Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy 2009!

Here's wishing all of us a most wonderful 2009! The holidays have sort of swallowed me up a bit recently, so please forgive the infrequent postings.

At our house, the Christmas feast was a five course Indian meal that we spent two days preparing - that's my idea of a good time! In fact, we've been refining and combining different recipes to come up with the perfect palak paneer, and we think we've finally hit the jackpot! So hopefully I'll post that recipe in the near future. If you are not familiar with palak paneer, it is a spinach and cheese curry that uses homemade cheese, and it's a total comfort food, yet bursting with flavor and texture. I'm telling you, our house STILL smells amazing from all the food we cooked, days later!

But what's a person to do when they don't actually have two days to spend in the kitchen? Thankfully, my obsession with Indian cuisine recently led me to yet another cookbook that I am very excited to enjoy: 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices by Ruta Kahate. The recipes in this book feature coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, cayenne, and mustard seeds. I'm very excited to start trying some of the recipes, particularly because the recipes are simple, in that you can whip them up any night of the week in an hour or less. But simple doesn't have to mean simplistic, and I'm sure this is true, because I actually had the good fortune to take one of Ruta's cooking classes in Berkeley several years ago, and I have tasted the results. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about my adventures with this cookbook before too long.

For now, I'm off to get ready to ring in the new year, and wishing everyone a safe and happy and prosperous - and well fed - journey into 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

For That Special Coffee Drinker In Your Life...

... I thought my friend Berge was kidding when he told me about Weasel Puke Coffee, but it's the real deal.  Maybe now I can start drinking coffee again?  On second thought.... maybe not. Somebody out there must love the stuff, because apparently, it's currently sold out!

In case you're too lazy to click on the link (cause maybe you need a little jolt of caffeine?), here it is in a nutshell:

"There's a little animal in Vietnam which has magical properties. Locally, it's called a weasel (though technically, it's a type of civet, but let's call it a weasel like the locals) and it sure likes to eat the fruit of the coffee plant. But the seeds don't sit well in its tummy, so it vomits them up. And that's where the fun comes in - for local coffee folks gather up the beans and lightly roast them. The stomach acids seem to wear away the bitter taste of the coffee beans, and the resulting coffee is delicious and smooth.

Ok, right now you're probably thinking we're full of crap. But nothing we've written above is false. Weasel Puke Coffee really is made of beans thrown up by local Vietnamese weasels. And it really does give the coffee a different taste - a rich chocolaty flavor. Weasel Puke Coffee is truly a gourmet treat. And if the thought of drinking puked up coffee makes you throw up in your own mouth a little, then you are just the person to try this. Because puke makes the coffee better. Trust us."

On second thought, I might just stick to tea...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's Pizzelle Time!

I am a bit of a scrooge. And also, I'm not hugely into sweets. But every December, I find myself craving pizzelles - a "traditional italian wafer cookie" - typically flavored with anise and lemon or a combination of the both. Every December, usually thanks to my mom or my sister, I nearly o.d. on these things (And of course, every January, I curse that extra fat roll!).

I've never baked them myself but this year I realized that if I want to eat them, I'm going to have to learn how to make them, because I won't be seeing my family for the holiday. So tonight I pulled out the pizzelle iron that my mom gave me for Christmas several years ago, and I finally took it out of the box. Thanks, Mom!

In my search for the perfect recipe, I found this interesting article. But that's just an aside, because the perfect recipe of course, is my family recipe! I don't know exactly where it came from, but tonight I called my sister and she dictated it to me, and told me to follow it exactly, and I did... almost. The recipe calls for lemon extract but I was too cheap to cough up $7.99 for a bottle of lemon extract, and I happened to have a bunch of nice, thick-skinned lemons on hand from my friend Thomas' tree, so I used lemon zest instead, and I think it the results are fabulous.

So remember, you have to have the pizzelle iron in order to make these things. And once you do, you make them like this: (click here for printable recipe)

Melt 2 sticks butter, and let it cool.
Put 1 3/4 cups sugar in a bowl, and pour the butter into it and stir.
Add 6 eggs to the butter & sugar mixture, and mix it well.
Add to the above mixture: 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract, 1 1/2 t. anise extract, and 1 1/2 t. lemon zest.
Now add to the mix: 3 cups flour, 1/2 t. baking powder and 1/2 t. salt. Mix it well.

Heat up the pizzelle iron, and drop the batter by the small teaspoonful, a plop on each side. Clamp the lid down and let it do it's thing for about 30 seconds. Don't worry if the first few come out funky - the pizzelle iron just needs to get into its groove. Remove the pizzelles with a spatula (plastic or wood only please!), and let cool on a cooling rack. You'll notice that they come out of the iron soft and pliable, but within a minute or two on the cooling rack, they'll be nice & crisp, and you probably will eat them as fast as you make them. So much for giving them away as gifts. So much for your diet! If you do manage to refrain from eating every last one, once they are completely cool, store them in an airtight container. They should last for several weeks, except they won't, because everyone will love them!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Roasted Beets with Horseradish...

... the recipe couldn't be more simple.  Dice some beets and toss with a little kosher salt, roast till they're nicely tender but still have a bit of texture, and toss with fresh grated horseradish, a bit of olive oil and some chopped fresh basil.

Upon seeing this dish prepared, I learned about one of the great culinary mysteries, that being the relationship between beets and horseradish - when you combine them, they transform one another.

If you've ever been within a few feet of someone grating fresh horseradish, then you've felt the way it burns your eyes and nose.  This shit is HOT - sinus clearing hot.  It makes your eyes water and your nose run just to be near it, to say nothing of consuming it.  So naturally, I expected this dish to be hot in the same way.  But in fact, it was subtle as can be.  Something about the sweetness of the beets just completely mellows the horseradish, and the horseradish somehow mellows the sweetness of the beets.  It's a match made in heaven.

I learned this simple recipe while assisting my friend Phil Gelb at his underground restaurant concert series last weekend.  It's been quite awhile since I've worked a food gig, and I must admit that it was nice to just show up and chop and slice and dice and serve, instead of being in charge of the whole affair.  And the bonus, besides  working with Phil and enjoying the delicious food, was being able to enjoy two sets of music by Amy X. Neuburg.  This is a woman who has an amazing voice and uses it masterfully, and her compositions are sophisticated, entertaining, and moving.  I found myself at different points during her set with goosebumps, and then tears in my eyes, and then laughing out loud.  Amy is a uniquely talented composer, vocalist and entertainer, and it was a pleasure to enjoy her music two nights in a row.

On other fronts, it seems the cold winter temperatures have finally arrived.  That means I'm laying low whenever possible, and baking lots of squash in an effort to keep warm.  I'm sure I'll emerge from the cocoon at some point with a new recipe or two.  Until then, be well and stay warm!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Kitchen Improv: Indian Spiced Cauliflower, Fennel and Red Lentil Stew

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't do a lot of improvising in the kitchen.  I like to follow recipes; I guess I'm not the biggest risk taker.  When I do create my own recipes, it usually involves a fair amount of testing and refining until I get it right.  But once in awhile,  a meal just magically comes together despite my skepticism, and last night was one of those nights.

It was getting towards the end of the week, and the fridge was looking a bit bare, but it did hold some cauliflower and fennel and half an onion.   In the freezer, there were cooked red lentils that were left over from my last pot of Indian soup (a recipe for curried red lentil and tomato soup with perfumed spice butter,  from my recent cookbook purchase "Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking" by Julie Sahni), and also, frozen peas.  In the pantry there were black mustard seeds, cayenne and cumin seeds, and an abundance of Garam Masala, plus there was ghee.  It wasn't long before dinner was on the table, and wow, was it good!

