Thursday, May 29, 2008

One of the Many reasons I Love living in California...

... yes, the real estate (even now as prices are dropping) is astronomical, gas is up to $4.25 a gallon, and we could fall into the ocean at any moment. But with beautiful organic heirloom tomatoes like these, I can hardly complain.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

You Can't Buy Happiness, but...

... you can drink it!

Ok ok I know that's bad, but honestly, that's on a billboard that I pass every day on my way to work. It shows the Nestle's Quick bunny swilling back the chocolate milk. Drunk with happiness.

Well I was a little drunk with happiness when I recently found myself in Arizona at the Barrio Cafe, sipping the best damn margaritas ever, in the company of my sweetie and one of my oldest, dearest friends, Anita. I mean, the food was quite incredible on its own, but those margaritas were something else. Strong, made with good tequila, and not too sickly sweet. Good stuff.

So much more to report - this is just the tip of the iceberg but alas, the rest will have to wait. I can hardly wait till Sunday, for I have three new gnocchi recipes to try out, so stay tuned for an update about that, and wish me luck!

Monday, May 19, 2008

When You Can't Make it to the Ocean...

... the next best thing is seaweed salad!

Well, some would argue this but it's my blog and I love seaweed salad. So I'm gonna tell you the quick and dirty way to make this beautiful, delicious, super cool and refreshing salad that is not only tasty, but high in nutritional value.

The quick and dirty way is to head over to your local natural foods store and get a package of Soken Sea Vegetable Salad. Open the bag, pour boiling water over it, let it sit for 15 minutes and then drain it.

While the seaweed is sitting there soaking up the water, open a bag of frozen edamame. Cook it in salted boiling water for a couple minutes, and then drain it (make sure you get the kind that's already out of its pod so you don't have to do that part!).

Once you've drained both the edamame and the seaweed, combine them in a bowl, and toss with a little tamari, a little sesame oil, a couple splashes of seasoned rice vinegar, and a few squeezes of lemon. For best results on a blazing hot day, chill the salad completely and serve on cold plates. Serving with cold sake might make it even better!

Friday, May 16, 2008

One Word that is Not Really a Word...

....... Mmmmmmmmmmm!!!

That's my zucchini ricotta tart made with homemade ricotta and a potato crust.  I think I'm gaining another couple of pounds just looking at the photo.  Decadent, yeah.  Delicious indeed.  I think you should just go on out and get Mark Bittman's cookbook and make it yourself. I'm feeling a little lazy and over-fed today, and I do believe this insane burst of hot weather here in Northern California has fried a few of my brain cells. Till next time, I'll just be laying around spritzing myself with cold water, and possibly knocking back a few margaritas to quench the thirst...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade fresh cheese is so easy... who knew? Not me, but now I do! Thanks, Mark Bittman. Yes, Mr. Bittman is the author of the latest cookbook to cross the threshold of my kitchen: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He claims that making fresh cheese is not much harder than boiling milk, and I'm here to tell you, he's right. And I've got the tub of fresh ricotta to prove it.

All you need is some cheesecloth, a strainer, milk, buttermilk and salt. That and some inspiring music cranked on the stereo, wine optional!

First, you bring the milk to a boil in a big, sturdy pot. A half a gallon of organic whole milk is what I used.

Once the milk comes to a boil, add 2 cups of buttermilk and stir constantly. It will separate into curds & whey pretty rapidly (see how it's kind of lumpy looking?) and when it does, remove it from the heat and stir in a generous pinch of salt. Don't be shy with the salt - I was, and consequently although my finished product is delicious, it's not quite as salty as I would like. Next time, I'll up the salt for sure.

Now, place a medium sized strainer in the sink and line it with 3 layers of cheesecloth...

....and pour the milk mixture into the strainer. The liquid will strain out and you'll be left with the solids, and this, my friends, is your very own ricotta! Just leave it there in the sink for about 30 minutes or so, and then it will be done.

How easy is that?  And how good does that look?  Almost as good as it tastes!

Once the ricotta is done, spoon it into a container for safe keeping, but don't put the lid on yet because it will most likely still be warm. Wait to refrigerate until it's completely cool, because you don't want condensation.

