Monday, December 31, 2007

It's winter in New Mexico. Many of my friends in San Diego don't understand why I would go out of my way to be somewhere where it's cold and snowy.

This is the gate to my front courtyard. I love this gate, and my courtyard, and I love it when the world gets quietly etched in black and white, and all the other colors are muted. It's silent. It's peaceful. It makes my mind quiet down and rest. To me, this is the gift that winter brings.
I wish all of you a peaceful, prosperous and especially healthy New Year. Here's to the many meals ahead to be shared with friends and loved ones in 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tex-Mex style chili

Every December, San Diego has it's "Parade of Lights". Boat owners get into the holiday spirit by stringing lights all over their boats and parading through San Diego harbor. Usually there's a theme, and this year's had to do with pirates, though I couldn't tell you the exact name. I have a friend with a sailboat, and we usually gather on her boat, motor out into the bay and watch the parade from a genuinely front row seat. This year, however, the engine on her boat wasn't working very well, so a group of us decided to have a pot luck on a grassy area by the bay instead.

I heard about the mulled wine and the hot spiced apple cider that was coming, as well as a hot bean dip and some spanikopita. Well, those all sounded perfectly wonderful, but there was no main dish. Now, I'm not averse to eating hors d'oevres for dinner. Not at all. In fact, I do it often. But somehow, being outside on a cool evening - well, cool by San Diego standards anyway! - I just needed something a little more substantial. We had all decided that the majority of the food should be hot, as the evening promised to be cool. I wasn't into cooking anything fancy, as I've been busy getting ready for my upcoming trip to New Mexico this Thursday.

And suddenly it dawned on me. I own a crock pot! Haven't used it in years, but I still own one! It's almost a Donna Reed kind of thing, even though I'm not sure if crock pots were invented in her day. But it kinda made me want to put on an apron, curl my hair and put Ponds Cold Cream all over my face. A crock pot - that wonderful invention that turns anything and everything into stew or soup. The kind of thing that's made for pot lucks. The kind of thing that actually manages to keep food pretty warm even when it's not plugged in. All I needed was a car with fins, and I'd have the whole thing down. But alas, my car lacks those spectacular additions that make no sense other than to say "Whoooopppeee! Look at me!" So I tooled off to my pot luck dinner with my Tex-Mex style chili in a decidedly 2002 style car. Ah well....No one's perfect!

Anyway, I decided that this was going to be a down and dirty, non-gourmet kind of thing. And since no one out here knows the difference between New Mexican style chili and Tex-Mex chili, I decided I'd give them what they all think of as chili. That is to say, I'd give them something that contained meat and beans and tomatoes. No self respecting New Mexican would even think of adding tomatoes to chili!!! Or beans, for that matter! In New Mexico, beans are served on their own. Separately from chili. You can put chili on top of beans if you like, but you never mix the two and call it chili. And tomatoes? Those belong in salads. Maybe a few sprinkled on top of your rolled enchilada for color, but that's much more of a Taco Bell kind of thing. If you find it in someone's home, it's because they've adopted it from another culture.

So what is New Mexican chili? If it's green, it's basically onions, garlic, chilis, oregano and cumin cooked in oil with maybe some corn starch and water or chicken stock as a thickener. That's it. If it's red, then a paste is made from pureeing the red chilis after they've had their seeds removed, and then soaked in water to soften. Many people will add garlic to red chili as well as green. So when you go to a restaurant in New Mexico, they will ask you "red or green?" That's the only question. Whatever color you choose, they will add that kind of chili to your dish. If one of you wants red and the other wants green, they simply add the appropriate color chili to the meat or beans you've ordered. It's easy because the meat and the beans have been cooked separately, without the chili.

The Tex-Mex style incorporates beans and meat in with the chili. There's usually tomatoes in there, too. Many recipes will tell you to use chili powder - the kind you buy in a supermarket. I think the last time I looked at one of those tins, it contained mostly oregano and possibly other herbs and very little chili. I used a red chili powder for my chili, but it was nothing more than dried and ground up red chilis from Hatch, New Mexico. Since I was feeding people who have various tolerances for spicy, I kept mine on the very mild side. People loved it! It was the first dish to disappear. I'm happy about that, but I'll be happier when I'm eating what I consider to be the "real thing." A little smoke coming out of my ears, tears running down my cheeks and the requisite sopapilla with honey as the antidote sounds just about perfect to me.

Meanwhile, here's the
down and dirty, Donna Reed, crock pot version of Tex-Mex chili. Just don't tell your friends where you got it - OK? But do tell me what your favorite dish to bring to a pot luck is! I need ideas!
Chop an onion and sautee it in some canola oil with some chopped garlic. I used 3 cloves. Add ground meat. I used ground turkey, (This IS California, after all!), but you can mix and match whatever kind of meat you like. Add a dash of oregano, salt, pepper and some kind of hot chili powder. If you can't get ground red chilis, you can use cans of green chili. Those are usually pretty mild. If you want more heat, use some Hungarian paprika. (When you mix red and green chili it's called Chili Colorado.) Or if you're like me and like it hot, you can dice up some jalapenos and add them. Just remember to remove the seeds first, and then don't, under any circumstances, touch your face or your eyes! When the meat is browned, add a can of beans. I used pintos, but kidney beans work too. Then add a can of chopped tomatoes. Stir, simmer, taste and correct seasonings. One thing I like to add when using tomatoes is fennel seeds. There's something about the combination of fennel and tomato that I like. I'll use it in everything from marinara sauce to moussaka. It may not be the usual addition to chili, but once you open the doors to tinkering, what's to stop a little fennel seed from blowing in?

I'll be in New Mexico from Thursday, the 20th, through the first of January. I'm not sure if I'll post any recipes during that time, but I will have my camera with me. I want to wish all of you the absolute best holiday season ever! I can't believe I started this blog in January of this year. It's been almost a year now, and I have "met" some of the nicest people on the planet through this little blog. So thanks to all of you who have read my posts, made comments and encouraged me this past year. I can't tell you how many times you've brought a smile to my face! And it's been my privilege to read your wonderful posts. There are some amazingly talented people out there in foodblogville. Some of the best writers and photographers I've seen in a long time - not to mention some phenomenal recipes! So thank you, thank you, and thank you again for being part of my life for this past year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

100% Whole Wheat Desem Bread

Dear God, what have I gotten myself into? I'm not sure what came over me. Well, that's not entirely true. I know where the inspiration came from, but I really don't know why I decided to go for it. And now I'm thinking I've gotten myself into something that may not have an exit, other than death. Not mine, necessarily, but death of some organisms I've been sharing my kitchen with for maybe 2 months now. Or more. I can't remember my life before them.

