Monday, June 09, 2008

Stir-Fried Shrimp with Black Beans

This is Mark Bittman's recipe. So simple so good so quick it emphasizes a staple in Chinese cuisine, the fermented black bean which gives off so much flavor. I would keep everything about the recipe the same except that I would double the amount of bok choy/cabbage and skip the vegetable broth for water since it interferes with the flavor. To make it even more quick, use frozen already deveined shrimp. Serve with short grain brown rice for a healthy meal.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Quinoa as Stuffing

Now this is truly a dish that takes under 30 minutes, especially if you skip stuffing the red peppers and oven baking. Canned beans and defrosted frozen shrimp make this dish move super quickly. Instead, you may opt to chop up the red pepper and throw them in the dish itself rather than stuffing them. If you want to be completely vegetarian than skip the shrimp and add tofu or double the amount of beans. For leftovers, double the recipe.

Fresh cilantro is vital to this dish -- it adds a lot of freshness and flavor. The second time I made this dish, I cooked the quinoa in water (vs. vegetable broth) to lower the sodium intake. There's more flavor when cooked in broth so go for it!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fruit Drying -- Strawberries

I've been wanting to try my hand at fruit drying for some time. Growing up, my mom dried apples because we grew so many we couldn't give enough of them away. My favorite dehydrator item was her home made spicy fruit rolls and they were awesome! Sweet, tart, and spicy they gave our taste buds a run for their money. We would hover over the dehydrator waiting for those rolls to dry out so we could eat!

Recently, a friend mentioned that dried strawberries are awesome and not being able to find them at stores we decided to dry them ourselves. Using the dehydrator that I grew up with, we chopped up a half flat of strawberries. They shrink rather quickly. If you look at the top picture, the tray on the left was on top of the stack, and the one the right was on the bottom, closest the heat source. After one hour, look at the difference. They shrank a lot as the strawberries were no longer filling out the trays.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunday Brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Over the long weekend, I went to Yosemite and the trip was amazing. I hadn't been in the winter when snow is on the ground and there was a lot of it with the tumultuous weather. The Merced, more or less runs parallel to the main road into the valley, contains these huge boulders and they were covered in layers of untouched white snow. You could count the number of snow falls with each layer, and reminded of time spent in the Shenandoah Valley.

The purpose of this trip was to snow shoe, eat more than we deserved to, and relax. I hadn't snow shoed and it's really good exercise, especially for the stomach. Not that snow showing works the stomach at all. It's more that I slipped down a bank and was all twisted up. The next thing I know one member of our party is busting up in a huge case of the giggles, which set me off, and got the rest of the party going except for one who observed us with concern or perhaps confusion? We snow showed 6 miles the first day and four the next day. Sadly, it wasn't enough to compensate for all the eating we did. I wish I had pictures to show you the fall -- it's kind of funny.

On Sunday, we scored brunch at the Ahwahnee Hotel, which was a slight miracle given that we made reservations the night before over a long holiday weekend. The guys were really given rather poor choices for brunch, 7:45 to 8 AM and 1PM. Who wants to eat that early, and who could be up without being, well, cranky. To rectify the situation, the girls decided to work it, and the next thing we knew, we had reservations for 9:30! For those not familiar with the Ahwahnee, it was originally built at the turn of the last century to host the wealthy so that they would not have to "rough" it in Yosemite. And certainly, you won't being roughing it. With huge fireplaces (think the size of walls) and comfortable couches, you could easily fall asleep for several hours. You don't have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy the fires, brunch, and other cool things about the hotel.

Brunch is overwhelming -- there are so many choices. It's hard to know where to begin. They have oysters, salmon, personalized omelettes, all sorts of hot dishes like mac & cheese, mashed potatoes (highly recommend), tilapia with wild rice, fried chicken and shrimp, shrimp cocktail, desserts and so much more. The food is good; the service is good. What is really impressive about the Ahwahnee is the room in which meals are served -- it's quite grand. Super high ceilings, almost floor to ceiling windows that showcase Yosemite's natural beauty. The views probably enhance the food. Be prepared to eat slowly and spend a leisurely morning eating your way through many many courses. It's time very well spent.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Greek Yogurt

Photo by TSW

Who doesn't love Greek Yogurt? The thick super creamy yogurt is something I live for, especially with honey. A few friends decided to make some with their very own home made yogurt, strain it and make Greek yogurt. Bottom line, buy it. It was good but for a 27 oz container yields a scant cup of Greek yogurt in a little over 2 hours. The Greeks would have scoffed at our technique, I'm sure.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rainy Day Sunday Preserved Meyer Lemons

Fresh off the tree

Getting a head ourselves -- in the jars before salting!

Finally, we got it right!

What do you do when there is a break in stormy weather, you run 7 miles, of which 3.5 were up hill and you make lemon preserves. Perhaps more challenging than running up is running down without hurting yourself. Fortunately, the East Bay has some of the most spectacular views of the Bay so on the way down I periodically stopped to enjoy the view which I don't dare do on the way up for the fear of never making it to the top, learning from experience. I absolutely needed to run and while it did rain on my way down, it was worth it to be a little cold.

A friend has the most amazing Meyer lemon tree (it's auspicious you know) and another friend had a list of at least 100 things to do with Meyer lemons so they decided to make Meyer lemon preserves and invited me to join them. It sounds fancy but it's not. Arguably, making preserves was easier than the run though it did take us an hour to get going since there was talking, snacking, and talking some more which is one of many rainy Sunday afternoon luxuries. The process was all very simple. I think the biggest challenge will be how to use them and once we figure it out, and you better believe I'll be writing about it! Placed in canning jars, they make beautiful gifts though I'm not sure who I would give them to.