And now, just think of all the ways to use your homemade ricotta. Tomorrow, I'm going to make a recipe from the aforementioned cookbook for a zucchini & ricotta tart made with a potato crust. I can hardly wait! With any luck, I'll be reporting back about that very soon.   For now, I think it's about time to collapse into the comfort of my bed.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

World Beat Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Never mind that it's the wrong season for this sort of thing. I just cleaned out my pantry last weekend and was thrilled to be able to make something this delicious, almost entirely from canned goods! It has the unlikely combination of coconut milk and chipotle, but somehow the combination of hot/smoky and sweet/spicy really works.

Ever since I got my handy pressure cooker, I've been making all of my beans from scratch - but I had several cans of black beans in the pantry that I wanted to use up, plus some coconut milk, fire roasted tomatoes and canned pumpkin. I'd been meaning to make pumpkin biscuits ever since last fall but it never did happen, and I'm glad because this soup really was quite exquisite. Here's how to do it:

1 onion - diced
1 shallot - diced
2 jalapenos - diced

Sautee the above in:

2 T. butter and
2 T. coconut oil (or if you don't have coconut oil, you can use olive oil instead)

When the onions start to turn golden, add:

4 cloves garlic - minced
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1 t. sweet/smoky chipotle paste* OR 1 t. chipotle in adobo sauce

Combine 3 cans black beans and 1 can fire roasted tomatoes and coarsely puree in a food processor or blender. Add this to the onions/garlic/peppers.

Also add 1 can pumpkin puree and 1 can coconut milk, and 3 cups vegetable stock or water.

Stir it well till you get a nice, thick but still soupy consistency. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

Garnish with sour cream.

*Sweet & smoky chipotle paste is a recipe I got from the Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen cookbook - it involves frying a massive amount of chipotles and then soaking them in sugar water, and pureeing it all with roasted garlic. It's very intense, spicy, smoky, sweet, and lends a depth of flavor like no other!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Gardener is Born

I'm doing my best to change my plant killing ways.  My one houseplant has been alive for a good six months now, and the orchid that my sweetheart gave me is still blooming beautifully more than two months later.

For most of my life, I've never had much of an inclination towards gardening, but in recent months that has been changing.   Suddenly I'm obsessed with the idea of creating things in my kitchen that I grew in my yard.  Although really, we're growing them in the sweetheart's yard, but nonetheless, I am helping make it happen, and this is a first for me.  A very exciting first. There will be tomatoes and squash and arugula and herbs -  nothing terribly ambitious, but to me it's a veritable cornucopia.

Today my small contribution amounted to a little weeding and clearing away of the old stuff,  plus some turning over the soil with the shovel.  I know it just looks like dirt in the photo, but damnit, it's dirt that I lovingly  shoveled myself!  And it's way more gardening than I've ever done in the past.

And I can't take credit for this part, but when the day was done, this is what it looked like:

I can't wait to watch it grow and to learn all I can along the way!

My Fifteen Minutes...

I never had my name on a marquis prior to last week when I played at Ashkenaz in Berkeley (hence the peace sign because it's Berkeley!).   So naturally I had to take a photo for my grandchildren's great grandchildren to remember their  ancestor...

... see, my band-mates are still VERY, VERY exclusive.  So exclusive that only 17 people were hip enough to seek us out on a Thursday night.  But hey!  We got our name on the marquis!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Gift I Bought for Myself

I just can't seem to move on from this theme - I'll take that as a sign of my wonderful good fortune and gladly give thanks!

Several months ago, I read (and wrote about) a very compelling article published in the New York Times by Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  That article had a strong and positive impact on my eating choices, but until recently, I didn't have my own copy of the cookbook.  I had bought the cookbook as a birthday gift for my dear friend Alison, who, like me, had recently cut meat out of her diet.  I had kept meaning to buy a copy for myself, and it took awhile, but that day has finally come.

I enjoy reading cookbooks just as much as I enjoy cooking from them, and so it was with great pleasure today that I sat down and began to read the introduction to this book.   I love Bittman's no-nonsense writing style; I love the fact that he is not dogmatic, and that he is not a professionally trained chef but a home cook with nearly 40 years of experience.  But most of all, I know I am going to love trying out his recipes!  And let me tell you, this book covers everything from salads to sauces to desserts, with everything in between.   I can't imagine how long it must have taken to compile a definitive body of recipes such as these.  And I can't wait to start enjoying them!

Now if only my time spent in the kitchen could grow as rapidly as my cookbook collection...couldn't someone just pay me to throw fabulous dinner parties without me having to be a caterer?  I'm gonna have to ponder that one....