It began when the lovely Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook sent me an Amish Friendship Bread starter. "Oh, how quaint", I thought. It took me back to the days when my friends were passing such things along, and we all had time to bake and turned out lovely breads. Those were the New Mexican years, and for those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you know how dearly I hold those memories. I had a garden. I worked as a potter in my studio. I baked bread and even learned to turn out some decent flour tortillas. I learned to cook from my husband, who was absolutely one of the best chefs I've ever known. (The way to this girl's heart was definitely through her stomach!) I learned photography and bird watching and how to play in the winter (ski). I even tried my hand at sewing, although that never ever ever was my strong suit!


So when I got this Amish Friendship Bread Starter, it reminded me of when I used to bake bread. Other than banana bread, the only bread I truly got into was one I found in Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book - Flemish Desem Bread. It's by far and away the most lengthy recipe in this book -- she devotes 24 pages to desem (pronounced day-zum) bread and it's variations. I have no idea who Laurel is, but having re-visited this recipe and actually having been insane enough to do it YET AGAIN, I'm thinking she must have been a Birkenstock wearing hippie chick, and I must have been having a flash back.

Now, there are things about desem bread which are flat out fabulous. Desem, which is Flemish for "starter", is a bread which was baked over 100 years ago before commercial yeast was produced in laboratories. So for people who have candida or other problems with yeast, this bread is a blessing. It can be made with a variety of grains, such as spelt and kamut, so for people with wheat allergies, it can provide a delicious bread that doesn't produce an allergic reaction. Because the fermentation process is so slow and cool, it breaks down the phytic acid that binds the minerals in the grains, so the bread is more nutritious. It has no dairy or fat in it either.

Sounds good, yes? Well, my memories of the desem bread I used to bake were fabulous. I remember it being the most satisfying bread I ever had in my life. I'm certain that part of the reason for that came from the fact that in those days, I used to buy wheat berries from a health food store in Albuquerque whose friendly staff would then grind them for me to make flour. Starting with freshly ground flour is something that truly does produce a different bread than using anything else - even fresh whole wheat flour from Whole Foods. The other major difference was the water. The house we lived in had a well which was over 200 feet deep. The water we drank was, to my mind, the best water I had ever tasted. Since this bread uses flour, water and salt as it's ingredients, it's pretty easy to understand that if you have the freshest flour, the best water, and any kind of salt, you are going to produce an outstanding bread. Even if you don't have a brick oven - which is what they claim it takes to make the very best desem bread. And even if you, like me, start with a starter which is made with yeast and milk. The fermenting process is quite long, and requires many feedings. Since I never added anything other than whole wheat flour and water to the original starter, at this point whatever else was in there only exists in homeopathic proportions. I don't think it influences the final product anymore.

At any rate, I got sucked me into the fantasy that I could produce that same bread here in San Diego. The reality, however, is quite different. I did buy organic whole wheat flour, and I used my filtered water, but the end result was less satisfying than what I used to bake back in the day....The first time I baked the bread, it had the weight of a brick. I was a little nervous about cutting it - even with my bread knife. It was not exactly a friendly loaf. A machete would probably have been a better tool. The next batch was a bit better - a little bit lighter, but still not worth all those feedings.
The third batch actually produced an edible bread, though still not the bread of my memories. This one at least yielded itself to the bread knife. It was quite delicious with peanut butter, and had it not separated a bit at the bottom, would probably have even been reasonably good for sandwiches.

This last time, however, I couldn't bring myself to go through with the bread recipe. (It takes 7 hours from start to finish.) I decided to turn my attention to Larel's alternative recipes for desem. I got up enough courage to have another go of it and try her desem yeasted buns, only with a Toni twist. Instead of using 100% whole wheat, I used 50-50 whole wheat and unbleached white flour. Frankly, for the ingredients I've got at my disposal these days, I think this was the way to go. My desem, or starter, is still 100% whole wheat and shall remain so, but I'm thinking that what I will bake with it will not be.Which is too bad, actually. Because if I could produce that beautiful bread again, I would do so in a heartbeat. Well, actually it would take many, many, many heartbeats. But it would be worth it, because a slice or 2 of that bread with some butter in the morning with my tea would satisfy me for hours and hours. However, without the quality of those 2 basic ingredients, I don't see that it's possible to reproduce my former results.At least I have the memories.

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit Second Opinion

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stuffed squash

I remember when I was in my 20s and lived in Manhattan. My boyfriend at the time had a car, and we drove up to New England one beautiful fall day to drink in the autumn colors and stop at the local food stands on the sides of the roads. We found a farm that would sell milk to us, practically straight from the cow. We didn't bring any containers with us since we didn't know that such a treasure existed. The farmer was kind enough to rummage around and come up with a large glass jar with a tight fitting lid. He filled it for us and I think we might have paid a dollar for it.

We turned south and began heading back to New York when we saw a stand by the side of the road selling apples and squash. The colors demanded our attention, so we stopped and browsed among the heaps of acorns, butternuts pumpkins and gourds. I remember looking at the rich colors and textures and realizing that I had never cooked a squash before. Determined to remedy this hole in my education, I selected an acorn squash - firm and dark with flecks of orange. There was something so honest and appealing about this vegetable - a rugged, no-nonsense skin meant for someone who was comfortable using tools. This was not a painted fingernail kind of veggie - this was a hammer and saw kind of thing. Since I had never met a vegetable I didn't like, I was ready to roll up my sleeves and wrestle this thing into the oven.

Which is pretty much what it took. I had sharp knives, it's true, but still, this thing wasn't going to give up easily. I handed it over to the boyfriend, and thankfully he didn't hack off any fingers cutting that thing in half. There it lay, it's orange flesh and large seeds exposed. As I recall, all I did with it was to scoop out the seeds, put some olive oil on it, lay it on a cookie sheet cut side down and bake it for about an hour. I remember liking it, but not being convinced that it would be a mainstay of my diet.

Then I moved to New Mexico, and my husband was the master of the kitchen. He's the one who taught me most of what I know about cooking. One of the things he used to love to do was to cook potatoes and squash in the fireplace. He'd cut them in half, put some oil on them, wrap them in aluminum foil and use tongs to poke them deep into the fire we kept burning to heat the living room. So while he was busy making his fantastic concoctions in the kitchen, the house began to smell of roasting squash and potatoes. If there's anything that can stimulate an appetite more, I'd like to know about it!

These days I lack the fireplace, and the barbecue really isn't the same. So even though we're having an insanely warm fall, I have this necessity to cook squash. Here in San Diego, temperatures are hovering close to 70 degrees. In the past, I used to congratulate myself if I managed to make it to November without turning on the heat. These nights I'm sleeping with the windows open and only one blanket. I'm tempted to turn on the ceiling fan at night. But next week is Thanksgiving, and I cannot imagine being this close to our yearly food festival without some winter squash on my plate.