I was skeptical about combining cauliflower and fennel - I don't know why, but it seemed like a combination of flavors that could go either way, delicious or god-awful.   Thankfully, it was delicious.  What follows here is more of a guide than an actual recipe.  Serve it with some basmati rice and you're good to go.

One thing to note about red lentils - they cook much differently than the standard green or brown lentils, which generally hold their shape.  Red lentils cook a little more quickly, and develop a thick, creamy consistency as they cook - so they are perfect for a nice, thick stew like this one.  Also, don't be alarmed when your red lentils lose some of their color as they cook.

I wish I'd gotten a picture, but alas, my camera batteries were dead, so I'll just have to make more of this another time!

First, cook your red lentils.  I did this according to the recipe in the aforementioned cookbook, and basically it involves rinsing about a cup and a half of red lentils, covering with about 4 cups water and a pinch of turmeric, bringing to a boil and then simmering over lower heat, partially covered, for about 35 minutes or so.  Note:  skip the turmeric if you're not going to use the lentils for an Indian preparation.

Cut up half an onion into a small dice, plus a couple of cloves of garlic.  Set the garlic aside.  

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat about a tablespoon of ghee, butter or olive oil.   Over medium heat, saute the onion, stirring frequently, for about 10-15 minutes, until it's soft and nicely golden brown. 

Now, add to the pot:  about a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and about the same amount of black mustard seeds, plus a bit of cayenne, depending on how spicy you like it.  Keep stirring, and after a minute or so, add some chopped fennel and chopped cauliflower.  I used about 1 1/2 cups of each. 

Add the garlic and a generous sprinkling of salt, and keep stirring for about 5 minutes, and then, add some water - about enough to cover it all by half an inch.  Simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes or so, until the cauliflower and fennel have started to become nicely tender.

Now it's time to add the lentils - I used what I had on hand, which was about 2 cups or so.  I also scattered about 3/4 of a cup of frozen peas into the mix, along with about a half teaspoon of Garam Masala.   Cook for another 5 minutes or so, and it'll be ready to serve.  It's nice when things turn out that way, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

And Speaking of Wine Lovers...

... a friend of mine is not only a wine lover and collector, but she also makes her living selling wine.  Occasionally she has more wine in her personal collection than she knows what to do with, and a couple of times, she has been known to pawn some of it off on me.  Or maybe she just takes pity on me because I told her that I recently bought a bunch of wine (or rather... swill!) at the Grocery Outlet.  Of course, that was before I knew about The Wine Mine!

Anyway, said friend was kind enough to hip me to an opportunity to enjoy a fabulous meal at a brand spankin' new restaurant last night - this restaurant is so new in fact, that it isn't even open to the public yet, so it was a very special treat.  The place is called Marzano, and they specialize in wood-fired pizza, so naturally I had to take a break from my post-Thanksgiving diet.  I had planned to make stir fried vegetables and tofu last night, but those plans were quickly and happily abandoned when I got the call that there were 2 seats available for a test drive before the place officially opens tomorrow.  How could I resist?

Here are a few things we got to enjoy, and truly, every bite was savored.

House cured monterey bay sardines with giardiniera valencia orange, almonds, golden raisins, saffron - it's not a combination that I would have thought of, but it was exploding with vibrant flavors and contrasting textures.  Salty and sweet, crunchy and tender all at once. 

Tricolore salad with treviso, frisee and wild arugula lemon-anchovy vinaigrette, pane grattugiata pecorino romano - just say the words "anchovy" and "arugula" in the same sentence, and I'm there.  And this salad did not disappoint.  I had to refrain from licking the plate.

Quatro formaggi pizza with mozzarella, fontina, pecorino, roasted wild mushrooms & sage - This pizza was dreamy.  I rarely cook with sage and every time I taste it, I am reminded that I really ought to cook with it more!  Together with the roasted mushrooms and cheeses, this was a perfect flavor combination.

Napoletana pizza with tomato, anchovy, capers mozzarella, black olives, chili flake - Once again, I couldn't pass up more salty, briny goodness and this pizza did not disappoint.  In fact, it was a good contrast to the 4-cheese pizza, because as far as I could tell, this one had no cheese except perhaps for a light sprinkling of parmesan.

I'm looking forward to enjoying more meals at Marzano.  Another nice thing about this place is that it doesn't break the bank, and also, the service is great. I'm no restaurant critic (not that I'd mind getting paid to eat!), but that's my two cents.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

For Winos and Those who Love Them

Since I made a little trip the Wine Mine today, and also read a good article and watched a video about frugal wine buying, I thought I'd help spread the good word.

First, about the Wine Mine.  I just discovered this place, which is not much more than a hop, skip and a jump away from where I live.  It has apparently been there for over a year, but some of us are slow learners!  I finally wandered in recently, and am so glad I did.  The service is great. You can read all about the owner, David Sharp, on the Wine Mine's web site.  David offers a wide selection of great quality wines at reasonable prices -  from $5 - $205.  He's knowledgeable  and friendly, and so far I haven't bought a bottle from him that I didn't love, even in the $7-10 price range.  

If you don't live in the Bay area, fear not!  I read this great posting on the Get Rich Slowly blog today (yes it's true, I have a secret love of blogs having to do with personal finance!).  The article is entitled Finding Good Wine at Great Prices: Expert Advice for Frugal Wine Lovers, and features a video from Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV.  I didn't previously know about Wine Library TV, but am glad I do now.

So let's hear it for good wine that doesn't break the bank - I'll drink to that... tonight, in fact!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Gifts for the Foodies you Love

Is it too early to start talking about holiday gifts? Can any of us even afford to buy gifts in light of the fact that the economy has gone down the toilet? I'll leave those answers up to you, but I will suggest that if you're going to give gifts, why not give gifts of food and drink, because who doesn't love food and drink? I've written about all the products below at some point or another on this blog, but thought I would compile them into one handy list of some of my most favorite consumables. Tested and loved by me, and sure to be loved by you and your favorite foodie.

Oh, how I love anything made by the Katz company, based right here in Northern California. I first learned of their products when my friend Denise gave me a jar of their citrus blossom honey for my birthday a couple of years ago, and I have been smitten ever since. Besides their honeys, they make exquisite fruit preserves and artisan vinegars and oils. They also have beautiful gift boxes, brimming with deliciousness. If you're fortunate to live in the Bay area, you can find their honeys at the Berkeley Bowl. But if not, don't fret. Just wander on over to their online store and have yourself a ball.

Bless that Denise; she is a woman who knows her food! She's also the one who turned me on to this superb olive oil, and I swear since she gave me that bottle, I must've bought another 10 bottles that I've given as gifts over the last couple years. This oil is great for dipping bread or using to dress a salad; it's wonderfully fragrant, tangy and refreshing. If you live in the Bay area, you can find it at Berkeley Bowl or at The Pasta Shop. You can also find it on Amazon.com.

I wrote about this chocolate recently, and I meant it when I said it ruined me for all the other chocolates. There is just no comparison. This Colombian single origin chocolate is like no other. Their 70% dark chocolate bar is smooth like velvet, deliriously dark and delicious. As far as I can tell, you can't purchase their chocolate from them directly on their web site, but you can get it from Chocolate.com, Chocosphere.com, or even Amazon.com.

I first learned of this tea through my friend, vegan chef extraordinaire Phil Gelb. One sip and I was hooked. I am a big fan of their Night Blooming Jasmine tea - so delicate and fragrant. They have so many wonderful varieties of tea that you'll find it hard to choose just one. They also carry many lovely teapots and cups. To the best of my knowledge, you can only buy their teas directly from them, via their online store.

