on sheet tray.

7. Bake at 300 degrees F for approximately 30 min.

8. Toss granola every 10 min.

9. Bake until golden brown and all moisture has evaporated.

10. Continue to toss granola as it cools to avoid large clumps.

Photo: Courtesy Dry Creek Kitchen

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In Praise of Brussels Sprouts

December 9, 2009

Flickr photo by cbcastro courtesy Creative Commons attribution license.

Since I spent two hours Monday outside in the freezing cold chatting with a couple of West Marin farmers as they cut, cleaned, and boxed some bodacious-looking brussels sprouts (more on the growers at Gospel Flat Farm later this week),  I thought it timely to weigh in on this most delectable and much-maligned member of the Brassicaceae family.

Yes, many of us have memories from childhood of horrid-smelling, bitter-tasting, floppy-looking boiled brussels rolling around our plates in all their unappetizing glory.

Banish that image from your mind for good. Perhaps one of the simplest ways to enjoy this cruciferous vegetable, is simply tossing it in some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and then roasting these green balls of goodness at super high heat — we’re talking 475 or so degrees — until they’re tender and their caramel-like sweetness releases. For a complete how-to on the subject check out this quick roasting recipe from Farmgirl Fare or this gorgeous-looking, Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts offering over at 101 Cookbooks.

I picked up a killer recipe for the humble sprout when I chaperoned my kid’s kindergarten class on a field trip to veggie mecca Berkeley Bowl, where each child got to pick a piece of produce to take back to the classroom for follow-up fun.

My boy opted for the brussels sprouts clinging to their stalk, not because he loved ’em but because of their cool alien-from-out-of-space appearance. A fellow produce picker shared his fave way to eat this cabbage-like veg, a dish that included pecans and gorgonzola cheese. This recipe at Kalyn’s Kitchen is pretty similar. Try it. I swear you’ll never think of these leafy green buds in the same negative way again. (I like to toss in some dried cranberries too for a little festive touch. And switch in hazelnuts for pecans, if you’d prefer.)

Flickr photo by Ed Bierman courtesy Creative Commons license.

Here’s a handy dandy tip: If you decide to boil or steam your brussels sprouts take care not to overcook them as that releases a chemical with the unwieldy name glucosinolate sinigrin, and it’s this pesky substance that produces the stench, I mean, sulfurous odor, that you’ll recall from your youth. Cutting these buds in half before cooking can also help minimize the smelly chemical, apparently.

Before I leave you with some more ways to enjoy these verdant veggies, any copy editors/language gurus want to weigh in on whether it’s Brussels sprouts or brussels sprouts? The New York Times recently had its say on the matter and although it’s French fries the gray lady says its brussel sprouts and lima bean. Go figure.

Below, a smattering of recipes designed to help you change your mind (if that’s necessary) on the merits of these little orbs of loveliness.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears from Food Blogga
Love the combo of pear, ginger, and thyme in this simply satisfying side.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts Gratin from A Veggie Venture
Brussels sprouts, cream, and breadcrumbs. What’s not to like?

Shredded Brussels Sprouts & Apples 101 Cookbooks
With or without tofu (which makes this into a one-skillet meal).

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon & Poppy Seeds
Lighthearted Locavore
Another mighty fine taste combination.

Cauliflower & Brussels Sprouts Gratin Serious Eats Channels Bon Appetit
Cheese, cream, pine nuts, and parsley baked with two nutritious veggies in one delicious dish.

Gobble, Gobble & Gratitude

November 24, 2009

Hello peeps.  I know many of you are busy prepping for the annual American food fest, so I won’t keep you long.

First, full disclosure: I do not (heart) the holidays. And nothing announces the official start of the festive season than Thanksgiving. Well, I guess there’s also Halloween, the end of daylight savings, the beginning of cold & wet weather, but I digress.

Here’s my beef with end of year celebrations: Too much expectation and anticipation followed usually by, let’s be real here, disappointment. Throw in some cultural disconnect, a bit of family drama, a smidgen of self-diagnosed seasonal adjustment disorder, and meat-centric meals and, well, me and the holidays aren’t a good match.

