Friday, June 30, 2006

Beet, Ginger, and Spinach Salad

Inspired by a salad I enjoyed at Gayle's, and having found some lovely organic beets at our Farmer's Market, I set about to make my own salad with beets, ginger, and spinach.

Brendon of Something In Season recently posed the question When Does a Recipe Become Blogable? As I like reading about how others develop their recipes, what works and what doesn't work for them, I say after (or even during) the first experiment. I always enjoy Alanna's "Next Time" comments on A Veggie Venture, where she details her ideas on how to improve a recipe she's made. A useful tool for recipe development, I'll be including similar "Next Time" notes in my posts. I also find it very educational when someone posts about a failed recipe or a failed recipe that they managed to turn around.

When I'm working on a new recipe, I often get carried away with tasting and adjusting and forget to make a strong mental note of the amount used. So in this recipe, I have to say the amounts are approximate.

I steamed my beets, unpeeled, with their tail left on and a little stump of leaf to keep in all the juices. After they were cool, I peeled and sliced them. I thinly sliced about 1 tbsp of red onion and soaked it in the juice of one lime (a Nigella trick from the Watermelon & Feta salad). I chopped about 2 tbsp of crystallized ginger into tiny cubes and added that to the lime juice-onion mix to soften.

I heated 1 tbsp olive oil and cooked 1 small minced garlic clove for 2 minutes then added 4-5 oz baby spinach, sauteed the spinach, and turned off the heat.

I mixed together the beets, onion-lime-ginger mix, and sauteed spinach with a squeeze of lemon juice and 1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar and 1 tbsp of ginger juice (a bottled product). I seasoned and tasted. Too acidic! And it needed more ginger. So I added 1 tsp of minced ginger and 1+ tbsp organic maple syrup, which worked wonders, containing the acidity and really brightening the sweetness of the beets and the freshness of the ginger.

The end result was delicious, although not really like Gayle's salad, which was mellower. The beets and ginger really are a winning combination and definitely benefited from the green, leafy spinach. Next time, I'll skip the lemon juice, cut back on the ginger juice, and remove the little stems from the baby spinach (purely aesthetic).

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza

I've seen a number of tasty looking Pear & Blue Cheese pizzas out there recently (28 Cooks & Savoring the Moment), so when I saw some fabulous looking D'Anjou pears, I immediately envisioned a pizza like this:

Thinly sliced pear and lots of Gorgonzola, topped with walnuts!

This pizza was heavenly and we enjoyed it alfresco with a nice glass of Chianti. It was just the right level of richness: fabulous taste, but not overwhelming. A truly satisfying pizza, I managed to stop myself at three slices!

I used Trader Joe's plain pizza dough and covered the dough with a light round of shredded mozzarella. I sliced the pear, squeezed a little lemon juice over it, then arranged it on the pizza. I grated the Gorgonzola directly over the pears, tossed a few walnut pieces on top, and brushed the rim of the dough with olive oil. Ten minutes on the pizza stone at 450 and we were ready to eat!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sesame Tofu

I recently got Moosewood's Simple Suppers from the library and after a cursory review, I marked lots of novel recipes to try. This book is definitely a winner for me!

The cookbook, made up of quick and easy recipes for dinners, contains several awesome-sounding tofu recipes (Lemon Herb Tofu, Tofu Masala), including this Sesame Tofu recipe. This very easy recipe added a little excitement to my frequently-made dish of steamed tofu and veggies. Of course, it's fried (in sesame oil), so its not a low fat dish (especially as I made peanut sauce to go on the side!) It was tasty - smoky and a little crunchy. The original recipe calls for sauteed spinach as the companion veggie, which has the advantage of clearing up all the lost sesame seeds in the pan.

I can't wait to try more recipes from this book!

Sesame Tofu (adapted from Simple Suppers):

8 oz extra firm tofu
1/8 cup+ sesame seeds
1 tbsp sesame oil
soy sauce (optional)

Cut the tofu into 8 rectangles. Spread the sesame seeds out on a plate and press each side of the tofu rectangles into the seeds, until well covered.

Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan and fry tofu gently for about 5 minutes on each side, turning gently. Add a little soy sauce and cook 1-2 more minutes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Linguini with Mushrooms & Zucchini

Supper was a simple, but attractive dish of linguini with half moons of mushrooms and zucchini. I used Barilla Green & Black Olive Puttanesca as my base. I sauteed some garlic in olive oil, and cooked the sliced mushrooms and sliced and halved zucchini together with the garlic for about three minutes. The mushrooms were juicy and the zucchini still had crunch. Topped with some finely crumbled feta, this was a delicious and healthy meal, made in minutes!

This dish is my contribution to this week's Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday (ARF=Antioxidant Rich Food).

Mushrooms are good sources of selenium, phosphorus and potassium. Selenium is a mineral that works with Vitamin E to produce antioxidants that help fight against cancer and aging. According to the Mushroom Information Center, mushrooms are the only produce source of selenium. Phosphorus is important in the use of carbs, fats, and proteins for growth, energy, and healing and potassium maintains muscle and nerve function.

Zucchini also contain potassium, along with calcium, and are a good source of Vitamins A & C.