So that's my two cents, for what it's worth.  Hope everyone out there has a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Although I always enjoying cooking a feast, I'm happy to be able to enjoy someone else's feast this year.  Tomorrow I'm headed to Palm Springs to spend the holiday w/ the family of my sweetie, who's mother's husband is a fabulous chef, and whom I'm told has been already cooking for days.  I can't wait!

Until next time, cheers to one and all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Green Beans with Garam Masala, Garlic and Slivered Almonds

If you read my last post, you may be wondering just what a person would do with such a large quantity of garam masala. Well I don't have a definitive answer to that question, but I can tell you about a delicious way to use a couple pinches. It does not involve mac & cheese! But I couldn't help but post my photo of the mac & cheese I made the other night to enjoy w/ my wonderful friends. It's the recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I love Cooks Illustrated because their recipes are tested exhaustively, tried and true. You follow the directions, and you get the results. You have to be a member in order to access their recipe, or, you could do like I did and buy one of their cookbooks.

But see, the thing about mac & cheese is that there's no getting around the fact that it's a high fat, high carb food. Delicious, yes. Fattening beyond belief, yes. And definitely, it's a dish that I like to make some sort of attempt to balance out by serving it with not only a big green salad, but also, a side dish of some other green vegetable. That's where the green beans come in. And the garam masala. And while we're at it, a little ghee if you've got it, and some garlic and slivered almonds. Alright, truth be told, if we were counting calories, we'd be eating steamed broccoli, but hell, where is the fun in that? We didn't come here to count calories!

Green Beans with Garam Masala, Garlic and Slivered Almonds
(click here for printable recipe)

1. Clean and trim a whole bunch of green beans. I used a little over 2 pounds to feed 7 people. Set the beans aside.
2. Mince several cloves of garlic and set aside.
3. In a large, heavy skillet (like, say... Adam's orange Le Creuset!), either melt a big plop of ghee or a big splash of olive oil over medium-high heat.
4. Add the green beans to the pan and cook over medium to high heat for about 10 minutes or until they start to become tender.
5. Keep the heat high and add 2 or 3 cloves minced garlic and the almonds - about 1/2 to 3/4 cup - and keep stirring till everything is nice and golden brown. The trick is to stir it enough so that the garlic doesn't burn, but not so much that the green beans won't brown. I can't claim to be an expert on how to achieve this, cause it seems like every time I make this dish, I arrive at my results in a different way. Isn't that extremely helpful?
6. Once the beans are more or less done, which means nearly tender but still a little crunchy, and somewhat golden brown, turn off the heat.
7. Sprinkle with kosher salt and several pinches of garam masala. Toss it well and serve it up with your mac & cheese, and enjoy in the company of fine friends and fabulous four-legged creatures who would never dream of begging!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garam Masala

I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than standing in the middle of my kitchen with the stereo cranked, measuring out spices and roasting, toasting and grinding them, filling the house with the most incredible perfume. But, that's just me. I'm a little nutty that way. Lucky for me, the man I love is also nutty that way, or at least if he isn't, he's perfectly happy to indulge me.

See, our new cookbook Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking finally arrived, and we couldn't wait to make an Indian feast, and Saturday was the big day. So we spent the day in the kitchen making ghee and homemade cheese, and chopping ginger and garlic and onions in crazy quantities, making yogurt mint sauce and chic peas with tamarind, roasting eggplant and toasting and grinding spices. That is my idea of a good time, and a good time it was! I couldn't begin to go into detail about all the recipes we enjoyed, but I thought I'd share the process for making garam masala, since I got some nice photos.

First, measure out the spices:

1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1 1/2 T. cardamom seeds (black or green)
2 whole cinnamon sticks, 3 inches long
1 1/2 t. whole cloves
3 T. black peppercorns
4 bay leaves, broken up
1/2 t. ground mace

Next, dry-toast the spices in a big cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly. You don't want the spices to burn, but you do want them to turn several shades darker, and to begin to give off a very spicy aroma.

Once the roasting process is complete, pour the spices into a bowl and let them cool.

Once completely cool, grind the mixture in small batches in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and transfer to an airtight container.

Now mind you, this is a crazy large quantity. I don't even know how we're going to begin to use it up, but we'll have fun trying. You could easily cut this recipe in half, or if you're feeling crafty and creative, you could double the recipe and distribute into small jars to decorate and pass out as holiday gifts along with your favorite curry recipe. Or you can do like we're going to do, and get obsessed with seeking out dishes that use this wonderful spice. Whatever you do, enjoy the incredible scent that is sure to permeate the air in your kitchen, and have fun!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Yes, We Did!

It's a whole new world since my last posting, eh? I'm thinking it's a better world now, and I'm excited to see the way the next four or eight years unfold.

I haven't been spending much time working on my own new recipes recently, but I do have two new cookbooks on the way, and I can't wait to see what I'm going to discover inside their pages. The first is Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. The second is Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More Than 650 Meatless Recipes from Around the World.

Now that winter seems to be beckoning, I find I'm much more frequently in the mood for warm, spicy dishes. And although I have several Indian, Thai, and even Vietnamese cookbooks, none of them are exclusively vegetarian, and in fact many of them are quite meat-centric. So I can't wait to crack these cookbooks open and start using them to warm my kitchen and my belly!

In other news, if you didn't already watch my goofy cooking video and cast your vote for me out of pity, it's not too late! Go to the KTEH Cooks with Garlic page, watch as many cooking videos as you can stomach, and cast your vote!

Until next time, cheers!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Stuffed Squash Strikes Again

Yesterday we had our first rainfall of the season here in the Bay area, and here's hoping there's a hell of a lot more where that came from, because we need it!

Anyway, after a wet and windy bike ride home from work, it was the perfect evening to make what is now officially one of my favorite dishes on earth: stuffed squash - stuffed kabocha, in this case. My love for kabocha squash borders on fanaticism; in fact I can be perfectly happy eating a very simply roasted kabocha squash, with nothing more than a little olive oil, salt and pepper. But what I love about stuffing a squash is that you can easily turn it into a one-pot, very satisfying meal, using a little bit of whatever you happen to have on hand. I happened to have some cooked lentils and some chard, plus some slivered almonds and cooked quinoa, and I mixed it all up with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and parmesan, and it was so delicious. Here's a basic recipe that you can alter as you see fit, using what you have in the house and using what inspires you - in fact I'd love to hear your ideas for varying this recipe, so bring 'em on!

Stuffed Winter Squash

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Begin with one medium-sized winter squash, such as kabocha or butternut. You could also use delicata or acorn, but since those varieties tend to be smaller, you may want to use one squash per person.

Cut the squash down the middle, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with a little olive oil, season w/ salt and pepper. If you'd like you can press a little minced garlic into the flesh. Now place the squash into a baking dish, cut side down, and roast for about 30-45 minutes, until the squash starts to become quite tender and almost looks like the flesh is puckering.

While the squash is roasting, get your stuffing together. I like to use the amounts that are on the larger side, so I can have extra stuffing to eat the next day. Set aside a good sized bowl to mix your stuffing, and add to it:

1/2 an onion, sauteed slowly till it's sweet and golden brown
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa, rice or couscous
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils or chic peas
1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts
1/4 to 1/3 cup bread crumbs - Panko works especially well
1/4 to 1/3 cup grated parmesan

And then, here is where you get to be creative, by adding any of the items below, or any combination of them:

1 bunch chard, cut into small ribbons, and quickly sauteed with a little olive oil and minced garlic
1 cup or so of sliced shitake mushrooms, sauteed or pan roasted in a little butter
1 cup or so of sweet corn or peas
1/2 cup currants or dried cranberries
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Or, maybe you have your own ideas about what to add!