As a woman with a crazy-busy acupuncture practice, I like to cram in as much healthy food as I can, and if I can make it a one dish meal - all the better! Stuffing vegetables seems to be the ideal solution for this - the bigger the vegetable, the better. (This was not always the case in New Mexico, where we grew zucchinis. Anyone who has ever done this knows what I mean. It's about the ones that get away. You look under those elephant ear-sized leaves one day and pick every zucchini you can find. The next day you go back, lift up a leaf, and there's a zucchini the size of a small sedan lying there!) But I digress....

For this stuffed squash I chose a carnival squash, probably as much for the name as well as for the size. Perhaps it's years of practice. Perhaps it's sharper knives or the different variety. I don't know, but I didn't find it that difficult to cut it in half. I scooped out the seeds, coated the squash lightly in oil and filled it with what I had available. In this case it was:

about 1/2 cup of rice - a combination of wild and brown
about 1/2 cup of ground turkey
1 apple, cored and cubed
1/4 portobello mushroom, cubed
1 cauliflower floret, cut up
dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, salt and pepperAmazing that I didn't use any onion or garlic. I used to think that if you wanted to cook anything with the exception of oatmeal, you started with onion and garlic. I'm not completely over my addiction to those two, but I've learned that with the right combo of other spices, it's possible to survive. Instead, I sauteed all of the above except for the apple and then added the apple just before stuffing. I popped the whole thing into a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes, pulled out an old Cesaria Evora CD, and finished reading "Eat, Pray, Love." Between the book, the music and the food, I was livin' large.....For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog: Second Opinion

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bean Soup for a drizzly day

A couple of weeks ago, it was Santa Anas and fires. Now we have gray skies and even a lite drizzle. But don't count on it. This is southern California, after all. So just when you think fall has finally arrived, the next Santa Ana can blow through town. Hopefully without the added horror of smoke and ash - but still, it can make selecting your clothing for the day a bit of a challenge. Not to mention selecting what to cook for dinner. A salad with some grilled shrimp? A hearty stew? Winter squash or summer squash?

For some reason, I've been drawn to kale recently. There's something magnetic about its dark green leafiness that draws my eye every time I'm around produce. I decided that my body must be craving calcium, beta-carotene, antioxidants or the potent anti-inflammatory properties kale offers. It didn't matter to me, though - I just wanted to make something which included it's dark green loveliness.

But somehow kale seems to lack the conviviality of spinach, say. You can serve spinach with just about anything, and somehow it seems to get along. Kale, on the other hand, is the kind of guest you invite to a particular kind of dinner party. It's not something you'd expect to find on top of your pizza, for instance. Nor would you seat it next to an elegant presentation of a crown roast of lamb - or anything else with a crown, for that matter. No. Kale is more of a meet-you-in-the-library kind of vegetable, rather than either a formal attire or pizza and beer kind of guest.

So my challenge was to find a way to incorporate kale into a meal that satisfied that need for comfort on a gray and drizzly day. My recent forays to New Mexico always make me think in terms of beans and rice. Beans.......Yes, that seemed like a better partnership than rice. And definitely a soup.

Open the fridge and forage. A half a butternut squash. (What did I do with the other half? Cannot remember! Obviously not baked as usual. Hmmmmmm....) Some carrots. Good. Onion, of course. And a red potato. Excellent!

Pour some oil into a pan and add about 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 onion, quartered then sliced. Sautee until the onion is golden. Add slices of potato and and winter squash (peeled, of course), and continue to sautee for about another 15 minutes. Add about 3 cups of liquid. I used chicken broth, but you could just as easily use vegetable broth. I also put in a bay leaf and several sprigs of fresh thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes.

Now, here's the thing. I used canned northern beans for this soup. If you are making it with fresh beans, you'll have to start them well before you begin this recipe. But if you decide on the "down and dirty" approach as I did, you can toss a can or 2 of beans in at this point. This would also be the time to add your carrots and kale, and if you had any mushrooms you could add them to the mix as well. If you want to keep this as a vegetarian dish, stop there. If not, you could add some smoked kielbasa at this point. If you're a "mixed couple" (one vegetarian and one not), this dish would work well, as the kielbasa can be added to just one bowl and not the other. I love meals like that, where everyone's needs can be satisfied without making the chef crazy!I'm submitting this to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Beth from The Expatriate's Kitchen

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thanks, Everyone

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts, concerns, prayers. The smoke has cleared from the air here in San Diego. We can walk outside without smelling it. When I flew to New Mexico on Thursday, the entire city was blanketed in smoke, and we were able to look out the window and see the flames. Flying back to town this afternoon, the air was clearer and I was able to see miles of charred mountains. I'm one of the fortunate ones who still has a home to return to. My heart goes out to all those who lost their homes and animals in the fires.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Photos for latest post

Thanks to Terry over at Blue Kitchen, and Ann at A Chicken In Every Granny Cart, I learned that my photos didn't seem to make it into the last post. So here's my second try, without comment:








Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fires and the need to bake

The worst seems to be over, but the last 2 days have been eerie, weird and frightening, even though I don't live near where the fires have been burning. It started on Sunday, while I was cleaning the house. I kept going into the kitchen, wondering if I had left something on the stove. Nope. So I went back to my cleaning, but a little while later I came out again. Maybe I left something in the toaster? Nope. But I definitely smelled something burning. I turned on the radio, and that's when I heard about the fires.It was 4 years ago, almost to the day, when the Cedar Fire began. That was one of several fires which burned in San Diego in 2003, and by the time it was over, approximately 20% of the county had burned. The fires we've had these days are far worse. The Santa Ana winds have been blowing with hurricane force at times, driving these fires at incredible speeds. This time they evacuated about 350,000 people!

They've been recommending that people stay indoors if possible, and I've been happy to comply. I've kept my windows shut. But today I had to get out around 4pm to see what the city looked like.

heading towards the airport at around 4:40pm

After heading east towards the fires, I headed towards the airport, which is by the bay. San Diego Bay at around 4:45pm



These images are not photoshopped. The sun turns red as it descends into the smoke.

The sun became a red eye, straight out of Dante's "Inferno"

But the moon was a beacon of hope in the gray sky...

The television has been on nonstop, and the images of the fires have left all of us restless and uneasy. What do you do when you feel restless and uneasy? I find that baking is a wonderful antidote to this angst. Unlike Nora over at Life's Smörgåsbord who can bake to soothe anger, I bake to soothe the jitters. I had just read Cynthia's post at Tastes Like Home where she described various ways to grate fresh coconut, and then offered a compliment of dishes to showcase coconut.

