Sunday, April 29, 2007

Nachos Pizza

So, it's been a while since I did a pizza and this Nachos Pizza really kicked!

I used a Vicolo Organic Corn Crust pizza base, which I smothered in Pace Picante Salsa. Added a healthy layer of corn, grated a combo of sharp cheddar and Cacique Queso Quesadilla, sliced jalapenos and black olives, and topped with MorningStar Grillers Recipe Crumbles (a ground beef substitute from the freezer section, which I used for my Cornish Pasties with great success). I sauted the MorningStart Griller Crumbles (they need a better name for this) in a little olive oil and salsa for 2 minutes before adding it to the pizza. Baked the pizza for 12 minutes at 425.

The crumbles were superb and held their ground beef texture admirably. I love this product (my buddy J. recently used them in a lasagna to rave reviews)! The pizza was hot and superbly satisfying and a nice variation of my other Mexican style pizzas:

  • Fiesta Pizza

  • Mexican Pizza

  • Jalapeno Salsa Pizza

  • Linguini with Peas, Chives, & Pine Nuts

    Another pretty spring pasta dish!

    I can't resist the organic English Peas from our local Farmers Market. They're so sweet and perfect, it's hard not to just eat them right out of the shell. So, while they're in season, I'm looking for new pea dishes and combinations.

    I really enjoyed the combination of peas, chives, and pine nuts with linguini. The taste was pure freshness, the chives adding a depth of flavor without taking anything away from the peas. The pine nuts taste and crunchiness provided a complimentary treat, and slivers of Goat Gouda added a little creaminess to a dish that only used the minimum amount of olive oil as a sauce.
    The resulting dish was fresh, light, and lush.

    So, any favorite pea compliments? Any unexpectedly successful pea pairings? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    Spring Vegetable Bowl

    This wonderful Spring Vegetable Bowl is on of my favorite meals this year! Simply fresh vegetables from the Farmers' Market, lightly cooked and served with butter and chives (from the garden).

    I steamed the baby carrots, orange cauliflower, and broccoli for 3-4 minutes. I boiled the fava beans for 2 mins and removed the bitter skin. Then chopped fresh onions and green garlic, sauted in kerrygold Irish butter until soft, and added the vegetable and raw English peas. Cooked for a couple of minutes and topped with the snipped chives.

    Total heaven!

    Rigatoni with Broiled Eggplant, Tomatoes, & Onion

    This toothsome rigatoni dish with mouth-watering broiled tomatoes, eggplant, and onion was inspired by our lovely sunny weather.

    I remember when a pasta meal for me was simply pasta with sauce (from a jar). What was I thinking? There's so many wonderful blends of sauce, vegetables, and cheese! It's hard to imagine ever running out of ideas.

    This recipe was very easy. I sliced and salted the eggplant and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes (turning halfway). I sliced the tomatoes and onions and laid them out on a foil covered baking tray with the drained eggplant. Brushed the vegetables with a combination of olive oil, freshly minced garlic, and balsamic vinegar and set out under the broiler until lightly browned (I turned the eggplant halfway). I then chopped the vegetables and added them to organic tomato sauce with the cooked rigatoni. I served the pasta, topped with feta. Sweetpea, my 6 year old, (who likes pasta with butter) was intrigued enough by the sights and smells of this dish to ask for some as a second dinner!

    Next time, I'll add capers and, if I plan ahead enough, slow-roast the tomatoes.

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Happy St. George's Day!

    It's St George's Day and a great day to celebrate English food!

    Sam over at Becks & Posh has really outdone herself with her fabulous 'English Food is Not a Joke' round-up. Check out this amazing array from international food bloggers all celebrating English Food: you'll be salivating.

    Above is the photo of Bakewell Tart from last year's event.