Mix the stuffing well, season it with salt and pepper, and here, you can also be creative with your seasonings. I added a couple dashes of tamari, and, believe it or not, a couple dashes of fish sauce, which added a little depth and most certainly did not lend any sort of fishy flavor, for the record! But you could also add fresh herbs or dried herbs, and/or a little stock or broth. You don't want the mixture to be too moist, but you do want it to be moist enough to hold together somewhat.

Now, it's time to stuff the squash. Take it out of the oven after 30-45 minutes of roasting have passed. Turn it over and spoon the stuffing into the squash. Hopefully you'll have extra stuffing which you can spread into the rest of the pan outside the squash. Drizzle everything lightly with olive oil, add another light sprinkling of bread crumbs and parmesan, and bake for about another 30 minutes or so, until the stuffing becomes nicely golden brown and the squash is meltingly soft.

And now, it's time to eat! And in case you didn't know, you can eat the skin and all, as long as it's well cooked. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote for Garlic!

Friends, Family, Countrymen...

You may not know it, but there's another very important election taking place in the near future.  This one involves something we can all get behind:   garlic!!!

See, I heard about this contest where a local PBS station was soliciting folks to send in their garlic recipes, and so I did, and I was one of a group of people they chose.  I and the others got to make and post a video of ourselves preparing our recipe, and you, the viewers, get to vote on which ones you like the best.  The winner(s) will be invited into the station to prepare their recipe live on the air.

Truth be told, I didn't know what the hell I was doing, but I had a lot of fun and learned quite a bit in the process!  In fact, the biggest thing I learned just might be that I like writing about food more than standing in front of a camera trying to teach it, but c'est la vie!  So really, I'm only asking for your vote if you feel my video is the best, and the jury's still out on that...probably if I'd had a few more glasses of wine, I would've been MUCH livelier, but I didn't want to cut off any fingers, so I just did the best I could, and let's just say I'm no Rachel Ray.

Anyway, with that lovely disclaimer, I'm asking you now, with all your infinite spare time, to sit back, grab a glass (or a bottle) of wine, and watch some videos that will no doubt make you crave garlic.  And then, vote if you feel inspired.  I'm told the voting begins on Nov. 1st.

Click on this link to watch the videos. You'll need to scroll down a bit to see mine. Look for Val's Kitchen Cooking Show: Chipotle Roasted Garlic Hummus. I'm told the voting begins November 1st, so stay tuned for updates!

I wish I had more to report, but I've been insanely busy and not all that creative in the kitchen this month - but I'm looking forward to some much needed down time in November and December, and expect to spend a lot of that time cooking and baking up a storm, so I'll keep you posted!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Squash Season is Here...

... and I sure am happy about that.  There's been quite a nip in the air over the last couple of days, and I've been keeping the  house warm by cooking up a storm.  I haven't been posting much because almost all the recipes I've made lately have been straight-up out of cookbooks w/ no adaptation whatsoever, but recently I did fool around with a recipe from the Moosewood Low-fat Favorites, and the results were splendid.

This recipe for a Basque White Bean and Squash Soup was pretty tasty on its own, but both the sweetheart and I found the texture a bit off. Now mind you, neither one of us has anything against cubes of butternut squash, but we both found the soup a little lacking.  It felt more like a thin soup with chunks of squash, rather than the hearty stew that we wanted it to be on a crisp fall evening.  So, at the suggestion of my culinary advisor and partner in crime, after we'd eaten the soup as it was, I fished out almost all of the squash, plus a little broth and a little of the other vegetables, and pureed it until it was smooth as silk.   Then I added it back into the soup pot, and I swear it was 100% better!  NOW, it was stew!  Fortunately there was more than enough for both of us to enjoy for several meals, and today seems to be just as chilly as yesterday, so I know what I'll be having for lunch...

Basque White Bean and Squash Stew - adapted from Moosewood Low-fat Favorites

2 T. olive oil
2 cups diced onions
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 stalks celery, with leaves, sliced
1 cup green cabbage, sliced thin
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
5 cups vegetable stock
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
A pinch or two of saffron
A generous teaspoon or two of Better Than Bouillon stock (optional)

Sautee the onions and garlic in the oil until golden brown, and then stir in the fennel and thyme, followed by the cabbage and celery.  Cook over medium-low heat, covered, for about 5-7 minutes, then add the peppers, squash and stock.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about another 10-15 minutes, or until the squash is tender.  Now add the beans, crumble the saffron into the pot, and season generously with salt and pepper.  When I made this, I found that the stock was a little thin tasting even once seasoned with salt and pepper, so I added a plop of the Better Than Bouillon Lobster stock base that I happened to have in the fridge.  It didn't so much lend a fishy flavor as it did a subtle, savory depth. 

At this point, you can do one of three things:

Eat the soup just as is...


Scoop out all the squash plus some of the broth and veggies, and puree it in your blender and add it back into the pan...


Grab your trusty immersion blender, and blend some of the stew right there in the pot.

Top your stew a little crushed red pepper, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Chocolate to End all Chocolates

My, where does the time go? It feels like I just blinked, and suddenly it was ten days later.

And also, I blinked, and suddenly, I was a chocoholic. I didn't used to be, but that was before I tried Colombian Single Origin Dark Chocolate from Chocolate Santander. I think I can safely say that now I'm ruined as far as the other chocolates are concerned. A friend from work happens to be fairly addicted to this chocolate, and was kind enough to share a bar with me. And then it was all over. I suggest you get your own bar and taste the glory yourself, or buy some for that special chocolate-addict in your life.

Mind you though, I'm talkin' dark chocolate here - my personal fave is the Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao with Cacao Nibs. I could try to wax poetic but I'll leave it at this: this stuff slays me!

In other news, I did it! I finished my very first cooking show episode (a BIG thanks to my friends Steve & Patsy for lending me their camera!)! And oh, how perfect it is not! But it feels really good to have completed it, for better or for worse. I learned an awful lot in the process, and I can't wait to do it again. And soon you'll be able to view it. And maybe even vote on it, if you feel so inspired. Or, just watch it and laugh at me. Whatever moves you.

Soon I'm headed for a mini-visit with my family in AZ, and with any luck, I'll have some good eating to report back about next week.

'Til then, cheers!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Curried Potatoes, Beach Birthday Getaways, Caramelized Onions, Cooking Show Wannabees

How does Sunday night always seem to arrive so quickly? This weekend was action packed, so action packed that all I can do is give a quick overview of the highlights.

First, there were curried potatoes on Saturday morning, inspired by my friend Nathan's father's recipe. I've been dreaming about these potatoes ever since I tried them at a party at Nathan's place last summer, and on Saturday I finally made them before spontaneously piling the sweetheart, the dogs, some sandwiches and a few cold beverages into the car to head to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands for a little unplanned relaxing in the sunshine.

Sometimes it's good to head to a beautiful place when things are in flux, or when you really feel you ought to be doing something more productive. Sometimes it's good to realize that the most productive thing you can do is to take a time out and enjoy this beautiful earth with someone you love. And of course, it's essential to take your four-legged furry friends, especially when it happens to be the birthday of a certain dog you've loved for the last 12 years! Sometimes the most important thing to do is to just dig your toes into the sand and be grateful, and so that's just what we did.

Sunday's highlights were, and are:

1. The caramelized onions that are still slowly browning away on my stove as I type, nearly 3 hours from when I started them. I've been obsessed with making the perfect caramelized onions ever since I enjoyed some amazing ones at Cafe Biere last week, and after pouring over all my cookbooks, I've learned that a long, slow cooking process is key. And I'm happy to report that if you walked into our house right now, you'd be completely intoxicated by the aroma of these onions. I can't wait to enjoy them throughout the week!