Coconut was always a favorite flavor in my childhood. I loved coconut cake and coconut ice cream. (I think I inherited this from my dad who would always request a coconut cake for his birthday.) Just reading about grated coconut made me remember my childhood - a gentle memory for an edgy time. I didn't have any fresh coconut to grate and didn't want to go out to get some, but I remembered that I had some unsweetened dry coconut in the back of the pantry. I had been eying the two bananas which were aging gracefully on my counter and had already earmarked them for banana bread. Hmmmmm.....What about banana coconut bread? I had never added coconut to my banana bread, but it felt tropically right.

The recipe I use is the permanently place marked one from the Joy of Cooking. It's simple and no-fail. Just right for someone who does little baking of sweet things. While I tend never to fiddle with recipes for baking, this one is like an old friend. It forgives me. It understands me. I have, over the years reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup, substituted 3/4 of a cup of whole wheat flour for the all white version presented, and have discovered that the bread gladly accepts chopped apricots. Now I've learned that it embraces 1/2 cup of shredded coconut with no hesitation. Who can resist such a flexible friend?

Preheat oven to 350

Have all ingredients at about 75 degrees Farenheit
Sift before measuring:
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour

Re-sift with:
2 1/4 tsp double acting baking powder

Blend until creamy:
1/3 C shortening
2/3 C sugar
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Beat in:
1 to 2 beaten eggs
1 cup ripe banana pulp

Add the sifted ingredients in about 3 parts to the sugar mixture. Beat the batter after each addition. Fold in:
1/4 C chopped apricots
1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut

Place batter in a greased bread pan. Bake the bread for about 1 hour or until done. Cool before slicing.

(I use more than 1/4 C of apricots. I don't measure - I just make sure there's plenty!)
Thank you, Cynthia! This turned out to be the best banana bread I've ever made!!!! And you know what? The fires are more under control, too!

This will be my entry into this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Pille at nami-nami.

I will be going to New Mexico on Thursday for an extended weekend of breathing clean air!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Breakfast Leftovers, or Another Reason to Love Fritatas

So I had this tomatillo left over from my pork and tomatillo stew. Now, I know people who just don't bother with leftovers. They throw anything leftover away. Many of them are good people, and I like them in lots of ways. But this one characteristic makes me......well....a little bonkers. I don't get it. Perfectly fresh food, cooked that day, and whooosh! Into the garbage it goes. I would understand it if the ingredients were on their last legs - if they were just this side of wilted or gamy or whatever - and they were used in a casserole or some such thing, which would serve as their last rites. But I've seen perfectly good, delicious food get tossed. I wasn't even born during the Depression, and I don't save aluminum foil bits and roll them into balls or anything....but food? C'mon! I love the stuff too much to throw it away while it's still fresh!

I remember when I was in my 20s and living in New York City. I had numerous jobs in those days and finally quit all of them to be a potter. I made both functional and decorative things out of clay in a loft in New York. I knew I wasn't going to get rich on my art, but I had had it with working for others and needed a break from the craziness of working in politics (my last "real" job.) Now, in order to survive as an artist in a place like Manhattan, you needed to be clever and frugal. My friend Wendy taught me how to live with grace and flair on very, very little money. For one thing, there was Chinatown. In those days, you could get a bowl of congee for under a dollar. I'm sure it costs a lot more than that now, but I'm also sure it's still -
relatively speaking - cheap. And what is congee? It's all the leftover rice they have which they then boil into a thick porridge. To that they add the leftover meats and veggies of the day, and what you wind up with is a simple, filling, satisfying meal. When we added to that a little plum wine which we kept in the pottery studio, we felt like bohemian royalty.

For me, no meal is that fancy that it's out of the reach of leftovers, and that includes breakfast. Lately I've been on a fritata kick. I find that when I have a fritata for breakfast, I'm not hungry for hours and hours. Since my acupuncture practice has been off the wall busy these days, I need something that will keep me going 'till I can sit down for lunch at 1pm. To make one, I just open the fridge and scour around for whatever I've got. This day I had that tomatillo in the veggie bin, as well as a slice of ham and a couple of leftover zucchini slices I had grilled on the barbecue the night before. Good start. And then I found a small piece of leftover feta cheese and a half an onion. I was livin' large!

To make the fritata, I used 3 eggs but only one yolk. (My lower fat version.) I cut a dollop of Earth Balance into the pan and sauteed the onion first because I like my onions cooked very well. Then I added the tomatillo and the ham. I poured the scrambled eggs into the pan, and after the bottom set a bit, I tossed in the cut up chunks of zucchini and feta. When the eggs set just a bit more, I popped the pan into my 350 degree oven and put on a CD of Clara Montes music to get myself moving.

What's your favorite way of using leftovers? Do you find that you prefer the dish you've made from the leftovers even more than the original one?
For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog: Second Opinion

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pork and Tomatillo Stew to Celebrate Fall

It's fall at last! The mornings are cool and the light has changed. Not only does it get light later, but the slant of it says fall. My garden is more shaded now by the elm tree in the neighbor's yard. I can still eat outside at my glass table, but I need a sweater. The only thing that's missing are those breathtaking colors I grew up with on the east coast. Here in San Diego, the trees don't start turning until November, and even though I've lived here since 1986, I still find that strange!

Fall is by far my favorite season. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to help my dad rake leaves in the fall. We'd pile them high in the back yard, not far from the hedge between our house and the neighbor's house. When we were just about finished raking and just about to set a match to them, we'd look in time to see a tan streak, shooting through the bottom of the hedge. Rudy, the neighbor's boxer, was waiting for this moment. He'd tear into the yard, run round and around and around the pile of leaves, and suddenly take this enormous leap, landing in the middle of the pile. He'd come out grinning, and then take off and do it again. We'd stand there and laugh each and every time he flew into the air and landed in the pile. He loved it, and so did we!

The meals of fall always smell good, too. I love walking inside and smelling something bubbling on the stove or in the oven. It says "home" and "comfort" to me. When I lived in New Mexico, a pot of food on the stove and a pile of wood out back were the equivalent of money in the bank. We didn't cook much with tomatillos when I lived there. I don't know why. But I've discovered their delicious greenness here in San Diego. They taste slightly tart, and add such a wonderful counterpoint to meat and potatoes.

