Sunday, December 31, 2006

Pescado Veracruz

The picture does not do this recipe justice at all. I love this recipe -- it's not like any fish dish I've seen or had in a restaurant. It really does come to life when it's baking in the oven and you can smell the fragrance of the dish. Your mouth will dance the salsa with one bite. This dish is a must try -- it's simple, easy, and you can't mess it up.

Makes 4 to 6 servings
Cooking Time: 50 minutes

-2 pounds fish fillets (I recommend rock cod, catfish, snapper)
-1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
-3 T olive oil
-1 cup chopped onion
-1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed
-1 T chili powder (if you using the real deal, I would halve the amount)
-1/4 tsp ground cloves
-1/4 tsp ground cumin
-1/4 tsp ground coriander
-3 cups diced tomatoes
-1 T honey
-1 cup pitted olives, chopped

Arrange fish in an oiled baking dish. Where the fish gets skinny, you can tuck under and make a thicker piece for even cooking. Salt it slightly and sprinkle with a few teaspoons of the lemon juice. Chill.

Saute onions, garlic, chili powder, ground cloves, cumin, and coriander in the olive oil until the onions are translucent, taking care not to burn the spices. Add the tomatoes, honey, olives, and the remaining lemon juice and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Pour the sauce over the fish, top it with chopped parsley, and bake at 350 degree until it's tender, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

I generally don't like brussel sprouts. Growing up, I dreaded seeing things come on to the kitchen table. My cooking buddy has a way with these things, using them in Indian cooking. We needed a vegetable supplement for our fish dish and thought the baby brussel sprouts we purchased would be a nice touch. The recipe comes from Ina Garten on the Food Network, and is so quick and easy to put together, though it does take about 35 minutes to roast in the oven.

-1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
-3 tablespoons good olive oil
-3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.


Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt, and serve immediately.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Basic Sweet Buttercream Frosting


-1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

-2 cups sifted powdered sugar

-2 tablespoons milk

-1 teaspoon vanilla


Beat butter until creamy, about 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, and beat on high until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Note: To make the frosting chocolate, substitute 1/4 cup cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Yields enough to frost 12 cupcakes generously. Leftover frosting will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

*The key to a quality buttercream frosting is to beat the living day lights out of all the ingredients. The recipe calls for 5 minutes, and I would do it for more. And don't freak out like I did when you taste the frosting. A few hours after preparing it, the vanilla had infused the butter, and it tasted just great on the cupcake.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Vanilla Cupcake with Buttercream Frosting

I love cupcakes, just love them. Adore them, in fact. They are the perfect size and shape, and are fun to eat! When using wholesome and natural ingredients, they come to life in your mouth because they are less sickly sweet than what comes from the store or box.

I've been inspired to make cupcakes because our local newspaper has done a feature of cupcakes every year for the last two years. The recipes the wrote about were simple and easy, I thought let's give it a whirl. It is so worth it -- these cupcakes taste amazing.

So I bought two amazing Wilton Ultra-Bake muffin pans, which I highly recommend for their incredible baking ability and non-stick feature without being Teflon and got to baking. I decided to go for a simple cupcake that everyone could enjoy so I went with Vanilla cupcakes and a buttercream frosting. Buttercream frostings are so out of style, mainly because I think people do not know how to make them appropriately. Instead of being light and fluffy (as fluffy as butter can get that is) they're heavy and dense but a few tips will straighten that out.

The recipes below are great because you get a wonderful, light cupcake that is not too sweet. The buttercream frosting and cake go together and melt in your mouth as they should.

Cupcake Basics by Amanda Gold (applies to all cupcakes)

Here are a few basic steps for making cupcakes. If you can make one kind, you can make 'em all.

Plan ahead. It's important to let the butter and eggs come to room temperature before you begin.

Sift together or combine all of the dry ingredients in the recipe. Set aside.

Measure and combine liquids, like milk, buttermilk or water, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

Beat the butter for about 30 seconds until creamy. Then add the sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. The lighter the batter, the lighter the cupcake.

Add the eggs one at a time, and continue to beat until they're fully incorporated and the batter is creamy.

Add dry ingredients alternately with wet ingredients. This usually takes 3 to 4 additions. It's important to begin and end with flour, which prevents the batter from getting lumpy.

Add any final flavorings, like citrus zest or mashed banana.

Scoop into cupcake liners and bake, keeping an eye on them. Cupcakes dry out easily, and some will bake faster than others, depending on the temperature of your oven and whether the cupcakes are in the front or back.

Basic Vanilla Cupcakes

From Chronicle columnist Flo Braker.

-2 cups all-purpose flour
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon salt

-2 teaspoons vanilla

-1/2 cup whole milk

-1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

-1 cup sugar
-2 large eggs at room temperature


Adjust rack to lower third of oven; preheat the oven to 375°. Place paper cupcake liners in a 12-cup muffin pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto a piece of waxed paper. Stir the vanilla into the milk.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar in a slow, steady stream, beating until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until the batter is light and creamy, and scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl after each addition. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the liquid ingredients in 4 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the muffins springs back when lightly touched, and a wooden toothpick inserted in the cakes comes out free of uncooked batter.

Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

Yields 12 cupcakes

Monday, December 11, 2006

Kale with Olives

This recipe is so simple yet so very tasty. I got a bunch of kale in our bi-weekly vegetable fruit box and made this as a side dish to my cooking buddy's tortilla Espanola dish (which was quite tasty as well).

Makes 2 to 3 servings
Time: 20 minutes, most of which is passive

- 1 bunch of kale
- 1/4 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 to 4 tbsp olive olive
- 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon quartered
- salt to taste

- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt (1/4 tsp for every quart is what the recipe says; I just dump some in). Place kale in pot, lower heat to simmer, and cook kale uncovered for 12-15 minutes. Drain kale and press out excess water with the back of spoon. While is doing it's thing in the water, in a large bowl, add oil, olive oil, and olives. When finished draining kale, add to bowl, mix together and serve with a lemon wedge, which is supposed to enhance the flavor.

I used 2 tbsp olive oil and found that even the lower amount, was too much. Start with less, and add more as necessary. Slightly oily but still very good.

This recipe comes from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Portland, OR: Violet's Cafe

Greetings from Portland, OR. I have not done restaurant reviews on my blog but decided that I had to write about this place because I aspire to make food like they do. Tasty, flavorful, and just inspiring.

Violet's Cafe is a local neighborhood eatery that serves the most amazing breakfast food. On Friday morning, we decided to leave our hotel in search of breakfast. We didn't do any research a head of time. We figured this is Portland and we'll eventually run into something. Not being familiar with the area at all but having a very general sense of downtown and neighborhoods, we drove around aimlessly for nearly 45 minutes before stumbling across Violet's. Twenty minutes into the search for breakfast, I suggested we go to the Starbucks just so we could get something which met with a "When I travel, I don't like to eat at chains" conversation. For those that know me, when hunger sets in, I have a one track mind and it's all set on eating ASAP.

So we were driving around when we ran across a sign that said "Violet's Cafe Open." Of course, we saw the sign and restaurant as we drove right by them and then had to back track. Let me tell you, this was the best 45 minutes I have traveled to find such great food.

I'm not sure where to begin because everything about this place is good. When you walk in, there's a little case that displays all their amazing scones bursting with a variety of berries and fruit. They also make homemade cinnamon rolls. On this day, we did not eat scones or cinnamon rolls but ordered from their main menu. While not exclusively vegetarian, there are many choices for those that do not eat meat. With so many choices, I was finally able to settle on the roasted veggie scramble, which comes with crispy home fries, and your choice of made from scratch buttermilk pancakes or toast. My travel buddy seemed keen on a vegetarian version of egg's Benedict but was conflicted about those blueberry pancakes. So I ordered pancakes so he could have the best of both worlds, and the waitress offered to throw in blueberries. And so that we wouldn't have so many home fries, my travel buddy ordered fresh fruit.

