Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sliding into 2010

Good Lord, where has the time gone?

I wish I was one of those people who just lives to write, who's every fiber of their being is wired to express themselves creatively. Alas, that's just not me. I love to create, and sometimes I feel I'm even kind of good at it. But sometimes, I'm just lazy. Sometimes, I'm too busy being in the moments to write about the moments, for better or for worse.

And so, months pass. The air grows colder, nights grow longer, and many pots of stew and soup are conjured and warmed up and consumed, and some of them are even worthy of writing about, but nothing is written about them.

Hard life experiences come up, the kind that no one or nothing can really prepare you for. You dig in and push forward one moment at a time and one step at a time, even when you can't see the road in front of you, let alone the final destination. You push forward one moment at a time, one prayer at a time, one miracle at a time. Sometimes you feel like you're pushing forward one battle at a time and one heart wrenching sacrifice at a time. But you try to focus more on the moments that feel miraculous, because those are the only moments that can carry you through to wherever that final destination is supposed to be. You try to keep your eyes on the road, even when you can't see the road.

And then, a white Christmas happens, even if it happens a day or two late. No one seems to mind because you are all just happy and thankful to have this time to be together, snow or no snow.

Pizzelles get baked, all three Godfather movies get watched, the wine and beer are flowing and diets get planned. And before you know it, you're slip sliding into a new year and nearly a new decade (for the new decade really begins in 2011, right?).

That about sums up these last months for me. One moment it was the end of the summer, the next it was Halloween and suddenly and startlingly, the new year is close enough to touch. But I must say I'm looking forward to whatever said new year may hold, ready to let go of this last year and all that it has held, for better or for worse.

So happy new year to you and yours from me and mine, and here's wishing all of us a fruitful and delicious and healthy and inspiring 2010 and beyond.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Tale of Two Harissas

My latest food obsession is harissa, otherwise known as North African chili paste. In case you are the type who would run screaming after hearing the word "chili", let me assure you that it isn't terribly spicy, unless of course, you want to make it that way. It's more like a little sweet, a little smokey, a little spicy, a little salty, and bursting w/ tantalizing tastes thanks to the spice blend which features coriander, cumin, caraway, mint and lemon. There is a LOT of flavor packed into a teeny dollop, and every molecule of it is heavenly. (I strongly recommend clicking on the "harissa" link above and reading the article "Harissa, mon amour" from the L.A. Times, which describes harissa much more beautifully than I can!)

I recently bought a small jar of the Alili brand harissa, and it was supremely delicious. My honey and I polished off the jar over the span of a mere few days. A spoonful here, a dollop there, and it quickly disappeared. It was so good that I decided this would now be a must-have staple in our kitchen, but at $7.99 a jar, I'd darn well better learn how to make my own! And so today, I did, with a little help from my friends.

I'd been eyeing the harissa recipe in (what else?) Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. But I also sent a request out to my food-obsessed friends on Facebook asking who had an exquisite recipe, and the lovely and multi-talented Jenya sent me a link to this Saveur recipe. I spent the better part of this afternoon making the two recipes side by side, and no offense to Deborah Madison or anyone else, but the Saveur recipe turned out to be the champion.

Both recipes feature dried guajillo and New Mexico chiles, plus garlic, coriander, cumin, caraway seeds, salt and olive oil. But the Saveur recipe also features mint and lemon, and, perhaps more importantly, calls for smaller amounts of all the spices. And somehow, using smaller amounts makes the flavor work better as a whole. Less is more! It's like the difference between a bunch of musicians playing too many notes and stepping all over each other's toes, and, a symphony. Yes, I do believe the Saveur recipe is that good.

I made a couple of slight modifications to the recipe because I didn't have quite enough New Mexico chiles; instead of the eight that it called for, I used four of those plus four California chiles. I must admit, they looked very similar when dried, and I have no idea how it may have altered the taste, but it sure tasted good! Additionally, while the chiles were soaking, I dropped the garlic cloves in to soak as well, in order to take off a bit of that raw garlic edge, for as much as I may love the raw garlic, it doesn't love me back *quite* so much.

Enough blathering - onto the recipe! Long may you enjoy it - I know I'm going to!

8 dried New Mexico chiles, seeded and stemmed
8 dried Guajillo chiles, seeded and stemmed
1/2 t. caraway seeds
1/4 t. coriander seeds
1 t. dried mint leaves
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
5 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Put the chiles into a bowl and cover with boiling water, letting sit for about 30 minutes or until softened. After about 5-10 minutes of soaking, drop the garlic cloves into the bowl and let them soak along w/ the chiles. If you don't mind your garlic raw, then wait to add the garlic to the food processor later.

2. In a dry skillet, toast the caraway, coriander & cumin over medium heat, shaking the pan constantly, until fragrant. Let cool a bit and transfer to a spice grinder. Add the mint and grind it all to a fine powder. Set aside.

3. Drain the chiles & garlic and transfer to a food processor. Add the ground spices, olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon juice. If you desire more heat, now's the time to add a little cayenne. Puree, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. When smooth, transfer to a clean jar, topping off with more olive oil after each use.

Now that you've got it, what are you gonna do with it?! Here are just a few suggestions - stir it into rice or lentils or chic peas or soup to add another dimension of flavor, or spread it onto bread or crackers. Use it as a rub on whatever kind of meat or fish you like. Add a little plop as the secret ingredient in your chili! You get the idea and I bet you've got a few ideas of your own so if so, please send 'em my way!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Peas by Deborah Madison

Lately I can't stop thinking about soup, and I've been making quite a lot of it. This blog DOES have soup in the name, after all.

So far, I can't take an ounce of credit for any of the recipes, except perhaps, in being able to spot a good one when I see it. And time and time again, I find that Deborah Madison never fails me.

Last night I made her recipe for Yellow Split Pea and Coconut Milk Soup w/ Spinach, Rice and Spiced Yogurt, which you can find on this fine blog. I followed the recipe almost to the letter, except that I used only half a can of coconut milk instead of the full amount, and it was divine. The blend of spices includes ground cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, and crushed red pepper in the soup, and paprika, cumin, turmeric and black pepper in the spiced yogurt. The end result is warm, tangy, and so completely comforting. I think this might be my new favorite.

If yellow split peas aren't your thing, Deborah has you covered. You can't go wrong with her recipe for classic Split Pea Soup in her cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Here again, a little paprika is used to add a hint of smokiness to the soup, and it works beautifully. That particular recipe uses a nice variety of dried and fresh herbs too. I know I'll be making this one again as the weather grows chillier.

I also stocked up on black-eyed peas recently, and, at the risk of sounding like some kind of deranged chef stalker, once again, Deborah Madison's recipe for Southern Black-Eyed peas, in the same cookbook referenced above, is a keeper. That woman knows how to create spice combinations, and how. This recipe uses ground allspice and chipotle powder. It's dynamite. I can't recommend Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone highly enough.