Happy eating!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Apple, Oat, and Raisin Muffins

I found this totally awesome apple muffin recipe in Superfoods for Babies and Children by Annabel Karmel. I was looking for a substantial snack to stave off the never-ending hunger of my two rapidly growing children, something they'd eat without hesitation that still had nutritional value. I hit the jackpot with this recipe - supermoist muffins with oats, chunks of apples, and lots of raisins. They also have one of my favorite spices - pumpkin pie spice - which really makes these incredible. As they have healthy oatmeal and fruit, these would be an ideal breakfast muffin.

Don't have kids? No worries! Make them for your grown friends and watch them swoon!

Feeling decadent? Try them with butter!

Apple, Oat, and Raisin Muffins (adapted from Superfoods for Babies and Children):

1 egg
1/2 cup sunflower oil or canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced

Preheat the oven to 350. Beat the egg. Beat in the sunflower oil and milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix all the remaining ingredients together. Add the egg mixture, mixing until just combined.

Butter a muffin tin or line with cupcake paper cups. Distribute batter equally in cups.

Bake for 25 minutes. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bite-sized Frittatas

Thanks to Kymm of But my kids won't eat it blog for directing me to this recipe for individual frittatas (see the original recipe on her May 24th entry). The recipe comes from The Family Kitchen by Debra Ponzek, a chef and mom who highlights recipes children can help prepare and will enjoy eating.

The original recipe is for Zucchini- Cheddar Frittatas, but I made two versions using half of the custard with each: Spinach-Cheddar and Fiesta (Cheddar, red pepper, jalapeno, and cilantro). Both were delicious, although the spinach were my favorite. We enjoyed the Fiesta frittatas as a meal with black beans and salsa — can't be the combo of eggs and beans!

I made these in a mini-muffin pan, while the original recipe uses a regular muffin pan. I'm sometimes weird about egg textures, so the mini size was perfect for me. The recipe is very adaptable to your favorite combinations. A great picnic item!

Bite-Sized Frittatas (adapted from The Family Kitchen):

Custard recipe:
1/2 tsp salt
7 large eggs
2/3 cup half & half
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (Ponzek uses white)

Spinach (quantities are for half the custard, double if making all spinach):
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot or spring onion, finely chopped
4 oz baby spinach
2 shakes Herbes de Provence (Ponzek uses fresh thyme)

Fiesta (quantities are for half the custard, double if making all Fiesta):
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot or spring onion, finely chopped
1/2 large red pepper, chopped
1/2 fresh jalapeno, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat the oven to 375 and spray muffin pan with cooking spray to avoid sticking. Heat olive oil in a skillet and cook shallot/onion for about 3 minutes until softened. Add the spinach and Herbes de Provence and cook until spinach is cook (about 2 minutes). Remove from pan and chop spinach finely.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook shallot/onion, red pepper and jalapeno for 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cilantro.

Prepare the custard, by beating the eggs, then beat together all ingredients.

Place the prepared veggies directly into the muffin pans, distributing evenly. Pour the custard over the veggies (keep stirring to avoid the cheese and salt settling at the bottom). Bake for 12 minutes (for mini) or 20 minutes (full sized) until frittatas are puffy and custard is set.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Tiny Savory & Sweet Buttermilk Scones

These tiny scones would make perfect party appetizers! I think they'd be wonderful for a little girl's tea party!

I got the idea from the tiny scones in Hors D'Oeuvres, an inspiring book of fabulous party mouthfuls by Eric Treuille and Victoria Blashford-Snell. I used Clare Connery's Irish Buttermilk Scone recipe as a base for these scones and made three versions: plain, cheese and chive, and cheddar and green olive. They were all fabulous!

For the cheese and chive version, I added grated Tintern, a cheddary Welsh cheese with plenty of bite, strongly flavored with shallots and chives. I simply worked the grated cheese into the sticky dough before I rolled it out. For the cheddar and green olive, I chopped the green olives very, very finely and then worked at cheese into the olives with my knife, then kneaded the mixture into the dough.

I used one of my Japanese Vegetable Cutters to cut out the tiny scones.

These mouthsized versions took 8-10 minutes at 425 and made about 60 tiny scones. These all got eaten on the day, but I'm sure you could make these in advance for a party (savory scones often taste better on day 2!).

I topped the plain scones with butter and jam and the savory with cream cheese and chives or tomatoes. My favorite ... I can't decide!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Fettuccine with Watercress Pesto & Stilton

I love basil pesto and this summer I want to explore pesto made with other herbs. My problem with pesto is that it's so high in fat. I usually leave out the Parmesan cheese in my basil pesto and use as little olive oil as possible.

The watercress pesto recipes I looked at called for mayonnaise in addition to walnuts and walnut oil. This really didn't appeal, so I used Dijon mustard to add some creaminess. I thought it tasted great, especially topped with a little Stilton, and was chatting away when I realized hubby had stopped eating. It wasn't the taste he didn't like, he said, it was just way too dry.

I personally liked the flecky pesto with the contrasting creamy Stilton, but it's not for everyone. Happily, the dryness is easily corrected by adding more olive oil.