While we waited for our food, we got hot chocolate which had the sweetest little touch. On top of the foam, they wrote Violet in chocolate syrup. Oddly enough, and I'm not sure this is an Oregonian thing, the hot chocolate wasn't very sweet at all. It was a nice change from the overly sweet drink you get elsewhere.

And then our food came and the portions were huge! Both of our meals were amazing. I really liked that nothing was greasy, not even the home fries, yet everything was completely flavorful. The egg's Benedict were just delightful! A nice crispy muffin, topped with roasted veggies, an nice sized egg, and hollandaise sauce. It was a to die for. For a moment there, I mistakenly thought (and much to my delight) part of the muffin was a piece of bacon/ham. Sadly, it wasn't! I just adored my scramble -- it was full of fresh roasted vegetables and oh so filling. And the fresh fruit was not your typical fresh fruit bowl -- it had apples, pears, plums, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, grapes, and more. Last but definitely not least were the blueberry pancakes were amazing. The pancake and syrup were definitely authentic -- nothing tasted like it was from a box.

On top of this, are the crazy reasonable prices. Our two meals, including hot chocolate and herbal tea was $20 (not including tip). And remember there is no tax! I forgot, they don't rus you out of the place at all -- it's definitely a good place to have a relaxing meal.

As you can imagine, this is my new favorite breakfast place and I'm utterly dismayed and sad to say that I haven't eaten at any place equivalent in California. During our dining experience, we decided immediately that we were returning the next day just to try their scones and cinnamon rolls. We made it there before 9 AM (the weekend is crazy busy apparently) and only had to wait 10 minutes or so.

The scone, oh the scone. I'm still thinking about the scone and will most likely go again tomorrow morning just so I can relish another one. I find myself day dreaming about my next visit....It's not like any scone I've ever had. Before I forget, we had a marionberry scone. It was light and buttery and buttery and light. The outside was crisp and the inside was soft and moist. It went perfectly with my cup of coffee. The cinnamon buns were very good too but I felt that I could get an equal or similar quality roll elsewhere. Go for the scones. One scone is just $1.50. A cinnamon roll is just $2.50.

I aspire to make scones like the one I had here today while my travel buddy wants to make great egg's Benedict and cinnamon rolls. When we make these items, I will most certainly write about the experience.

In any case, if you are ever in Portland, OR, you must eat at Violet's.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Flat Leaf Parsley

I love parsley and decided to grow some from seed so that I would never have to purchase it again. Unfortunately, I decided to start growing an herb garden rather late in the season. In any case, I've learned a lot about growing parsley. Apparently, it is very difficult to grow parsley from seed but after some extensive research I decided to give it a try.

It helps to soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours. I then planted the soaked seeds in 6 egg crates, that is 1 egg crate that holds 6 eggs. In each egg holder, I place a bit of soil, then generously sprinkled at least 8 seeds over the soil, and the lightly covered the seeds with a 1/4 inch of soil. Parsley likes to germinate in the dark. I then watered the soil, and hoped beyond hope that they would germinate. In week three, 3 of the 6 egg holders showed growth! In each of the 3 egg holders, exactly one seed had germinated. A little weird.

Once the seeds had germinated, they needed sun. So during the day, I would place the egg crates outside on chair where the parsley would get full sun. And at night, I brought them inside because they were too young and fragile to withstand the cool evenings. After a week or so, I noticed that they were no longer really growing so I decided to transplant them into larger containers yesterday. The picture depicts 1 of 2 parsley plants (I drowned the 3rd one!). I planted them in tofu containers in which I made drainage holes.

As you can tell, they are still rather small so I'm still bringing them in at night until they are much more developed. One of the parsley plants has just developed its third leaf which I find rather exciting!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Herb Garden

So about 2 months ago, a friend gave me a variety of little seedlings including basil, mini basil, oregano, marjoram, spearmint and catnip. She had started them from seed in paper egg crates (so clever I think!). Since I don't really have an yard, I repotted the seedlings in pots , and a variety of containers including yogurt, milk, and tofu in which I made drainage holes.

I love using fresh herbs but resent having to purchase a whole bunch of it only to use 1-2 tbsp and then toss the rest because I have no other use for it. It has been nice to go out and pick fresh basil for some of the Italian dishes I've made recently. The basil grew quickly and will most likely wither soon since they don't particularly like cold weather, not even the mild winters we have in California. So I'll have to harvest soon and make pesto.

I've really learned a lot about gardening since last summer when I failed to grow anything successfully. Last year, I tried to grow basil and other vegetables from seed but didn't have any success. I probably should have planted the seeds in really small containers as opposed to the gallon containers I used. Apparently growing seeds in large pots is a waste of soil, and causes rot because there's a lot of soil that isn't being put to use immediately.

A successful way to germinate seeds is to plant them in very small containers (like egg crates). Let the seeds germinate inside where it's nice and warm, sprout, and establish themselves. Then repot in containers that are size and height proportionate. You don't want to place a newly sprouted seedling into 1-gallon pot, more like a half pint container (think small cottage cheese container). As the seedlings grow and develop, you repot them in bigger containers. I think this is why I had some success this year, outside of my friend helping me out.

As you can see from the pictures above, I have a little fence around my pots. I have an unidentified critter that digs the soil of my basil and mini basil plants but leaves the plants in tact! Initially I thought it was a squirrel because I hear they love basil but none of the leaves were touched. Than I thought it was a cat. In any case, I moved them to a 2.5 foot high table thinking that would stop the critter, but it still attacked! Then I built the fence you see and attached it to the table. Still the critter came! I have no idea what it could be!

The critter took a two week hiatus and decided to attach my vulnerable flat leaf parsley plant this afternoon while I was out! I still have no idea what it is and wish I could capture it on camera.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Spinach Tofu Ravioli

I know, these look a lot like the Green Dumplings! They are actually spinach tofu ravioli with a chili tomato sauce. We love ravioli and wanted to make a healthier version of what is served in restaurants or purchased at the grocery store. Taking a tip from my mom who makes fresh lasagna and substitutes the ricotta with tofu, we found this recipe. The amazing thing about my mom's recipe is that it just as tasty as if she had used ricotta minus all the fat and cholesterol.

The one thing we didn't really realize when we selected this recipe is that it has a Japanese bent, which is fine but why the recipe suggested a tomato sauce is beyond me. While the Japanese elements are minimal, they do really affect the flavoring and it was reminiscent of the Green Dumplings minus the sharp taste of green onions.

This takes quite a bit of effort with all of the steps -- I would guess about 90 minutes or so from start to finish. May be even longer since this was our first time making ravioli.

Next time, I would definitely use more Italian flavorings such as basil and oregano. While the taste was flavorful, I thought the tomatoes were an odd combination with the flavor of the ravioli though this might be my personal bias. I also dipped one of the ravioli in soy sauce like a dumpling and enjoyed that too! I personally thought it worked better with the soy sauce. My cooking buddy topped his with the chunky tomato sauce I made plus a bit of grated Parmesan. He liked it.

For the sauce, I did not use a tomato puree sauce. I used 1 can of diced tomatoes instead. I heated a bit of oil, threw in some dried red chili flakes, and then added the diced tomatoes. I have a preference for tomato chunks.

Makes 4 servings
Cooking Time: 90 minutes

- 2 large bunches of spinach, stemmed
- 2 tbsp white miso
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 lb. firm tofu, drained
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 70 wonton wrappers
- 1 1/2 cup tomato sauce, hot
- Salt and pepper to taste

Wash spinach, shake excess water from leaves, cook in large uncovered pot on medium heat, stirring frequently, 8 minutes or until wilted. Transfer to colander and squeeze out excess liquid. Chop finely and set aside.

Combine miso, lemon juice, and mirin in a good size bowl. Add tofu and mash to form small curds.

Warm oil and garlic in large skillet over medium heat about 1 minute. Add tofu and 1/2 tsp salt and cook until almost dry, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and dry, about 1 minute. Stir in rosemary and pepper. Transfer to bowl and bring to room temperature.

Line large baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Have a small bowl with water, pastry brush, and fork nearby.