    Here's a few vegetarian favorite's from Albion Cooks:

  • English Sausage Rolls

  • Rhubarb Fool

  • Shepherd's Pie

  • Stilton & Watercress Tarte

  • Friday, April 20, 2007

    Abuelita's Corn Tortillas with Nopales Salsa

    Although I worked in Berkeley for almost 3 years, it took Shuna's Knife Skills Class and a previously unknown amount of free (read:without children) time to make my way to the famed Berkeley Bowl. This is a famous grocery store that carries a lot of produce you don't find in your run-of-the -mill store and the kind of place that carries 10 varieties of lemons and plenty of tofu. I was very excited to find nopales (cactus) leaves , but was even more excited to find debarbed, chopped nopales in a bag for $2. Having recently seen a soup recipe that called for nopales (and, if you wrote it, please email me the link, 'cos now I can't find it!), this was an easy purchasing decision.

    (Postscript: The soup is Hominy & Cactus Soup from Lydia at The Perfect Pantry. Thanks Lydia)

    Although I'm a Brit and love English Food, one of the great things about moving to California (along with the sun, coast, and artichokes) was my discovery of Mexican Food. I love Mexican flavors and, in a phase in my youth, subsisted on quesadillas (along with several dinner companions) for a very long time.

    So what the heck does cactus taste like? It tastes like a grassy, succulent (ha!), mild green pepper, slightly sweet and slightly bitter. I used my diced nopales in a salsa with chopped tomatoes, red onion, avocado, cilantro, jalapeno, and Pace picante sauce and really enjoyed this addition. Served with Abuelita's Sonora Style Corn Tortillas (with Green Chile & Gilroy Garlic, also purchased at Berkeley Bowl) with melted cheddar cheese, these salsa-topped corn tortillas were totally amazing! Abuelita's corn tortilla's (made in Sacramento) are so tender and flavorful, they even taste fantastic raw. Locals: if you see these, buy them and indulge!

    Thursday, April 19, 2007

    English Food is Not a Joke (Vegetarian Cornish Pasties)

    English food is not a joke because well, frankly, it's my food heritage and I'm proud of it. English food prepared by a thoughtful, caring cook is delicious!

    I was very fortunate to have a grandmother and a grandfather who were both excellent and thoughtful cooks. They cooked with fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients (often from their garden), had good relationships with the butcher, baker, and green grocer, and just plain really cared about feeding their family and friends well.

    My grandmother gave me my love of vegetables. She never overcooked them and she made perfect roast potatoes. She always invited me to participate in the preparation - shelling peas was a favorite - and the clean up (I could choose to wash or dry). She was experienced enough to be able to make desserts on they fly from whatever she had.

    My grandfather was more of an afternoon tea and supper specialist. Freshly baked goods, slices of fresh cut bread and butter, sausage rolls. Nothing fancy, but always thoughtfully done. You know, generous.

    Sure, I've suffered through ghastly school lunches and bad food in England. But they were bad, not because English food is inherently bad, but rather due to a lack of care and respect for the end product and the diner.

    Anyway, this proud post is my contribution to Becks & Posh St George's Day Fish & Quips event. I have now created a recipe menu item on my sidebar called English Food to highlight some favorite English recipes already blogged. Thanks to Sam for hosting this excellent event.

    Today, I give you Vegetarian Cornish Pasties. When I took an early cooking class in traditional English fare (I was about 7), I recall one of the first recipes we made were Cornish Pasties. This vegetarian version came out superbly. You can change the vegetables to whatever is in season. Happily, I found English peas at the Farmers Market yesterday. These are best served with gravy. Enjoy.

    Vegetarian Cornish Pasties

    Shortcrust pastry:

    2-1/2 cups flour
    4 oz butter, cut into small cubes
    pinch of salt
    cold water

    2 oz butter
    1 onion, finely chopped
    1 rutabaga/swede, peeled and diced small
    1 large potato, peeled and diced small
    1 large carrot, finely sliced
    1/2 tsp marmite
    1/4 cup hot water
    pinch of herbes du Provence
    fresh thyme, finely chopped
    1/2 cup fresh English peas
    4 oz MorningStar Meal Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles (frozen) or veg. ground beef substitute
    1 shake of soy sauce
    salt & pepper
    beaten egg

    Put the flour in a large bowl, add the salt, and rub the butter in with your finger tips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add water in tablespoons and mix with your hands or a folk until dough starts to come together. Use enough water to produce a pliable dough. Form a flat disk shape, wrap in plastic, and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

    Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onions and rutabaga and cook for 5 minutes. Add the potato and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for a few minutes. Dissolve the marmite in the hot water and add to the vegetables. Add the herbs and cover, cooking for 8-10 minutes until the vegetables are almost done. Add the pea and cook 2 minutes. Add the vegetarian mince and soy sauce. Season.