I'm sure that one day I'll find myself inspired to create my own recipes again, but for now, I'm thoroughly enjoying the recipes that have been created and tested by the pros.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Radish is Born


Days, weeks, months pass. I keep thinking I should write something. Not just thinking I should, but really wanting to. And yet, summer has turned to fall and soon enough it will be winter, but again and again I find myself staring at the blank page, thinking about things, but not really moved to write.

The cooking has ebbed and flowed. Some nights it's been tacos to go, other nights it's been home baked bread, black eyed peas and slow-cooked greens. It's all been perfect in its own way, but I haven't felt inspired to write about any of it.

There has been a crazy amount of zucchini and gorgeous tomatoes from the garden. One of the coolest things I have experienced in a long time has been growing my own food, and doing it with the one I love. It seems like a simple thing but it feels pretty monumental. The simple and yet monumental experience of growing food and enjoying it and sharing it is what has been getting me through all the things that I don't feel like writing about.

A couple of nights ago, these radishes that were climbing out of the soil felt like salvation.

I don't know what tomorrow will hold or when I will kick my own ass into movement again, and I hate how whiny I sound, but there it is. Fortunately, the garden still grows no matter how uninspired I feel, because I haven't gotten so out of touch that I fail to pay attention to it. The radishes are still growing and so is the chard and the beets and the carrots, and for now, that's enough for me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Big Food vs. Big Insurance

This Op-Ed piece from a recent edition of the New York Times pretty much sums it up, much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do. Thank you, Michael Pollan for such a well articulated and thought provoking article.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heaven = Big Sur

Live from Big Sur. This place is so beautiful that it practically restores my faith in the human race and this gorgeous planet that we live on. Somehow mankind hasn't managed to ruin all of it just yet, and I feel very lucky indeed to have finally, finally made it here. How did it take me so long? I'm not sure. But I know that now that I've found this place, I'll be needing to come back again and again and again. Heaven on earth turns out to be a mere three hours from my home in Oakland.

The place that we're staying is like a treehouse in the redwoods. It's so beautiful in an of itself that you could just check in and not even bother to venture out to check out the scenery down below. But oh, you'd be missing out on something amazing if you didn't drive along the coastline and take in the bluest waters, the whitest waves, the clearest skies. It's been a long time since I found myself having my breath taken away like this at every turn, and I have been drinking it in.

Tonight we could have gone out to any number of restaurants with delicious (albeit VERY expensive) menu items to choose from, but we wanted to maximize our time in the treehouse. So we bought some pasta and an onion and some garlic, and used it, along w/ the goat cheese & aged gouda we'd brought from home, and the passel of ripe, juicy tomatoes from our garden, to make a perfectly delicious dinner to enjoy on a hot, hot summer night in a treehouse way up in Palo Colorado National Forest above Big Sur. And it knocked our socks off.

If it seems like goat cheese and aged gouda are a weird combination, just have faith. Think of the aged gouda as if it were parmesan, which you could certainly use if you so desired. But we just used this cause we had it, and it worked beautifully.

This is more of a guide than a recipe.

First, dice half an onion. Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Pour some olive oil into a skillet and slowly saute' the onion with a little salt. Keep it over low heat and stir it occasionally while you're chopping the tomatoes. I used about a dozen cherry tomatoes cut in half, plus three whole tomatoes diced into bite-sized pieces. Then I chopped four large cloves of garlic.

After a little while of cooking the onions, they started to slowly turn golden and soft. I splashed a little red wine into the skillet and kept stirring. I probably would have used balsamic vinegar, but didn't have any, so just used what I had on hand. Kept stirring occasionally over low heat.

Meanwhile, I tossed a small handful of the raw tomatoes into a big serving bowl along w/ a splash of olive oil and a little bit of goat cheese, the creamy kind.

Once the pasta was added to the boiling water, I added the garlic to the onions and kept stirring for a few minutes, then added the remaining tomatoes.

About ten minutes later, when the pasta was done, I added it to the bowl with the raw tomatoes & olive oil & goat cheese. Then I stirred in the skillet full of tomatoes, onions & garlic. And added salt & fresh ground pepper, a little more goat cheese, and a topping of the grated aged gouda. And it was heavenly. The perfectly heavenly meal while visiting heaven on earth. I can hardly think of anything better.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Story of an Artist by Daniel Johnston

Weeks, months fly by. I just got back from a week in Ohio hanging w/ my parents, soaking up the humidity, making pot after pot of soup, and cherishing every moment spent.

The video I'm posting here is apropos of nothing, but tonight, this song came up on my I-tunes and it just slayed me. Split my heart wide open. And I had to share.

Luckily, I've spent much of my life feeling very supported in my attempts to be an artist. But even despite that, I've had moments where I felt like this. I bet that more than a few of you out there can relate.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

How My Garden Grows

I don't know how it's possible that it took me 40 years to become excited about gardening, but I am so thrilled to have finally arrived at this place. I know that to many people out there, having a garden is just second nature, and I've always admired those kinds of people, although I never thought I would be one. Some people who've known me for many years have been known to refer to me as "the black thumb", because I was too lame to keep even a basic houseplant alive. But I guess that lameness was something left behind in the dirty thirties, because now, I've got a garden, and it's growing and thriving!

I've never tasted a cucumber as good or as sweet and crispy and bursting with freshness as the ones I've been delightfully picking from the garden lately.

And the tomatoes are plumping up and growing redder by the day, and the zucchini have already become challenging to keep up with, but that is absolutely no problem in my book, because I never tire of zucchini!

The chard is recovering and the arugula is perfect for the picking. The lettuces overflow and the herbs have grown wildly, calling out to be made into herb butter and pesto and salsa verde.

The peppers are still tiny but seem to be making good progress.

And every day, I am so tickled to watch it all grow. And I'm very thankful to my honey for being motivated enough to get us to the gardening store a couple of months ago so we could get everything planted, and for showing me the steps needed to make things flourish and thrive... I mean, it seems so simple now - you just have to plant the seeds, provide water, expose to sunlight, pull the weeds, and pay a little attention. But for some reason, that process always felt like a mystery to me in the past. I'm glad to say that those mystery days are behind me, and am totally excited to discover what other treats I'll have the good fortune to grow as the seasons pass.  And I must say that the whole experience is very good medicine for me at this particular point in time, and for that, I am even more thankful.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Been a Long Time Since I Rock & Rolled...

.... well actually, that's not true. But it feels like it's been awhile since I've rocked & rolled in the kitchen, but boy howdy, tonight I made up for lost time. And now I shall attempt to quickly fill you in on tonight's highlights.

1. My favorite new simple spicy cole slaw recipe - just in time for BBQ season!

2. Padron peppers, do you know them? Do you worship them like I do?!

3. A quick little recipe for roasted corn & cherry tomato relish, great as is, or as a topping for roasted fish.

Yeah I know that's a lot to cover, but like I said, I'm making up for lost time! And compensating for future laziness!