Place wrapper on a work surface and brush 1/2 inch around the edges with water, placing a heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Fold wrapper in half, sealing with fork (I found this step a lot easier using your fingers). Place on a baking sheet. Repeat until filling is gone.

To cook: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large, wide pot. Add half of ravioli, they shouldn't be crowded. Cook until they look translucent around edges, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess water. Transfer to serving bowls and top with warm sauce.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swiss Chard Risotto

This recipe is a little like the Italian Rice and Chard Soup I wrote about a few months except that it requires quite a bit of stirring and is much much creamier than the soup. This risotto tastes just amazing and is worth the effort it takes to make. They key is to cook everything slowly over medium heat so that the flavors really have time to fuse together.

Makes 4 servings
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

- 5 cups veggie or chicken broth
- 4 cups chopped Swiss chard leaves (about 1 bunch)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese + additional for topping
- 1 1/2 cup Arborio rice

Click here for the original preparation. While this method is less labor intensive, I understand that the results you get may not be as creamy. Below, I provide the method I used.

While bringing broth to a simmer, coarsely chop chard. It doesn't have to be perfect because it will wilt as it cooks down. Chop the leaves away from the stems and discard. Once broth comes to a simmer, cover and keep warm. Heat oil in heavy large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice and chard and stir until chard begins to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 2 min (if you don't have wine, skip it). This is where I diverge in the method used.

Add 1 cup broth to risotto and stir continuously until broth is absorbed by risotto. If you pull at the risotto, you shouldn't see liquid running out (about 2-3 minutes). Add broth in half cup increments for about 20 minutes. Start tasting risotto to see if it's losing it's nuttiness. Once risotto is tender, stopping adding liquid and stir in cheese. Add pepper to taste. Don't add salt (the original recipe calls for salt -- I don't know why!). Between the broth and cheese you'll have more than enough.

Serve immediately and top with more cheese if desired.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Low-Fat Favorite: Oven Fries

So last night, we were making Cajun catfish and warm green beans, and decided that we should also make oven fries. I had never made oven fries but I had earmarked this recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites and thought it would go well with our evening meal. This recipe is fairly easy to prepare but requires about 40-50 minutes of oven time. You can make these with Idaho potatoes. For a twist, I suggest sweet potatoes, which is what I did. The flavor is really quite nice and is a nice compliment of sweet and salty.

Makes 4-6 servings
Cooking Time: 15 minutes for prep, 40-50 oven time

- 2 lbs potatoes (or sweet potatoes)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Wash the potatoes well and peel (I didn't peel... too lazy). In a large bowl, stir together olive oiled, paprika, and cumin and set aside. Cut potatoes lengthwise into slices no thicker than 1/2 inch. Then cut through the stacked slices and make 1/2 inch-wide strips. Toss the potatoes in the oil and spices until well coated. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet prepared with cooking spray or lightly oiled. Bake for 45-60 minutes (for Idaho potatoes), stirring occasionally, until fries are golden and crisp. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

If you using sweet potatoes, bake for 25 to 40 minutes.

I made the paste with 1 tbsp of olive and it was rather thick, so much so that I thought it would not coat the potatoes so I added another 1 tbsp of olive oil to thin it out. Also, at 40 minutes they were soft but not crispy so I left them in for another 10 minutes. It got them a tad more crispier but not really. Perhaps adding a bit more oil would make the crispier? I guess the trick is to not add so much oil they get greasy.

Over all, we loved this recipe and would make it again. No pictures -- we ate them before we could!

Warm Blueberry and Almond Muffins

I thought I had written about these before but I haven't! I love blueberry muffins and I resent that what you buy at the grocery store and sometimes even a good bakery sorely lacks blueberries! Have you ever eaten a muffin that only has 2 blueberries in it? How can this possibly be called a blueberry muffin. But I have now found a recipe that is chalk full of blueberries and other healthful ingredients but super tasty at the same time.

This recipe comes from easy vegetarian: simple recipes for brunch, lunch, and dinner. I love that it uses minimal butter and no oil whatsoever.

Makes 10 servings
Cooking Time: 15 minutes for prep, 18-20 minutes in the oven

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp apple pie spice
1/2 c ground almonds or 3/4 c slivered almonds, finely ground in a food processor
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 c buttermilk
4 tbsp butter, melted
8 oz. blueberries, about 2 cups
2 tbsp slivered almonds, chopped

12-cup muffin pan

Apple pie spice
What is apple pie spice? I didn't know but I googled it and found that apple pie is a combination of spices that you probably already have so don't go out of your way to get this "spice". If you put together 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/8 tsp allspice, and 1/8 tsp cardamom, you have apple pie spice.

Suggestions and mistakes
This recipe suggested grinding up 3/4 cup slivered almonds to make 1/2 cup ground almonds but when I did this, I found that I had more than 1/2 cup ground almonds so I would suggest starting with a 1/2 cup slivered almonds.

This supposedly makes 10 muffins but I found that I had batter for more than 12. In fact, it makes more than a typical muffin pan can hold.

Also, I would suggest baking these muffins on the top rack (not the middle rack like I did). As you can see from the pictures above, while my muffins were baked through after 20 minutes, they did not have the beautiful golden color you would hope.

Sift flower, baking powder, an apple pie spice into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds and sugar. Put the egg, buttermilk, and melted butter in a second bowl and beat well. Stir into dry ingredients to make a smooth batter.

Fold in the blueberries, then spoon the mixture into 10 of the muffin cups in the muffin pan until each one is three-quarters full. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes, until risen and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

I recently discovered the Wilton Ultra Bake 12 cup muffin pan which was reviewed by Cook's Illustrated (they're the America's Test Kitchen folks on PBS). I love that they review lots of kitchen items and often what they rate highly is not the most expensive item on the market. The Wilton Ultra Bake is one of those items. It's an amazing non-stick pan but they use a technology that is not Teflon so you don't have to worry about scratching, etc. I love that when you finish baking, you can pull the muffins right out (in the case of blueberry or other fruit muffins that have bursting action, you have to be a tad more careful but still wonderful results). No sticking, no tearing, and no need to oil, butter, or spray before hand! And at $7.99 at Target, it's a total bargain.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Eggplant Parmesan

First of all, apologies for my absence. Between an emergency and starting a new job, life has been hectic. Things are calming down a bit so I finally have some time to cook again. This last week we got two of the most beautiful eggplant I've ever seen. Unlike the large purple-black eggplant you see at a typical grocery stores, these were large but a much much lighter purple. They beckoned to me for a few days before I decided that eggplant Parmesan was the way to go.

I used Deborah Madison's recipe because her recipe is much lighter without the bread crumbs and loads of cheese that you find in a typical eggplant Parmesan recipe.

Makes 4 servings
Cooking time: 45 minutes (1 hour 15 minutes if not using garden fresh eggplant)

-2 medium eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds
-Salt and freshly milled pepper
-Olive oil
-1 1/2 to 2 cups Fresh Tomato Sauce
-8 large basil leaves, torn into pieces
-4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly slice if fresh, grated otherwise
-1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan

My modifications
Because I didn't want to have to prepare Fresh Tomato Sauce (another recipe in Madison's book) I used one can tomato sauce. Because her tomato sauce recipe calls for 3 tbsp fresh basil or marjoram and the canned tomato sauce I purchased did not have basil, I added an additional 4 leaves (chopped finely) to bring the basil leave total to 12. I also found that 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella was rather skimpy, so I tossed in another ounce or two.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil 2-quart gratin dish.

Slice the eggplant into rounds about 1/3 inch thick. Unless the eggplant is garden fresh, sprinkle it with salt and let stand for 30 minutes to an hour, then blot dry.

Preheat the broiler. Brush both sides of each round with olive oil and broil 5 to 6 inches from the heat until browned (about 5 minutes on each side). Broil the second side until browned, then remove and season lightly with salt and pepper. Don't worry if the eggplant has a dry appearance.