I looked at Wikipedia to learn something about tomatillos. Here's what it said:

The tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa or Physalis philadelphica) is a plant of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. The tomatillo fruit is surrounded by a paper-like husk formed from the calyx. As the fruit matures, it fills the husk and can split it open by harvest. The husk turns brown, and the fruit can be any of a number of colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple[1]. Tomatillos are the key ingredient in fresh and cooked Latin American green sauces. The freshness and greenness of the husk is a quality criterion. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green colour and tart flavour are the main culinary contributions of the fruit.

I find it amazing that herbs are so incredibly versatile. Oregano, which is used in this recipe, is an herb I grew up associating with Italian food. But it's versatility is astonishing. One minute it's Italian, the next it's Greek or New Mexican! What I love most about it, other than it's flavor, is it's meaning: "Delight in the mountain". Don't you just love that?

I found this recipe in the October Food And Wine magazine. Of course, I've tinkered with it, but I'll give it to you as it's written first, and then tell you what I've done to it.

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 3-inch chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large celery ribs, finely diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 Anaheim chile, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons mild chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
  • Two 6-ounce russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
  • One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound tomatillos—husked, rinsed and cut into 1-inch dice
  • Hot sauce
  • Chopped cilantro, for garnish
  • Corn tortilla chips, for serving
Directions
  1. In a medium casserole or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper and cook over high heat until browned on 2 sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add the celery and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the diced chile, garlic, chile powder, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and tomatillos, cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  2. Transfer the pork to a plate and shred with two forks. Meanwhile, simmer the stew over moderate heat until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir the shredded pork into the stew and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Ladle the stew into bowls, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with a few tortilla chips.

MAKE AHEAD The stew can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

Notes: I added string beans to my stew. Also, I didn't use Anaheim chilis - they have no heat. I used my green chili from Hatch, New Mexico. The best! When you use good chilies, you don't need to bother with chili powder or hot sauce. Also I left the pork as cubes instead of shredding it, as I find that more satisfying. And I didn't bother with the cilantro or the tortilla chips.

I'm entering this post in Kalyn's Kitchen Two Year Anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging. Can you believe it's been 2 years since she started this event? Congratulations, Kalyn!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Shrimp in Escabeche, and a refusal to let go of summer.

The weather may be saying "fall", but my senses are telling me "summer". How could it be otherwise, when I see mangoes and avocados in the store? Of course, I live in San Diego, where it's kinda hard to tell the seasons anyway. Well, I've gotten better at it, actually. There actually is a difference between summer and fall and winter here. We may not need down parkas in the winter, but we do get to enjoy a prolonged fall. Leaves haven't started turning yet (they won't until November), but the air has changed. But when you can still dine al fresco in the evening, can you truly succumb to fall's harvest foods? They still seem a little to heavy for our current weather. So I'm still eying the salads and seafood like someone who refuses to leave the cruise ship even after we've pulled into home port.

When I found this recipe on epicurious, I knew this was what I was hungering for. This simple recipe turned into a salad by the time I ate it. A salad with my mom's stamp on it, actually. My mom was the one who taught me to add mangoes to a salad to give it a little something extra. Every time I do this, people comment on what a cool idea it is. Thanks, Mom!

So here, without further ado, is a shrimp in escabeche salad.

In Spanish, escabeche refers to placing already cooked seafood into a marinade—a pickling of sorts—but this subtle shrimp salad is gentler than anything you might expect from the term pickled. Complemented by silky thin-sliced onions, the shrimp get their tender-firm texture from slow-poaching followed by marinating.

Ingredients:

1 small red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 pound large shrimp in shell (21 to 25 per pound), peeled, leaving tail intact, and deveined

Preparation:

Toss together onion, vinegar, oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt in a shallow glass or ceramic dish.

Simmer oil, bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorns in a small saucepan 10 minutes, then let stand until ready to use.

Add shrimp to a medium pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts water), then remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain well, then stir into onion mixture along with oil mixture.

Chill shrimp in escabeche, covered when cool, stirring occasionally, at least 12 hours. Discard bay leaves and serve shrimp cold or at room temperature.

Cooks' note: Shrimp in escabeche can be chilled up to 2 days.

My additions: I used a bag of baby spring mix lettuces, an avocado and a mango - both sliced. I served it with a dressing of olive oil, raspberry vinegar, salt and pepper.
Makes 8 servings

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog, Second Opinion

Monday, September 24, 2007

Figs, Proscutto and Fall

It's officially my favorite season of the year. Fall arrived here in San Diego with a definite change of weather. We actually had rain! Practically unheard of at this time of the year, actually, and no doubt there will be more summer ahead....but for a few days, we got a taste of crisp air, dark, muscular clouds..... and rain. And it is the season for one of the oddest fruits we have in North America -- one that people usually love or hate. A fruit of biblical stature, (well, the leaves anyway), and one which many people find embarrassing to eat.

Well, perhaps I should start by clarifying something. Actually, the fig isn't a fruit. According to Wikipedia, the fig is commonly thought of as fruit, but it is properly the flower of the fig tree. It is in fact a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. What is commonly called the "fruit" of a fig is actually a specialized structure- or accessory fruit- called a syconium: an involuted (nearly closed) receptacle with many small flowers arranged on the inner surface. Thus the actual flowers of the fig are unseen unless the fig is cut open. The syconium often has a bulbous shape with a small opening at the distal end that allows access by pollinators. The flowers are pollinated by very small wasps that crawl through the opening in search of a suitable place to reproduce (lay eggs). Without this pollinator service fig trees cannot reproduce by seed. In turn, the flowers provide a safe haven and nourishment for the next generation of wasps.

Now, I know that could sound fairly disgusting. The "Ick" factor rises with such an explanation. But that could be said about much of the food we eat - vegetarian or otherwise - if we stop to think about it. My personal approach is to not think about such things in the face of something as sweet and sensual as a fig. Do you remember that incredible scene in "Women In Love", where one of the characters gives a speech on how to eat a fig? It was, of course, pure Henry Miller: an unabashed discourse on sensual pleasure.

My favorite way to eat a fig has been to buy as much prosciutto di Parma as my wallet will allow, and to indulge myself by wrapping, cushioning or just encasing chunks of those jammy purple morsels in sheer strips of prosciutto. The saltiness of the prosciutto is the perfect balance for the fig. A friend of mine recently told me of a fig dish he made with blue cheese baked inside. That sounds positively decadent to me - a must try! And Jenn over at The Leftover Queen made a fabulous sounding dish with figs and Parmesan cheese a few weeks ago.

There's a fig tree in my neighborhood. When the previous owners of the house still lived there, the tree was allowed to grow over the sidewalk. True, the purple blotches on the concrete made for a trickier walk, but I was in heaven. The tree was on the way to Little Italy, and so I would first go to my favorite Italian grocery store and stock up on prosciutto. Then, on the way home, I would load up my grocery bags with figs. My riches would last me for about 5 days or so, and then, like an addict in search of my next "fix", I'd head back down to Little Italy. In this manner, I gorged myself on figs and prosciutto for breakfast every day until I could no longer reach any more ripe figs.