2. Lastly, but not leastly, today I did a trial run today of my ten-minute film segment showing me making my roasted garlic chipotle hummus for the KTEH Cooks...with Garlic contest. And oh, my, my, did I ever learn a few things! It's funny - I have long dreamed of having my own cooking show. But as soon as I found myself in front of the camera with all my little bowls of ingredients, what would happen but that I would clam up and feel like a complete DORK???? It's what I like to call Red Light Syndrome when I am in the recording studio. I can sing perfectly when we're warming up and getting the levels just right, when it just feels like practicing. But as soon as the red "RECORDING" light goes on, I start choking like a frog. Yes, I'm going to have to find a way to overcome that. Suffice it to say that I'll probably do several tapings, and that we'll be eating a LOT of hummus around here this week! It's a good thing that my hummus recipe is SO DAMN GOOD!

Speaking of things that are so damn good, here is the recipe for curried potatoes. I adapted Mr. Moy's recipe in order to use what I had on hand. Mainly, I was lacking fenugreek, but by all means, use it if you've got it! I also added a little yellow curry powder to the mix. I hope you will enjoy these potatoes as much as we did!


First, parboil about a pound of potatoes. (I used organic potatoes that I picked up from the farmer's market this week. I'm not sure what kind they were, but they were medium size, with a skin lighter than that of russets. I left the skin on because the potatoes were organic, and because that's where many of the nutrients like to hang out, so I didn't want to miss out!)

Once cool, quarter and dice the potatoes and set aside.

Dice a medium sized onion and set aside.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet on the stove and once shimmering, add about a half teaspoon of cumin seeds and a half teaspoon of poppyseeds (and add a half a teaspoon fenugreek if you've got it!). Stir for a few minutes and then add the onions and continue to stir over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the onions are golden brown,

Next, add the potatoes, plus about a half teaspoon each of yellow curry powder and red chili powder, plus a light sprinkling of crushed red pepper, if you happen to like it on the spicy side.

Turn up the heat and stir occasionally, long enough so that the potatoes have time to brown a bit. This could take a good 20 minutes or so, depending on your stove.

Now add a little salt, a couple of cloves of crushed or minced garlic, and if you'd like, some chopped cilantro. Cook for a few more minutes.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, or a bit of ketchup, or not. Enjoy alone or with someone you love, and in any case, give thanks and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cafe Biere

Have I mentioned that I love beer, and that I also love a man who makes his own beer?

Well there, now I have, in case I hadn't. Yep, my man makes beer, and he's lovable for this and for so much more. It's a wonderful thing, having all this homemade, delicious beer in the house, despite the fact that it makes it tough for me to fit into all of my pants, but I can think of worse problems to have.

Sometimes though, you have to venture out into the world to enjoy beer made by others, and tonight, that's just what we did.

Part of the reason it was SUCH a treat is that we got to enjoy these beers within stumbling distance of our home! Yes! It's a new beer drinking establishment in our neighborhood! And it's GOOD! The beer selection is OVER THE TOP! And the food is quite delicious as well! This calls for many exclamation points!!! Ladies and gentlemen, if you live in the North Oakland or Emeryville area, then please wander on over to Cafe Biere on Adeline near 40th, and give these fine people your business, because:

1. They are nice, and passionate about what they do!
2. They have an incredible selection of beers from around the world, including LOTS of Belgian ales.
3. The food is great!
4. The atmosphere is cozy!

The flatbread with caramelized onions and goat cheese made me realize that I need to learn about the true art of caramelizing onions, cause mine, although still tasty, tend to end up rather on the crispy side. These were tender and rich and sweet, and the flavors of the goat cheese and onions and the light sprinkling of crushed red pepper were the perfect match to a glass of strong, hoppy ale.

The heirloom tomato and bread salad with arugula was loaded with gorgeous, juicy tomatoes that made me thank my lucky stars to be living in California during tomato season, and every bite was savored.

The only thing that would make me love this place even more would be if they had a wider selection of vegetarian options, but I'm not really complaining, because we left happy and satisfied. Long live Cafe Biere!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My New Friend, Liquid Smoke

It's nothing but busy, busy, busy around here. Isn't funny though, how I always manage to find time to read cooking blogs? A girl's gotta have her priorities. I don't even remember how I stumbled upon this blog recently, but as soon as I saw this recipe for Smokey Miso Tofu, I knew I had to try it. And try I did, today. And truly, it was the best tasting, best textured tofu dish that ever came out of my kitchen. I'm not going to post the recipe here, only the results, pictured above, because the recipe is perfectly explained and beautifully photographed on the aforementioned blog, known as Vegan Yumyum. Do check it out!

What I really need to share with you tonight is the fact that this recipe calls for an ingredient I've never used before: liquid smoke! Honestly, I didn't even know what it was until I just did a google search, and if you do your own search, you'll find there are quite a few articles and opinions about liquid smoke, which is basically composed of tiny smoke particles held in water vapor. The recipe for this tofu calls for a very sparing 1/4 teaspoon, but that's plenty. The end result (after combining the liquid smoke w/ miso, lemon juice, sugar, soy sauce and nutritional yeast), was savory, smokey, sweet, and ... kind of barbeque flavored, as you might imagine! I'm excited to experiment with using liquid smoke to make my own barbeque sauce. Just in time for the end of summer! Better late than never, eh?

In other news, I'm thrilled to have discovered that a recipe of mine which was recently entered in a cooking contest has made it past the first round of entries. And guess what? Now I need to film a ten minute segment of me cooking the recipe, which will be posted on the web site of a local PBS station. I just may fulfill that dream of having my own cooking show yet! Visitors to the site will vote to choose the best segments, and those winners will later appear live on television. Wish me luck! The segment will be posted for viewing (and voting!) some time in late October, so stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's Chili Cookoff Time again...

Greetings. It feels like it's been awhile since I've posted. I've been so busy I've barely been able to remember what day it is, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight, at least not any time soon. But at least, the stuff keeping me busy is fun. It's fun in the kitchen, fun slinging the bass, fun strumming the guitar and fun crooning a tune to anyone who will listen, both in the physical world and in cyberspace.

Firstly, I'm excited to include this shameless plug. Check out this music player below. Just hit the triangular "play" button and let me serenade you while I tell you about the chili cookoff. And if you dig the music, just click on the "share" tab and you, too can spread the love on your blog or web site or just your merry little computer screen. Share it with someone you love, or if you don't like it, then share it with someone you don't love quite so much.

<a href="http://valesway.bandcamp.mu/track/think-of-me">Think Of Me by Val Esway</a>

And secondly, it's time for the Second Annual Koi Pond Chili Cookoff, which happens to be a benefit for the Mother Mary Ann Wright Foundation. If you live in the Bay area, then please show up with some loved ones, donate a few bucks to the Mother Mary Ann Wright Foundation, listen to some great music and eat some chili. Eat MY chili! And go one step further, and VOTE for my chili, but only if you love it, which you WILL! Last year I tied for second place in the carnivore category, but this year I've gone veggie and have refined the recipe even more. But don't come just to make me a winner! Come to raise money for a very worthy cause - the Mother Mary Ann Wright foundation feeds FOUR HUNDRED families a day in Oakland alone, and they do it with the help of you and I. If all of this wasn't reason enough, there will also be great music by the likes of Lucio Menegon, Karry Walker and Myles Boisen, and Dr. Abacus.