So first, let's talk cole slaw. I am addicted to this simple, fiery, bright & summery recipe, which owes a lot to an Alice Waters take on the same dish.

First, you thinly slice your cabbage. I like the plain old green variety. I also toss into the bowl some thinly sliced red onions, a generous amount of fresh chopped italian parsley (from the garden!!) and a couple of diced fire-roasted pickled jalapenos, especially pickled by my honey, the pickling master. You could also use the canned variety, or use fresh jalapenos. For the dressing, whisk together 1 part apple cider vinegar to 2 parts olive oil, with a sprinkling of salt. Toss the dressing w/ the cabbage mixture until it's well coated, and you're off to the bbq! This slaw also goes well w/ tacos, or just plain straight up.

On to the padron peppers. Our pals Steve & Patsy made these for us last year, and we could NOT STOP eating them, to the point of feeling embarrassed because we simply could NOT STEP AWAY from the plate. And if you make them, or are lucky enough to find them at a party, you won't be able to step away either. They are a type of small green pepper that look a little like a jalapeno, but they are mostly sweet, except for the occasional one that turns out to be very hot! You simply fry them in a little olive oil until the skin blisters a bit, and then drain and toss w/ coarse salt. And proceed to eat until you have nothing left but a plate of stems!

And lastly, here's a little relish I threw together tonight to accompany some fish that I attempted to pan-roast. The fish was so-so, but the relish was so damn good, who needs the fish, anyway? It's a good thing we didn't need the fish because half of it stuck to Grandma Esway's pan, nearly causing me to have a complete meltdown... but fortunately the pan survived! And like I said, the relish was splendid.

Take one ear of corn and remove the husk, and either pan roast or fire roast the corn so that it gets blackened here & there. Once it's cool, cut the kernels off the cob and scrape them into a small bowl. Toss in about a tablespoon of minced red onion, and a handful or two of ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half. Add a sprinkling of salt, about a half teaspoon of lemon zest, about a teaspoon of olive oil, a tiny splash of vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar) and a couple of sprigs of basil (from the garden, preferably!) cut into slivers. Toss it all together and eat with a spoon! Or, use it to redeem that sad fish that was supposed to be so good but that almost ruined your grandmother's cast iron skillet. Any way you toss it, you'll love this stuff. It screams SUMMER!

And speaking of summer, I hope you're enjoying yours! I'm enjoying mine, even despite family illness, personal injury and an ailing, achey old dog. Perhaps I'm enjoying and appreciating it all a tad bit more, in light of all these things. Enjoying each bite, and each warm, lingering night, especially those rare ones (lately) where I find myself in the kitchen, chopping and slicing and dicing all my worries away.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Simple Summer Tomato Salad

Can't wait to make this with tomatoes from my garden, which are growing riper every moment. It was so exciting when the first one went from green to yellow, and then yellow to orange. And how exciting it will be when one by one, they go from yellow to orange to ruby red and perfectly ripe, ready to be plucked and sliced and diced and sauced and thoroughly enjoyed.

For now however, we had to settle for what we had on hand, which was a couple of organic red cluster tomatoes. Not homegrown, but not half bad.

It's such a simple salad that it barely requires a recipe, and before you know it, you're halfway to dinner. Just slice the tomatoes and place them on a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and upon each tomato slice, smear a dab of creamy goat cheese, if you've got it. Drizzle a little olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, and then, top each slice with a sprinkling of fresh basil slices, preferably from your garden!

Our basil is growing wildly so the basil part turned out to be no problem at all. In fact, I'm already feeling the pesto coming on, in anticipation of just how wildly it's going to continue to grow as the summer passes. I'm really digging this gardening thing, and still tickled pink that it's working, considering that for many years I couldn't even keep a houseplant alive. Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Not Just Any Cast Iron Skillet

Oh, so much to report. I don't know where to begin and I doubt I can cover it all, so I'll shoot for the most important points.

First, I just got back from five days in Ohio w/ my family, where we celebrated my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. That's right - fifty years! It was a joyous occasion for so many reasons, not the least of which is that my Dad is feeling good again, and that alone is reason to celebrate. On Sunday morning, he was up at five a.m. making homemade sauce, followed by an entire afternoon of making homemade pasta - ok, truth be told, he supervised the pasta making part with my brother-in-law Terry doing much of the work, and bless 'em both, for they sure did create a feast.

My Dad reminded me that I really ought to mind my Italian heritage and get with the pasta making program, or at least with the Italian food making program in general, and he's so right! I'm hoping this newly acquired cast iron skillet will inspire me. I grabbed it from my parents' basement, and Dad informed me that it's been in the family for at least one hundred years. I imagine that he, and his mother, and who knows how many others in the family, have cooked many a meatball in this skillet, and who knows what else? Polenta, quick sauce, fried peppers, sauteed greens, and probably, all manner of meat. I hope that somehow, a little bit of the family's culinary magic will live on in this pan, and that maybe a little bit of that Italian food magic in particular will rub off.

Dad and I talked about how so many of the family recipes are cooked with "a little of this, a little of that, and a little instinct", and how sometimes when I operate that way, it's a hit - and sometimes, it's a miss. I can work wonders with solid recipes, but am not always entirely confident improvising in the kitchen, and maybe that's why I haven't had major success in my Italian food cooking adventures. But like I said, this skillet is inspiring me to keep at it, and keep at it I will!

The other thing to report is that - gasp - I HAVE A GARDEN!!! AND FOOD IS GROWING IN IT! I know that for some people, this is no big deal, but I have never in my life successfully grown anything to eat, and I'm tickled pink!! I had salad for lunch AND dinner today, all with greens that we grew in half wine barrels. And I have to say it's the coolest thing ever to just walk out into the yard, pick some food, and eat it moments later.

Not everything is growing perfectly - the chard seems to be dying and the cucumber plant is getting eaten by critters - but the salad greens and herbs are thriving, and the tomato plants are doing quite nicely. And this makes me very, very happy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life is a Colander of Cherries

I am very happy to report that my dear Dad is on the mend. We still have a long and probably hard road ahead of us, but for now, he's healing and having good days, and this makes me so happy. And I get to visit him and my Mom again in a couple of weeks, and am looking forward to filling their freezer with more treats.

I've been spending a lot of time in the yard lately, and that makes me happy too. We planted another garden and this year I'm determined to keep it alive and make it thrive! We've got hot peppers, cucumbers, chard, lettuce, eggplant, zucchini, delicata squash, arugula and several kinds of tomatoes. I was so thrilled to discover the first little row of arugula sprouts, tiny as little bugs, sprouting out of the soil the other day.

The other thing that has been making me happy is summer fruit, like these gorgeous cherries, so pretty I just had to share, if only virtually.

I took these pics when I was working for Chef Phil Gelb, who was making a cherry vinaigrette to go over a salad that included roasted peaches, among other delicious things. It's always a treat to enjoy Phil's kitchen creations; I learn so much every time I work with him.