Now the house has been sold, and the new owners have trimmed it back. It is no longer accessible from the street. So I must buy my figs from the store. Yes, they can taste as good, but the adventure of it has gone.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tomatoes and a season of heavenly delights

If there was ever a reason to have a garden, or to visit a farmer's market or a vegetable stand on the side of the road, it's to enjoy the taste of garden fresh tomatoes. Vine ripened tomatoes from a garden have the power to make me grow sentimental. To me, they are the essence of nostalgia - of a time gone by. I have little interest in those genetically altered red round things they sell in grocery stores. To me, a tomato must taste of the sun, or it's not a tomato. I have no problem with canned tomatoes, or tomato sauces - they are a completely different animal. But if I'm going to eat a fresh tomato, I need it to be real. (Translation: Fresh from the garden.) When it is, I'm in heaven. And this is my season of heavenly delights.

But let me explain where it all began. My father was an avid gardener, and a gentle, loving soul. He used to say, "If you're good to the earth, the earth will be good to you." The tomatoes he grew were one example of the truth of his words. With compost, water, and loving attention, my father grew beautiful, sweet tomatoes, which had the power to lure us into the garden no matter what else might be planned for the day. We used to come home from school and head straight for the garden, barely pausing to say hello to my mom. Morton Salt used to make tiny little salt shakers in those days - perfect for kids to carry in their lunch boxes. (I don't know if lunch boxes still exist. Or tiny Morton Salt shakers, for that matter.) We'd take our salt shakers out to the garden and feast on fresh-picked tomatoes until there were no more red ones left on the vines. My last post (oh so long ago!) featured tomato tarts. This one will be much, much simpler. Today's post is for those times when you have tomatoes to die for, and you don't want to bury their taste under anything, and you don't want to cook them -- you just want to showcase them. Plain and simple. What better to do than to serve them with sliced mozzarella, fresh basil, and some extra virgin olive oil? Just add salt and pepper. Ahhhhhh.......The tomatoes in today's post are from my friend Julie's garden in New Mexico. I spent an extra long Labor Day weekend in New Mexico, painting my living room and enjoying the company of friends. Julie came over one evening with a plastic grocery bag partially filled with tomatoes. I actually packed these in hard plastic containers and put them in my suitcase! They survived the baggage handling, and have been a small treasure trove ever since.

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't visit my other blog Second Opinion

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tarts on a hot day

Don't ask what came over me. It's hot. It's even humid for San Diego. But every year, my friend Kathye holds her annual "Sunday In The Park With Kathye". We claim a bench by the large reflecting pool in front of the Botanical building in Balboa Park to use as a table, and we all bring something to share. She's making some tri-tip and a roast chicken. Other people are bringing dips and salads and desserts. For whatever reason, I've been thinking that a savory tart would taste good, and this picnic seems like the perfect "excuse". So even though the oven has been on, I'm feeling cool here in my home office with my overhead fan going, and the second tart in the oven. Only the second one isn't really a tart, it's a pie. But more about that later........
One of the things I love about tarts is their versatility. I've made fruit tarts and savory tarts, and I love them all. The savory ones make great lunches, especially if you've got some fruit or salad on the side. The sweet ones are the most perfect way to bake fruit for me, as I am not a true baker. The only successful baking I've ever perfected was 100% whole wheat sour dough bread. But that was when I lived in New Mexico, where I shopped at a health food store that both sold organic wheat berries AND would grind them into flour for me. Now I live several blocks from a fabulous bakery that specializes in bread - good, crusty bread. So I no longer bake.

Except for tarts. On a hot summer day.

For those of you who are lucky enough to be able to grow a real vegetable garden, tarts are a perfect solution to all that produce. The ones I'm making right now use tomatoes, chard and herbs, as well as other ingredients. But substituting zucchini is a godsend for that part of the season when the zucchini plants take off and you find yourself overwhelmed by zucchini.

I got both the recipes from Epicurious, although I used to subscribe to Bon Appetite, and I made one with chard years ago from the recipe in that magazine. It was an issue on the foods of Tuscany, with fabulous photos of the hillside towns and people enjoying mouth-watering food al fresco. Balboa Park isn't exactly Tuscany, but we can all travel easily these days through the foods we eat.Tomato, Goat Cheese and Onion Tart

1 (9-inch) prepared pie dough, thawed if frozen (not pie shells)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
6 oz crumbled goat cheese (1 1/3 cups)
1 lb plum tomatoes, thinly sliced crosswise

Garnish: fresh basil leaves
Special equipment: a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom; pie weights or raw rice

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

If necessary, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into an 11-inch round and fit into tart pan. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang inward and press against side of pan to reinforce edge. Lightly prick bottom and sides with a fork.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake in middle of oven until pastry is pale golden around rim, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil and bake until golden all over, 8 to 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack.

While tart shell is baking, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook onion with salt and black pepper to taste, stirring frequently, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat broiler.

Spread onion over bottom of tart shell and top with 1 rounded cup goat cheese. Arrange tomatoes, slightly overlapping, in concentric circles over cheese. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil. Put foil over edge of crust (to prevent overbrowning).

Put tart pan on a baking sheet and broil tart about 7 inches from heat until cheese starts to brown slightly, 3 to 4 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.


Swiss Chard and Herb Tart

1 pound Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

Preparation

Cook chard in large pot of boiling salted water until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain. Squeeze out liquid. Chop chard.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; saut
 1 minute. Add chard; sauté until excess liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Transfer chard mixture to large bowl. Cool slightly. Mix in ricotta and next 7 ingredients.

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 375°F. Roll out 1 pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 14-inch square. Transfer pastry to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Trim edges, leaving 1-inch overhang. Fill pastry with chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with pastry brush dipped into water. Roll out second pastry sheet to 13-inch square. Using tart pan as guide, trim pastry square to 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges and fold in.

Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Remove pan sides from tart. Transfer to platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

Makes 8 appetizer or 4 first course servings.Notes: I used the pre-made pie shells for both tarts. I've used the phyllo dough before, and while it's tasty, it seemed a bit too rich for a hot summer day. Besides, the pre-made pie dough comes 2 to a box, so I just went with the flow, as it were.

Also, I used carmelized onions on the bottom of the chard "tart", because when I looked at the recipe it seemed like it would have been too bland without them. Besides, I was in the business of carmelizing onions today, so whaddaheck.......might as well make a few more!