    Preheat the oven to 400.

    Roll out the pastry and use a 6" plate to cut out 6 circles of dough (you'll have some left over). Put 2-3 spoonfuls of filling into the center of each dough circle and crimp together the dough using a little water.

    Place on a baking sheet and brush with beaten egg.

    Bake for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned.

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    Knife Skills Class

    Having had my share of kitchen knife accidents, I was psyched to have the opportunity to take Shuna Fish Lydon's Knife Skills Class this weekend.

    Shuna, a pastry chef and the author of eggbeater, has a gift for teaching and knows her knives. It was a pleasure to hear her carefully crafted descriptions, suggestions, and explanations. Shuna is a person of rare precision and, thus, the perfect teacher for someone like me, who likes to wing it. My personal safety has increased enormously from taking this class, starting with the golden rule: when you're cutting, you're focus is only on the task of cutting.

    Shuna covered an immense amount of ground in this 2-1/2 hour class: knife types and brands, elements to consider in your choice of knives, knife safety, cutting techniques, keeping your knives sharp and minimalizing opportunities for blunting them. I was a little stunned to realize how pathetically little consideration I had previously given to the subject of knives and cutting in general. Happily, the time to awake is always now.

    If you'd asked me before the class if I'd ever bother to peel a grape, a red pepper, or a cherry tomato or supreme an orange, the answer would probably have been something along the lines of "Are you kidding?" But one of the bonuses of taking this class was tasting peeled red pepper and supremed orange and having one's socks knocked off with the incredible taste of these raw peel-less fruits and vegetables. I'd never have guessed there'd be such a change in taste. And then you get to supreme and peel your own and try out different knives and techniques in the hands-on portion of the class.

    Shuna just posted her latest class schedule (Hmm... Pie & Galette Dough) with some out-of-state opportunites. I can't recommend her more highly as a teacher. An awesome experience.

    Below, Shuna demos safe carrot cutting:

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Chard, Cauliflower, & Olive Soup

    This recipe was inspired by a beautiful bouquet of rainbow chard!

    As I'm still in head-cold hell, soup, preferably hot (spicy) and filled with strong flavors, vitamins, and antioxidants, is what I'm craving.

    Greens with cauliflower, red beans and kalamata olives are a fantastic combination. I loved the combination in this recipe for Greek Spaghetti, and decided to make a soup version. I added chopped jalapenos to add head-clearing heat to this soup. Topped with feta, it was incredible.

    As this is such a healthful dish, it's my contribution to this week's Sweetnick's ARF Tuesday.

    Chard, Cauliflower, & Olive Soup:

    1 bunch chard
    1-2 tbs olive oil
    1 small onion, finely chopped
    2 stalks of green garlic, sliced, or 1-2 cloves, minced
    1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florettes
    2 cups of vegetable broth
    2 cups water
    7 oz red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
    10 kalamata olives, sliced
    1/2 tsp chopped jalapeno (optional)
    crumbled feta

    Wash the chard carefully and remove the stems. If the stems aren't too coarse, slice them thinly to add to the soup. Chop the leaves into manageable pieces.

    Add the olive oil to a heavy bottomed pan and heat over med low. Add the onions and sliced chard stems (if using). Saute for 3-4 minutes, then add the green garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add the cauliflower, cover, and cook for 4 minutes.

    Add the vegetable broth and water and bring to a boil. Add the chard leaves, red kidney beans, the jalapenos (if using), and half of the sliced olives. Turn down to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the remaining olives and simmer a few more minutes. Taste and add seasoning as desired (the olives are salty!).

    Serve topped with crumbled feta.

    Saturday, April 14, 2007


    Yep...this artichoke is big, and it's all for me.