Watercress Pesto:

1 clove garlic
pinch of salt
1 tbsp walnut oil
2 tbsp walnut pieces
1 bunch watercress leaves, chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a mini-prep, puree the garlic and salt. Add the walnut oil and walnuts and puree, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the remaining ingredients and process until creamy.

Mix with drained fettuccine and top with crumbled Stilton.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria in Capitola

Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria in Capitola (10 minutes south of Santa Cruz) is a don't-miss destination for any foodie visiting the area and the local favorite for cakes, baked goods, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, and blue plate dinners. If, like me, you often find yourself disappointed by expensive and mediocre deli food, this is the place for you.

Gayle's is a busy place! When you enter, take a number (a machine by the patio door) and then let your eyes feast on the glass cases in anticipatory delight as you make your selections. For our lunchtime visit, the staff were incredibly helpful and friendly and communicated a calm personal focus on my food choices amidst a buzzing and, at times, almost frenetic level of people and activity. There are lots of helpful staff serving, which adds to the buzz. I hadn't noticed that all the salads were individually priced and ordered four different salads on a single plate. This involved the person serving me having to weigh the plate after each addition and calculate the cost.

Here are the four salads I chose:

Clockwise from the top, Beets with Ginger and Baby Spinach, Wasabe Potato Salad, Green Beans with Artichokes, and Mac & Cheese with Buttermilk dressing.

The beets with ginger were delicious and the baby spinach was incredibly flavorful, lightly sauteed I'm guessing. There were actual pieces of sweetened ginger in the vinaigrette and it produced a very fresh tasting salad. The Wasabe Potato Salad was
to die for! Why didn't I think of this? I have Wasabe mayo in the fridge and will be trying my own version of this - it's a great combination! The green beans were the perfect level of firmness for this salad and in a very mild lemon vinaigrette and the mac and cheese with buttermilk dressing was nice take on a classic, tasty, without being too rich. We had our lunch at an umbrella-shaded table on the outdoor patio. (There's also seating inside). Mum and I shared the salads, along with a pan baguette. The kids had fresh croissants and a big plate of fresh fruit salad.

As it was the last day of our seaside mini-break, I treated the kids to a Gayle's dessert:

Yum! The seaweed was edible (the fish weren't!)

Mum's a Gayle's regular and headed home with a sliced wholewheat sandwich loaf. I chose a rustic baguette which was the best baguette I've tasted in ages.

You'll find Gayle's at 504 Bay Avenue in Capitola. Check out their website and the menu - you'll be impressed!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Summer Fun

I'm taking the kids to Grandma's for a few days. We plan to hit the beach and eat light.

I won't be able to post while I'm gone, so I'm leaving you with a simple favourite from my childhood (pineapple and cheese on sticks) and my son's preferred version (cheese on pretzel sticks). The boy has taste!

Black Bean, Tofu, and Grilled Veggie Burrito

Happy Father's Day! Here's a hearty meal to consider!

"How much longer?" Hubby wants to know. I got him right from the start with the whafting smell of grilled green peppers, red onions, and Mexican squash, with a drop of oil and fresh lime juice.

It's very hot in the kitchen. It's been a gruelingly hot day, the pizzas for the kids, long ago eaten, have really heated up the kitchen and I now have three burners going: my grill pan with the peppers et al, a saucepan with the tofu, rice, and black beans with salsa, and a third that I am warming tortillas over and flipping with my toast tongs. "Almost done." I say.

I hand him a plate of two enormous, barely rollable burritos.

"Can I eat these or do you need to take a picture?"

"Go ahead. I'm photographing mine!"

"Whoa...incredible" in the background as I photograph

Here's how mine looked pre-wrap:

I added grated sharp cheddar, rolled, and topped with guacamole (mashed avocado, lime juice and salt) and home made salsa.

These really were incredibly good. I stopped by a Good Earth Natural Foods store earlier in the day and picked up some spicy baked tofu. It was firm and smoky and perfect for this dish. Along with black beans and some left over rice, my favorite home salsa, smoky grilled veggies and tangy sharp cheddar cheese, it was the best burrito I ever had! A hearty Father's Day dish!

Black Bean, Tofu & Grilled Veggie Burrito (serves 3-4):

Flour tortillas (I used TJ's homemade)
8oz seasoned baked firm tofu
15 oz tin of black beans, rinsed
1/2 cup leftover cooked rice

1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeno, chopped
6 green olives,chopped
1/2 zucchini, chopped
fresh lime juice
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
Your favorite salsa

Grilled Veggies:
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 zucchini

To make the salsa, mix together all the fresh items and add a little of your favorite salsa as a base. Mix together. You can vary the veggies as desired - the recipe shows what I used this time.

Combine the black beans, tofu, and rice in a saucepan with your favorite salsa. Heat slowly until combined.

Make the guacamole by mashing one large avocado with salt and a little lime juice.

Grill the veggies in a grill pan wipe with a tiny amount of olive oil. Add lime juice if they become too dry. Grill, turning occasionally, until cook and lightly charred.

I heated the tortillas over a gas flame using wooded toast tongs to flip them. This is fast and easy and they get a little charred but don't dry out. Alternately, you can heat them for a few minutes in the oven at 200.