And lastly, as I only have one tart pan, and as there seemed to be waaaaay too much filling for one measly little tart, I decided to make the second one in a pie pan instead of a tart pan. I'm on my way to the park now.......we'll see how they go over.

Post Script:
Well, the picnic's over and the votes are cast. Both tarts were supreme hits, but the tomato one ruled. People were drawn to it visually more than the other one, which is understandable. How can one resist such a red? Especially when put next to Kathye's fabulous marinated tri-tip!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture

For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't visit my other blog:
Second Opinion

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peach Season

Ahh de-clay-ah.......it is hot! Hot and humid, in fact. I find that I can deal with heat as long as I don't have to deal with the humidity. But this summer has been unusual here in San Diego, and it has made it clear to me how very far I've come from my roots on the east coast. While I will always love New York and Boston and points in between, I'm no longer interested in living someplace with that much humidity. It makes me lethargic. I make tea in the mornings in my kitchen. I eat cereal. I buy sandwiches from the local bakery. I have cheese and crackers for dinner.

I got an email last week from a friend who used to live in Julian - a small town in the mountains east of San Diego. In the summertime, she helped out at a local fruit stand called Meyer's Orchard. Mr. Meyer gets up at around 2am each morning at this time of the year and drives for several hours to his orchards. There, he picks the peaches which are ripe for that day, as well as the ones which will be ripe within the next 4-5 days. Anyway, this friend told me that she was making a "peach run", and would I like any?

Is this actually a question? Of course!

The peach (prunus persica) is native to China. The word "persica" is indicative of the fact that early Europeans believed that the peach was native to Persia, but modern botanical consensus is that it originated in China and was brought to Persia along the Silk Road. There are several different crops each season, and this is the first one. This particular variety is called "Fair Lady." As the season goes on, the peaches get larger and sweeter, so by the end of season, it becomes difficult to bake anything with them. They are so incredibly sweet and delicious, it almost seems a travesty to be doing anything but eating them.
I am gobbling up this first batch as fast as I can, and haven't made anything with them yet. I will include Mrs. Meyer's recipes for peaches here. To me, they are reminiscent of the recipes from the 50s - they're so....Donna Reed. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Mrs. Meyer has been using these recipes since Betty Crocker was in full swing.

What do you like to do with fresh peaches, other than eat them fresh or on top of your cereal? Do you have a favorite recipe? A grandmother's pie or crumble?

Helen Meyer’s Peach Recipes
Meyers Orchard, Julian, Ca.

Glazed Peach Pie

Make a regular single pie crust.

Filling:

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 ½ cup COLD water
3 oz peach jello
¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon corn starch
Slice peaches 1/2 inch thick (use your prettiest ones)
Let crust cool.

Mix cornstarch, sugar, jello.
Add cold water
Bring to boil and stir often til thick (est 3-min)
Lay peaches in crust, pour ½ glaze over all.
Refrigerate until firm.

Save remaining glaze for next pie.


Peach Pie II

Need peaches, pie crust, sugar, corn starch, water, powdered sugar.

Bake a pie crust

Mix in sauce pan:

1 cup puree peaches (use the ones with blemishes for this)
¾ cup sugar
2-3 Tablespoons corn starch
½ cup water

Use a slow heat to the boiling point

In baked pie crust, layer:

3-oz softened cream cheese
2-3 Tablespoons of powdered sugar
Sliced peaches
Peach puree

Angels with Peaches ‘n Cream

1 baked Angel Food cake
1 small package of instant vanilla pudding
Fresh peaches cut into small chunks
8-oz sour cream

Pull apart the cake into bite size pieces and fill a cake pan (12x12 or 9x13)
Mix the pudding by the box directions, let set til it thickens.
Mix sour cream into thickened pudding.
Add cake, peaches – mix.
Cover and refrigerate.

And, don’t forget, peaches….

…over ice cream
…under peach schnapps
…smoothies
…over pound cake
…on cereal
…at lunch time.
…cobbler
And…and…..and………………..

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.
For a place to share what natural remedies work for you and which don't visit my other blog: Second Opinion

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Risotto With Shrimp, Bay Scallops, Morels and Asparagus

It all started with the morels. I stood there in Whole Foods, and lifted one big, beautiful, lacy one to my nose and inhaled deeply. Suddenly I was in the country, and smelling the slightly damp earth on a summer day. I knew I needed a somewhat neutral palette as a background for this scent, as well as something I could pair with it that would contrast - in color, texture, scent, and yes, in taste. I turned the corner and spied a forest of young asparagus bunches, all standing at attention. Yes, this was what I needed as a counterpoint. But what was the background going to be? As I continued through the aisles, I spotted the bulk grains, and knew immediately that risotto's creamy texture would balance the earthiness of the mushrooms perfectly.

I would have stopped there, but I found myself walking by the seafood counter and spied these large white shrimp and tiny, tender looking bay scallops. Most people here in California ignore bay scallops, but where I grew up on the east coast, we used to incorporate them into lots of dishes - sometimes even in the starring role. I found myself asking for a handful of each.

Perfect.

I've made risotto before, and understood the principle of adding liquid in batches, stirring until it's absorbed, and repeating the process until the risotto reaches it's rich, creamy, perfect texture. So the only question I had was how to deal with the rest of the ingredients. I scored one hit and one miss, but learned something in the process. And fortunately, the final result turned out to be pretty good in spite of my bumbling. My final result would feed three people easily as a main course.

1 1/4C risotto
3 good sized morels, sliced crosswise
2 small shallots, diced
1 handful of asparagus - about 18 - washed, patted dry and cut into 2" pieces
1 handful of raw shrimp, rinsed, peeled and deveined
1 handful of bay scallops, rinsed.
1/2 C white wine
2C chicken broth, heated
Olive oil
butter
Kosher salt
pepper

Take about 1TBS of butter, add around 2tsp of olive oil and melt. Toss the sliced mushrooms and asparagus in this mixture, spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until it's slightly toasted - about 15-20 minutes.

While the asparagus and mushrooms are roasting, dice the shallots. Put a chunk of butter into a heavy skillet, add shallots and saute over medium heat until tender. Add risotto and stir until all kernels are coated with butter. Add wine and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add heated chicken broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until all the liquid is absorbed. After the first 1/2 cup of chicken broth has been absorbed, add the shrimp and scallops. Continue adding liquid and stirring until risotto is creamy and soft. Turn off heat and add the asparagus and mushrooms.
Notes: If I did this again, I would add some lemon zest to the mixture. I would also cook the shrimp and scallops separately, as they took much longer to cook this way. My instincts would be to saute them in a little white wine and some truffle oil. In fact, I intended to use truffle oil for the asparagus and mushrooms, but when I opened my pantry I discovered I was out! (Gasp!)