That's all I have to report for now. Until next time, here's hoping you and yours are enjoying your moments as they come.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tomatillo Soup w/ Pinto Beans & Corn

Yep, sometimes the only thing you can do is to keep making soup. I wish more than anything that I could still be with my family, making soup for my dad every day, but I won't have the chance to do that again for another month. So in the meantime, I'm doing my best to take each moment as it comes, and that is no small task.
Luckily, yesterday I was fortunate to find myself with both some extra moments and some culinary motivation at the same time, so I grabbed my apron, knives & cutting board, and started roasting, peeling, chopping, dicing and slicing. Warning: this is the kind of recipe that takes a little time, but it is well worth every ounce of effort and time spent.
The original recipe was for Chicken-Tomatillo Soup - a friend from work turned me onto it - and was kind enough to pass along the recipe, which she got from the "Cafe Pasqual's Cookbook: Spirited Recipes from Santa Fe". I'd been wanting to adapt this recipe for vegetarians for quite some time. I wasn't quite sure how the recipe would fare using a mixture of water, vegetable stock and pinto beans in place of the chicken and chicken stock, but the results were pleasing - rich, bright, spicy, sweet and smokey. And exactly what I needed.
Making this soup in the morning with my kitchen full of sunlight was the perfect way to feed my soul, and I'm looking forward to having this soup feed my body all week long. I hope you'll enjoy it too.
Tomatillo Soup w/ Pinto Beans & Corn
(printable recipe)
2 T. olive oil
1 leek, finally chopped - you should have about 1 1/2 cups
3 ribs celery, finely diced - about 1 cup
6 cloves garlic, finely diced
3 dried red chiles - ancho or guajillo - soaked in warm water, rinsed, stemmed, seeded & diced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 T. smoked paprika
6 cups water or vegetable stock
10 tomatillos, husked removed, rinsed, and diced into bite sized pieces
2 T. tomato paste
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 t. sugar
1. t. salt, or more to taste
3 - 4 cups whole pinto beans, preferably cooked from scratch
About 1/2 pound fresh mild green chiles, roasted, stemmed, peeled and diced - should measure around 1/2 cup - you can use pasilla, serrano, or jalapeno, or a combo.
Garnishes: squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro or italian parsley, crumbled cotija or feta cheese
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil until quite hot. Add the leek, celery, garlic and dried chiles, and saute' for 5 minutes or so. Stir in the cumin and paprika. Add the water or stock, tomatillos, tomato paste, corn, sugar, salt and green chiles, followed by the pinto beans and the roasted green chiles. Bring to a boil and reduce to a mild simmer, and let it simmer and cook down for a good 45 minutes or so, until the tomatillos have cooked down a bit. By this point you should have a nice, rich broth that's good enough to slurp on its own, but with lots of chunky bites of peppers, tomatillos, beans and corn. I'm telling you, this is good stuff! Ladle it into a bowl, squeeze a bit of lime over it, add a handful of your herbs and a little sprinkling of cheese, and you'll be in heaven, and so will your friends. This will feed a crowd! It's good for about 8 servings, so go ahead & throw yourself a dinner party. Your friends will thank you!

Friday, May 22, 2009

You Are What You Eat

Here's a link to a really cool project that I stumbled upon, called You Are What You Eat.  It's a photo journal essay by Mark Menjivar that is a glimpse into people's lives via the inside of their refrigerators.  A picture really is worth a thousand words. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When the going gets tough...

... it's time to make soup. I was going to write that when the going gets tough, "the tough make soup", but frankly, I'm not feeling tough at all right now. In fact I feel so fragile that I could just blow away at the first sign of a strong wind. But I'm carrying on, and I'm making soup, cause it seems like making soup is the only productive thing I can do right now.

I've made a lot of soup over the last couple of days - cream of broccoli for my mom, brother & I yesterday, pasta e fagioli for the whole family tonight, and tomorrow, it'll be chicken soup and potato leek soup for my dad, cause that's what he requested. I'll be filling the freezer with soup before I leave here over the weekend.

"Here" happens to be Canton, Ohio. It's where I was born, and where my parents grew up, and also, it's where they recently moved back to again after being away for more than thirty years.

No sooner did they get here, my Dad discovered that he is very sick, and it's turned everything upside down for our whole family. Thankfully, my brother and I were able to come out here, and Dad was able to come home from the hospital last night. I made him scrambled eggs this morning and he said it was the best thing he's eaten since this whole ordeal began. And I just felt so lucky to be able to be here to scramble those eggs, and to go to the grocery store and load up the cart w/ food for the family. Because in a way, that feels like the only way I can make a difference.

We have a difficult road ahead of us. It's amazing how an ordeal like this can completely shake your world to the core, but I do believe that we will all come out of it stronger. There are a lot of unknowns right now and maybe this is just a good reminder that everything is tenuous and temporary. In the words of my good friend Joe Rut, "I like now, now is enough ... now is the only time we have to love...". So, I'm doing what I can. I'm loving my family. I'm here, and I'm making soup. For right now, that is enough.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Soup w/ Chipotle

As I write this, it's pouring down rain outside, and a perfect day for soup.  But actually, I made this soup a week ago and am just getting around to writing about it now.  Or I will, momentarily.

Today, I spent the afternoon preparing road trip food for Loretta Lynch's journey to Los Angeles tomorrow, which begins at 6 a.m.   We'll play three sets of music over the course of twenty four hours, and then high-tail it home.  Since our first set tomorrow begins the moment we spill ourselves and our gear out of the van, we wanted to be prepared with both breakfast *and* lunch without stopping, and without having to eat deep fried Highway 5 nastiness. Cause this is a band that likes to eat well!  So I happily spent the afternoon roasting peppers for sandwiches, and making a frittata w/ roasted mushrooms, shallots, thinly sliced potatoes & fresh dill, plus chipotle-roasted garlic hummus.  Hmmm... hope I can hold off on eating the stuff until tomorrow.  Better save some for the rest of the band!

The main reason for our trip is to play the grand opening of a new children's clothing resale store, Grow Kid Grow , owned by our incredibly talented pal Missy Gibson.  We'll also be performing a brunch set at the Redwood Bar & Grill on Sunday, sharing the stage w/ another fine & talented human, David Serby.  If you're in the L.A. area, or know people who are, send 'em along! 

For now, I'll leave you with this soup.  The perfect soup for a rainy day like today.  If only we had some right now....