Fill each tortilla with the bean-tofu mix, topped by the grilled veggies, and the homemade salsa. Add grated cheese if desired and roll into a burrito. Spread the top very thinly with guacamole and pile on the homemade salsa. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Nigella's Carrot & Peanut Salad

This would be a very easy and popular salad contribution to a party or pot luck, if you could overcome the desire to eat the whole bowl yourself. Nigella, in her fab book Forever Summer, says this serves 1-2 "depending on your compulsiveness or genrosity". I'm inclined to agree that if you plan to share, you should make a huge batch of this. The recipe is so incredibly simply but rewards with a novel, fabulous combination of taste and texture. However, keep the ingredients separate and mix them together only as needed to serve. Otherwise, the peanuts lose some of their bite.

This is my (very early) contribution to Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday (ARF=Antioxidant Rich Food), as I will be away on a mini-break for the first half of next week with the kidders.

Eating this salad will make you feel instantly more healthy! I mean ...look at it! Carrots, of course, are an awesome source of beta-carotene, which, as we all remember, will give us better night vision. But did you know eating those Vitamin A rich carrots can also help protect you against cardiovascular disease, breast, colon, and lung cancer? And peanuts are a solid source of Vit. E, niacin, folate, and magnesium, as well as resveratrol, the antioxidant present in red wine that is associated with lower cardivascular problems in countries that consume a high fat diet (like France). But frankly, its the strong fresh taste of this salad that will win you (and everyone you know) over! So share the love.... and the health!

I halved the oil and vinegar in Nigella's recipe and was completely satisfied.

Carrot & Peanut Salad (adapted from Forever Summer):

8 small organic carrots, peeled if desired
1/3 cup peanuts
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil

Roughly grate the carrots into a bowl. Add the peanuts, oils, vinegar. Stir and serve immediately.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Potato and Spinach Curry with Chickpeas

I love Indian food! It always takes a big investment of time to make, but the rich combinations of flavors make that investment so worthwhile. The only problem with making Indian food is I that its so tasty, I keep eating it, even when I'm clearly satiated.

Tonight's main dish was a baby potato and spinach curry with chickpeas. It was inspired by a recipe from Moosewood's Simple Suppers, but I found I was missing some key spices, so I just took the combination and ran with it. It was awesome! Very creamy and aromatic! I loved having tons of spinach in this dish. The baby potatoes took forever to soften, but I think the long, slow cooking really made this special. Adding the sour cream at the end took this from a dry to creamy curry.

I served this with red lentil dal, raita, and naan from Trader Joe's freezer. I was very pleasantly surprised by the naan - lots of texture:

Here's a view of the plateful I enjoyed:

Potato and Spinach Curry with Chickpeas:

2 tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch of coriander seeds
pinch of cumin seeds
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
12 oz baby potatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (I used tinned and chopped them into tiny pieces but included juice)
7 oz (half a tine) chickpeas, rinsed
7 oz (half a tin) light coconut milk
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
salt & pepper
8 oz baby spinach
3 tbsp light sour cream

Heat oil in a skillet and cook onions for 4 minutes. Add garlic, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds and cook 2 minutes. Add garam masala, curry powder, cumin, and coriander and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, chickpeas, and half of the coconut milk. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Add half the cilantro and 1 tsp lemon juice and remaining coconut milk and simmer until potatoes are tender. Add the salt & pepper, spinach in handfuls, and remaining lemon juice, covering and adding more as spinach wilts. Add sour cream and check seasoning.

Serve with raita (I used sour cream, grated cucumber and chopped cilantro this time), red lentil dal, and naan.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pesto Pizza

I found this yummy recipe for pesto pizza in a book called Fresh From the Farmer's Market by Janet Fletcher. The recipe is "just-like-pauline's pesto pizza" and is the author's recreation of a pesto pizza from Pauline's Pizza Pie in San Francisco. According to Fletcher "Pauline's secret is to brush the pesto on at the end after the pizza comes out of the oven." I haven't tried Pauline's version, but we really enjoyed this super simple recipe. All you do is cover a pizza crust with grated mozzarella and the rim with olive oil, bake your pizza at 450 for 7-8 mins or until done, and spread pesto over the cheese!

And the pesto is simple to make! All you need is fresh basil, pinenuts, garlic, and olive oil. I made mine in my Mini Prep, which I love.

We enjoyed this pizza with a caprese salad, or insalata caprese, a salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. I know it's considered a sin by some, but I use balsamic vinegar in mine, along with the olive oil. I picked the basil for this fresh from the garden, but I think its going to be a while for the tomatoes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tuscan Minestrone

This rosemary-infused Tuscan Minestrone recipe is adapted from The Silver Spoon, a massive and wonderful Italian cookbook. This extensive cookbook contains a Minestrone chapter with 10 regional minestrone recipes.

I wouldn't describe myself as a minestrone fan, but this white bean version changed my mind. Wow! I love the fact that it uses rice instead of pasta. I took some shortcuts (I used canned navy beans and infused them with rosemary & olive oil rather than using dried cannellini beans, soaking overnight, and then simmering for 2 hours with rosemary and bay leaf, and used canned tomatoes) and added some of my own ingredients (tomato and pesto pastes). The recipe calls for grated parmesean, but I didn't feel it needed any embellishment, so this is a vegan recipe. The basil paste I used is Amore, which is also vegan. Pureeing half of the beans makes the broth a substantial and comforting base for the fresh spring vegetables.