Warm the tomato sauce with half the basil. Spread about a third of the sauce over the bottom of the dish, then make an overlapping layer of eggplant. Lay the mozzarella over the top, add the rest of the basil, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Add the rest of the eggplant, cover it with the remaining sauce. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbling and hot throughout, about 30 minutes.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Corn Scones

I adore scones, especially with a nice cup of coffee or black tea. Unfortunately, store purchased scones tend to be a little too sweet and a little too done up, if you know what I mean. I was a little intimidated by them until I read a recipe and realized that they are super easy, quick, and simple! In 30 minutes, you can have warm scones! It's very likely that you have most all of the ingredients in your pantry.

The scones didn't get as puffy like the one's you see in bakeries but they were very tasty and perfect. Golden and crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.

I found this recipe in Moosewood Restaurant's Cooks at Home cookbook which I checked out at my local Library.

Makes 8 scones
Time: 10 minutes for prep, 15-20 minutes for baking

-1/4 cup butter
-1/2 cup low-fat or whole milk (I used whole)
-2 tbsp brown sugar
-1/2 c cornmeal
-1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/4 c currants

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. While the butter melts, pour the milk into a medium bowl and mix in the brown sugar. Add the melted butter to the milk mixture. In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal and flour. Add the salt and the baking powder, and mix thoroughly. Stir in currant. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and still until just combined.

On a floured board or countertop, press the dough into an 8-inch circle about 1/2 inch thick. Slice the circle into eighths. Separate the wedges and place them on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Zucchini Bread

Wow! It's been a while since I've written. We were having really hot weather which made it unbearable to cook or bake so we were eating lots of wraps, sandwiches, and salads. The weather has since cooled down and in the past month, we've receive about 4 pounds of zucchini and summer squash through our CSA box. We grilled, broiled, sauteed, etc. And still had leftovers! So I thought I would bake zucchini bread. I love it but had never previously made it.

I searched and read many recipes. I tried really hard to find a recipe that didn't call for oil but couldn't so if any of you out there have such a recipe, I would be most interested in trying it out. In any case, I found the recipe I used and modified from the Food Network website. The recipe below includes the modifications but if you want to see the original (which isn't that much different) than click on the title of this entry.

So over the course of two days, I made two slightly different versions of this bread. On day one, I used the recipe you see below and baked it for 50 minutes. One day two, I left out the ground cloves and allspice, and added 1/2 tsp of nutmeg. I also lessened the amount of vegetable oil to 1/2 c and baked it for the full 55 minutes.

Mind you, when I made this recipe, I halved the recipe so that I would only have enough batter for 1 loaf. On day two, I realized that on day one I didn't add enough baking soda or powder but it still came out moist and wonderful if not a tad bit flat.

There were some interesting differences. Day one bread was lighter in color and sweeter. Day two bread was a rich brown and rose a little bit more (not surprising given that I added the right amount of baking soda and powder). Interestingly enough though my taste tester thought the darker one was more buttery but it had less oil for sure!

-1 cup granulated sugar
-1/3 cup + 1/2 cup brown sugar
-3/4 cup vegetable oil
-2 eggs
-2 cups flour
-3/4 teaspoons baking powder
-3/4 teaspoons baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
-1/2 tsp allspice
-1/2 tsp ground cloves
-1 1/2 cups finely chopped zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine sugars, oil, and eggs and mix. In another bowl, mix flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add to sugar/oil/egg mixture to moisten. Carefully fold in zucchini. Divide mixture into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake for 55 minutes or until done.

The first time I made this, I decided to put all the batter into one loaf pan and since it fit just fine, I figured it would work. It failed -- the middle collapsed so horribly. So if you get any grand ideas to do it this way, don't!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Green Dumplings Revisted

Aren't these much prettier than the explosion you saw on 6.19.2006? I made them into the true dumpling shape as suggested by the packing and I boiled them in batches instead of steaming them in a tray. It prevented any sticking and they were oh so tender. Boil for 2-3 minutes to cook wrapper and heat the stuffing through.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Banana Bread

I just adore banana bread and think there's nothing like making it yourself. I found this recipe when I was in graduate school and was going over to a friend's for brunch. I want to say I found it on but I can't remember. I love this recipe because it only has seven ingredients, all wholesome. It's oh so simple and oh so tasty.

Makes 1 loaf
Time: 15 minutes for prep, 60 minutes for baking

-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup butter
-3/4 cup brown sugar
-2 eggs, beaten
-2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (more or less 3 bananas)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

I've noticed that no matter how long I bake banana bread the dead center always comes out gooey while the ends of the bread are perfect. In the past, I've let it go longer but then the ends get dry. So at 60 minutes today, I took the bread out so that it could continue to cook in it's own heat outside of the oven. I had perfect results.

The banana bread was soft and moist. So much better than what you could buy at the store.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Linguine with Mushrooms

Linguine with Mushrooms is similar to the Funghi Trifolata recipe I wrote about on 5.2.2006, a recipe by Mario Batali. I think his recipe is good but Deborah Madison's takes the cake. Her's is much tastier and just as easy to make. The difference is the lemon juice and wine which totally enhances the flavor of the mushrooms and pasta. This recipe comes from Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, a cookbook I just adore.

Makes 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes or less (especially if you use pre-sliced mushrooms)

-1 pound farfalle (I used linguine)
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1 tbsp butter, plus extra to finish-1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
-1/2 lemon
-Salt and freshly milled pepper
-1/2 cup dry white wine
-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
-1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped
-Freshly grate pecorino Romano or Parmesan, optional

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and saute over high heat until browned around the edges 4 to 5 minutes. Squeeze the lemon over them, season with salt, then lower heat to medium and cook 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. When the pan becomes dry, add the wine with garlic and half the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to low.

Salt the pasta water well, add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Be sure to give the pasta a good twirl when you first put it in the water so it doesn't all stick together. Scoop it out and add it to the mushrooms, allowing a little of the water to drip into the pan. Raise the heat and add the rest of the parsley and a little additional butter to finish. Serve with or without cheese.

As an aside, I've received mixed messages about rinsing pasta with water. Sara Moulton on the Food Network doesn't like it at all because it removes the starch from the pasta which apparently makes it harder for it to absorb flavoring. Deborah Madison says it shouldn't be done unless you need to stop the cooking at once, as for baked pasta that will be finished later. In this case, it could probably just be undercooked a bit.

I don't know. Thoughts from the foodies out there?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Udon Noodles with Tofu

When the tough gets going I like to think it's for a reason. For example, I would not have found this recipe if I hadn't gone to the doctor's last week. On Wednesday morning, I ran into the hall closet door which was wide open. The sad thing is that I saw it open before I went into the bathroom. After finishing up, I walked right into and split the skin above my right eyebrow and part of my eyebrow itself. I was beside myself. Anyway, it was this incident that led me to the doctor and ultimately to this super quick, super easy, and tasty dish.

While waiting for the doctor, I decided to peruse diabetic living. I am not diabetic but it was the magazine closest to me so I gave it a go. During my wait, I found this recipe, and many others, which seemed so simple and easy. It also has the added bonus of being colorful and beautiful.

I think it was worth it to smack my head to get a hold of this recipe.

Makes 4 generous servings
Time: 30 minutes or less, especially if you buy baked tofu

-8 ounces dried udon noodles or whole wheat linguine (I used regular linguine)
-12 to 14 ounces smoked teriyaki-flavor or firm plain tofu cut into 1/2-inch pieces
-1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
-1 large carrot, cut into think bit-size pieces (I made carrot peels instead)
-1/2 cup green onion

Note: I used 8 oz firm plain tofu that I pan fried on the stove to brown it a bit. If you buy the already flavored baked tofu, you'll save 10-15 minutes.

Ginger-Soy Vinaigrette
In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp rice vinegar or cider vinegar, 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil, 2 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce, 4 minced cloves, 1 tsp grated fresh ginger, and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper. Makes 1/4 cup

Cook pasta according to directions -- be sure to add plenty of salt to the boiling water. Drain, and cool pasta slightly.