But — wait — don’t go, this isn’t going to be a bummer blog post, promise.  When you have a kid in the picture you just have to get over yourself and any party pooper tendencies that set up shop in your psyche this time of year. I’ve learned ways to navigate this potentially challenging period (nothing like practice) and I’ll share some of them with you all. And recipes too! So stick around.

Think different. Who says you have to eat turkey and that weird Jell-O-canned-fruit-Cool-Whip concoction your relative brings every year?

The last TG I hosted I fed a hearty batch of Lentil Soup to six vegetarians on a cold winter’s night. An unconventional but popular choice.

Find more veggie fare for Thursday’s table at NPR’s Kitchen Window from San Francisco food blogger Nicole Spiridakis, along with gluten-free recipes for the big day by another local scribe Stephanie Stiavetti.

Pecan pie or pumpkin cheesecake not your kind of sweet note? I hear you, so try starting a new tradition for the end of the meal. This year, thanks to a prolific tree, I’m going to make the Meyer Lemon Tart  from the new My Nepenthe cookbook. (Recipe follows.)

Keep cool. If you suffer from last minuteitis, you’re likely scrambling to come up with a menu right now. Relax, you’ll find a great little guide over at Food News Journal, complete with hand-picked recipes for every course that should serve you well. I especially like the look of Brussels sprouts with buttered pecans courtesy of Gourmet (R.I.P).

Practice gratitude. Last year, my first solo TG in two decades, I received more than a dozen invites for dinner. A dozen. Now I know how the homeless feel: Everyone wants to feed you on Thanksgiving.  I attended three fun soirees — flirted with trouble at one, observed the raw anger of a recently divorced dad at a second (note to self: bitterness may be a key flavor but it does not make for good company at the dinner table), and plopped down for dessert & dish at a third. All that and dance class with my galpals, added up to a pretty stellar day in my mind. And while the food was good everywhere I went, it was the connection with friends that sustained me that day.

This year, my boy and I will visit with two families he’s known since birth.  We’ll take a hike and picnic with one, and then have a low-key meal and play highly-competitive games with the other. (Heard of the card game Spit? More fun than the name suggests and super addictive.)

The food will be good at both venues, natch; we all like to eat around here. But what’s likely to nourish me most on the day is the generosity, kindness, and friendship of the posse who have served as my surrogate family in the more than 20 years I’ve called this country home.

And that, from where I sit, makes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Flickr photo by Road Fun used under the Creative Commons license.

Meyer Lemon Tart

—From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele

Serves 8 to 10.

Sweet Dough:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour

Lemon Curd:
5 or 6 Meyer lemons (1 cup juice)
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
7/8 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons butter

1. Beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and flour until just combined.

2. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan.

3. Freeze the prepared tart shell for at least 30 minutes before baking.

4. Zest half the lemons (setting the zest aside), then extract the juice from all the lemons to make about 1 cup.

5. Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined in a medium nonreactive, heatproof bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice.

6. Place the bowl over a gently simmering pot of water and whisk continuously until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

7. Whisk in the butter in pieces.

8. Cook, stirring frequently, until the curd coats the back of the spoon, another 5 minutes or so.

9. Taste and adjust the sweetness, as needed.

10. Strain the curd into a separate bowl, then whisk in the zest.

11. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface while cooling.

12. Bake the tart shell for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown in an oven preheated to 375°F.

13. Cool slightly, then spoon the lemon curd into the shell, spreading evenly with a spatula.

14. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until just set but still slightly jiggly in the middle.

15. Serve chilled with a dollop of lightly whipped cream or fresh berries.

Photo Meyer Lemon Tart: Sara Remington

Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe

November 13, 2009

It’s always tricky to write about a pal’s book, you don’t want to come off sounding like a fawning friend, frankly.

So, in the case of My Nepenthe by Romney “Nani” Steele, I’m going to let others hand out the praise. Sunset describes Nani’s cookbook-cum-memoir as “a valentine to one of the most beautiful places to eat in the world.” Michael Pollan calls it “a very special book about a very special place.” And epicurious just named it the best American regional cookbook of 2009.

If you know Big Sur, home to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant, the area and the eatery need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this small, rural California Central Coast enclave perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean then you should add it to your list of places to visit before you die. Really.

For 60 years Nepenthe has served comfort food with a view to locals, travelers, and tourists. And so much more: for the artists, nature lovers, spiritual seekers, writers, and wanderers who stop by, this magical spot transcends what comes out of the kitchen.

