Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cheesy Bread Pudding

This cheesy bread pudding isn't the prettiest, but it is absolutely delicious and has unlimited variations. It's also an awesome way to use up stale bread. I kept it simple and used a combination of feta and cheddar cheese, which was fabulous. While it isn't a lowfat recipe, using strong, pungent feta produces a rich taste with less.

Here's the recipe:

I onion, finely chopped
1 tsp butter
Herbes de Provence
5 slices of stale bread, buttered
1 slice of bread, broken into breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/3 cup feta
1/2 cup grated cheddar
2 cups milk
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the buttered bread into squares and fit neatly into the bottom of a greased earthenware dish. Spread a little mustard here and there on the bread. Melt the butter and fry the onion with a pinch of Herbes de Provence until softened. Pat any extra oil from the onion mixture using a paper towel, then spread the onions on top of the cut bread. Beat the eggs, then beat in the milk, 3/4 of the cheese, a little mustard, and salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture over the bread, making sure the cheese is evenly distributed. Press the bread pieces with the back of a spoon to make sure all the bread is soaked with the egg mixture. Let it sit for 5 minutes to fully absorb then top with the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.

Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for around 15 minutes or until the custard sets.

Serve with a tomato salad or the green vegetable of your choice.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Irish Buttermilk Scones

The secret of making good scones is light quick mixing and a hot oven. --Clare Connery

I've discovered a wonderful new book called In an Irish Country Kitchen by Clare Connery. Much more than a collection of recipes, Connery explains the history and origin of each dish as well as providing eloquent introductions to Irish agriculture, fishing, and baking traditions. The book is also filled with beautiful photographs of the food and the land.

Her scone recipe calls for buttermilk, as "Buttermilk scones are always much lighter and more spongy than those made with flour and baking powder". (Traditional buttermilk was the liquid left behind from the butter making process. Modern buttermilk has a special bacteria added to regular milk that makes it thicken and slightly sour.) I had never used buttermilk in baking, but felt confident following Connery's careful instructions. The resulting scones were wonderfully light, moist, and delicious. I took her final suggestion and we ate them straight from the oven with butter and jam.

Buttermilk Scones
(recipe adapted from In an Irish Country Kitchen by Clare Connery)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp butter
1 cup buttermilk
Beaten egg or milk to glaze (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425. Sift together the flour, baking soda and cream of tartar in a medium large bowl. Cut the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Create a well in the center and add the milk. Use a thick knife to mix in the milk and form a dough. Roll out the dough on a floured board to 3/4 inch thick and cut into rounds or triangles. Put scones onto a lightly floured baking sheet and brush with milk or beaten egg, if desired. Bake for about 15 minutes until light golden in color.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Roasted root vegetables with horseradish sauce

Here's a recipe for a Cat in the Hat rainy day when you've got plenty of time on your hands. Rather than stare out the window at the rain, why not roast root vegetables?

I have to admit, this is something I very rarely do. I make roast potatoes for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that's about it. There's something about veggies roasting in all that fat that makes me nervous. And there's that English overcooked vegetables phobia. For the record, I like my veggies steamed and crisp .... and then I like to slather them with heavy cheese sauces.

Anyway, back to the roasting. Here's what I did:
1. Peeled two rutabegas, cut them into eight, and parboiled in salty water for 10-15 minutes.
2. Peeled three potatoes, cut them into eight, and parboiled for 5 -6 minutes.
3. Cut half a head of cauliflower into large florettes and parboiled for 3 minutes.
4. Peeled 12 cloves of garlic
5. Peeled and cut two shallots.
6. Sliced one giant parsnip.

I melted 1-2 tablespoons of butter with about the same amount of olive oil and added some Herbes de provence, a little fresh thyme. I mixed all the veggies together and coated them with the butter/oil mixture and put them in a large oiled baking dish. Added salt and a stem of fresh rosemary and put them in a preheated oven at 375 for an hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. I added a little more butter about half way because the mixture seemed a little dry. I then turned up the heat to 450 and "finished" them for about 20 minutes. I did this because the potatoes didn't have that crisp look. This charred the cauliflower a little, but that didn't spoil the taste.