    Having just driven through Castroville (between Monterey & Santa Cruz), which produces a whopping 80% of commercially grown artichoke, and seeing all those fabulous, healthy looking artichoke plants, I have to admit I have artichokes on the brain.

    And then, I pick up the May 2007 issue of Body & Soul magazine and am treated to this lovely little article, Power Foods:Artichokes, by Jane Black. Turns out, artichokes are a nutritional powerhouse, high in fiber, iron, magnesium, Vitamin C, and Folate. But, Black draws our attention to the fact that artichokes contain both silymarin (yes, we here in Marin are a silly bunch) and cynarin, both of which promote liver health. And, Black's article explained why I saw weird signs in Castroville of Marilyn Monroe with artichokes...she was crowned the first Artichoke Queen in 1948 (and, you know, they say artichokes are aphrodisiacs).

    So before I switch into my St. George's Day celebration of English Food (it's a Becks & Posh blogger event, darling, that I strongly encourage you to particpate in), let me sing the praises of the California artichoke. While the Spanish brought the artichoke to California in the 1600's, they were not "widely grown until the 1920's, when Andrew Molera of the Salinas Valley was willing to try out the "new" vegetable" (source: Gourmet

    Back in my younger days, I went through a serious artichoke phase, in which I ate 1-2 artichokes for dinner every night for months. They were simply steamed and each petal was dipped in melted butter (with added salt!), which is how I'll be enjoying this monster. There's really nothing quite like eating an artichoke. It's a wonderful slow food experience. People have their preferences, but I say: forget the lemon, the breadcrumbs, the mayo! Melted butter with extra salt is the way to go!

    I've cooked recipes with artichokes, but, honestly, they all seem like a waste. If you're going to enjoy this thistle before it blooms into a lovely purple flower, I say, enjoy it alone, as it is.

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Portola Restaurant at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

    This week we enjoyed another fine lunch at the Portola Restaurant, located in a wonderfully light, bay view room in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We were down in the Monterey area to celebrate my mum's birthday, and mum chose the Portola Restaurant and a visit to see the new fresh water otter exhibit at the aquarium as the family adventure.

    Here's photographs of the vegetarian plates. At the top, my appetizer of artichoke stuffed with mashed potato and a tangy tomato coulis. Underneath each artichoke was a tiny amount of smoked eggplant and the greenery is micro greens. I preferred the tomato version, which was simply much more flavorful than the potato version, but both were enjoyable. My only disappointment was that the eggplant was bitter, but easily avoided. I did have an awful headcold for this visit, so it could be my taste buds were a little off.

    I should also mention that the restaurant serve the most wonderful orange cheesy flatbread in their breadbasket. It's quite spicy in flavor - cayenne I'm guessing, but I absolutely can't resist it this wonderful cracker!

    For my main, I enjoyed another of their vegetarian sandwiches. Last time, you may remember, I had the lentil sandwich with chevre and licorice micro greens. This time, the sandwich had grilled portobello, red pepper, oven-roasted tomato, dandelion greens, Toma cheese, and basil aioli. It was very good, although I'd have preferred a less bitter green. It was my first taste of Toma cheese, a soft and creamy Italian cheese, buttery with a slight tanginess. I'll have to try this in a recipe of my own!

    Although I was far too full to order dessert, a couple of folks saved room and look at these!

    Mum ordered the chocolate painted florentine shell filled with coconut, mango, and kiwi sorbet.

    And this strawberry and rhubarb tartlet was incredible!

    If you're visiting the Monterey area, definitely don't miss a visit to the Aquarium and lunch at the Portola Restaurant (as the restaurant is in the Aquarium, it is only available to Aquarium visitors ).

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    Cabbage & Green Garlic Soup

    So, how do we feel about humble food?

    Are complex, artistic dishes, made with the best food the world has to offer, more worthy than humble, local recipes made from fresh, simple ingredients?

    What kind of cook/chef do you prefer: one who can create exotic dishes from wildly complex flavors and serve them with distinctive foams/compotes/remoulades or one who can make a good meal with anything you happen to have in the fridge or pantry?