In My Nepenthe Nani, 44, a writer, chef, and food stylist, reveals the colorful back story to this family restaurant, founded by her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fassett, including the unorthodox life they lived, the eclectic boho community they cultivated, and Nani’s own foray into running Cafe Kevah as a European-style eatery with slow food sensibilities located on the same site as the “House of No Sorrow.”

romney.steele.2If you’re curious to find out more, read my Q&A with the author over at the hyper-local site Berkeleyside.

To win a copy of this visually lush book, filled with 85 restaurant recipes tweaked for the tastes of today’s home cooks, leave a comment about a special place  — and a local eatery that adds to the area’s charm. Submit your entry by 10 p.m. PST on Friday, November 20 and I’ll pick a winner from the suggestions shared below.

Update: Thanks to all who entered — you guys made me hungry for places both near and far. So many great suggestions I couldn’t decide, so I put your names into a pot (my desk is next to my kitchen) and the winner, chosen at random is: Christine, for her suggestion of the worldly Vagabond in San Diego. Congrats. an autographed copy of My Nepenthe is on its way to you. Look for another book giveaway in December.

To whet your appetite, a few recipes from the pages of My Nepenthe follow.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles

Serves 4

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
²⁄³ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other wide pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Considered gold by the culinary world, found chanterelles were a regular part of my grandmother’s Sunday night dinners and were
often featured in the Thanksgiving meal.

Gently clean the mushrooms with a dry brush. Avoid soaking in water. Trim any dry stems. Slice the mushrooms into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the pasta to the mushrooms in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Cook over moderately high heat, tossing the pasta to coat and adding pasta water to moisten if needed, until thoroughly coated.

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest.

Divide the pasta among 4 warm plates and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Pass additional Parmesan separately.

Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Roquefort Dressing

2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 ounces Roquefort cheese
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canola or safflower oil

Chopped Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 head green leaf lettuce
4 to 6 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

Combine the garlic, basil, oregano, mustard, pepper, sugar, and salt in a clean glass jar.

Crumble the cheese and add to the jar. Add the vinegar and oils.

Cover and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

You will have more than enough dressing; refrigerate any extra.

For the salad:

Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuces, trimming the ends and discarding any bruised leaves.

Tear into bite-size pieces and place in individual chilled bowls. Top with the desired amount of dressing, making sure each salad has
plenty of blue cheese chunks. Add the cherry tomatoes and grind black pepper over the tops.

nepenthe.fabric.slice

Pumpkin Spice Cake (Bohemian Wedding Cake)

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, serving 10 to 12

1 cup whole-wheat flour (not pastry flour)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 1¾ cups)
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Sour Cream Frosting:

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, knocking out any excess flour.

For the cake:

Combine the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl: stir together the oil and brown sugar, mixing well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin puree and then the molasses.

Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted  in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well. It should be thinner than a typical cream cheese frosting.

Place the cake on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and all over the side. Freeze any leftover frosting, or reserve for muffins or cupcakes.

— All Recipes From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Photo of Romney Steele by Doug McKechnie

San Francisco’s Fabulous Food Festival

November 8, 2009

sf.expo.centerI’ll be blunt: I had low expectations. I’d detected no buzz about the SF Fab Food Fest beforehand. And I couldn’t find a list of food sellers online. The venue, the Concourse Exhibition Center, didn’t look promising either. Three strikes right there.

But it wasn’t out of my way so I stopped by en route to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Still, I mulled over why anyone would opt to go indoors to a convention hall on a gorgeous fall day to sample food when fabulous fresh produce and gourmet goodies awaited just down the road — in a truly fabulous waterfront setting.

A quick sweep of the booths and I’d be on my way. Happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by some of what was on offer.