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Soup w/ Chipotle
(printable recipe)

1 medium onion, diced
2 t. cumin
2 t. ground coriander
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cooked black beans
3 cups water or stock of your choice
1 - 2 chipotles in adobo sauce
1/2 t. ancho chile powder
1/4 t. mustard powder
1/2 t. smoked paprika
salt to taste
Juice of 1/2 a lime, or to taste
Garnishes:  diced avocado & sour cream or yogurt

Saute' the onion in a splash or two of olive oil, until lightly brown.  Add the diced sweet potatoes, garlic, and cumin, coriander, ancho chile powder, mustard powder and smoked paprika.  Saute over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the three cups of water or stock, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Let is gently simmer for about 15 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.  Now add the black beans, chipotle chile, and salt.  Cook for another few minutes, until everything is well heated.   Turn off the heat and either blend it smooth with an immersion blender, or blend it in a blender or food processor.  Squeeze in the lime juice, taste it and adjust the seasonings.  You may desire more salt or spice, or it might be perfect just like that!  Serve it w/ a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and a sprinkling of diced avocado.   I bet it would be great w/ cornbread, so I might have to try my hand at that next time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bread Saves

I've posted about this recipe before, but it's been awhile, so I felt it was worth mentioning again.

I've been feeling a little on the cruddy side this week, but this bread cheered me right up.  I mean, just look at it!  It looks like it came from a *real* bakery for goodness sake!  But the real bakery is right here in our humble little kitchen!  Nothing like a slab of totally homemade and hot from the oven, crispy crackly crusty bread, steaming on the inside and slathered with butter, to cure what ails you.   At least until you try to button your pants.  Oh well!

Here's a link to the infamous recipe, originally posted in the New York Times, adapted from Jim Lahey.   Give it a try.  And try not to eat the whole loaf in one sitting.  I be you'll have a hard time with that.  But don't let that stop you.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2009


Howdy from a 90 degree day in the Bay area.   I don't know the exact temperature, but it's darn hot.  So naturally, today would be the day that my culinary inspiration finally returned, causing me to use every burner on the stove, raising the temperature in our kitchen to something just beyond sweltering.  Thank goodness my friend Claire gave me all that delicious white wine to keep me cool!!

In addition to the compulsion I felt to make a big pot of fiery red curry today, I also thought I'd revisit my old friend polenta.  Growing up in my family,  it was called cornmeal mush and it was total peasant food.  It's still total peasant food - cheap and filling - and it was then, and still is, delicious!

Certainly everybody out there in blog land has their own recipe.  I can't say that I have one single recipe for polenta, but I thought I'd share with you what I made today.  As you can see, my dear old dog Spider thought it smelled delicious!

One of the things I love about polenta is that it's so versatile.  You can do what I did, or create your own take on the situation.  It's very forgiving and adaptable to your tastes.

First, you cook the polenta.  Many recipes say to use milk, but I prefer to cook it with water. Boil a good 6-8 cups of water with a pinch of salt, and slowly whisk in about 2 cups of polenta.

Now, cook it rather slowly over medium-low heat, whisking often, for a good long while - I cooked mine for about an hour.  It might seem like it's done after 30 minutes or so, but it really benefits from an extended period of simmering.  Just make sure to stir it often so it doesn't get all goopy and stick to the bottom.

Once it's nice & thick & porridge-like, I like to stir in some butter and grated cheese - cause what isn't better with butter & cheese?!  Today I used some jalapeno jack that was lying around. I used about 1 cup of cheese and half a stick of butter.  And then, I poured the hot polenta into a couple of buttered casserole dishes, and after letting it sit out on the counter to cool, put it into the fridge to solidify further.

While the polenta was cooling, I prepared the toppings, using what I had on hand.

I caramelized an onion ever so slowly, and thinly sliced some zucchini and mushrooms, and diced a handful of sun dried tomatoes.  I roasted the mushrooms in a skillet, and roasted the zucchini in a separate skillet along with the sun dried tomatoes, and set it all aside.

Once the polenta was cool, I spread a thin layer of caramelized onions on top, and followed it with the zucchini and mushrooms.  Then I topped it all with some feta and chives, cause that's what I had in the fridge.  Now it's sitting there just waiting to be enjoyed, along w/ that big pot of curry, and I'm torn between two lovers!  In any case, I'm happy to have leftovers after having had several days of eating too much toast and pizza.

Another thing I love about polenta is that it's a super cheap way to feed a crowd!  I made two casserole dishes of it tonight.  One pan alone is enough for us two eat for dinner tonight & lunch tomorrow, and I have another pan to take to a gathering later tonight.  And the whole lot of it cost something like five dollars!  So, three cheers for polenta.  And feel free to let me know how *you* like to make it!

Monday, April 13, 2009

40, and Counting

Um, I'm 40 now!  For some reason, I was really fearing it, but it turns out to be, so far, wildly better than I could have imagined.

I started celebrating in late March, beginning with my trip to Phoenix.  I never did write about all my delightful dining experiences while there, so I thought that the least I could do was post a few photos.

I finally made it to Pizzeria Bianco!  We waited three hours for our table, but it was oh sooooo good.  The pizza really is worth the wait.  And there was plenty of wine to help make the waiting not so terribly painful.

Then, it was back to the Barrio Cafe.  Mmmmmm yes to fine food and  tequila!

And speaking of tequila, that happened to be the theme of my 40th birthday party, and oh my, did my friends ever deliver.  They didn't only deliver an abundance of really fine tequila, but they showered me with love and warmth and kindness and a lot of really delicious food, too!

I had such an amazing birthday week - was lovingly bestowed with wine and flowers and delicious food - and gifts! I couldn't have imagined it getting any better, and then there was my party!

My honey and some other very dear and very talented friends put together a tribute band and played a set of my songs, with different folks sitting in on vocals, and I was stunned and amazed.  They say that life begins at 40, and I think I'm starting to believe that.  It's a good feeling!  

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Vegetarian Refried Beans - a rough guide

I made it back from Phoenix, and as predicted, did a lot of good eating while I was there. I need to post about that soon, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share sort of a recipe for one of my ultimate comfort foods - refried beans. Considering how much I love them, it's rather shocking that I've never attempted to cook them at home until now. Though I generally stay away from meaty things, when I go to restaurants, I don't care if the beans have lard in them; I'll eat them anyway. But I really don't want to use lard at home. And I was skeptical that I could achieve the same dreamy flavor without using lard, but I was quite pleased with the end result, especially considering that I just threw in a bit of this, a pinch of that. That's why this is more of a guide than a recipe....but you can still click here for a printable version.

Start with the beans! I used roughly 2 or 3 cups of whole pinto beans that I'd cooked from scratch. Had them simmering on the back burner over low heat. In the meantime, in a cast iron skillet, I lightly browned half an onion, diced, and added a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Stirred it for a few minutes and then added a pinch of mexican oregano, a pinch of smoked paprika, a pinch of cumin, a pinch of salt, and a ladle full of the beans, along with some of the liquid in which they'd been cooking. Mashed it all up with the back of the wooden spoon, and continued to add the beans, a ladle full at a time, mashing all along. Once all the beans were in the skillet and fairly well mashed, it was a little thick for my taste, so I added the rest of the bean broth and stirred until it was perfect. Then, because I am addicted to chipotle, I stirred in a little bit of chipotle in adobo sauce, and a sprinkling of cheese. And then it was even more perfect.  I can't believe I waited so long to make these, and I'm sure it won't be too long until I make them again and again and again...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cheap Eats

Damnit, I hardly cooked a thing this weekend. But man, did I do a lot of eating, some of which included some real bargains.