I tasted the roasted veggies and they were rich and wonderful and not too oily.

And then I got ambitious.

I'd had an inkling to try using fresh horseradish in a sauce, but the only recipes I could find called for prepared horesradish in a sour cream sauce. Prepared horseradish is typically white and preserved with vinegar that controls its hotness. It is also available in red with beet juice. Surely fresh would be better, I mused. I read in one book that you should never grate fresh horseradish by hand because the fumes might be blindingly overpowering. I sniffed at the horseradish root and it didn't smell that strong. I took a tiny bit of the flesh out on my knifepoint and tried it -- it cleared out my sinuses immediately. I decided to risk the handgrating. It was fine--perhaps I lucked out and had a mild root. First, I peeled the root. If you find any green under the skin, cut it off as it is very bitter (Horseradish is one of the bitter herbs from the Jewish Passover). I grated it and took a few pictures.

I mixed some of the horseradish with some sour cream to test the strength. To my surprise, I added the whole 1/4 cup I'd grated and could barely taste the horseradish. I added a little lemon juice which helped, but I ended up grating more. When I added the horseradish right off the grater, it was much stronger. Lesson learned: fresh horseradish loses it strength when exposed to the air.

But I wasn't satisfied with the sour cream sauce - I wanted to make something...well...more English.

Cheese, horseradish, and cider sauce:
I made a roux with a 1-2 tbsp butter and a little flour, cooked until it foamed, then for one additional minute, stirring all the while. Added 1/2 cup of milk and cooked until it thickened. Added maybe a cup of shredded sharp cheddar and a 1/4 cup of hard cider and took off the heat, beating until the cheese was melted. I then added about 1/4 cup of freshly grated horseradish.

I served the root vegetables with two sauces. They were both good. I prefered the cheese sauce but I think I'd skip the cider next time as it was a little too sweet and appley. Beer might have been a better choice. The horseradish in the sauce was very mild. Lesson learned: fresh horseradish loses its strength when cooked.

Were the sauces better with fresh horseradish? Hard to say...I don't think it made a big difference. I think fresh would be great in very small amounts to pep up a salad or in a salad dressing. But for sauces and the like, I think the prepared version is just fine.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Portuguese Potato and Watercress Soup

I learned to make this soup the summer I spent in Portugal. A very sweet lady who spoke no English was my teacher. In this garlicy version, the watercress leaves are added in at the end and not pureed so you get big mouthfuls of watercress.

Watercress, a member of the mustard family, has a strong peppery flavor. It pairs well with eggs and can be added to souffles and adds a snap to an egg salad sandwich. Like spinach, its volume disappear after a very short cooking time.

Here's the recipe:

1 bunch watercress
I large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 1/2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp butter
4 cups water
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper
1/4 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and cook the onion gently for about 5 minutes. Add the pressed garlic and cook for one minute. Add the potatoes, water, milk, and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and simmer about 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender and can be crushed with the back of a spoon. Puree the soup with a handheld immersion blender. Add the half and half. Hold the watercress by the stems and dip the leaves into the hot soup for 15 seconds (the watercress will wilt almost immediately). Remove the watercress and chop off the stems. Add the watercress leaves to the soup and turn off heat. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

English Treats

Look at all the wonderful English treats I picked up at the British Food Centre in Campbell. They had one of the two items I was dreaming of: Malt bread. Malt bread is a sticky dark bread you have sliced with butter along with a nice cup of tea. Alas, no Hula hoops (ring-shaped potato snacks that nothing comes close to taste-wise).

I opened the Jammie Dodger biscuits as I started this post and my son has now consumed half of them and keeps taking the one's I bite into and put down by my computer to type. Jammie Dodgers consist of two round shortbread cookies, one of which has a little heart cut-out in the center, stuck together with jam. Yum!