Note to self: Buy some more truffle oil next time you're in Trader Joe's!

Have you ever cooked with morels? What did you do with them? Are they not the most decorative of mushrooms, especially when sliced across? Like lacy rings....

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture
For a place to discuss which natural remedies work for you and which don't, visit my other blog:
Second Opinion

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Summertime

It's been a time for visitors: a cousin from Chicago, a friend from Portland.........a barbecue at a friend's house, and an invitation to get some appetizers at a new wine bar. My kitchen has been quiet. Which is why I've gone missing from my blog. When I looked up and noticed it was summer, I suddenly found the time for that book, ("The Namesake"), and for a walk in the park, and yes, actually taking time to go to the beach to do nothing.

But on my way to the farmer's market this morning, I found these morels at Whole Foods:
Sadly, I've actually never eaten morels before. They've been one of those mythical ingredients, belonging - in my mind, at least - to restaurants with linen tablecloths and crystal wine glasses. But there they were at Whole Foods - outrageously expensive and completely irresistible. So what was I to do?

As I wandered through the produce section, the morels became the seed of an idea, which then required asparagus and shrimp. Check back to see what these fragments became.

What have you been doing this summer, besides cooking? What have you been reading?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rice and Cauliflower Pilaf

This post is an example of how to do it wrong but get it right. Sometimes there's an advantage to reading all the directions first and understanding how the dish is supposed to flow. But you know how it is when you're used to cooking things in a particular order - like, starting the rice first and having it cook while you prepare the rest of the meal? Not so with this dish. In the end, though, it came out tasting terrific. Let's just say I got away with it this time.

This is my first time joining in Meeta's Monthly Mingle, over at What's For Lunch Honey? This month, the mingle is called Earth Food. She was inspired by the Live Earth event earlier this month, and is asking us to post a recipe that speaks to our desire to help our earth. How can rice and cauliflower pilaf help heal the earth, you ask? Simple. It's a dish prepared from things lower down on the food chain. I won't get into the whole political argument in favor of being a vegetarian - I'm not, and I doubt if I will switch to an entirely vegetarian diet. But I have been eating more and more vegetarian food ever since I came back from India. And it's the one thing we can all do to help heal our earth. Because when you make the conscious choice to eat a vegetarian meal, you are asking less of our agricultural production. When you eat the grains, instead of eating the chicken or cow or pig that ate the grain, you are cutting out one step in the chain from plant to human. The fewer the steps, the fewer the resources needed to feed people. So yes, you as an individual can do something to help heal our earth. You needn't do it every day, but if we choose to eat a vegetarian meal twice a week, for instance, we could make a significant impact on our lovely planet. This is one of the conscious choices I make to lessen my personal impact on the environment.
OK.....Off the soapbox and onto the recipe. This one's from The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi. Last time I went to the Farmer's Market, I picked up a gorgeous cauliflower. Now, I know that most Americans aren't too keen on cauliflower. It's one of those vegetables that used to be served boiled to death back when we were kids, or it's the last one on the tray of veggies and dip, after all the carrots and broccoli are gone. So we're used to only 2 choices - tasteless and dead from boiling or raw with dip.
But if you're looking for a more interesting way to serve this incredibly healthy vegetable, turn to India, my friends. Cauliflower shows up in many recipes in Indian cuisine, and it often takes the starring role, rather than a bit part. I've never yet been disappointed by it's performance in India's fabulous culinary tradition. In her introduction to this dish, Ms. Devi states "You will be amazed at this cauliflower-rice combination, and you will find it a superb dish for entertaining." I agree. The only change I made (other than not measuring everything exactly) was to add peas at the end. I felt that the dish needed a visual "pop". Out came the frozen peas, and in they went at the last step, just before I fluffed it with a fork. Oh - and I didn't add any extra oil at the end.

For the cauliflower:

1/4C (25gm) fresh or dried grated coconut, lightly packed.
1 TBS (15ml) minced, seeded hot green chilies (or as desired)
1TBS scraped, finely shredded or minced fresh ginger root
3TBS (45ml) minced fresh parsley or coarsely chopped coriander
1/2C (120ml) plain yogurt
1/2 tsp (2ml) turmeric
1tsp (5ml) salt
1/4 tsp (1ml) freshly ground black pepper
3 TBS ghee or vegetable oil
1 small cauliflower (about 3/4 pound/340gm), washed, trimmed and cut into flowerets.

For the rice

1 C (95gm) basmati or other long-grain white rice
3TBS (45ml) ghee or a mixture of vegetable oil and unsalted butter
1 small cassia or bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp (7ml) cumin seeds
1/2 tsp (2ml) black mustard seeds
2 large black or 4 large green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 3/4 C (420-480ml) water
1 tsp (5ml) raw sugar
lemon or lime wedges or twists for garnishing

To cook the cauliflower

1. Combine the coconut, green chilies, ginger, parsley or corander and yogurt in a blender. (A food processor is much better!) Cover and blend until smooth. Scraper into a small bowl, add the turmeric, salt and pepper and mix.
2. Heat 3 TBS of ghee or oil in a heavy 2qt/liter saucepan over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Drop in the cauliflower and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until the cauliflower has light brown edges. Pour in the yogurt mixture and stir well. Reduce the heat slightly and fry until the vegetable is dry and half-cooked.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a bowl.

To cook the rice


1. Clean the rice by placing it in a bowl and covering with water. Stir until the water becomes milky. Drain through a sieve, return the rice to the bowl and repeat until the water is clear.
2. Heat 1 1/2 TBS (22ml) of ghee or oil-butter mixture in a heavy 2qt/liter saucepan over moderate heat. Fry the cassia or bay leaf, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and cardamom pods until the mustard seeds turn gray and sputter and pop. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes.3. Add the water and sweetener, raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a full boil. Stir in the seasoned cauliflower, immediately reduce the heat to very low and cover tightly. Seimmer gently, without stirring, for 20-25 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes to allow the grains to firm up. Just before serving, remove the cover, add the remaining 1 1/2TBD of ghee or butter-oil combination and fluff with a fork. Garnish with lemon or lime wedge or twist.A couple of notes: If you're not used to working with mustard seeds, I will tell you that when they heat up, they definitely sputter and pop. It's best to use one of those screens to cover the pan, so your mustard seeds don't leave the scene. Also, I didn't use whole cardamom pods, as I had some black cardamom seeds, which I ground in a mortar and pestle. Next time, I would just add some ground cardamom instead. I also highly recommend adding the peas at the very end. They not only add visual pop, but they're fresh, green crunch gave the dish an added texture which was delightful.

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