The pick of the stalls I perused:

spice.houndSpice Hound: This South Bay-based company won me over with their 2 ounce-tins of Middle Eastern spice blends Za’atar and Dukka. A staple of many food pantries in my hometown Sydney, Dukka is a mix of sesame seeds, hazelnuts, coriander, and cumin. It’s added to olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar to jazz up bread dipping sauce. Za’atar (thyme, sumac, white sesame seeds, and sea salt) is used in the same way or added to vegetables or hummus for extra zing.  Bonus: Check out Spice Hound’s Chai Tea recipe here.

mums.chutneysMum’s Homemade: A sucker for a cheese & chutney sandwich, a childhood staple, I spotted these preserves made by East Bay cooks Briony Bax and Margaret Heafey, who specialize in British fare using natural ingredients produced in the commercial co-op Artisan’s Kitchen in Richmond. A toss up between the subtle charms of Autumn Chutney, made with apples and pears, or the robust Date and Banana Chutney.

tres.classique.oils

Tres Classique: The Garlic Classic Dipping Oil, from this Ukiah custom balsamic vinegar and oil outfit, is thick and oozy and made with grapeseed oil, 18 year old aged balsamic, garlic, parsley, pepper flakes, and sun-dried tomato. It will probably not last long in my house and needs nothing else beside a crusty loaf of bread to enjoy.

Thumbs up as well to the tropical zip in the mango marmalade from Carol Hall’s Hot Pepper Jelly Company and the pungent, deep brown Greystone Herb Garden Honey harvested from hives at the organic garden of The Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley and sold by farmers’ market staple Marshall’s Farm Honey.

Speaking of farmers’ markets…I started to get that claustrophobic feeling typically induced by such closed, unnaturally-lit environs and began pining for  the great outdoors. It was time to skedaddle out of the concourse center and take my condiment-laden self off to the Ferry Building in pursuit of fresh food and a loaf of Acme bread to pair with my purchases.

Lesson learned: Keep an open mind. Who knows what gems you might stumble upon in unexpected locations?

San Francisco Fabulous Food Festival, November 7th & 8th, 10am-5pm, Concourse Exhibition Center, 8th & Brannan Sts., San Francisco

What’s for Dinner? Find Answers on the Web

November 4, 2009

How many of you have found those email chain letters in your inbox asking you to share a recipe with a dozen or so others? How many of you actually respond?

I’m not entirely sure why, but I never seem to reply to these recipe requests (sorry Anne, Katherine, Ellen, et al.) and wind up feeling a bit guilty about it.

Maybe they’re too much pressure — you feel the need to cast around for the perfect dish to share with the masses. Maybe it feels too time consuming and thus goes into the to-do list, and then too much time passes or you forget…Who knows.

I suspect many of them are generated by busy working parents (mostly moms), who want help with that perennial post-work-school-pick- up-race-to-martial arts/dance class/soccer-hustle and the inevitable, ravenous question: “What’s for dinner?'” as soon as you walk in the door.

It’s hard to resist the urge to say something snippy like “What are you cooking?” or even “Who the hell knows?” but that won’t get dinner on the table. And when time is short, you’re hardly about to start browsing through your library of cookbooks for inspiration.

But what if you took a few minutes out of your day to check out a couple of online recipe resources. That sounds doable, right?

So in the spirit of sharing recipes via the ‘net (if not email) I offer web links to click to find nutritious & delicious dishes you can fix for your family in a timely fashion.

There are a zillion food sites and blogs out there. Many look gorgeous, some are very funny, lots are beautifully written. For this post I want to highlight a few that consistently offer recipes that could work on a school night when everyone is tired, time-starved, and very hungry. (Which doesn’t means these aren’t pretty, witty, and wise as well.)

No doubt you’ll have your own bookmarked recipe links you’ll want to share. Feel free.

As for those recipe exchange emails…okay, alright, already, I’ll reply…maybe there’s a blog post in what happens after I hit send.

Five Online Food Resources

Simply Recipes Elise Bauer’s six-year-old, award-winning web blog is chock full of easy-to-fix, healthy suggestions for family meals. The site is easy to navigate, the recipes easy to follow, and it’s easy on the eyes as well, with lots of lovely photos. Browse categories that meet your family’s needs, whether budget, vegetarian, or gluten free.

Try Spinach Frittata, Enchiladas, or Sauteed Swiss Chard Ribs with Cream and Pasta.

101 Cookbooks Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Cooking, serves up evocative images of wholesome vegetarian offerings on this much-lauded site, started as a way to work through recipes in the vast number of cookbooks Swanson had amassed at home. This blog is a snap to get around too.

Consider Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, or Carrot, Dill and White Bean Salad.