The snowballs, soft marshmallow domes covered in chocolate and coconut, are now just a memory. We have yet to open the other items. I'll savour them slowly.

If you can't make it to Campbell (outside San Jose), you can order online from the British Food Centre. The food pictured above set me back about $20 (ouch!). I had both kids with me so I just grabbed a few things off the shelf. I did notice they had special order forms for English Easter sweeties.

We stopped at the British Food Center on our way down to Aptos (by Santa Cruz) to visit my mum. We enjoyed frolicking on the beach in the beautiful sunny weather and attempted to fly the world's smallest kite:

Yes, we thought it was folded in the package, but apparenly not.

We enjoyed some take-out from Bangkok West ( a highly ornamented Thai restaurant in Aptos, with a beautiful entryway with golden statues, plants and flowers, and a fountain) that included this colorful sweet and sour tofu with vegetables:.

The biggest score, however, was I got to borrow my mum's Good Housekeeping's Cooking Compendium, originally published in Watford in 1952. This is the cookbook I grew up with. It has "nearly 2000 photographs of which 52 are in wonderful natural colours" and 1500 recipes. This volume contains almost all of my first baking recipes -- flapjacks, butterfly cakes, queen cakes, Victoria sponge. And, of course, lots of great looking recipes I haven't tried. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cheese Sables - a great little appetizer

These cheesy little triangles melt in your mouth. They are delicate and flakey and can be made in a snap with ingredients you probably always have on hand. The cayenne pepper gives them zip and makes all the difference.I recently rediscovered the recipe when I found a notebook with handwritten recipes from my teenage years. I believe the original recipe came from a Penguin book on Cordon Bleu cooking.

3oz (just under one cup) of flour
3 oz (6 tbsp) butter (I used salted)
3 oz grated cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
a pinch of salt
1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
milk as needed

Preheat the oven to 375. Sift the flour, salt, and cayenne pepper into a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the grated cheese and form into a dough. If the dough won't hold together, use tiny amount of milk to form a workable dough. On a floured board, roll out the dough to 1/8 " thickness. Cut the dough into 2" x 2" squares, then cut each square diagonally to form two triangles. Place on a flat baking tray (ungreased) and bake for 10 minutes, until light gold. Allow to cool for 2 minutes, then serve.

Makes 40-50. These are best eaten immediately!

Boca Meatless Lasagna Reviewed

This vegetarian frozen lasagna meal from Boca was tasty. I was a little put-off when I took it out of the microwave as lots of little holes had appeared in the sauce and I thought I had overcooked it. Happily, this look disappeared completely when I put it on the plate. The lasagna is described as having a "chunky tomato and herb sauce with BOCA ground burger". I don't think most would consider the tomatoes chunky in this prepared dish, but the tomato sauce was good and had a fresh herb taste and lots of ground pepper that tasted as if I had just added it myself. The boca ground burger in the sauce had an excellent ground meat texture and meaty taste -enough to make a veggie check the package. The pasta was pretty minimal, but had a good taste and texture. The ricotta filling looked a little strange, it was white but had a translucence that made me think of paste. But it had clearly visible green herbs in it and actually tasted pretty good. The main focus and strength of the dish was the BOCA burger in tomato herb sauce .

This lasagna dish has 290 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 21 grams of protein. It cost me about $4.50 and took 8 minutes to prepare. I'd definitely try this one again.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Black Beans & Pico de Gallo

This weekend I was lucky enough to see Jacques Pepin making pico de gallo on his fast food show on PBS . I was amazed to find how very similar our recipes are. I always felt like a cheat because I use Pace Picante salsa as a base for mine. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jacques using organic ketchup as his base! We both add chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and jalapeno, but Jacques also added garlic and cumin. I like to add fresh corn when it's in season.

One of my fast food dinner recipes is black beans with pico de gallo. It's hearty, healthy, and satisfying and can be made in a matter of minutes. Make a meal of it by serving it with quesadillas and tortilla chips. When I want to make it heartier, a cup of cooked rice hits the spot.