First, it was vietnamese sandwiches for lunch at Banh Mi Ba Le Vietnamese Sandwich Deli. You cannot beat the price, and the food was darn good. They don't have a web site that I know of, but next time you find yourself hungry and wandering the streets of El Cerrito, head on over to 10174 San Pablo Avenue, and bring your cash because that's the only kind of payment they accept. Sandwiches are like $2.50 each - can't be beat! I do believe that meat eaters could do quite well here, but we didn't do so bad either. I got the veggie/tofu sandwich, and my honey got the sardines. Both were packed full of pickled veggies and peppers, and we bought some of their house made kim chee and added it to our sandwiches - blasphemous, perhaps, but it was good! We also got an order of 3 shrimp rolls at $1 each, and although they weren't the best ever, they weren't bad for a buck.

Then for dinner, I finally, finally got to experience Shalimar, in all its Tenderloin glory. Where have I been, and how could I not have known about this place all these years? It's the real deal - authentic Indian and Pakistani food. We feasted to our hearts' content for a total of $17.00. True, the neighborhood is a little rough. And the restaurant itself, it's not much to look at. In fact, getting your food to take out might be a better option. But it's all about the food. Completely authentic, spicy, made from scratch, and just perfect. Plenty of great vegetarian options here, among them, the most excellent Palak Paneer, and the dreamy Bengen Bhujia (eggplant, roasted and stewed with "exotic" spices).

I've been trying to save my money cause I've got some serious eating to do when I go to Phoenix later this week. Hello, Bianco's Pizza! Finally going to get to eat there!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Homemade Barbeque Sauce

Yeah, I know. It kind of looks like a bowl of ketchup. But trust me, it's good! And you can make it too!

We've had some crazy perfect weather around here the last few days, and it's giving me the barbeque itch. And today, it occurred to me that I've always wanted to make my own barbeque sauce, and that perhaps today should be that day. And so it is.

Truth be told, there won't be any charcoal grilling going on here tonight. I have to inhale my food and dash off to a rehearsal, so I'm just gonna pull a couple of homemade white bean & quinoa burgers out of the freezer, fry 'em up in the pan and slather them with this sauce.

I think there's room for you to improvise here & there w/ this recipe - for instance, if you don't have liquid smoke, you could leave it out. And if you don't have molasses, you could substitute brown sugar. If you don't like it spicy, you could leave the chipotle sauce out. But one of the things I happen to like about this recipe is that it's both smokey and spicy. It's your barbeque though, so sauce it up any way you like! I think next time I'm going to experiment with throwing some beer into the mix.

Here's how you do it.
(printable recipe)

Combine all these things in a bowl and stir it up well:

1 cup ketchup
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. worcestershire sauce
1/2 t. liquid smoke
1 t. dijon mustard
1 t. chipotle sauce (that is, the sauce of canned chipotles in adobos sauce)
2 t. molasses
light sprinkling of garlic powder

Now heat it up on the stove and cook over low heat for about ten minutes or so, slather onto the food of your choice, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Curry Paste, How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways...

So I finally got to dig into my new cookbook, Buddha's Table - and just two recipes into it, I think I'm in love.

This is what my kitchen island looked like on Sunday after I got back from shopping.

Between the advent of Daylight Savings time and a short detour for drinks overlooking the Oakland Estuary at Quinn's Lighthouse (thanks, Suki!), we didn't get around to eating dinner until like 10 pm, but boy, was it worth the wait. Homemade red curry paste! I made some, and so can you! It blows away anything you could buy in the supermarket. It features the tantalizing and complex combination of cumin, coriander, shallot, lime zest, garlic, red chiles and galangal, among other things. We blended it into a luxurious stew with kabocha squash, japanese eggplant and coconut milk, and trust me, this picture doesn't do it justice. It was a reason for living, I tell you.

We also made - from scratch! - a totally authentic green papaya salad, and I dare say it was as good as anything you could get in a restaurant. And I was glad we had leftovers because it tasted even better the next day.

The green papaya salad didn't use curry paste as an ingredient, but we did have some left over. So tonight, I smeared some of it onto asparagus that I roasted in a skillet along with some sliced shitake mushrooms, minced garlic and a handful of diced fermented black beans.

This might be one of my favorite dishes yet, and I'm going to post a more detailed recipe at some future point, but for now, the point is, homemade curry paste is my new favorite food! I am nothing if not obsessive, after all.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


... I haven't been all that creative in the kitchen or at the keyboard recently, but I've been doing some good reading. Somehow I stumbled across a great blog called The Ethicurean. It's a great source for info. about sustainable eating, packed with lots of interesting and informative articles. Check it out.

And in order to keep feeding my cookbook addiction, I recently purchased two new cookbooks. I am especially excited about the book Buddha's Kitchen by Chat Mingkwan. I feel a Thai feast coming on!

Another cookbook that I'm looking forward to trying is Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. My cookbook cabinet is almost out of space. I should probably consider purchasing less cookbooks and doing more cooking...what a concept, eh?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Nirvana

God I love these much so that I've had to ban myself from baking any more for awhile, because I can't stop eating them when they're around, and yet I love them too much to give the majority of them away - how selfish of me! How fattening! You'll just have to make your own, and then, you'll see what I mean!

I did a bit of searching for the perfect recipe, and stumbled across this one by searching the web. I found this web site which claims the recipe is a direct re-print of the Cooks Illustrated recipe. I adapted it slightly because I don't like my cookies to be any sweeter than they need to be, so I reduced the amount of sugar. I also added vanilla extract because strangely, their recipe doesn't seem to include it. And, I added walnuts. A few other tips I recommend that weren't included in the original recipe: first, start with your dough very cold before baking - this makes nice chunky cookies, which I happen to love. Second, rotate the cookie sheet halfway through the baking process. This ensures more even baking.

Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies
(printable recipe)

1 1/2 cups FLOUR
1/2 teaspoon SALT
1/2 teaspoon BAKING POWDER
8 ounces (2 sticks) UNSALTED BUTTER, softened
3/4 cup LIGHT BROWN SUGAR, packed
2 large EGGS
3 cups OATS
1/2 cup coarsely chopped WALNUTS

1. Preaheat oven to 350 degrees, and line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk flour, salt and baking powder together in a medium bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, by hand or by mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars and beat the mixture until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.

4. Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture with a wooden spoon or a large rubber spatula. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

5. Place dough onto parchment-lined cookie sheets by large spoonfuls (about 1 heaping teaspoon each), leaving at least 2 inches between.

6. Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes (in my oven, it took 21 minutes exactly, so I rotated the cookies after 10 minutes and then baked for another 11 minutes). Slide cookies (on parchment) onto cooling rack. Let cool, and store in airtight container.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Potato and Chic Pea Stew with Chipotle

I must be feeling good again. Today, for the first time in what feels like months, I spent the whole day in the kitchen, and boy did I cook and bake up a storm. Later I'll post my recipe for the BEST OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES EVER. But for now, I wanted to post my entry for this month's No Croutons Required Challenge. Each month, bloggers from around the world are invited to create a vegetarian soup or a salad recipe using the featured ingredient, which happens to be potatoes this month. So today, among other things, I made this delicious stew. It's simple, flavorful, hearty and a little bit spicy - perfectly wonderful and warming for a rainy day like today. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as we did!

Potato and Chic Pea Stew with Chipotle

1 - 2 T. olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced leeks
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup carrots - 3/4 cup of them sliced, 1/4 cup of them finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 1/2 cups yellow finn or creamer potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 T. tomato paste
2 cups chic peas
4 cups chic pea stock, water or vegetable stock
1 t. Mexican oregano
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely diced

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized soup pot, and add the leeks. Saute' for five minutes or so, and add the 1/4 cup finely diced carrots, the celery and the garlic, along with a generous pinch of salt, to create the soup base. Cook over medium heat for about ten minutes or so, stirring frequently, until everything starts to become nicely golden. At this point, if you wish, you can deglaze the pan with a little splash of sherry or white wine or stock.

Next, stir in the two tablespoons of tomato paste, and then add the two cups of chic peas, and the four cups of liquid. Since I had just cooked my chic peas from scratch, I used a combination of chic pea stock and water. If you're using straight water, you may need to add a little more salt, so adjust accordingly.

Add the potatoes and the carrot slices, plus the oregano and chipotle pepper. You could surely add more chipotle pepper if you'd like, but I think it's a good idea to start sparingly and work your way up. Bring it all to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cover partially, and cook for another fifteen to twenty minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are nicely tender. Taste it, and add a little more salt if you feel so inclined.

Since I like this dish to have a more stew-like consistency, I used my immersion blender to puree half the soup, but you could enjoy it as-is if you don't feel like taking that extra step.

If you're feeling extra inspired, you could garnish this stew w/ a squeeze of lime, a few cilantro slivers, and a crumbling of cotija cheese. I'll probably serve it that way the next time, but today I just served it straight up, and it got rave reviews. We had to save room for those cookies! Stay tuned for the recipe, my friends. And until then, be well!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Beat That Winter Cold...

... well, I didn't exactly beat mine.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.   I got my ass kicked HARD.  I was sick in bed for 6 days, getting worse each day instead of better, until finally I developed a fever, went to the doctor and discovered I had a sinus infection, which I am still getting over. I can't wait till I feel like myself again, because let me tell you, I have not one iota of inspiration, culinary or otherwise.

Maybe if I'd been following some of these tips sooner, my terrible cold wouldn't have turned into a terrible sinus infection.  May you remain healthy and not need these tips! But for what it's worth, here they are:

1.  Feeling a little (or a lot) congested?  Breathe steam.  It's a very simple and effective home remedy for helping to open your breathing passages and keeping your sinuses well lubricated.  When your sinuses dry out, bacteria can get trapped, and that's what helps to bring on those nasty infections.  Just boil some water and pour it into a bowl.  Hold your head over the bowl and cover it with a towel, and breathe deep.  An added bonus - it's great for your skin!

Another tip I learned from my friend Ari:  add a drop or two of essential oil of thyme to the water in the bowl - it has strong antibacterial properties and will provide added strength in fighting infections.  But use it sparingly for it's very potent - a little goes a long way!

2.  Got a sore throat, body aches, or inflammation?  Try a bromelain & turmeric supplement.  It's a natural way to reduce inflammation, and it's good for both your digestion and your liver.  Bromelain, which occurs naturally in pineapple, is also very good for both sore throats and sinuses.  If you don't feel like buying a supplement, just eat some fresh pineapple or drink some fresh pineapple juice.

3.  Be kind to your nose!  If you're sneezing crazily and blowing your nose endlessly like I was, trust me on this.  Rub the area around your nose with some nice soft lotion, or better yet, coconut oil, which in addition to being soothing and providing moisture, contains antibacterial properties.  If I had done this right from the start, I wouldn't have ended up with a red, swollen, blistered, scabby nose!

4.  In addition to the usual infection fighters such as vitamin C and zinc, try Andrographis.  Again, my friend Ari turned me on to this Ayurvedic herbal supplement which helps to strengthen the immune system, and like turmeric and bromelain, it is good for your liver and digestion.

5. Lastly, I wish that I had been using a neti pot right from the start.  If you can get past the weird initial feeling of using it, you'll be really glad you did.  And if you ever find yourself paralyzed with debilitating sinus pain, you might, like me, be willing to try just about anything to find relief.  Remember what I said earlier about keeping the sinuses from drying out, so as not to promote bacteria growth?  Well, here is a very effective way to do that, and it helps tremendously to relieve sinus pressure.  It helps move all that congestion out of your head so you can breathe and rest.  I can't recommend it highly enough!

I'm feeling a little bit better with each passing day, and really looking forward to the day when I feel inspired to create something good in the kitchen again. It's gotta happen soon!  Until then, may you stay healthy, my friends.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Curried Coconut Red Lentil Soup with Spinach

Thank goodness the last 8 years are behind us! I don't know who coined the phrase "The end of an error", but that sounds about right. I'd drink to that, if I was drinking this month. Damn. I'll have to eat soup instead. This morning I got up extra early and suddenly felt inspired to cook again, so I whipped up this soup before going to work. It's very hearty and warming, just in time for this much needed rain that's threatening to fall out of the sky. And also, it's delicious!!! Keep in mind that the flavor and spiciness of prepared curry pastes can vary greatly, so start out sparingly and work your way up. I used a green Thai curry paste, which was on the milder side.

Curried Coconut Red Lentil Soup with Spinach
(printable recipe)

1 medium yellow onion, diced somewhat fine
1 1/2 c. red lentils, rinsed
1 1/2 c. small red potatoes, diced to about 1/2 inch
1 - 2 T. curry paste
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups spinach leaves, sliced into thin ribbons
Juice of 1 lime

Heat a couple splashes of olive or canola oil in a soup pot. Add the onions with a couple pinches of salt and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions soften and turn a light golden brown. Stir in 1 T. of curry paste and add the lentils and the stock or water. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer, partially covered, for 8 minutes. Add the potatoes and the coconut milk, and simmer for another 8 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in the lime juice, taste it and add more salt if necessary, and add more curry paste if you'd like.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pantry Essentials

Some day, I'll get back to posting recipes. And for that matter, there is an abundance of great music I've been meaning to write about, too (Ah, nothing like starting a fresh new year with a smattering of procrastination.). For now, I've been in a mode of strictly cooking from cookbooks, namely, my most recent purchase: 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices by Ruta Kahate. There are some real winners in this book, and a couple that didn't win me over so well, but overall, I've been digging it.