Tasty Kitchen The brainchild of the hilarious blogger Ree Drummond, aka as The Pioneer Woman, a self-described spoiled city gal who left the urban life to marry a cattle man and homeschool four children, Tasty Kitchen is a recently launched site for home cooks to share their favorite recipes. Good place to park those email recipe exchanges, maybe?

Check out Pumpkin and Pear Soup, Ratatouille, and California Style Sushi Rolls.

super.cook.logoSupercook is a cool newish web tool equipped with a search engine that helps you prepare meals with the ingredients you have on hand. Just plug in what you have in your pantry, say rice and lentils, and within seconds you’ll get a recipe or maybe several from its database of 300,000 and growing. You can comment on whether you like or dislike a dish and even add your own to the mix. Another potential home for those avid recipe exchangers! Named by Time.com as one of the 50 best websites for 2009.

Will Write for Food Speaking of bests, several “best food blogs” lists are worth perusing when you’ve got a little more time to surf around to find a recipe resource that appeals. My pal Dianne Jacob over at WW4F has gathered links to five of these best ofs in one place.  The website delish also keeps a comprehensive list.

Check back for a future post when I finally put together my very own favorite foodie bloggas blogroll.

Flickr photo by dcdan used under the Creative Commons license.

My Persimmon Problem

October 27, 2009

Photo by Flickr user mbgrigby used under the Creative Commons license.

So it’s orientation time for the sixth graders, a sweet and chatty bunch, at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, where I volunteer each week.

Last Friday, head kitchen teacher Esther Cook (yes, Ms. Cook is her real name) began by engaging the students in a food memory exercise.  As we mingled around the tables the talk turned to unusual fruits or vegetables we’ve tasted and one of the girls mentioned persimmons.

I resisted the urge to make a face. The very same day The Lemon Lady suggested a post on this seasonal fruit and I laughed to myself because, dear readers, I have a little persimmon problem.

Perhaps one of the biggest produce pushers on the planet, I don’t much care for this prolific fall fruit. In my kitchen, right near the beloved Wedgewood, hangs this gorgeous image of persimmons by my talented friend, artist Emily Payne.  I adore the print, and yet if I had to pick a fruit to munch on, persimmons would never make it on the list. Until now.

Esther joked that maybe I’d never eaten a persimmon at “just the right minute.” So, with that in mind, I decided it was time to get over my persimmon phobia.  I welcome all and any assistance in this matter. I suspect my first mistake is not eating this fruit at, well, just the right minute.

First, some research. Here’s what I learned:

Known to ancient Greeks as the fruit of the gods, two varieties of persimmons are commonly available in the U.S. Hachiya, originally from China, are bright orange globes that taste awfully astringent when not fully ripe, due to the high levels of tannin in the fruit.

They absolutely need to be soft and squishy before you even think about biting into one or you’ll pucker up and the bitterness could put you off persimmons for life. Trust me on this one.

A ripe Hachiya should feel a little like a water balloon, I’m told. Use the fruit within a few days, at most, of prime ripeness or the pulp will get too mushy. Okay, so this is a high maintenance kind of fruit; vigilance is called for. Got that?

(Conversely, if you want to speed up the ripening process, put a persimmon in a bag with an apple or banana. Or freeze for 24 hours and then use as you would a perfectly ripe persimmon.) When properly ripe, persimmon has been described as apricot-like, plum, or even pumpkin-esque in taste. The sweet pulp from ripe Hachiya persimmons is best used as a puree in cookies, cakes, and puddings.

The other kind of common persimmon Fuyu, are squatter, more tomato-like in appearance and a duller orange in color. This variety is supposed to be eaten when firm and crunchy, much like an apple, peeling and slicing recommended, but optional. First grown in Japan, Fuyu work well in salads, where they add crispness to the mix.  Both kinds are a good source of vitamins A & C and loaded with fiber.

During a quick spin around my friendly neighborhood farmers’ market I find the folks at Blossom Bluff Orchards, who seem super persimmon savvy. I especially appreciate the warning sign in front of the bins of Hachiyas. With the vendor’s help, I select a large, firm, blemish-free Hachiya that should be ready to eat in a couple of weeks.  Stay tuned.