One 15 oz can organic black beans (I like Trader Joes)
Pico de gallo - use proportions of the above based on your own taste
Guacamole - I mash avocado, add finely chopped white onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, and salt
Sour cream

Drain the beans into a saucepan and heat gently with a little salsa. Top with pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips and quesadilla.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cheese and Lentil Gratin

This cheese and lentil gratin makes the perfect Winter supper. Its bright orange color will cheer your table and it packs a big cheese taste. It's one of those vegetarian entrees that easily satisfies the non-veggies. In fact, it's become the traditional veggie main dish for Thanksgiving/Christmas (and everyone has some).

I found the original recipe in The Sainsbury Book of Vegetarian Cooking by Carole Handslip - a slip of a book produced by the English supermarket chain, which I bought for 99 pence back in 1986. I've been making this dish every since. It's definitely good English cooking.

Here's my modified recipe:

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1 small leek, white part chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
3/4 cup red lentils
2 cups water
salt and pepper
6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan and fry the onion until softened. Add the carrots, leek, and garlic and cook one minute. Add the water and red lentils and salt and pepper. Cover and bring to the boil then turn onto lowest heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The water will be absorbed into the lentil mixture.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes (to avoid stringy egg syndrome). Add the beaten egg and 3/4 of the cheese into the saucepan and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 11" x 8" earthenware dish.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese and sesame seeds on top. Bake for 45 minutes.

Serve with ketchup, potatoes, and your green vegetable of choice.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

These delicious banana mini muffins with mini chocolate chips make the perfect afternoon treat. Just two bites and they're gone! Serve them with milk or a nice cup of tea. Denser that your typical muffins, they are substantial but still cakey and light. I make them whenever we have a couple of bananas that have passed their prime. These just disappear!

Here's the recipe:
1 stick unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
1 large egg
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
3 ripe bananas (mashed)
1 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chocolate mini-chips

Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a 24 cup mini muffin pan. Combine the melted and cooled butter, mashed bananas, egg, sugar, vanilla essence, and beat for 1 minute. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to the banana mixture and beat just until blended. Add the chocolate mini-chips. Spoon into mini muffin pan and bake for 18 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, pop them out with a spoon, and enjoy! If you prefer regular size muffins, bake for 25 minutes.

(Note: be sure to let the melted butter cool --you don't want it to cook the egg.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chickpea and Kale Soup

Chickpeas and Swiss chard both have an earthy nuttiness that is particularly suited to creating full-flavored vegetarian soups. --Evan Kleiman

It's suddenly freezing here in Marin, so soup was the order of the day. This chickpea and kale soup was inspired by a recipe from Pizzeria: The Best of Casual Pizza Oven Cooking by Evan Kleiman. It was warm and spicy and earthy. I added even more nuttiness to my version with some pesto and toasted pinenuts.

Here's my version:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 potato, cubed
3 carrots, sliced
2 diced tomatoes
1 tsp pesto
4 cups water
2 tbsp red lentils
8 oz chickpeas (canned)
1/2 bunch kale leaves, sliced
1/2 tsp cumin
2 slices jalapeno
salt and pepper to taste

Top with:
Baguette slice, toasted
1 tsp. pesto
1 tsp crumbled goat cheese or feta
toasted pinenuts

In a heavy saucepan, saute the onion in the olive oil until softened. Add the crushed garlic, carrots, potato, and butter and cook covered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the water, pesto, red lentils, and cumin and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the chickpeas, kale, jalapeno and salt and pepper. Cook over lowest heat for 30 minutes. Serve in a shallow bowl with a slice of toasted baguette, topped with pesto and goat/feta cheese and a generous sprinkling of toasted pinenuts.