Tuscan Minestrone (adapted from The Silver Spoon):
8oz white beans, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp olive oil
Sprig of fresh rosemary
I large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
4 oz chopped canned tomatoes and liquid
1 zucchini, chopped
1 leek, white part only, chopped
3-4 cups water (I didn't measure, I just estimate)
1 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp basil paste
1/2 cup cooked rice

Clean rosemary and remove leaves. Add the leaves to 2 tbsp olive oil in a small bowl and microwave for 10 second. Allow to sit for 10 minutes +. Take half of the drained beans and put into a food processor along with the rosemary olive oil. Puree, adding water, until smooth.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat remaining olive oil and cook onion for 4-5 minutes. Add the carrot and parsley and cook one additional minute. Add the tomatoes, zucchini, and leek and cook 4 minutes. Add the water, the beans, and the bean puree. Add water until the broth is at your prefered consistency. Add the tomato and basil paste and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cooked rice, and season to taste. Cook 5-10 minutes longer, then serve. We had this with leftover baguette with basil butter!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Red Bean Bourguignon

The inspiration for this Red Bean Bourguignon, or Red Beans in a red wine sauce, came from a recipe in a book called The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook by Robin Robertson. I ended up combining this recipe with a recipe for Red Beans, Burgundy Style from The Vegetarian Bistro.

This recipe is my contribution to Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday (ARF=Antioxidant Rich Food), as the red kidney beans are one of the top antioxidant rich foods. Red beans are high in protein and fiber, and provide iron (energy production), Thiamin /Vitamin B1 (good for your memory), and maganese (a strong antioxidant).

I'm not big on the three bean salad that I most often see these dark red kidney beans featured in. The combination of these two recipes offered a richer prospect and, although I think it's often a mistake to recreate a vegetarian version of a famous meat dish (Beef Bourguignon), I was curious to try this one. It was excellent and we ate it all with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. It was very flavorful - red wine, pearl onions, rosemary, mushrooms, garlic - without being heavy.

Next time, I'll try adding seitan or firm tofu (in addition to the beans) to provide a more meaty texture. I thought about the Morningstar Steak Strips, but it would have to be something that could stand up to 30 minutes of flavor-infusing simmering.

Red Beans Bourguignon (serves 2):

8-3/4 oz can dark red kidney beans
1-1/2 tbsp butter
8 pearl onions, peeled, topped, and cut in half
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 oz mushrooms, clean and sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary
pinch of dried thyme
2 tsp tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine (approx.) (I used Pinot Noir)
salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat and cook onions, carrot, and garlic gently for 5 minutes. In a separate pan, cook the mushrooms with a dot of butter until they release their juices. Drain. Add the cooked mushrooms, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, tomato paste, wine and beans. Season. Simmer for 20 minutes uncovered, adding more wine or water if needed, until vegetables are tender. Check seasoning and serve with potatoes or rice, your favorite green vegetable, and a nice glass of red wine.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Chocolate Cake

One of the coolest gifts Sweetpea got for her birthday was a baking set, a personalized "chef in training" apron, and the DK Children's Cookbook. It's a bright colorful book with a variety of kid friendly recipes and step-by-step photographs that clearly illustrate the text's instructions. It has photos of all the ingredients needed and a list of "tools" needed for each recipe. It also highlights relevant food facts and recipe ideas with an eye-catching mosaic tile border.

As we had family visiting, we decided to try out the recipe for Chocolate Cake. Sweetpea had a lot of fun wearing her new apron, measuring out sugar and flour, and operating the speed settings on my Kitchen Aid mixer. Needless to say, it was delicious! The cake is a two layer sponge, but the layers are fairly thin so its not a massive cake. The cake was moist and not too chocolatey. Sweetpea decorated it with chocolate butter frosting and mini chocolate chips. You just can't beat homemade!

Chocolate Cake (adapted from DK Children's Cookbook):

3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small cubes
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1-1/4 cups self-rising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tsp coco powder

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream together the sugar and butter under light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg, about 1/3 at a time, and beat until smooth. Sift the flour,baking powder, and coco into the egg mixture and stir just until mixed.

Butter and line two 8" cake pans. Distribute the batter equally between the two pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until firm to touch. Allow to cool before removing. Frost and decorate, as desired.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Spinach & Feta Quiche

Everyone likes this Spinach & Feta Quiche, based on a recipe from The Greens Cookbook for Spinach & Goat Cheese Pie. Madison's recipe calls for 2 eggs + 2 egg yolks + 1 cup milk + 1 cup heavy cream. I have notes scratched in the margin: "makes enough custard for two extra deep 9" - cut in half".

After making this recipe for years, today, for the first time, I had to add more eggs and half & half to fill the pastry shell! I've always used a 9" deep dish premade pastry shell and got away with using 1 egg + 1 egg yolk+ 1 cup half & half, but today had to add a whole egg and 1/3 cup half & half!