The two giant Fuyu persimmons I pick are good to go now, although a gaggle of shoppers agree that if they’re just a tad on the soft side you’re rewarded with a little more sweetness. I sampled some and while I’d still prefer an apple or pear I can appreciate how they’d add a nice crunch to a green salad. So one variety back on the will-eat list.

Since we’re coming up to peak persimmon time, here are some recipes that showcase persimmons by folks who know what to do with this fruit:

Persimmon Pudding Cake from Romney Steele’s new book My Nepenthe

Avocado, Citrus, Jicama Salad with Persimmon Dressing courtesy of Capay Valley, California organic growers Farm Fresh to You

James Beard’s Persimmon Bread, adapted by David Lebovitz, author of The Sweet Life in Paris

Steamed Persimmon Pudding with Silky Persimmon Puree by Deborah Madison, from Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets

Persimmon Cookies, from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes

Salad of Frisee, Radicchio, Pears, Pomegranate and Persimmons, courtesy of Joanne Weir for The Food Network

Anyone out there care to weigh in on other ways to enjoy this produce?


The Lemon Lady: Feeding the Hungry, One Bag of Produce at a Time

October 22, 2009

The Lemon Lady needs a new nickname, methinks.

Anna Chan, 37, has outgrown the title, which doesn’t begin to describe the difference this anti-hunger activist has made in less than a year in her one-woman campaign to get fresh produce into the mouths of people in need in her community.

This stay-at-home mom from Clayton, in Contra Costa County, has (almost) single-handedly harvested, by her own estimates, 12,000 pounds of local produce from neighbors’ front yards. She’s also collected more than $60,000 surplus fruit and veg from local farmers’ markets, which she hauls in the back of her SUV to food pantries in her area. And she’s donated hundreds of seedlings and helped plant veggie gardens in her county in the hope that she can inspire others to grow their own row — and feed their families whole food.

In September I spent several hours watching Anna in action. We met at one of her many pet projects, a modest but thriving veggie patch in a low-income neighborhood of Concord. (Anna got involved with the garden after being approached by Kathy Gleason,  corporate donations coordinator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who sewed the seeds for this edible effort on her own time by getting to know the neigborhood and seeking out other volunteers.)

Out of one of the apartments popped a proud mom who gave me a spontaneous tour of the garden before Anna even pulled up. Begun with seedlings tended and donated by The Lemon Lady, the summer bounty included tomato, eggplant, pepper, and squash. When Anna arrived, the three of us chatted about the challenges of raising corn and the ease of growing Asian greens such as mizuna. We were just three moms, one Japanese, one American, one Australian, talking about the joys of making tomato sauce from scratch with homegrown produce to feed our hungry kids.

anna.chan.lemon.lady.2Before we left, Anna gave the grateful woman a seed catalog, with the promise of more seeds to come for a fall crop. Next stop: The lively Concord Farmers’ Market, where Anna distributes cardboard boxes and chats with vendors when they’re not serving customers. Farmers such as the pear purveyors from Alhambra Valley Farms and the Bautista Ranch veggie peddlers willingly pack up leftover produce for her to cart away at the end of the market to take to local food pantries, including the Salvation Army, SHARE Pantry, and Monument Crisis Center.

While the market was in full swing, I sat down with Anna to get a sense of what drives this former office manager to spend hundreds of hours volunteering for the greater good, one piece of produce at a time.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that a challenging childhood, made a little less rough by the kindness of strangers and community volunteers much like herself, serves as a constant reminder of the importance of giving back.  That’s not some pat charitable phrase for this petite and pretty woman; she knows what it’s like to encounter tough times and deal with health concerns. Now, blessed with a thriving toddler, a supportive dentist husband, and a happy home life, she wants to help others less fortunate than herself. Plus, the gal has a big heart, a passion for nutritious home cooking, and energy that doesn’t quit. (Typically she does a farmers’ market surplus run four days a week.)

Anna’s efforts add a public service spin on the au courant activity known as fruit foraging. She combines two old-fashioned concepts: gleaning and doing good, and in a time of great need (one local food pantry recently closed for a day; demand is so high it ran out of food) she simply cannot stand to see perfectly good produce go to waste.