Lightlife Smart Menu Orange Sesame Chick'n

Here's a picture of the my plate of Lightlife Smart Menu Orange Sesame Chick'n, a vegan convenience meal that comes in a plastic pouch that you keep in the refrigerator. It came out looking pretty different from the picture on the package (where are those chick'n strips?) and that was just the beginning of my disappointment. The chick'n strips were in there, but sadly had neither the taste nor texture of chicken. They were rubbery. The orange sauce reminded me of a tinned sweet and sour sauce I tried years ago, and had a weird saccharine-like aftertaste. The taste was so unsatisfying I wanted to eat again 30 minutes later. While this item was convenient and nutritious, I won't try this one again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A mushroom omelette and a glass of wine and a little baguette..

In an omelette one wants "the taste of the fresh eggs and the fresh butter and, visually, a soft bright golden roll plump and spilling out a little at the edges. It should not be a busy, important urban dish but something gentle and pastoral, with the clean scent the dairy, the kitchen garden, the basket of early morning mushrooms or the sharp tang of freshly picked herbs, sorrel, chives, tarragon." --Elizabeth David, from 'An Omelette and a Glass of Wine'

I remember a wonderful omelette that truly captured these qualitites. I was in England visiting family friends, one of many teenagers who were eating our host out of house and home. It was about 10pm and my host cooked a very simple omelette with fresh herbs and lots of butter. I ate that omelette and realized I'd never had a good omelette before. Everything was so fresh, I can still see and smell the foaming butter and hear the sizzle of the black pan. I always use that memory to inspire me when I'm making an omelette. No wonder the teen from Switzerland came back for a second omelette and a third.

"But, you will say, everyone knows that the success of omelette making starts with the pan and not with the genius of the cook." I recently purchased a 12" Calphalon non-stick frying pan and this has definitely improved my omelette making. The eggs always stick to my stainless All-Clad pan and the foaming butter and yellow eggs look much better with a dark background. Nothing sticks to this Calphalon pan - its perfect for an omelette.

So we had a late supper last night and hubby picked an omelette from the Chez Catherine menu. Happily, I had some very fresh mushrooms from the farmers market - some common whites and check out this beautiful oyster mushroom

The lady vendor always hooks me with her "fresh picked this morning" mushroom line.

I gently fried the mushrooms in yellow Irish butter with half a finely-chopped shallot and a baby pinch of Herbs de Provence. I beat five eggs with a little half-and-half and poured this over the eggs. Swirled the pan a few times as the eggs cooked. When close to set, I sprinkled crumbled goat cheese over the mushrooms, folded both sides into the center, and flipped the folded omelette over completely. Cut the omelette in half (I think omelette sharing is quite romantic), and served with french baguette, a salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and ciliegine (little balls of fresh mozzarella), and a glass of coastal Chardonnay.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Great Bread & Biscotti from Great Harvest Bread Co. it is--the wonderful cinnamon chip bread from Great Harvest Bread Co. (in Oakland). We can't do without this - my kids love it plain. I love it toasted with Kerrygold Irish butter. As you can see, the cinnamon chips are huge lumps of buttery cinnamon. This is awesome and keeps at room temperature for a week.

Today, David had a new bread for us to try: Dark Chocolate Cranberry Bread. Wow! If you like dark chocolate, this is the bread for you! This rich and decadent chocolate bread was packed with hand-chopped dark chocolate chips and cranberries. One bite was enough to satisfy my taste and clear my head. My daughter wanted the loaf but I knew that would be problematic (she'd be bouncing of the wall in no time).
Maybe something else, I told David. Next we tasted and settled on the Cranberry Biscotti:
Unlike most biscotti I've tried, this one is not extremely hard. It is dry and a little crumbly, and tastes rather cakelike. Perfect, with a nice hot cup of tea. My daughter, to my great surprise, said she like the biscotti better than the chocolate bread. So we both left happy and David moved on to his crowd of regulars (he's very popular).