While pasta is cooking, combine tofu, cucumber, carrots, and green onions. Add drained pasta. Drizzle ginger-soy vinaigrette. Toss salad gently to coat.

The recipe calls for reduced-sodium soy sauce but I used regular soy sauce and felt that it could use more salt. Perhaps I didn't salt my pasta water enough, I don't know. I also didn't think there was enough sauce for the amount of pasta and tofu. I recommend makes 1 serving plus an additional 1/2 serving.

The flavor is not over powering at all. It's quite light and initially I felt that it wasn't enough but I think it's because my palate is used to strong flavors. But the flavor is really nice and it's certainly a refreshing recipe for hot summer days because you can serve this at room temp or chilled. I think next time, I may add more soy sauce and more ginger. After all this recipe is called ginger-soy vinaigrette yet it has 4 times the garlic! Hmm.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lemon Cucumber Salad

This side salad is perfect for hot summer days when you don't want to spend a lot of in the kitchen. It's simple and you'll have all the ingredients you need in your pantry. I didn't have a chance to chill it before serving but I bet it would enhance the flavor and provide that added coolness for those hot summer days. This recipe came with the Farm Fresh to You box we received on Wednesday.

Makes 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

1 lb lemon cucumbers
-2 T olive oil
-1 tsp vinegar
-salt & pepper to taste

Wash the cucumbers. There is no need to seed them. Simply slice the fruit very thinly crosswsie, removing tough ends. Add olive oil and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Blueberry-Brown Sugar Scottish Oatmeal Follow-Up

Sam, my college buddy, is so darn smart. She told me that she adds her frozen berries after she's microwaved her oatmeal as a way to cool her oatmeal before she digs in. I don't know why I didn't think of this but this would prevent the awful Grimace-like purple that occurs when the frozen berries pop while in the microwave! Who would have thought?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fish Tacos with Guacamole Sauce

The weather is getting hotter and hotter which means I want to cook less and less or spend a lot less time doing it. When I went to the grocery store yesterday, all I knew is that I wanted fish tacos for dinner so I purchased some rock cod to get me going.

Prior to last night, I had never made a fish taco. I often eat them when I go out to eat but I find the fish is breaded, fried, over spiced, and/or over cooked so I wanted to see if I could make something healthier. I came home and I found a great fish taco recipe by Rachel Ray on the Food Network website. I was surprised at how low-fat this recipe is given that she puts cheese, butter, etc. on everything. It was quick, easy, and oh so tasty. I have provided a link to the original recipe but what I provide below is modified to make enough for two folks.

The guacamole sauce was excellent -- it was the first time I had seen yogurt called for in guac and it really adds some tanginess to offset the fattiness of the avocado. Yummy! And the fish was super tender, flaky, and flavorful.

This recipe really does take 30 minutes or less. Super fun and super easy. If you don't cook, you could do this.

Makes 2 servings (3 tacos per person)
Time: 30 minutes or less

-3/4 lb. rock cod or some white fish that will flake
-extra virgin olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste
-Juice of 1/2 lime

Guacamole Sauce
-1 medium sized avocado
-Juice of 1/2 lemon
-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
-1/4-1/2 cup plain yogurt
-Coarse salt
-1/2 vine ripe tomato seeded

-Baby spinach
-Corn tortillas

3/4 lb. Rock cod was 2 good sized filets. Sprinkle each side with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil and rub in thoroughly with hands. On medium heat, drizzle a bit of olive oil onto a large non-stick skillet. When hot, place fish and cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip. You should see the edges of the fish become white and translucent. Flip, and cook other side for 3-4 minutes. When done, squeeze lime juice onto fish, remove from heat and flake with fork.

While fish is cooking, combine avocado, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, yogurt and salt. Mash together with fork or use food processor or blender. I used the fork method. Stir in diced tomatoes. The recipe calls for plain yogurt and when I was at the grocery store, the smallest container of yogurt I could find was plain Greek yogurt. It's rich and creamy and I highly recommend using it in this recipe. The guacamole sauce is creamy and some what thick.

In looking at the sauce this morning, it has still retained it's good color unlike regular guacamole that begins to turn that awful brown-green color.

After fish is done, heat up some corn tortillas on the stove or microwave. Put chunks of fish onto tortilla. Top with guacamole sauce and baby spinach.

I purchased some nice cheddar cheese to make a pinto bean and cheese side but totally forgot about it in the excitement of making something new. If you wanted, you could add this as a side.

Monday, June 26, 2006

My cooking buddy made this for dinner on Friday. I wasn't too present in the kitchen to observe details about spices used and in what proportions so I can't share the recipe with you. Eeks. It was his best Indian dish to date. The flat bread was also home made and delicious, without a doubt!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Green Dumplings

From the picture above, you must think that this is a failure but it isn't! They look horrible but taste really good which is much better than something looking great and not tasting great, I think. More on this later.

We received a pound of bok choy in our box last week. We were sick and tired of stir-fries and hard pressed to find a non-stir fry recipe. My cooking buddy being the master recipe researcher that he is found this recipe! I can't tell you how proud I am that we didn't make a stir-fry out of of this.

This recipe was exciting for me. I love Asian dumplings in all forms and never thought about making them at home until we found this simple recipe. It's a little bit intensive but fun! It's worth the effort and can be made in a group setting.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
Time: 1 "so worth it" hour

-1 1/2 pounds bok choy
-1/2 cake firm tofu
-2 egg whites
-4 scallions, minced
-2 tsp soy sauce
-1 tsp garlic, minced
-1 tsp ginger, minced
-1/4 tsp sesame oil
-2 dozen gyoza or wonton wrappers

My modifications
I only had a 1 pound of boy choy and 2 scallions. I kept everything else the same.

Press tofu. Please see cabbage roll recipe on pressing.

Steam bok choy until wilted, about 5 minutes or so. Let cool and drain. Then chop finely, pressing out any excess water.

In a food processor or blender, puree tofu with egg whites. Add bok choy and scallions, and all other ingredients except wrappers!

Place about 2 tsp of filling into wrapper and fold into triangle. Arrange on a heatproof plate or steamer tray and steam over boiling water until cooked through, about 4 minutes.

This is where the recipe fell apart for us. As you can see from the picture above, many of our dumplings were torn open. During the steaming process, the dumplings stuck to each other and were difficult to separate without being torn.

This is what I suggest. The back of the wonton wrappers packaging suggests taking the triangle one step further to make a true dumpling by making the two bottom corners touch (look at the package). They don't explicitly say why but I recommend you do take this step because there will be less surface area which means that there are fewer points of contact between dumplings. Hence less sticking! I also think that boiling them in batches (instead of steaming) for the same amount of time would reduce the sticking to each other issue. I don't have a large steamer tray so stacking and stickiness was inevitable.

If you serve these as is, you may find that the dumplings lack salt but if you serve with soy sauce, this isn't a problem!

If you can get these right, you could really impress some folks.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Roasted Eggplant Puree

The funniest thing happened to my cooking buddy when he came home from the grocery store the other day. He ended up with 3 items that weren't his, including eggplant, string cheese, and a Ready Pac of iceberg lettuce. After coming up with shopping list together, I asked what his inspiration for these items were, at which point he said that he hadn't purchased those items. The baggers must have accidentally given him someone else's stuff. Whoops!

So what were we to do with these extra items that we had not planned on having? We decided to roast it having found a recipe in my favorite cookbook of all time, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. This book is the authority on all vegetables and vegetarian cooking in general. I adore this book because it is extremely comprehensive but not dense in that boring overwhelming way. I also love that this book has tips on "what to look for", "how to store", and "how to use" every type of veggie out there which has helped me immensely.