Not surprisingly, those she comes in contact with sing her praises. “She’s a local gem,” says Jessie Neu, the director of the Contra Costa Certified Farmers’ Market. “She’s a life saver,” says one food-distribution volunteer from a local food bank. The California Garden Clubs recently honored Anna for her community service and her efforts to promote growing greens and getting fresh, nutritious food to hungry people.

And it all began way back in February, when this suburban mom was simply trying to find a way to soothe her colicky child to sleep. Anna resorted to driving her fussy, nap-fighting toddler, so Ava would drift off to the Land of Nod. (Oh, boy, do I remember those car rides from my own sleep-resistant son’s early days.)

As Anna tooled around her neighborhood she saw trees laden with luscious lemons ready to drop and rot. Where others saw potentially fallen fruit, Anna saw good food needing a way to get to the hungry.

So she worked up the courage to knock on strangers’ doors to ask homeowners if she could collect their excess fruit for local food pantries. And she left fliers letting her neighbors know that she’d noticed their bounty and wondered if they’d be willing to share their surplus by leaving a bag or two for food bank donations, or allow her to pick their extra produce. The response? Overwhelmingly positive. People have happily donated lemons, as well as oranges, apricots, plums, peaches, tomatoes, beans, and zucchini.

Anna’s on a mission to spread the word that many food banks gladly take fresh produce. “Many people don’t know where their local food pantry is located and don’t realize that food banks will gladly take fresh produce,” says Anna. A lot of people, she points out, incorrectly assume that only canned goods or government surplus food is acceptable in such places. Not so.  (Check out a revealing New York Times Magazine article for the back story on why food banks are now accepting more fruit and veg in the recent Food Issue.)

To learn more about The Lemon Lady, visit her blog, where she champions the work of food banks and farmers, shares the joy of growing food with her daughter, and encourages others to follow her example in their own communities.

Check out one of her favorite baking recipes: lemon bars, of course.

And if you have an idea for a more fitting moniker for this food advocate, please share it below.

Images courtesy of The Lemon Lady blog.

The Sweet Dish on Sydney

October 6, 2009

Flickr photo by jcmurty used under the Creative Commons license.

When you pop in and out of your homeland once or twice a year, as I do, it’s pretty easy to pick up on trends since you last touched down.

I was in Sydney for a month this past Southern Hemisphere summer, that’s December-January for those of you who have a hard time getting your head around a Christmas spent enjoying surf, sun, and fresh seafood. In the past few days over endless cups of tea or glasses of champagne a few food themes have emerged among my Sydney circle since I was here nine months ago.

The country is wagyu beef crazy. That’s well bred marbled meat to the uninitiated. Even people who don’t normally talk food throw this term around when speaking steak. Reading glasses in snazzy frames are a necessary accessory for diners of a certain age, though a recently-returned food critic blames it on a trend towards dimly lit tables at some of Sydney’s top restaurants.

Veggie patches are sprouting along median strips, including the beach suburbs Clovelly and Coogee. And the TV sensation MasterChef Australia has taken this island nation by storm, inspiring home cooks to spring for kitchen equipment like pasta makers, hunt down obscure ingredients, or get more adventurous behind the stove.

Food fads come and go, but some dishes remain classics. Like sticky date pudding. My sister-in-law Alice whipped up this simply delicious dessert  for a recent family gathering. I’m from a large clan: 5 siblings, 14 nieces & nephews (and another on the way). Many of these young adults tower over me now; all have hearty appetites. So we shared warm sticky date pud accompanied by lashings of whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream, and generous drizzles of caramel sauce on a chilly spring evening and all was well in our corner of the world.

Sticky Date Pudding
(Adapted from Alice Henry’s recipe.)

185 grams (6.5 ounces) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
250 mls (8 ounces or one cup) of water
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
60 grams (2 ounces) butter
2 eggs
185 grams (6.5 ounces) sugar
185 grams (6.5 ounces) self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F).

2. Grease and flour a baking tin (8-inch square, 2 inch deep) or cake pan.

3. Place dates and water in a medium saucepan and cook on high heat, bring to a boil, until mix resembles jam.

4. Sir in the bicarbonate of soda. Mixture will foam. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

5. Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and creamy.

6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

7. Fold through dates and flour until all ingredients are well combined.

8. Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Sauce:

150 grams (5 ounces) brown sugar
150 ml (5 ounces) of cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce comes to a boil.