Great Harvest only sell their bread out of their bakery in Oakland (5800 College Ave 510-655-4442) or at farmers markets. They mill their own flour each morning and make each loaf by hand. See my previous post on some of their other delicious breads.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day Children's Party

Fresh Apple Cake

My five year old is having a Valentine's Day party in her Kindergarten class today. Her teacher is very strict about the food that is served at her parties. She absolutely won't serve anything with chocolate - I've seen dismayed parents sent away with trays of homemade mini-brownies and chocolate chip cookies, rejected and untouched.

The Valentine's Day party stipulations were very clear - only healthy foods will be served - no candy!

I decided to go with apples and made two different recipes - Fresh Apple Cake from Joie Warner's Apple Desserts and Old English Cheese and Apple Loaf, a quick bread recipe from DK's Ulitimate Bread by Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno. I'd made the Fresh Apple Cake before with great success--its a moist cake with a strong vanilla flavour, full of roughly chopped apples, sweet and rich, made with 1/2 cup butter and 3 eggs. It tastes like a cake my grandmother would have made. I skipped the chopped pecans which are sprinkled directly onto the buttered pan in this recipe.I used lemon zest this time instead of the lime zest called for in the recipe - the lime was better.

The cheese and apple loaf had immediate appeal to me because I love that particular combination of foods. The loaf was described as "moist and flavorful" with a "crunchy cheese crust". But the ratio of ingredients made me nervous. 3 1/2 cups of flour to 4 tablespoons of butter? I checked the recipe again. Well, there were 2 eggs, 4 oz of cheese and 4 grated apples. But I knew I was in trouble when the recipe called for me to "spoon the batter into the prepared pan". In my hand was a perfectly formed round dough, like a dry pastry dough. I flashed back to my first attempt at bread baking - the dough really didn't rise as described but I baked it anyway. The result - a brick. But, apparently none the wiser now, I went ahead and fitted my dough into the loaf pan and into the oven it went. After 1 1/2 hours of baking, the result was not as bad as I imagined.

It certainly had a crunchy cheese crust and, while dry, was not crumbling or inedible. Alas, you'd never guess there were apples in the recipe. There was a slight bitterness, but it was fine toasted with butter.

So I have yet to find a great quick bread, muffin or cake recipe that tastes of apples and cheese. If you have a good one, let me know.

Happily the fresh apple cake was a big hit with the kids...and the teacher.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Asparagus Linguini

I was running late for dinner and decided to throw my recipes to the wind and wing it. I got some great asparagus today and decided to make asparagus with linguini. First I gently cooked shallots in 1 tblsp. Kerrygold Pure Irish butter (I'm an addict) . I parboiled the cut asparagus for 3 minutes in salted water then added to the shallots with 1/3 cup of organic half-and-half. Seasoned, then added 1/4 cup of grated reggiano parmesan, followed by the cooked linguini. I ran out and picked a lemon from our tree (which is producing great lemons like never before) and added about 1 tsp. lemon juice. Cooked together for 1-2 minutes on lowest heat. Served with remaining parmesan, ground pepper, and a bottle of buttery Red Bicyclette Chardonnay from France. It was heavenly and so easy! The lemon juice made this dish for me.

" I stick to asparagus which still seems to inspire gentle thought." - Charles Lamb

Great Harvest Bread

"The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight." - M. F. K. Fisher

I've discovered a wonderful source of bread - a place called Great Harvest Bread Co. They mill their own "high protein Montana spring wheat " into flour each morning and make each loaf by hand. The bread is incredibly fresh tasting and dense. These loaves weighs around 2 lbs each. I haven't been to the bakery itself (5800 College Avenue, Oakland, CA), but a very nice English guy named David sells their bread at our local farmer's market. Most of the bread is vegan.
I'm addicted to one called Dakota, a nutty whole wheat bread with sunflour, poppy, and sesame seeds. Looking at the bread, you'd think the nutty seediness would be OTT (over the top), but it's actually mild and pleasant and there's no hard bits to hurt or surprise. Toasted with Irish butter - this is bread heaven.