Makes 1 1/2 cups
Time: 30-40 minutes

-1 pound eggplant (the fat kind, not the skinny kind)
-2 tbsp olive oil (when I say olive oil, I'm always referring to extra virgin)
-2 garlic cloves, put through a press or pounded with salt
-salt and pepper to taste
-chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 425 F. Slash the eggplant in several places so it won't explode. Put it in a pan and bake until it's soft to the point of collapsing, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes or so. Discard any bitter juices that may collect. Peel off the skin and remove seeds, then finely chop the flesh. Stir in the olive oil, garlic, and season to taste. Garnish with parsley, and serve with crackers or pita bread. I pureed the eggplant with a hand blender so that it would be less chunky and more smooth.

This recipe is so simple and most of the time is due to the baking of the eggplant which is a low maintenance activity. Just be sure to set the timer so you don't forget about it.

We ate this with yogurt sauce with cayenne and dill. I will be writing about this recipe tomorrow which is also comes from this cookbook.

I adore this recipe because it is so simple and allows you to really enjoy this veggie undoctored.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Low-Fat Favorite: Cabbage Rolls

We got our Farm Fresh to You box yesterday and much to our surprise it provided us with two of the ingredients necessary for this recipe, a head of cabbage and carrots. I like the box since it provides us with seasonal fruits and veggies that I wouldn't otherwise have the guts to purchase. The only thing that gets me is that we usually have to run to the grocery store to get other veggies to go with whatever we get in the box. I was hoping the box would minimize those trips. A box that's recipe based would be awesome!.

Anyway, with a box of tofu already in the fridge, the only items that we had to purposely get were mushrooms, 1 lemon, and 2 onions (which we normally have around but didn't!).

I've never made a roll in my life but my cooking buddy expressed interest in making these last week with the head of cabbage we bought at the farmer's market last weekend but since we didn't have any of the other necessary ingredients or time, we passed. Hence the Indian cabbage and potato recipe.

This recipe comes from none other than Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites. Did I mention that it's my cooking buddy's goal to make every recipe in this book? I would love do this on a set day every week (the organization freak coming out of me big time) but that wouldn't work with my buddy's schedule or style.

These cabbage rolls were amazing. Think baked steamy spring roll. So tasty and flavorful. I didn't notice the lack of fat at all and you can eat them guiltlessly because they are so healthful. You could get all your required daily veggies with this meal.

The other thing I really enjoyed about this recipe was how fun it was. I've never used mashed tofu in anything before. If you're having a bad day, it's a great way to get some aggression out.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
Time: 50 minutes

-1 large head green cabbage
-2 medium onions (2 cups), chopped
-2 tsp olive oil
-3 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms (FYI, one 8 oz container of presliced mushrooms is about 3 c)
-1 cup grated carrots
-6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
-1/4 tsp dried thyme
-1/2 tsp dried dill
-1/4 minced fresh parsley (left out)
-1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-2 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tbsp miso
-12-ounce cake tofu, (pressed and mashed)
-1 c tomato juice (we used about 1 1/2 c)

First things first, pressing the tofu. Place tofu cake between two plates. Place a weight, a heavy can or book, on top of the plate for 30 minutes or so. I used, with success, a 32 ounce jar of tomato juice as my weight. Then remove the weight and top cover and drain the water from the bottom of the plate. I know that after a long day this is probably a nuisance so I would suggest doing it the night before or over the weekend and then returning it to the fridge. After pressed, mash.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. The book recommends coring the cabbage and placing the whole head into the pot of boiling water for 5 minutes or until leaves pull away easily from the head. I foresaw too many trouble spots with this method that I recommend the method I used. Peel of 12-14 cabbage leaves before cooking the whole head. Slice leaf at the base and gently peel off. You'll find that some tear and some don't which I think would be true if you cooked the whole head to begin with. This method prevents you from having to take out a hot head of cabbage and potentially burning yourself. Cook for 5 minutes until tender, drain, and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

In a large skillet, saute the onions in the oiled for about 10 minutes, until translucent (in reading the recipe now, I realized that I uses 2 TBSP not 2 tsp, whoops!). I think I even commented too my cooking buddy that I was surprised that this book called for so much when it generally calls for so little! Add the mushrooms, carrots, thyme, dill, and parsley and continue to cook until the mushrooms become soft and juicy. Add the lemon juice, soy sauce, miso, and mashed tofu and mix well. When the tofu is heated through, remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Assemble the rolls. Put about 1/2 cup of filling at the broad end of each leaf, fold the side edges towards the center over the filling, and then roll lengthwise. Place rolls, seam side down, in an unoiled 9x12-inch baking pan and poor the tomato juice over them. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake for 20 minute, or until hot and steaming. We place pan on second shelf from top.

The cookbook recommends serving with rice but we ate as is! They reheat well too!

Bon ap!!

Falafel Footnotes

Forgot to mention a few things in my last post. For me, I cooked each side for 8 minutes on medium-low heat. This allows the sides to brown nice and are ultimately, easier to flip. You could probably let them go for another 2 minutes if you want an even deeper but not burned brown.

Deep fried falafel are very crispy on the outside but because these are not deep fried, the crispy outside and overall texture are different from restaurant falafel.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Baked Falafel

So last night, my cooking buddy was in the mood for falafel. He wasn't interested in the deep fried version, the kind that you often find at Mediterranean restaurants and is oh so good. I adore falafel and used it eat all the time in Chicago at this local restaurant where I could make a whole meal out of it for a mere $3, including a nice salad.

Anyway, he found a recipe for baked falafel and set my expectations correctly by saying that this was probably going to be nothing like what you get when you go out. With my expectations set, we gave the recipe a go. I didn't know falafel had peanut butter as an ingredient?! Perhaps it's just this recipe?

Makes 4 servings
Time: 50 minutes

-2 cups chickpeas, drained
-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
-3 tbsp peanut butter
-1 green onion, chopped
-1 onion, cut into chunks
-1 egg
-1/4 tsp ground coriander
-1/4 tsp ground cumin
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 tbsp soy sauce
-1 tbsp vegetable oil

Well, don't do what I did. The oil is for the frying part -- it is not an ingredient for the falafels themselves. Even if you do add it, no worries.

In a food processor or blender, puree chickpeas. To the chickpeas, add garlic, peanut butter, green onion, onion, egg, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and soy sauce. Process until well mixed. Truthfully, we added all these ingredients to the chickpeas before pureeing the chickpeas. Why wait when those suckers have to be pureed to begin with.

The original recipe calls for shaping the mix into balls (about a tbsp for each ball) but since these aren't being deep fried, I think it's a poor suggestion. Instead, use a tbsp of batter to make a little pancake. This will allow the falafel took cook evenly, inside and out.

The recipe also suggests cooking on medium-high heat but I found that doing that made the outsides cook too quickly before the batter heated through in the middle. Instead, use medium-low so that it cooks slowly, allows the outside to brown nicely and cooks through on the inside. You may add oil to the frying pan but we didn't and they turned out just fine. I would definitely recommend a non-stick skillet.

Much to my surprise, the falafel were easy to make and tasty. But he was right, it doesn't taste or look like what you would get in a restaurant but it is reminiscent and a lot healthier. It was a touch heavy on the peanut butter but still good. We ate these with pita, lettuce, and some raita which mitigated the peanut butter. It was really wholesome and satisfying. I'm looking forward to leftovers tonight.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Spiced Cabbage & Potatoes

I didn't know it until last night but cabbage and potatoes go so very well together. I had a head of cabbage that absolutely needed to be used for fear of waste. My cooking buddy shared his mom's recipe with me which apparently turned out to be so darned good. I was too tuckered out after cooking (not from the cooking so much as my day) to eat any.

I used all the suggested ingredients (minus red chili pepper flakes) and modified the amount of spice.