It's probably related to some leftover magnetic force from the Bermuda Triangle Pizza, but this recipe has been a favorite for many, many years! I think its better and stronger with feta. I used shallots in place of scallions, although I've often used regular onions with awesome results.

I served this with a green salad with organic yellow and red cherry tomatoes with a salad dressing of olive oil and TJ's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar, and a French baguette.

Spinach & Feta Quiche (adapted from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison):

9" extra deep frozen crust
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped, or 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
8 -10 oz baby spinach, stalks removed
salt & pepper
3 oz crumbled feta
1 egg + 1 egg yolk (add the extra egg if needed)
1 cup Half & Half (= 1/3 cup if extra egg is used)

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt the butter in a skillet and cook the shallot for 1 minute over medium heat. Add the parsley,garlic, and marjoram and cook one additional minute. Add the spinach in handfuls, until wilted. Season. When cool, remove to a chopping block and chop cooked spinach mix.

Whisk together the egg(s), egg yolk, and half & half. Season.

Remove pastry shell from freezer and place on cookie sheet. Spread the bottom with spinach mixture. Add the feta on top and then add the egg custard. Bake for about 40 minutes, until custard is set. Remove from oven and allow to settle for 5+ minutes before cutting.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tofu Fajitas

We really enjoyed this recipe for Tofu Fajitas from Whole Foods Market Vegetarian Recipes. I use homemade flour tortillas from Trader Joes and my own recipe for salsa. I added some guacamole (just mashed avocado with a little lime juice and salt) and light sour cream. I ended up using the juice of 3 limes.

The tofu and veggies are marinated in lime juice with a lot of ground cumin. I balked at the amount of ground cumin, but it does give the tofu and veggies that dried-rub feel. I added a few shakes of cayenne to the marinade, which was still perhaps too mild. I also felt the recipe needed more salt.

Add some grated cheese if you want and serve with chips and salsa and jicama with lemon juice and salt.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Tunisian Fava Beans

If you wrinkle your nose on hearing "fava beans" and think "bitter" or "pasty", this recipe might well change your mind. If you already like fava beans, your gonna love this!

I found this recipe in a book called Mediterranean: Food of the Sun by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow - a remainder book I found for $5.99. This is the first I've tried, but it has lots of excellent looking recipes and many great photographs. After my experience with the Tunisian Fava Beans, I am excited to try many more from this book!

Tunisia is a North African country, one of the three countries of the Maghreb along with Algeria and Morocco. Couscous, cumin, and fiery harissa are characteristic of this region's cuisine. This recipe is refreshing, not hot, spiced with cumin, cilantro, and cool mint. The combination really worked for me and the favas were smooth and buttery.

I had some wonderful fresh fava beans from a friend, grown in her local community garden. They were the best fresh I've had so far ...and big! The key to buttery favas is to remove the bitter outer skin. It's a bit of work, but absolutely worth it. You also don't want to overcook them. The recipe calls for frozen favas, so feel free to use frozen if fresh aren't available.

Tunisian Fava Beans (adapted from Mediterranean: Food of the Sun by Jacqueline Clark and Joanna Farrow):
12 oz frozen or fresh fava beans
1 tbsp butter
4-5 scallions (I used 2), thinly sliced
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tsp fresh mint, chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp olive oil

Simmer the fava beans for 2-4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, remove the outer skin of the favas.

Melt the butter in a skillet and cook the scallion gently for 3-4 minutes. Add the favas, cilantro, mint, cumin, olive oil and salt and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

We enjoyed these with Mediterranean Couscous.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Happy Birthday Sweetpea!

Today is my daughter's birthday and the perfect opportunity to make sweet little cakes for a sweet little girl!

If you're looking for a recipe for sweet little cakes, I highly recommend Sam's Fairy Cake recipe over at Becks & Posh. They are simply light and wonderful! They taste just like the cakes I had as a child.

We used a butter frosting rather than fondant (Sweetpea's choice) and had lots of fun decorating them together. I made full sized fairy cakes, which baked in 19 minutes.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bermuda Triangle Pizza

Bermuda Triangle, another fabulous goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre in Humboldt County. I was excited to find this in a local grocery store and chatted to the cheese lady. "It looks so elegant on a cheese plate" she remarked. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was buying it for a pizza. Bermuda Triangle gotta love the name!

This cheese was quite pungent and tangy when I tasted it alone. It mellowed perfectly on the pizza, though, of course, its cool shape was lost (get it?..lost). It was the star of the pizza! A little pizza sauce, grated mozzarella and thinly sliced tomatoes were all the fanfare needed for this star to shine.

I served this awesome pizza with a salad of greens, thinly sliced apples and walnuts, with the tiniest light Dijon vinaigrette, and a nice cold glass of chardonnay.

What's my name?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Farfalle with Green Beans and Gorgonzola

This week's contribution to Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday (ARF=Antioxidant Rich Food) is a Farfalle with Green Beans and Gorgonzola.

This dish was inspired by our local Italian Deli, which I noted has a Green Bean and Gorgonzola salad. I really haven't done much with green beans other than serve them as a side or toss them in a soup, so I was excited to see how this combo would play out. This was a very satisfying meal - the creamy, pungent Gorgonzola played off the crisp green beans very well. The walnuts were a great addition.