I was heartbroken to get to the market too late for the fabulous cinnamon chip bread this week. This bread is lighter, a combo whole wheat and white flour bread with a generous sprinkling of giant cinnamon chips. My kids (who are finicky) ate half this loaf plain the first afternoon. Needless to say, I've asked David to reserve me a Dakota and Cinnamon chip for next week.

However, when one door closes, another opens. I decided we'd try the Rockridge Crunch.
Unlike the Dakota and Cinnamon Chip which are sliced, this is a round unsliced loaf with juicy raisins and cranberries, sunflour seeds, oats, dates, and pecans. The nuts are minimal and the raisins and cranberries plentiful, which made this a winner for me. Again, a lighter whole wheat/white flour combination bread. David recommends it toasted with cream cheese - yum!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Meatless Ribs Meal

I've never had real BBQ ribs, but the Gardenburger Meatless BBQ Ribs have been a big hit with my old man. He swears they taste just like the real thing and says he could have them for dinner every night. I find them a little too sweet, but took a tip from my friend Vegan Knitter and finished and served them with grilled onions and mushrooms. Last time I added a little red wine which was really good. This time I tried a little balsamic vinegar, which wasn't as good. Still a little too sweet for me, nevertheless this was a hearty meal with mashed potatoes and some organic broccolini ( a sweet cross between broccoli and chinese kale). I had a nice cold glass of Blackthorn Dry Cider to wash it down, a light import from Somerset I found at Trader Joes. The ribs pack 17g of protein for a mere 5g of fat and have a good meaty texture. No leftovers! I originally found the ribs at Trader Joes for a very good price, but they seem to have disappeared.

Many thanks to Sam from Becks & Posh for the warm welcome. A fellow Bay Area Brit, Sam's blog is dedicated to her culinary journies in the Bay Area and includes restaurant reviews, her adventures at cooking school, and great food writing and photography. Definitely check it out.

In the hopes of improving my food photos, I've order the book Digital Food Photography by Lou Manna. Stayed tuned!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Trader Joes Food Meme

What are your five latest great food finds at Trader Joes?

Here's mine:
1. Inko's Honeydew White Tea (16 oz bottle) - a very clean tasting white iced tea with a subtley pleasing honeydew flavor.

2. Trader Joe's Pizza Dough - my family prefer the plain, but it also comes in herb, wholewheat, and now new cornmeal! Makes a great pizza, but you'll need a pizza stone.

3. Contadino Pinot Grigio - a dry white from Italy with "hints of apple and pear" -for $3/bottle

4. TJ's Wasabi Oil - punch up your salad dressing with this hot oil! Try on avocado, cucumber, and daikon salad with rice vinegar.

5. TJs Organic Frozen Jasmine rice - 3 pack - 3 minutes in the micro, this can save a lotta time.

OK - let's hear your fav. five!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Avocado Sandwich

Here's my favorite veggie sandwich recipe--
Morningstar bacon strips (3)
Whole wheat bread, lightly toasted
Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise
3 slices of tomato
1/2 avocado sliced, lightly salted
lettuce leaves

I never had a real BLT, but this sandwich is close to heaven. The bacon strips are perfect with 2 mins. in the micro. The wasabi mayo gives it that gourmet kick. Try it, you won't be disappointed.

Note: the morningstar bacon strips are not vegan ---they have egg white.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Fast and Satisfying Kids Meal - English Muffin Pizza

When the kids are hungry and you've got about 5 minutes to a melt-down, here's a great healthy, tasty, and enjoyable dinner/lunch/snack - English muffin mini piazzas.

1 English muffin per person
Contadina Pizza Squeeze pizza sauce
grated mozzarella cheese

Turn on the broiler. Lightly toast English muffins. Squirt on as much pizza squeeze as desired, top with the mozzarella and broil for 2-3 minutes (you gotta watch these -check at 2 mins, 2 mins 30 seconds etc). Yeah - that's it.!Of course, you can get fancy - try a slice of goat cheese, pesto and tomato sauce with feta cheese and pine nuts, use Trader Giotto's Quattro Formaggio, veggie pepperoni, Morningstar veggie patties - go crazy!