Makes 3 servings
Time: 45 minutes

-4 cups chopped green cabbage
-4 small yellow creamer potatoes
-1/2 c onion, diced
-2-3 cloves garlic, diced
-1/4 tsp asofoetida
-1 tsp mustard seeds
-1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1/2 tsp ground coriander
-1/2 tsp ground turmeric
-1/2 tsp ground red chili pepper
-1 tbsp vegetable oil
-salt to taste

Heat oil in non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add mustard seed, asofoetida, and ground red chili pepper. Don't forget the asofoetida during this step. It needs the oil to release it's wonderful scent and flavor. If you add it later in the cooking process, it's too late. Cover until you hear the mustard seeds pop. Add onions and garlic, saute until onions are translucent and soft. Add potatoes first because they take longer to cook. Suateed for 5-8 minutes until they start to get a bit tender. Add cabbage and salt. Saute for another 5-8 minutes, still cooking on medium heat. Do a taste test for salt. Add more if necessary. Add a bit of water (1/4 c) if pan is a bit dry, lower heat, and cover skillet. Lower heat and cook for 10 minutes until potatoes are tender.

The cabbage tastes amazing as do the potatoes. This dish has the right amount of kick and could be served with a variety of Indian breads or corn tortillas.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Chili Burgers Revisted

Here's a picture of the veggie chili burgers I wrote about on 4.23.2006. I gave them a go this evening. This is my 3rd time making them. The first time, I used drained kidney beans. I found that draining the kidney beans was not enough and found the mixture a bit soupy. The second time, it was drained and rinsed pinto beans, and the patties firmed up but weren't juicy. For this go, I went back to kidney beans, both rinsed and drained. This time I cut the oats a bit from 1 1/2 cups to 1 cup to see if this would increase the juiciness. It didn't exactly increase the juiciness but did make the burger more tender.

The only other difference is that I added 2 tsp cumin (the original calls for 1 tsp) to kick up the flavor a bit. That extra 1 tsp did the trick -- the flavor improved greatly. In my first entry about this entree, I said that I preferred the pinto beans to the kidney beans. I take it back -- I like the kidney bean burgers much much better. The flavor is fuller and richer and it enhanced my eating experience this evening.

I like serving these with Beckmann's Francese Rolls. They're nice and light, and they toast well.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Spanish Potato Pepper Frittata

Prior to today, I've never made a frittata. I love them but since I don't have a skillet that can go into the oven, I haven't tried to make this dish. Then I was perusing Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites which discusses a relatively easy stove top method that I decided to try out.

My cooking buddy and I discovered this recipe in a round about way. We first found a recipe for Citrus-Dressed Asparagus which the book said could accompany the frittata so we decided to make both for a dinner time meal. The asparagus were over-cooked unfortunately but the frittata was amazing.

The eggs just barely hold all the veggies together but provides enough to allow for the beautiful golden brown color and a wonderful flavor when you do get a bit of egg! The final product is a light delicious frittata that can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner and isn't too egg-y like some frittata's may be.

Makes 4-6 servings
Time: 45 minutes

-2 c sliced onions (thin strips)
-2 bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green (We used 1 orange pepper)
-1 cubanelle or other mild fresh chile
-1 pound potato (about 3 medium), scrubbed
-2 tsp olive oil
-1/2 tsp dried thyme
-1/2 tsp salt
-2 whole eggs
-6 egg whites
-2 tbsp water
-1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Cut onions thinly and potatoes into 1/8 inch slices.

In an 11 or 12-inch non-stick skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil. Add the onions and potatoes for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, cubanelle, thyme, and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Remove the skillet from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg whites, water, remaining 1/4 tsp of salt, and black pepper until blended. Stir the potatoes, onions, and peppers into the eggs.

Coat the bottom of the skillet with the remaining tsp of oil and return it to medium heat. When the skillet is hot, pour in the potato-egg mixture and distribute the vegetables evenly. Cover and cook for 5-8 minutes (for me it was 5 minutes), until the edges are firm and the bottom has browned. For me, this took 5 minutes and when I moved the side of the frittata away from the edge of the pan I could see that it was firm and brown.

Place a large, flat plate or pizza pan over the skillet and carefully flip the skillet over so that the frittata falls onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes more, until the eggs are fully cooked. For me this, was about 3 minutes.

The trickiest part of this recipe is negotiating the flip. I used a dinner plate because I could place it into the skillet such that it was lightly pressing against the frittata. I thought this would be be better (than the pizza pan method) because the during the flip, the frittata would not move around and lose it's great shape. I placed one hand on the plate, applying gentle pressure to keep the plate in place, and flipped. The pizza pan, being larger in diameter than the pan, would have to be placed on top of the skillet such that there would be about 2.5 inches between the pan and frittata. Too much room for the frittata to jiggle around in.

This recipe takes about 45 minutes or so but it's so good, it's worth the extra effort. The cookbook suggest eating as is which is what I did but also says sour cream and salsa are good accompaniments which I think would be awesome! I had some sour cream in the fridge and over looked it!

I have pictures but Blogger won't post them even when it says that it has completed the upload.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

I don't know what to call these sandwiches. They are so darn good. Sandwiches are overrated yet underrated. I can't tell you how many times I've ordered a sandwich all excited and then am utterly disappointed. Too much mayo, or too much mustard, or not enough of something else. Bad tomatoes, you name it. It's terrible because sandwiches are simple enough but restaurants and delis sometimes try a little too hard with a food item that really doesn't need all that much effort. I could go on...

Anyway, all the veggies that you see came from our most amazing local farmers' market in San Mateo. The cucumber was 25 cents, the tomato 90 cents, the spinach a 1.50, and the bread was $4. The onions (which you can't see) came from Trader Joe's. I have generally purchased my produce from Whole Food's which I think is pretty good until I came to the farmers' market. There is such a huge difference in appearance, quality, and price. Everything I've purchased at the farmers' market is so much better.

Anyway, these sandwiches are really simple. Remember the white bean dip from 5.21.2006? We spread a good amount on one slice of toasted bread and Dijon mustard on the other slice. The mustard adds a nice little kick that I'm always looking for. Place veggies in between which can be whatever you want. I sauteed the onions in a non-stick skillet without oil until they became brown/blackened which brings out their innate sweetness. We forgot to add chopped black olives which also make a great addition to this sandwich.

In desperation, we used pinto beans to make the dip because we didn't have any white cannelini. Pinto beans are also good at absorbing flavors added to it. The only difference is that the dip came out thicker than it would have otherwise but was still great.

Yes, I did nibble on the sandwich before taking the picture. As I took the first bite, I realized that I had not yet taken a picture. I can't tell you how many times this has happened. Of the four, this is the best one. Being in a hurry to dig in, I let quality control slip in the pic department.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Portabella Mushrooms Revisted

Here's the picture of the burger I wrote about a few weeks ago. This time, the burgers were even better, if that was possible. My cooking buddy broiled the mushrooms in the oven for 10 minutes or so (until you could hear them sizzling and steam coming off of them). We used a different type of Brie, not triple cream, and it was even softer so that the cheese could be spread across the bread and melt! It looks a little big for the mouth but it has amazing squishing ability because of the ciabatta. It was just fabulosa!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Curried Potatoes

I just adore potatoes in all forms so I came up with this recipe. It's Indian comfort food for the soul. I made it last night with success.

Makes 3 servings
Time: 30 minutes

-1 1/4 lbs (about 4 good sized) Yukon gold potatoes, diced
-1 tsp mustard seeds
-1/2 c diced onion
-1 tbsp vegetable oil (I use canola)
-1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
-1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
-1/2 tsp chili powder

Cut the potatoes in half length wise. Cut each halve in half again (as if you were scalping a head -- a terrible thought, yes - but the best way I could describe this action. Then cut these into 3 or 4 slices length wise, and then cut into 1/4 inch cubes/rectangles more or less. The smaller the potatoes the faster they will cook.

Heat oil on medium heat in non-stick pan. Throw in mustard seeds and cover until you hear them pop. Add onions and saute until soft. Throw in potatoes and stir until they are thoroughly covered in oil. Toss in all spices and mix until thoroughly absorbed by potatoes. Cover pan, lower heat, and let cook for 15 minutes until potatoes are nice and soft! Occasionally check on potatoes to makes sure they aren't burning and give a quick stir. The non-stick pan is recommended for this dish as it will eliminate burning and other cooking mishaps.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can't really go wrong with the spices -- if you toss in a bit too much it's not going to make the recipe bad or anything. When I made this recipe last night, I only added 1/4 tsp red chili powder but didn't taste it at all hence the modification to 1/2 tsp. You can add more onions (or less) depending on your preference and taste. When they are in season, I sometimes I toss in a small tomato.