If you want to come, please drop me a line for the address and particulars. By the time you get in touch with me, I might even remember what day it is, and that the chili cookoff takes place on Saturday, Sept. 20th. But now, I've gotta rest my overloaded head, friends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Half Price Wine is Mighty Fine

My cooking adventures have left something to be desired recently. I had very high hopes for this big pot of posole that I was working on. I've made this hominy stew before on numerous occasions, but always used canned hominy because I had no idea how to cook the dried stuff. And guess what? I still don't! There will be a longer post about this later, but for now, let's just say I was happy when my pal Sabine spontaneously called on Monday night and asked us to come meet her at Fellini Restaurant. For one, I'd been wanting the sweetheart to try their pizza, and for two, I remembered that all bottles of wine are only $12 on Monday nights at Fellini! In our case, the bottle we chose, a nice Malbec, would've been $28 dollars on the regular menu.

As you might imagine, the place was hoppin'. The wine was flowing. The company delightful. We ordered caesar salads with sides of anchovy and wow, did they ever pile on the anchovy, which we loved. And mostly, we loved the pizza too. The toppings of roasted garlic, artichokes, fresh tomatoes, basil and goat cheese (on two separate pizzas, mind you!) were heartily enjoyed. Several of us loved the chewy, dense and yet not too thick texture of the crust of the pizza, and I for one was in that camp. And I'd have no qualms about making this a Monday night tradition.

But what's a girl to do on Sundays? Well if you live near Oakland, you can always cozy up to the bar at Luka's Taproom, where the bottles of wine are half price on Sundays. I like their food, especially their belgian style fries w/ chipotle aioli.

I suppose you could also just be sensible and stay at home, eat your strange pot of posole and drink Two Buck Chuck, or just forgo the wine entirely, but where is the fun in that?!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

White Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burgers

So I've been fooling around with veggie burger recipes recently, and I think I finally hit the winner. These burgers have just the right consistency - substantial and hearty but not heavy. Also they're packed full of protein, not to mention flavor. It's great to make a batch, eat a few and freeze the rest to pull out and fry up for a quick lunch or dinner. The other good thing about this recipe is that it's a handy way to make your leftover beans and grains feel useful!

The recipe begins with cooked beans and cooked grains - I prefer cannellini beans, but I think black beans would be good too. Made from scratch is better than canned, but do what you gotta do! I've made these using brown rice, but I think quinoa is better - it's what adds a certain lightness to the texture. Also you can use pecans instead of walnuts, and you can vary your choice of fresh herbs. I just used what I had on hand. As always, use your creativity as you see fit, and enjoy!

Begin with a good sized bowl, and add to it:

2 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans, drained

Mash the beans with a wooden spoon until the consistency is partly smooth, and partly chunky. Now add to the beans:

2 cups cooked quinoa

Gently cook in a little olive oil:

1/2 cup diced shallot or onion

When the shallot or onion has cooled a bit, add it to the bowl with the beans and grains.

Also add:

3/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs - I used parsley and dill
1/2 cup breadcrumbs - I like to use Panko for this recipe
1/2 cup parmesan

Mix it all gently but thoroughly, and finally, add to this mixture:

1 egg, beaten

The egg will help the mixture hold together.

Now pull out some of the mixture and form it into a ball about the size of a small orange, and then flatten the ball into a patty. You should have enough to make 8 patties. Pour a light coating of olive oil into a non-stick or good cast iron skillet, heat the oil a bit, and add the patties to the pan. Cook over medium heat for about 4-6 minutes, and then flip and cook the other side. If you are really lucky, your wonderful sweetheart will be busy roasting potatoes to eat with the burgers, and then, it will be time to feast.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How 'Bout Them Apples?

Happiness is a big bowl of perfect apples, and so lately I've been very happy indeed. 

I stumbled upon these apples at the Berkeley Bowl last week, bought 2 of them and devoured them instantly upon returning home, and found myself rushing out the next day to stock up.

They were labeled "pesticide free, non-irrigated Macintosh apples from Watsonville, CA".  And for the life of me, I can't seem to remember the name of the farm, but I'll report back later this week when I go to buy another batch.

As far as I can tell, non-irrigated is the same as dry-farmed, wherein the fruits or vegetables are deprived of water at a certain point in the growing cycle, which makes for a very concentrated flavor.   And hey, it's good for the environment too!

These apples are everything I love in an apple - they're crisp and juicy and tart and sweet, the perfect snack on a blisteringly hot summer day.  If you're reading this and are lucky enough to live within close proximity to the Berkeley Bowl, hightail it over there and stock up!  I think you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Mad Dash to Bouchon

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of helping my dad celebrate his 70th birthday in Vegas. It was wonderful to have the whole family together, if a little surreal in terms of places to gather.

I didn't have much money to spend, and after quickly blowing the cash that my parents so generously bestowed me with, I realized I'd better save what little I had left if I was ever going to make it to Bouchon.

Yes, amidst the heat and cigarette smoke and nauseating air fresheners and clanging dinging slot machines and overpriced everything, just knowing that there is a Thomas Keller restaurant on the Strip was like a breath of fresh, cool air. If I was going to lose the rest of my money, I was going to lose it at Bouchon. And lose it I did, in the most glorious of ways.

But first, we had to get there! Suffice it to say it was a bit of a haul, and that it took us nearly an hour to travel the roughly half a mile distance, and that by the end of that journey, we were nearly running in order to get there before they stopped serving breakfast. In fact, we got there 10 minutes late, but they were kind enough to seat us anyway.

First things first, Bloody Mary's were in order.

I had to stop myself from swilling the whole glass down in less than a minute; it was that good. And then, for some reason, the staff decided our breakfast was taking too long to arrive, so to make up for it, they brought us 4 pastries, a plate of fruit, and another round of Bloody Mary's. Uh, we were quite happy sitting there in the sunshine in front of the fountain sipping our drinks, but go ahead, twist my arm!

I'm not big on pastries usually, but the pecan sticky bun was in another league entirely. It managed to taste completely decadent and yet somehow light and not overly sweet.

And then there was the quiche.

I'm quite certain now that I've never in my life tasted quiche the way it was meant to be. The spinach custard felt like silk, and I can't even find the words to describe the pastry crust, except to say that it put to shame every other pastry crust that I've ever tasted.

The only thing that could've made this meal better, Dad, is if you had joined us!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Turn to Chocolate

I love it when the food theme lends itself perfectly to a musical theme. Today's theme happens to be Turn to Chocolate. Because truly, that's what I did. It was only about 80 degrees outside but I HAD TO BAKE BROWNIES. It was a bit of an obsession because I've had this bar of Green & Black's organic dark baking chocolate just waiting, sitting on the counter taunting me. Each night I would look at that bar of chocolate and want it to magically become a plate of brownies, but each night I found myself too exhausted to do anything about it.

But then there was today, a day when I went into work before dawn and finished my day shortly after lunch time, and I knew that today was the day to transform that bar of deliriously dark chocolate into something even more sublime....something I could sink my teeth into. So that when tonight rolled around, all I'd have to do was eat it, piles be damned. Tonight I needed a little comfort of the chocolate variety, and let me tell you, these brownies did the trick.

But wait! Turn to Chocolate happens to also be the name of an album by one of my favorite local bands, She Mob. And how lucky am I that I actually get to KNOW this band, and sometimes sing with them? This is a band that I like to listen to LOUD, a band that delivers catchy, heavy, funny, rocking songs. A band that I like to listen to sometimes when I'm not feeling quite right and I don't know what I need - their music just comes rushing in to comfort me in some strange way - kind of like chocolate can do.

And so, I turned to chocolate because like I said, I couldn't resist that bar of dark baking chocolate any longer, and I was happy to spend some time in the kitchen, my favorite room in the house.