Remember to toss lemons with salt before putting them in jars. We were so excited we just threw those lemons into the jar.

The only modifications that were made is that in a few of the jars we added cinnamon sticks and cardamom. They reminded me of the Indian version of lemon pickle that my mom makes but a lot less spicy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blueberry Cornmeal Scones

Photos by TSW

Cooking is about creating memories which is why it is so much more fun with friends. More important than the end result, is the process of cooking, being present in the moment, and creating a collection of memories. Everything about cooking, the camaraderie, scents, ingredients, instantly makes me nostalgic, mindful of the power of the past, and hopeful about the future. It's amazing how potent memories are.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to cook with others, especially with folks that know how to cook or at the very least, enjoy the process. With a new friend, we made blueberry cornmeal scones for the aforementioned brunch. It was his vision and he had really thought about it so I went with it. I'm kind of a rigid cook partly because I want everything to be super successful so I find myself in uncharted territory when I go out on a limb. But it's 2008, and with all the changes I've made in other aspects of my life, cooking should be no exception. Plus, since as the sous-chef, it was not my role to say anything but to really just follow along. The scones were fabulous and showed me how to have fun in changing things up.

We followed the recipe I used for blueberry scones, and made the following modifications:

-2 1/4 c flour and 3/4 c polenta
-2/3 cup full fat raw milk +1 tbs
-1/2 cup blueberries (frozen are fine)
-1/2 cup corn kernels

So I used a little more liquid than what is called for and the dough was more moist than usual because I used less flour (2 1/4 vs 3 c). Polenta does not absorb liquid as much so....but it turned out fine. You may want to start with 1/3 cup and add more in as you go.

See the corn kernels? Don't these look better than the ones I previously blogged about? These were as scones should be...crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Coffee would be the perfect mate I think.

Cook and create your own memories!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Blueberry Lemon Cake

Photo by TSW

What do you when you're invited to a New Year's brunch where you know one person and no one else? You try to kick some cooking butt. It was a week in which I had too many things to do between work and social activities, three of which were on Saturday alone! Every day I was in bed no earlier than midnight and quite frankly, I wouldn't have had it any other way so I was forced to make something simple and delicious. Usually when I make things for potlucks, I really like to go over top. Thinking back to 2003 when I made baked goods for our monthly meetings I recall a blueberry lemon pound cake which everyone loved but then simultaneously complained about their diets being ruined (it was a femaled dominated work place). It's not my fault if they have no self control. I could not find that recipe but I found this slightly less heart-unfriendly recipe. You know that pound cake got it's name from the pound of butter that is required to make it.

I thought this recipe was awesome. I didn't alter it in any way and while some reviewers complained that it was too sweet I thought it was perfect. The lemon pops if you use enough and I think that's the key to reducing the sweetness. In addition to a solid recipe, I credit my new fabulous bake ware for the beautiful presentation. Williams-Sonoma Nonstick Goldtouch Loaf Pan, 1 lb. ($19) is the most highly rated loaf pan tested by America's Test Kitchen.

My only complaint, which is true of all sweet breads, is that the ends are cooked through before the center. Any solutions to this?

Since I followed this recipe to a T and it's available online, I dare not rewrite the recipe. Click on the title of this entry and you'll l have the recipe.

Simple is best!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I'm Back Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

photo by TSW

I know, it's been FOREVER since I last updated my blog. At about the time I posted my last entry, I started a new job for which there was and still is a huge learning curve, and I just did not have the bandwidth to be creative in the kitchen. At the end of the day, all I did was eat cereal and crawl into bed which was nothing to write about. I cooked, just not new items. And my camera went MIA in March which left me more sad and defeated then I already was or would admit to. And while friends happily lent me cameras I couldn't impose anymore. Not that I got a new camera for this entry....But it's a new year, I'm in a better space at work, and I have the energy (almost too much some say) to blog about food again. Plus since I've doubled the number of miles I run a week, I'm constantly hungry and need to cook more to keep up with all my cravings. I can't keep enough food around anymore.

I've been wanting to write about this recipe for months. In October, Susie and I hosted our own hugely successful tea time in Chicago where these cookies were served to rave reviews. Joe, the man who rocks the shaved head look, Susie's husband, has a dairy allergy and this recipe met all of his allergy requirements with some substitutions. By their amazing taste you would never guess how healthy they really are. These are the truly guiltless cookie and they aren't fat or sugar free. So quick, so easy, so tasty, so not Chips Ahoy. And they freeze really well if one can manage not eat them all when they come out of the oven.

A lot of cooking is about making new memories and recreating old one's or at least capturing the sentiment behind the memory. For example, I remember that I both burned my left hand and sliced my left thumb for Chicago tea time. Was it worth it -- totally. Thank goodness I only remember the humor in it all. But in general, the scent of these cookies baking conjures images of autumns in all the great cities I've lived in, like walking into my warm home after a mid-afternoon walk through the leaves.


-1 c. pumpkin
-3/4 c. sugar (I reduced this to 1/2 cup -- think less is more)
-1/2 c. oil
-1 egg
-2 c. flour (I ground up 1 cup oatmeal to pack in more fiber -- think substance vs. fluff)
-2 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. cinnamon
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. milk
-1 c. chocolate chips (semi-sweet is always best)
-1 tsp. vanilla

-Nuts (optional)

Dissolve baking soda in milk; set aside. In large bowl add pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg; stir. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda mixture. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and vanilla. Spoon onto cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until done.

While these cookies "look" perfect. They aren't -- they're missing cinnamon which is absolutely necessary since it enhances the taste of the pumpkin.

Indulge; cook and create your own memories.