I came across this article the other day on one of my favorite blogs, Gluten Free Girl. It's all about essential pantry items, and it was inspired by this article by Mark Bittman at the New York Times. So I thought I'd post my own list of pantry essentials. And on this note, Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food has a whole section dedicated to this very subject. The premise is simple: with a few basic staples in your pantry, sometimes supplemented with some fresh produce or whatever you like, you are always ready to create a delicious meal. And that is a very comforting feeling.

So here are some of my pantry staples:
  • Dried beans - usually of 3 or 4 varieties at any given time:  black beans, chic peas, red lentils, french green lentils, cannellini  beans, kidney beans are a few of my favorite.  I generally cook them in larger batches, and freeze them in smaller batches so that I always have some ready to use.
  • Rice - basmati and brown rice
  • Quinoa - highly nutritious alternative to rice.  Delicious when prepared in the manner of risotto!
  • Pasta - I agree with Alice Waters and others who use only imported dried pasta
  • Canned tomatoes - I like to use Muir Glenn organic tomatoes, and especially the fire roasted ones.  Many people recommend San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, but I  haven't been able to find them organic.
  • Coconut Milk
  • Rice noodles for use in Asian stir fries and soups
  • Spices - well lately, I've been really into mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne.  But also, I couldn't live without bay leaves, Mexican oregano, crushed red pepper & kosher salt.  And it's very handy to have paprika and saffron on hand. 
  • Oils:  I use a lot of olive oil - I don't generally buy anything too fancy; I just like the organic extra virgin first cold pressed stuff.  I also keep canola oil around, and sometimes I make my own clarified butter, or ghee.  Although not as essential, I do like to keep sesame oil around, and a little peanut oil can't hurt either.
  • Vinegars: my perennial favorite is good old red wine vinegar, but we also always have balsamic and rice wine vinegars too, as well as distilled white wine vinegar.  Did you know that last one is good for removing odors?  When I smash anchovies in my mortar & pestle, I soak it with water and vinegar to make the fishy smell go away!
  • Garlic and onions - the world would not be the same without them! I like to use yellow onions for every day cooking, red onions for use in salads (and for pickled red onions, of course!) and white onions for Mexican cuisine. And shallots are nice to have too.
  • And we can't forget:  flour, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and baking powder and baking soda so you bake something any time you are stricken with the whim.
And in the fridge and freezer, it's good to have:
  • Panko bread crumbs - I know Mark Bittman isn't a fan, and it's true, you *can* make your own bread crumbs without too much fuss, but I love me some Panko!
  • Lemons - a little juice, a little zest, there is no end to the ways you can make your lemons feel useful.
  • Butter - I like to use organic, unsalted.
  • Nuts - usually I have pine nuts, walnuts and sliced almonds, and sometimes cashews or pecans.  I use them in stir-fries and pasta dishes and salads and baking, and nuts are an essential ingredient in my homemade white bean & quinoa burgers. Yay for nuts!
  • Tomato paste in a tube - I love this because you can just squeeze out the amount you need
  • Anchovies and/or anchovy paste - some wouldn't consider this essential but I sure like to have it.  Great for caesar salads of course, and the anchovies in their whole form are great for adding to pasta or pizza.
  • Parmesan - many recommend a nice hunk of imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, and I don't blame them.  But don't blame me if sometimes I'm low on funds and lazy, cause I say grated parmesan from Trader Joe's or the Berkeley Bowl is better than no parmesan at all!
  • Capers - mmmmm salty goodness.  I love to add them to tuna salad, pasta or pizza.
  • Olives - again, many recommend you buy fancy fresh ones, and sometimes I do, but it's nice to have an old stand-by jar of kalamata olives for adding to pasta or salads, or for making olive paste.  In fact, you could take some of the above staples - olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, and pasta, and put it all together for a nice little meal, even adding some canned tomatoes if you feel so inspired.
  • Fish sauce, soy sauce, hot sauce, miso, red chile paste - great for Asian-inspired stir-fries, soups, curries, etc. Miso also makes a nice addition to marinades or salad dressings.
  • Vegetable stock - I make my own using scraps of carrots, celery, onions, garlic, shallots, and sometimes greens.  Saute in olive oil, add some water and fresh or dried herbs and a squeeze of tomato paste (or not!), a healthy dose of salt, and cook anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  Always good to have a stash of this in the freezer, and it's a great way to use those leftover vegetable bits!
  • Frozen peas - oh, how I love them in stews and stir-fries and risotto. 
  • Sherry or white wine for deglazing the pan after frying onions/garlic/etc.
  • Chipotles in adobo sauce - they come in a can, and then I store them in a jar in my fridge upon opening - love that hot smokey, goodness.  It's great for spiking your chili, and good with soup, squash, and of course, black beans!
  • Curry paste - there are several good brands that have no preservatives, and it's a great thing to have on hand for whipping up a quick curry or stew.  Saute some onions & garlic, add some diced potatoes and other veggies to the pot, add a couple of splashes of coconut milk and some curry paste, and cook until the veggies are tender. 
  • Worcestershire sauce - mostly I use it in Steve Lucky's Lemon Caesar dressing, but it's also good to add a couple dashes to your homemade veggie burgers or salmon burgers, or, if you're the meatloaf sort, it's good for that too.
Well there you have it.   Damn, I'm getting hungry!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Love Your Liver

Greetings, and Happy 2009!

Around here, it's that time of year again - time to embrace all things non-alcoholic, now that the period of holiday over-consumption has passed. I decided against embarking on a full-fledged cleanse or fast, but I am doing my best to eat well and be kind to my liver, and thought I'd share some tips about how you can do that simply through eating and drinking the right stuff!

Fortunately, I've been cooking and eating an abundance of Indian food recently, and using turmeric frequently. Besides being a lovely shade of yellow, turmeric is a digestive aid, and assists in removing toxins in the body. It's also a great anti-inflammatory agent. In fact, turmeric has so many health-promoting qualities, that is listed as one of the World's Healthiest Foods.

Rosemary is another herb that has so many great qualities, it's another of the World's Healthiest Foods! Not only is it great with potatoes or in soups or sauces, but it's great for the immune system, has many anti-inflammatory properties, is great for digestion, and helps the liver to work more efficiently.

Artichokes may not be on the list of healthiest foods, but they sure can't hurt. Artichokes are great for the liver, gall bladder and kidneys, all helpful in detoxification. Plus, they taste great and are so much fun to eat!

I drink dandelion root tea year round, mostly cause I like the taste - it's kind of roasted-nutty tasting, and this works well for me in my post-coffee life. How nice to know that it also happens to be rich in minerals and vitamins A, C, D and B complex, and great for the liver, kidneys, pancreas and spleen.

I won't lie - I miss wine & beer, damnit! And for that matter, I miss pizza and french fries and cookies! But despite that, it does feel nice to be doing good things for my body. And on that note, I'm off to make a cup of dandelion root tea!