I'm particularly happy about these brownies because I used more or less my own recipe, albeit one that is based upon several other recipes I've seen. I did quite a bit of adapting in order to utilize my entire bar of dark chocolate, no more, no less. It irks me that some recipes call for amounts of chocolate that don't happen to coincide with the amounts that are in the packages that I buy. For instance, this bar of chocolate was 5.3 ounces. I found various recipes that called for 8 ounces, or 3.5 ounces, but I wanted to use only the 5.3 ounces that I had on hand. So I did some adapting and this is what I came up with. Also I should caution you that these aren't the sweetest brownies you ever tasted - they are intensely chocolate-y though, and that's exactly how I like it. Most recipes that I found called for as much as 2/3 to a whole cup MORE sugar than my recipe. If crazy amounts of sugar float your boat, then go ahead and increase the sugar.

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and if you like, line the pan with parchment paper.

Set a heatproof bowl over a small pot of barely simmering water, and into the bowl, add 2 sticks unsalted butter plus 5 ounces (or 5.3 ounces as the case may be) dark baking chocolate (don't use unsweetened!). Stir occasionally until it's all melted and smooth.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.

In another bowl, whisk together 4 large eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Then whisk into this mixture 1 1/3 cup sugar.

Now pour the liquid chocolate mixture into the egg and sugar mixture, and when it's well mixed, slowly add the flour mixture, and then finally, add 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes. At this point, the brownies will be gooey in the middle, and cakey on the outside. You can bake them for a little longer if you want them to have a more cake-like texture.

Cool the brownies completely (if you can wait that long!) on a wire rack. Cut them up and try not to eat too many before bed, unless you really don't want to sleep!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Citrus-scented Yogurt

Sorry for the lack of postings as of late. The process of battling the piles continues to consume me, so I haven't spent as much time in the kitchen recently as I would like. But the good news is, the piles are shrinking, even if they aren't shrinking as quickly as I'd like.

Not only have I been battling piles, but I've been battling the anal-retentive control freak in me (did I mention she's impatient too?) that wants EVERYTHING PERFECT NOW. Ha - good luck with that! Anyway I came across this recipe for citrus-scented yogurt and thought someone out there might appreciate it. It makes a great topping for fruit or granola or french toast or pancakes, and it's quick and easy to make, a bonus for impatient types like me! Obviously you can double or triple the recipe as you see fit.

Add to 1 cup plain yogurt:

1 teaspoon grated orange or lemon zest, or a combination of the two

A drizzle or two of honey or maple syrup

A very light sprinkling of cinnamon and/or fresh ground nutmeg

Stir it up, and now you're ready to serve it.

If by chance you find yourself feeling a little bit patient, you can first drain the yogurt in a layer or two of cheesecloth over a fine mesh strainer for 30 minutes before adding the goodies. This will create a thicker, creamier consistency.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Everything Will Be Just Fine, as Long as We Stay in the Kitchen

Yeah, I'm moving. Leaving the Fruitvale Mansion (as I like to call it) behind. I'm going to miss the place, and I'm especially going to miss the kitchen. But the thing is, in recent months, the kitchen became totally infested with mice. Stubborn, ever-present mice. Mice that wouldn't leave despite my best efforts to humanely show them the door. I couldn't bring myself to kill them, and so I just left.

Ok, that's not entirely true. I left because the time has come to share a home with the one I love, and I'm mostly ecstatic about that. It's just that when you reach a certain age and you have two people attempting to combine their two homes into one home, suddenly, said home seems tinier than you ever imagined, and you find yourself wondering how on earth you're going to make this thing work. So if you're like me, you just make sure that the kitchen is the first thing you unpack, so at least you can still eat very well despite the chaos that is all around you.

But, I digress. I was planning to move anyway, just perhaps not as soon as this. But it's no fun living with mice, never mind cleaning up after the little vermin. It kind of takes the joy out of being in the kitchen. So I haven't cooked anything in the old kitchen for months. I started living in the new place awhile ago; I just didn't get around to moving all the rest of my stuff until this weekend.

What I should have been doing tonight was unpacking and organizing, but how can a person unpack and organize without the sustenance of a delicious meal? So instead of dealing with this....

...I tried out a recipe that has long been lingering in my recipe binder for a Mediterranean fish stew, courtesy of none other than Emeril Lagasse. I adapted it slightly by adding potatoes when none were called for, and using lemon zest instead of orange zest, and all I have to say is, screw the piles in the living room. This stew was absolutely reason enough to blow off the piles, and the recipe made enough to sustain us through the next several days while we're attempting to shrink the piles before they swallow us up. 

I'd much rather enjoy this beautiful and lively combination of saffron, crushed red pepper, fish stock, white wine, tomatoes, fennel, halibut and shrimp than try to figure out how and where things should go.  The piles will still be there tomorrow, but tonight I really needed to enjoy myself in the kitchen.

You might call this denial, but what did you say?  I couldn't hear you over the stereo and all my chopping and slicing and dicing, and besides, I'm intoxicated by the aroma of the stew, so intoxicated that I keep switching tenses in my writing.  Oh wait, maybe it's the wine that made me that way.  Who cares?  Just make this stew some time.  It'll make you the hit of the party or it'll make you forget the chaos that lies in waiting merely one room away. 

Here's how to do it:

In a large soup pot, saute over medium-low heat for about 6-8 minutes: 1 onion, thinly sliced, 2 celery ribs, sliced thin on the diagonal, and 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed. When the onions are soft, add 1/3 cup white wine, 3 pinches saffron, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, the juice of 1 orange, a couple of thin strips of orange or lemon zest, 3 tablespoons tomato paste, and 8 cups fish stock. Bring to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until the stock is reduced by about one third.

At this point, add 1 bulb of fennel, cored and sliced thin, plus about 6-8 small red potatoes, quartered, and 1 cup of diced, peeled and seeded tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and cook about another 20 minutes or until the fennel and potatoes are tender.

Take about a pound of halibut and season with salt and pepper, and dice it into chunks that are about an inch or so. Peel and devein about a half pound shrimp. Add all of this to the pot, along with a small handful of chopped parsley, and cook just until the fish is done, which should take about 5 minutes.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Maniacally Unhinged, Supremely Talented

Here's a cool article on the front page of this week's East Bay Express, and it's all about the Immersion Composition Society. I've been participating in ICS since 2002, and it has truly transformed my creative process in regards to songwriting. The Express article goes into great detail about what ICS is and how it works, but in a nutshell, a bunch of songwriters choose a day, get up in the morning and write and record as many songs as possible, and then meet up that very same evening to listen to the fruits of each person's labors. It's nutty, it's fun, it's sometimes terrifying, and completely liberating. No more waiting for inspiration to strike! No more excuses! You get up, you get to work, and somehow although you have no idea what it is you're supposed to be creating, the most fantastic things manage to spill out of your subconscious. Granted, a lot of crud leaks out too, but the theory goes that in the midst of quantity, eventually there's gotta be some quality too. And one of the cool things about ICS is that the participants aren't there to judge or critique. It's a very supportive environment.