Green beans, aka string beans and runner beans, are an excellent source of Vitamin K. A cup provides 120% of the RDA of Vitamin K, important in building and maintaining healthy bones. Green beans are also a great source of Vitamins A & C, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.

Gorgonzola is an Italian cow milk cheese that is creamy in taste and crumbly in texture with a sharp blue-green mold. It is named after the town where it originated around the 9th Century, just outside Milan. It is quite a salty cheese and you'll want to keep that in mind when cooking with it. It's very good alone and in salads, a good choice for a dessert cheese. It pairs well with pears, thus the Pear and Gorgonzola pizza.

Farfalle with Green Beans & Gorgonzola (Serves 2):

8 oz farfalle pasta
12 oz green beans, topped and tailed
1 tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp half & half
2 oz Gorgonzola, crumbled
handful of walnut pieces
Fresh ground pepper

Cook the pasta according to directions.

Bring 1-1/2 cups water, salted, to a boil. Add green beans and boil for 7 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

Melt butter in a skillet over med. heat and fry shallot and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add drained green beans and half & half and cook 2 minutes. Add drained pasta, walnuts, and Gorgonzola. Turn off heat and stir until well combined. Add fresh ground pepper. Serve immediately.

We enjoyed this with a light Pinot Noir.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tofu Parmigiana

I've been making this wonderfully tasty tofu dish for years and always to rave reviews! This is a great dish when you have a mix of vegetarians and non-vegetarians, as everyone will be satisfied. It's really quite rich! I used fresh breadcrumbs and being more moist, they didn't "stick" as well to the tofu (but they tasted better!). Tonight I served the tofu with steamed cauliflower and broccoli, bread and butter.

I used fresh chopped basil, oregano, and parsley instead of dried herbs and Trader Joe's Three Cheese Pasta sauce in place of the tomato sauce. Otherwise I followed this wonderful Tofu Parmigiana recipe by Jill B. Mittelstadt.

Try this one - you'll love it!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Watermelon, Feta, and Black Olive Salad

I have to thank Nina from the wonderful Sweet Napa for tipping me off to this very refreshing Watermelon, Feta, and Black Olive Salad from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer. This is the perfect summer salad, easy, impressively tasty, and attractive.

I really couldn't imagine how this combination would taste. I liked all the ingredients, but the combination was counterintuitive to me. I have to say I loved this salad and will be enjoying this a great deal this summer! The combination of clean watermelon, creamy and tangy feta, the fresh bite of mint, and bright lime juice was a fabulous mouthful of flavor and texture.

In addition to the main items, there's a little red onion, soaked in lime juice, chopped mint (essential), and flat leaf parsley. The original recipe was for 8, so I made a small batch and used my own judgment on the quantities (approximated below). The original recipe called for olive oil, which I skipped completely. Use the firmest sweet watermelon you can find to make sure it holds its triangular shape. I only had crumbled feta (which worked for me), but the recipe calls for triangles of firm feta, about the same size as the watermelon. If you don't like olives, I think this salad would be delicious without them too.

Watermelon, Feta, and Black Olive Salad (adapted from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer):

2 lbs watermelon, rind removed and cut into triangles
1/3 red spring onion, finely chopped (Nigella suggests thin half moon shapes)
Juice of 1 lime
2 oz feta, crumbled or cut into triangles
1-2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, torn
handful of pitted black olives

Soak the red onion in the lime juice and set aside. Combine the melon, feta, and mint in a large bowl. Add the onion with lime juice, the parsley, and the olives and toss ever so gently. You're done!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Lunch at Coco 500

A rare treat today - a lunch date with hubby at Coco 500 in San Francisco on 4th and Brannan. I'd heard good things about the restaurant and it was a natural choice for us as it's a stone throw from hubby's office and the smoky wood oven smells had been tempting him for some time. We had 11:30 reservations, much earlier than I would have chosen, but I had to be able to get back in time to pick up the kids. We were the second party to arrive.

The restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside but inside its bright and cheerful, sparsely decorated with some striking impressionist oil landscapes that captured the colors of the earth, the sky, some with shadows of telephone poles and wires.

The seating is extremely intimate and consists of two long rows of small tables with a booth seat on the wall side and a chair on the inside. The tables were too close together and it was very awkward to get in and out of the booth side seats. Once it got bustling, we also found it difficult to hear each other because you had to compete volumewise with the guests seated either side of you.

The menu is small, which we liked. We started out with a bottle of sparkling mineral water - Badoit, a very light and refreshing French mineral water ($8), marinated olives ($3), and a Coastal Greens salad ($6). I was attracted to the salad because of the coriander vinaigrette. It was delicious and I will be experimenting with this! The salad included greens, a lot of frisee, thinly sliced apple, and warm toasted almonds. The coriander vinaigrette was particularly good with the apple. I would have preferred the salad had more leafy greens and a lot less frisee, but would definitely order this again.