3. Reduce heat and simmer for another couple of minutes.

4. Cut cake cut into squares or wedges. Drizzle with sauce, and serve with ice cream and/or whipped cream.

Also delish with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar.

Pudding photo: Alice Henry

Update: My friend on the ground, Jacqui, see comment below, shares a photo of a community garden plot she spotted sprouting in Kirribilli, on Sydney’s north side. Anyone want to chime in with the story behind this movement to grow greens in urban Oz?

kirribilli.community.garden.1

Kale Chips: Giving Thanks for Greens in a Snack Pack

July 30, 2009

blessing-horowytzLast Friday was the day I was supposed to meet Blessing Horowytz, creator of Kale Chips, my current favorite snack food.

Here’s what happened: Multi-tasking mama that I am, I decided to quell my cravings for Kale Chips (not to be confused with roasted kale) and satisfy my curiosity about the brand new Berkeley Bowl West, which opened a couple of weeks ago, so I set off in pursuit of both.

If you live in Berzerkeley, the Bowl needs no introduction. If you hail from further afield, the Berkeley Bowl is a food mecca with devotees from around the Bay Area who flock to the store for its extensive produce section, cheese selection, and bulk food bins. The original location has a rap for long lines at the checkout (where people wait in a relatively Zen state) and aggro road rage in the overflowing parking lot (so much for the peace-loving people of Berkeley.)

Fortunately I can report that at BBW bigger is better — more parking, more produce, and wider aisles. It is, frankly, massively impressive. The Bowl is the kind of place where you can buy a bottle of  balsamic vinegar for $1.99 or $31.99 — and just about every price point in between. At the new locale, some drivers still pull crafty maneuvers to nab a park, but that may just be a bad habit from years of circling the original store’s lot. I take a quick spin through the store, pick up Kale Chips by Alive & Radiant Foods, and then head to the checkout. THERE IS NO LINE. Unbelievable.

quite-cheesey-kale-chipsWhat’s not to like about Kale Chips? They’re fun, crunchy, finger food. I’m partial to the “quite cheesey” flavor which taste, ah, quite cheesy. They have impeccable cred: Raw. Vegan. Dehydrated.  They’re mostly kale. One of my all-time favorite veggies (but you probably figured that out already.) Just six ingredients: Curly kale, red bell pepper, cashews, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and Himalayan crystal salt. Okay, if I had a quibble, they’re exxy — $6.99 a packet. On a good day I can eat a whole bag as I stroll the length of the farmers’ market, where I usually buy ’em.  Un-cooked food takes a lot of time to produce. Time is money. Such is life.

sabeena-naila-kia

After introducing my son and me to these bagged greens, my friends Naila Siddique and Kia Afcari sprang for a dehydrator (around $300) and now make their own for their family — especially their daughter Sabeena, who’s reluctant to eat almost any veg. More on this wee one’s food preferences in a future post. My kitchen is too tiny for a dehydrator and I’m too lazy to make my own, but if you’re keen, here’s a recipe.kale-chip-ingredients

Driving home happily munching away I decide on a whim to call in on the good people who turn out this satisfying snack. The Kale Chip “factory” is literally just down the street from my home. If you blink you’d miss the non-descript little building that houses this busy kale biz. I meet Blessing, who graciously gives me an impromptu tour. (Basically, four large Excalibur dehydrators — she could use four times as many — and a storage space.) Business is booming: Blessing sells her snacks to hundreds of stores across the country. Her small staff crank out Kale Chips constantly but the dehydration process can’t be rushed, so it’s a challenge to keep up with demand.

Blessing has been selling her specially-spiced kale (sourced from Riverdog Farm) and un-baked cookies for more than six years, at farmers’ markets, natural-food grocery stores, and health-food shops such as Whole Foods. An early adopter in the raw-food movement, she’s also a former Silicon Valley recruiter and, at one time, a dream worker. Making Kale Chips is not about producing greens on the go to rake in the greenbacks, says Blessing. She produces raw goods for the greater good, to feed the mind, body, and spirit.

No surprise then, after a free-ranging chat, that a handshake is out of the question. Blessing gives me a hug and sends me on my way with, well, a blessing.

Photos: Sarah Henry