Although my ICS sessions have been very few and far between over the last couple years, at a certain point in time I was doing it so frequently that I managed to write over 250 songs in a period of a couple years (granted, not all of them were good, or even listenable, but hell, I got more good songs written in those years than I would have otherwise!). God, I miss those days. I'm just about ready to kick myself in the butt and start doing ICS sessions again so I can write some new material. But in the meantime, I'll play a very small handful of those 250 songs as one of the many performers at Friday night's show at the Uptown, featuring a whole slew of ICS participants. The concert is presented by the Budget Cinema Suicide Mission, and is a benefit for local filmmaker Annmarie Piette, who's doing a documentary about creativity and the brain, featuring a segment about ICS. If you can't make it to the show, do check out the Express article - it's a very worthy read. I love the author's reference to ICS participants as "maniacally unhinged, supremely talented"! It turns out I am lucky to know quite a few people who fit that description.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Garlic Toast w/ Goat Cheese and Tomatoes

There's no special story to go along with this recipe, and in fact it's not so much a recipe as it is a guide, but no matter what you call it, the end result makes for a delightful appetizer in the summer, all the more attractive and tasty when you use heirloom tomatoes. And it goes something like this:

First, make the garlic toast. Slice a baguette or some italian bread, and brush with olive oil. Take a fat clove of garlic and peel it and smash it with your knife, and rub the garlic onto each slice of bread. Now turn the slices over and do the same thing to the other side. Toast the bread slices in the toaster oven or in your plain old oven on a cookie sheet, but be careful not to toast or bake for too long, or you'll end up with extra toasty toasts, like I did! They're still good that way cause they're extra crunchy, but some might aim to make them a little more on the perfectly golden brown side.

While the bread is toasting, slice up a few tomatoes. You can use heirloom tomatoes, romas, or even super sweet cherry tomatoes, in which case, you'd just cut them in half. Put the tomatoes on a plate, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and top with slivers of fresh basil.

Once the garlic toast comes out of the oven, smear each slice with a dab of goat cheese. I'm fond of Redwood Hill fresh chevre, but you could also use fresh mozzarella, or thin shavings of parmesan, or whatever suits your fancy.

Next, top each slice of cheesy toast with a tomato slice, or a half a tomato slice, as the case may be.

Eat, enjoy, repeat. Try to save room for dinner, which could prove to be difficult.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Art of Simple Food and Camping

I want to be one of those really sturdy types of people who simply THRIVES in the outdoors, but the truth is, I find it a little challenging. All that dirt! All those crazy yahoos camping way too close to our camp site as they knock back cheap beer after cheap beer, followed by the sound of a sorority girl puking not too far from our tent - kind of a buzzkill! And then there was the constant soundtrack of classic rock blaring from the neighboring campers...I mean, whatever happened to campfire songs under the stars? HOW ON EARTH IS ONE SUPPOSED TO FOCUS ON THEIR SCRABBLE GAME STRATEGIZING WITH THE NEIGHBORING CAMPERS SITTING ON THEIR DAMN WHOOPEE CUSHION REPEATEDLY???

If we wanted dirt and noise pollution, we could've stayed in Oakland and camped in the back yard! But what can you do but make the best of it? We played a lot of Scrabble under the light of the moon, we splashed in the Russian River with two dogs, and we made ravioli with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil using our brand new camping stove. And we figured out how to set up the tent! And we didn't burn anything down!

It was fun while it lasted, but I could hardly wait to get home and cook something fresh (not to mention, take a shower and sleep in comfort again!). Since I've been enjoying the Alice Waters book The Art of Simple Food so much recently, I decided to enjoy it a little more. Dinner on Sunday night was a frittata with chard and onions, and green beans with almonds, garlic and lemon juice. Another delicious meal.

Simple food really is an art, and I've yet to find anyone who explains this art better than Ms. Waters, so I strongly suggest you add this cookbook to your own collection. I think you'll be glad you did, whether you are a beginning cook or a seasoned pro. I wish I had some suggestions about how to make your next camping experience more idyllic, but I guess I'm not the expert on that matter yet. But I'm determined to keep trying, oh yes I am....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eat, Drink, Camp

Stumbled upon a couple of interesting articles today, about a couple of my favorite things - food and drink!

I've mentioned Mark Bittman here before; his writing and his recipes have been a great source of inspiration to me and have greatly influenced my food choices as of late. Here is a link to a talk he gave called "What's wrong with what we eat". Good food for thought, as it were.

Boy do I love a good margarita, and oh how I hate a margarita that is slushy, watered down, too sweet, or made with cheap tequila. What can I say, I'm a bit of a snob that way! Here's a good article in today's SF Chronicle entitled Mastering the Margarita, suggesting that there just might be as many opinions about a good margarita as there are brands of tequila. I tend towards the "premium tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and salt" variety, but this article features some recipes that seem worth trying.

And with that, I'm off for a weekend of camping near the Russian River. There won't be fancy food and there won't be margaritas, but with any luck there should be abundant sunshine, bright stars, and the company of a few of my favorite beings. That's my idea of a perfect weekend.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stuffed Squash with Quinoa Pilaf

Well I'm no Tartine Gourmande, but Bea's recent post inspired me to try out this recipe, and oh, it was delicious. (Note - the recipe I linked to above is actually from 2006, but she referenced it in a posting from last week that included several recipes for stuffed squash.) I made a few modifications, and the recipe lends itself very nicely to using whatever you have on hand. The original recipe called for prosciutto, but I omitted that and added breadcrumbs. I also used a quinoa pilaf instead of the rice that the original recipe called for. I think toasted walnuts or pine nuts would be a good addition to this as well. As always, I say use your imagination and creativity, and use what you have on hand.

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

For the quinoa pilaf, first, dice half an onion and slowly saute it over medium heat in a small bit of butter. If you like, add a teeny sprinkling of brown sugar to help the caramelization process along. When the onions are golden brown, add about 3/4 cup of quinoa and stir it all together for a few minutes. Add a little salt, a little dried thyme, and then add enough stock or water to cover it by about an inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, put a lid on it and let the quinoa cook for about 15-20 minutes until the broth is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Now, stir in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup chic peas.

For the squash: Scoop out the flesh, set it aside and dice it. Cut the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside. Dice one big fat clove of garlic. Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the garlic and along with it, a small pinch of dried coriander and dried cumin (I like to toast the spices whole and then grind them). Now add the squash and cook for about 5 minutes, and then add the corn and cook for another 3 minutes, and finally, stir in about 1/2 cup sungold cherry tomatoes, cut in half. Remove from heat, stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (I used Panko in this case), a light sprinkling of parmesan and a smattering of chopped fresh parsley. Now, combine this mixture with the pilaf, and wow, it's good enough to eat just like this, but trust me, it gets better!

Spoon this delicious stuffing into the squash, place them into a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Pour about a half an inch of broth or water into the bottom of the pan. If you find you have extra stuffing left over, place it in a separate baking dish. Top everything with salt and pepper and a little more breadcrumbs and parmesan, and bake for about an hour.

This dish would be especially satisfying in the winter, but here in the Bay area, sometimes summer feels like winter, so this dish was perfect for a day like today, when the sun barely managed to squeeze through the clouds.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Week in Pictures...

... and a few words. It's been non-stop action for about the last ten days or so. I saw, heard and played tons of music, from improv to country, and I ate a lot too. Oh, did I eat. I even cooked a little.  Too much to write about in great detail, but here are a few highlights:

Finally got to dine at Pizzaiola, courtesy of my fabulous employer.  Oh, that pizza.   Maybe you oughta try it for yourself since words seem to be failing me tonight.

This pasta was so good I had to enjoy it twice.  My friend Adam  made it for me one night, inspiring me to make it later in the week for my sweetie and the lovely Sabine, who adorned our table with this beautiful flower arrangement.

The pasta recipe came from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, a book that I've had for awhile but not used nearly enough yet.  The pasta was a very flavorful, earthy combination featuring summer squash, walnuts, buttered cabbage and fresh parsley. 

Adam added toasted breadcrumbs to his version so of course I had to do the same, and fortunately I made a huge batch of it so I get to enjoy it again for lunch tomorrow, which will be here too soon... which is why I can't even stop to tell you about my recording session with Edith Frost... or the amazing set that Joe Rut played tonight at the Bazaar Cafe.... there is more, more, more, but my brain is too tired for many more words tonight, and the land of dreams is beckoning, so off I go until next time.