We both ordered pizza, although hubby was tempted by the Coco Burger and I did consider the English Pea Ravioli. Hubby ordered a salmon pizza, with thinly sliced smoked salmon, fennel, and meyer lemon. He really enjoyed this, although on first bite he was overwhelmed by the unpeeled thinly sliced lemons. He said he didn't notice it after that. I had a tough time choosing between the Spinach Pizza with stewed garlic and oven dried tomatoes and the Pizza with Potato and Taleggio cheese. I asked the waitress which she'd recommend and she said it depends if you want garlic or not. I did, so I went with the Spinach pizza and I'm glad I did. It was fantastic - the stewed garlic was mild and tasty and the oven dried tomatoes were rich and fabulous. The spinach was definitely the minor player. Both pizzas ($13) had very thin, crispy crusts and packed in a lot of taste without leaving you weighted down.

I looked at the dessert menu but was the only item that tempted me was the Greek Yogurt with orange blossom honey, dried fruits, and pistachio praline. I decided to give it a pass, but will probably make my own breakfast version! One thing I did like about the dessert menu were the "noncommittal" items, chocolate or biscotti ($2) as a side for a coffee. Great idea!

We really enjoyed the food and the experience. We just needed more space!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cauliflower Soup & Cooking by Hand

Following this recipe for cauliflower soup was, for me, a leap of faith. It's a slow recipe, whereas I love to hurry a recipe and often highlight how little time it took to prepare. I also love to wing it when I'm cooking, so I rarely follow a recipe. In this case, I not only followed the recipe, I even weighed out my ingredients.

So what inspired this rare discipline and patience?

The fabulous food writing in Paul Bertolli's Cooking by Hand. Paul knows food (he was a chef at Chez Panisse and is now chef and co-owner of Oliveto) and his food writing is unique. His voice quietly and authoritatively presents food to you "in the moment", in all its sensory glory. Food and cooking become metaphors for life and living. Reading this book is, for me, a meditation. It's enlightening.

Unlike most cauliflower soup recipes, this one is neither spiced nor creamy. Bertolli says "add cream or seasonings such as curry (a common cure) to cauliflower, or add solid garnishes, and you steal from it." His soup recipe "is a good example of the austere requirements of certain foods: that the clearest expression of their flavor suggests adding next to nothing."

The first part of the recipe is to sweat an onion (6 oz) in a little olive oil for 15 minutes, without letting it brown. I knew I'd have to set a timer or I'd never make it. Even on the lowest heat and in my heavy bottomed soup pot, the onion started to brown. I had to move it all to one side and pull the saucepan half off the heat. You then add 1 lb 6 oz of very fresh cauliflower and salt to taste (that's always tough, I always underestimate), plus 1/2 cup water, and stew the cauliflower, tightly covered for 15-20 minutes, until tender ( 20 mins for me). Then add 4-1/2 cups hot water, and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree and let sit for 20 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, reheat, and serve with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

So after I pureed it with my immersion handblender, I tasted it, pretty sure I had undersalted. I had undersalted, but I was stunned by the soup's plainness. I corrected the seasoning and tasted again with fresh ground pepper - much better, but, still awfully plain.

I decided to go ahead and take pictures.

When I returned, the 20 minute wait time was up and I added the additional water. I tasted again. Eureka! The flavors had developed and were singing to me from my spoon. Mellow, with a hint of roasted onion, and pure cauliflower taste, this soup was absolutely delicious!

Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli is much more than a cookbook. It's a collection of essays, personal recollections, precise techniques, and recipes. Bertolli discusses respect for ingredients and the origin of recipes, ripeness, tomatoes, pasta, wine, and cooking backwards to name a few. Brilliant and completely real, this book is remarkable and a pleasure to read.

Postscript note: a recent update - Paul Bertolli is now focusing on starting a new company to make artisanal salumi--under the label Fra'Mani, and chef Paul Canales has taken over the helm of the Oliveto kitchen.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Portobello, "Sausage", & Spring Onion Pizza

Wow! This was a great pizza! Portobellos cooked with garlic, red wine, and balsamic vinegar, with crumbled Morningstar "Sausage" Patties, and quick fried red spring onions on a cornmeal crust from Trader Joe's dough, topped with mozzarella.

I'm really not into "faux meat". Never having cooked real meat dishes, ways to use the "faux" meats never occur to me. I was looking for pizza recipes with portobellos on, however, when I came across the portobello/sausage combo idea (in their recipe the Port was the pizza "crust").

I basically only had the Morningstar Sausage Patties in the faux sausage dept.. These patties are absolutely yummy on their own or in an English Muffin sandwich. I microwaved a couple of patties and then cut them up with a knife and fork. They were a little on the dry side, so I added a few drops of red wine, which instantly revived them.

The ports were peeled and sliced. I fried two minced garlic cloves cooked in oil for one minute. I then added the sliced mushrooms with a little red wine and balsamic vinegar and cooked for 4-5 minutes until they were tender and had released their juices. I plated the ports, wiped out my skillet and cooked the thinly sliced spring onions in a tiny bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (Don't do the onions with the mushrooms, the mushrooms bleed.)

The pizza was then created. TJ's Cornmeal crust dough with a little Contadina Pizza Sauce, some grated mozzarella, spreading out the cooked port slices like a fan around the pizza, onions in-between, sprinkled with the sausage mix, then more mozzarella cheese. Baked for 10 mins! Yummy!