Serve with your favorite Indian bread or corn tortillas. This stuff is so darn good if I do say so myself. The picture doesn't do this dish justice and the yellow color is not food dye -- it's the turmeric.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rant of the Week

When I work, I work. When I eat, I eat. It isn't too often that I work and eat simultaneously. I once commented to a former co-worker that when I eat, I really take the time to enjoy my food and that I make it a point not to work while eating or do activities that distract me from eating. Eating time is eating time. She laughed at me and said, "You must cook really interesting foods." She missed the point but to be fair, I couldn't articulate what I feel about food which is that it gives me such immense joy. I like the smells, flavors, and looks to name a few.

For example, in the mornings I like to eat oatmeal with milk, a little brown sugar, and flax meal. Sometimes I throw in a banana or blueberries. When I wake up, I can't wait to eat this breakfast. I try to motivate myself to get up, get my work out out of the way, in anticipation of the first bite. Sometimes I skip my work out.

The 2.5 minutes that it takes for my oats to cook in the microwave can't go by fast enough for me. I'm a like a cat waiting to pounce on a mouse but with infinitely less patience. I stir in my flax meal and brown sugar, and seat myself at the table. I close my eyes, place my hands around the bowl, taking in its warmth, while my face becomes little dewy from the steam of the milk. I open my eyes to see those nutty little oats poking through the frothy white surface. The mild scent of brown sugar tingles my nose while the hairs on the back of my neck stand as the the sun lightly beats down on my back. And then I dig in and I relish every moment. I scrape down my bowl and lick the last tender morsel off my spoon. I am immensely satisfied but a little sad when I see the bottom of my bowl.

Ok, so I really love eating but this breakfast experience I've described is a 15 minute endeavor (including microwave time!). These few precious minutes set the tone for my day and my frame of mind. I won't give them up.

I wouldn't give them up at work either. I would get so irritated (for those that know me, also imagine lots of eye brow action) when co-workers brought their cell phones into the lunch room so that they could continue their work. I wanted to chuck those darn things out the window, not to mention the wall phone (in a kitchen?)! Do people talk while they're in the shower? When is work so important that you can't take 15-20 minutes to just sit, eat, and not talk shop?

I was so excited when I came across a passage (p. 8) in Natural Health, Natural Medicine that articulates my feelings toward eating. Andrew Weil says that our state of mind while eating dictates how well our bodies digest food. But he also talks about giving eating the attention it deserves, just as we do with any other activity.

Thoughts on this?

I'm a bit miffed at myself as I just realized that tomorrow morning I will not be having my delightful breakfast -- I ran out of milk today!

Indian Chickpea Spread

I have to say that I'm now mildly offended by any sort of store bought dip. Companies add so much bad stuff that you can longer taste the primary ingredients. A few weeks back, I commented on the Athenos brand hummus which tastes sweet because of high fructose corn syrup. It masks the taste of the chickpeas themselves which aren't naturally sweet.

Having made two dips this week that are both tasty and so quick and easy to whip up there's really no need to buy them. I know people get a bit intimidated but the white bean dip I wrote about a few days back is seriously a 5 minute endeavor with ingredients you most likely have in your pantry. It would take longer to go to the grocery store to buy a ready made dip, no?

Anyway, I was cruising Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites and found this aromatic and flavorful dip that I tried out on my book club last night. You won't find this in any grocery store.

Makes 2 cups
Time: 20 minutes

-1/2 c minced onions
-1 tsp canola oil
-2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (I prefer minced)
-1 tsp ground coriander
-1/2 tsp ground cumin
-1/2 tsp garam masala
-1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne (I used 1/4)
-1 cup diced tomatoes
-1 1/2 c cooked chickpeas (16 ounce can)
-2 tsp fresh lime juice
-1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
-salt to taste

In a non-stick pan, saute onions in the oil on low heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. I think this step is really important that some folks over look -- a nicely sauteed onion makes a big difference in flavor. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, garam masala, and cayenne and saute for another minute, stirring constantly to prevent sticking (and burning). Stir in the tomatoes, cover, and gently simmer for about 5 minutes.

While this is going on, drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. In a food processor, grind the chickpeas with just enough reserved liquid to make a smooth puree. Stir in the puree into the simmering tomato mixture, add the lime juice and cilantro, and cook on low heat for about 5 minutes. Salt to taste.

Serve hot or cold. I served this with crackers, tortilla chips, and baby carrots.

I used 1/4 tsp cayenne and when the spread is hot, you can feel the heat more but not in bad overwhelming way. When the dip cools down, it's much more tempered but the cayenne still makes itself known. I cheated and used canned diced tomatoes (salted) because tomatoes are not in season. Plus, canned tomatoes provide the necessary juices for good simmering that store bought tomatoes sometimes lack.

By the time I realized I didn't have a good shot of the dip, it was all gone! The picture does not do it justice.

This dip is addicting.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't been a fan of oatmeal cookies because the one's that I have eaten have come from a store bought package. These cookies are filled with who knows what. Have you noticed that oatmeal cookies in stores sometimes tend to lack oatmeal? These cookies should be called something like "X Cookie with a Bit of Oatmeal." But since that's such a ridiculous name that wouldn't sell squat, companies end up deceiving their customers by misnaming their cookies. Enough of that I say.

I have now decided that nothing from a store can beat what can be made at home with a little care and some time. I found this recipe on a while ago which rated this recipe 5-stars. I've probably made this recipe 3-4 times now and it's been a favorite at our home.

This is a substantial oatmeal cookie.....not just a few flecks of oatmeal here and there. It has 3 cups of oatmeal -- now that's what I'm talking about! I love the way these taste -- perfectly sweet with an occasional bite into a chocolate chip. It's a little piece of mouth heaven.

Makes 27 cookies

-1 cup (unsalted) butter, softened
-1 cup packed light brown sugar
-1/2 cup white sugar
-2 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla extract
-1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 tsp baking SODA
-1 tsp salt
-3 cups quick-cooking oats
-1 cup chopped walnuts (I left these out)
-1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in the quick oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Comments and Tricks
1. First, this recipe did not make 42 cookies. It made 26 plus one small hardly cookie. I don't think I made unusually large heaping spoonfuls or anything.

2. At 12 minutes, the cookies looked like they weren't done. In fact, they may even look a little 'wet' on top but that's just the butter! This is the way the cookies are supposed to look. This is keeps the cookies moist and chewy. They will continue to cook in their own heat. So don't cook them for longer or you may dry out your cookie (and that's worse than under baking).

3. In general, and not just for this recipe, one should use unsalted butter so that you may control your salt intake and the flavoring of your food. If you use salted butter, you may want to halve the salt amount or eliminate it altogether (so I've read in the reviews).

4. My first batch looked awesome -- the cookies spread out so nicely. The next batches did not spread out as much. This did not diminish the taste just the 'look.' In reading some of the reviews, it says that if this happens it's because the dough has become warm so between batches the dough should be kept in the fridge! I'll have to try that the next time and report back.

5. Add 1 cup of oatmeal at a time -- it will make it easier to blend it into the dough. As you add more, you may need to use your hands to blend everything well. This is what I do.

The critics
I read a few harsh reviews of this recipe. I poo-poo those folks a bit. Lots of comments commented on the low flour to high oatmeal ratio. Well, this is an oatmeal cookie! Some commented that this ratio made it difficult to blend the dough. Yeah it may be a little tough but if you dig in with your hands, you should be fine. It's only in the last 50 years that we've developed all these kitchen gadgets. Some times they work and some times what we're given at birth works better. Don't get me wrong. I love gadgets and have some. But think back to the good old days when such gadgets were unavailable. When something went wrong in the kitchen one could really only look at themself for the error -- there wasn't a gadget to blame. So I leave this entry with that thought.