Got a really particular little one--cut it into pizza slices:
Also a great lunchbox item ---bon appetit!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Meatless Citrus Glazed Chicken Gardenburger Meal

I've recently discovered Gardenburger products, specifically their BBQ riblets and their Chik'n Grill veggie patties, which are both really, really good. My husband (not a veggie) said the riblets tasted like the real thing and that he could eat them ever night for dinner. And the whole family loved the Chik'n grills on a hamburger bun. I checked out the Gardenburger website to see what other products were available and found a large number of items I'd never seen. I used their zipcode locator and it seemed that Albertsons carried their products. So off I went to Albertsons for the very first time. The only had a few of each item, but I found a number of great looking Gardenburger products I haven't seen anywhere else. I was also pleasantly surprised to find they had Krispy Kreme donuts too - now that could be a problem.

Anyway, I lunched alone today and was starving by 11:30 so I decided to try the Gardenburger Meal Meatless Citrus Glazed Chicken with green beans and rice. I was very attracted to it's credentials : 220 calories, 2g Fat, and a whopping 22g of protein. My eyes lit up -goodbye cottage cheese, hello citrus chicken.

So, after a few minutes in the micro, here's what my meal looked like:

I have to say, my respect for food photographers has gone way up in the last week or so. The chicken looked a little better in real life. Happily, it tasted a lot better than it looked. It had a definite chicken texture inside and tasted like chicken to me. The citrus glaze was a little sweet for me, but the strong orange flavor made a nice change. The rice was great and the green beans were surprisingly good for micro food (they squeaked a bit). I liked the glaze on the sides more than on the chicken. While it wasn't as good as the riblets or chik'n grills, with the convenience factor and great credentials, I'd enjoy this meal occasionally. I ate it all and it satisfied my hunger completely. And with the tiny amount of fat in the whole meal, I could consider indulging in one mini cruller from Krisy Kreme! (heck, only 7g of fat and 110 calories - well maybe not...)

There's two more meals listed on the box that I'd like to try, but haven't seen anywhere- Herb Grilled Chicken with Vegetables and Sweet and Sour pork. If you've tried these, let me know what you thought.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Winter Italian Vegetable Soup

"I live on good soup, not fine words"

I love to make my own soup - it makes a perfect lunch on cold weather days and is a good way to lose a few pounds after the holidays. I've made quite a few soups in January and was very excited when my five year old requested vegetable soup for lunch.

Happily, this soup is ready in around 40 minutes. This is an italian soup, with a light tomato broth and cauliflower, carrots, kale, leeks and potatoes. I also add some red lentils for protein. I got the carrots, kale, and leeks fresh from our local farmers market. I ususally use baby chard for this soup, but the kale looked so good, I decided to give it a try. I was surprised to find it a big improvement flavor and texture wise and it was much easier to keep the green stuff out of my daughters helping.

I dislike chunks of tomatoes in my veggie soups so I add tomato flavor by including a spoonful or two of my favorite pasta sauce (my family like Trader Joe's Three Cheese Pasta Sauce) . My other flavor trick is to add a slice or two of finely chopped nacho-sliced jalapeno peppers. For this soup, I just added a single slice which spiced up the broth without giving away the source.

Here's the recipe:

2 large carrots sliced diagonally
8 little creamer potatoes, cut into quarters
1 onion, chopped
3 baby leeks, white parts sliced
1/4 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
5 leaves of kale, chopped
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 slice of nacho-sliced jalapeno, finely chopped
6 cups water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons tomato pasta sauce
1/3 cup red lentils
salt and pepper, as desired

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed soup pan over medium heat and add the chopped onions. Turn the temp down and cook gently for 4-5 mins. Add the butter, along with the carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and leeks. Cover and cook for 7-8 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the water, red lentils, pasta sauce, soy sauce, jalapeno, and kale. Season as desired. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.