    I often thought it would be fun for the cooking network to have a show where a fabulous chef shows up at some normal person's house and prepare a fabulous meal with only what they find already there plus one secret ingredient they're allowed to bring (without knowing what's already in the house, of course).

    So, why am I prattling on about humble food? Because this recipe for Cabbage & Green Garlic Soup is definitely humble, but, boy, is it hitting the spot ce soir. This morning I woke up with a throat on fire, so it's been soup for lunch, popsicles and ice cream for snacks, and soup for dinner.

    This cabbage soup is inspired by a recipe for Layered Mountain Cheese, Bread, & Cabbage Soup from The Vegetarian Table: France. Well, honestly, more by the photograph of the soup than the recipe per se.

    Anyway, this simple cabbage and green garlic soup was spicy and superb! The Judy's Breadstick slices with Gruyere made this soup bowl almost decadent.

    As you know, garlic is a seriously protective little plant, and regular consumption of garlic lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke by lessening the amount of free radicals in the bloodstream (source: World's Healthiest Foods). So this soup is my contribution to this week's Sweetnick's ARF Tuesday.

    Here's the humble recipe:

    Cabbage & Green Garlic Soup:

    3 tbsp butter
    1 med. onion, chopped
    3 green garlic stalks, finely sliced
    1/2 head of green cabbage sliced
    2 cups vegetable broth
    2 cups water
    1 tbsp green olive paste
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1/2 cup white beans
    1 tsp red pepper flakes (or less if you don't want spicy)
    salt & pepper
    1 tbsp champagne or white wine vinegar
    2 slices dark bread (Judy's Breadsticks are vegan and fabulous)
    Grated Gruyere (optional)

    Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed soup pan. Fry the chopped onion over low heat for 5 minutes. Add green garlic and cook, covered for 5 minutes. Add cabbage and cook for 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, water, green olive paste, cumin, beans, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer for 10 minutes covered. Taste soup and season. Add vinegar and cook 3 more minutes. Serve with slices of toasted dark bread and grated gruyere (if using).

    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Easter Brunch

    Scrambled Eggs with Green Garlic in a Roast Potato Base.

    Pea & Pasta salad.

    Steamed vegetables with garlic butter.

    French Toast.

    Saturday, April 07, 2007

    Scrambled Eggs with Green Garlic & Chives in a Roast Potato Base

    Here's an elegant Easter Brunch recipe for scrambled eggs: add sauted, seasonal green garlic and serve them in a roast potato base!

    I did a test run of this recipe to prepare for a family Easter Brunch I'm hosting tomorrow, and it was delicious. The green garlic is wonderful with scrambled eggs and I added a little shredded Arina Goat Gouda to make the eggs extra special. The creamy, rich eggs complimented the crunchy potato base beautifully. Topped with chives from my garden, each mouthful of this seasonal dish was a celebration of Spring and new beginnings.

    I discovered the roast potato base last year with this recipe for Lentils in a Roast Potato Base:

    Complete instructions on how to make the roast potato base can be found with this recipe. They're a little time-consuming, so you'll need to plan ahead if you want to make these, but definitely worth the effort.

    For the eggs, I used smaller white potatoes rather than the larger russets in the lentil version.

    Happy Easter!

    Monday, April 02, 2007

    Matzo Ball Soup

    It's the night of the Passover Seder and all across the land people are enjoying their favorite Matzo Ball Soup.

    My version contains organic vegetable broth, green garlic, leeks, red, yellow, and orange carrots, baby potatoes, and chopped parsley, and a spoonful of green olive paste. Not very traditional, but good!

    A safe Passover night to all.

    Postscript (4/3/07):

    Amy requested the recipe for this, so here you go.

    Farmers' Market Matzo Ball Soup:

    I box of matzo ball mix (mine required 2 eggs, and some vegetable oil)
    1 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 large stalks of green garlic, sliced
    1 medium leek, sliced
    3 baby potatoes, diced
    1-1/2 cups of sliced carrots (I used red, yellow, and orange)
    32 fl oz organic vegetable broth (I used Trader Joe's)
    I cup water
    1 tsp green olive paste
    1/3 cup chopped parsley
    salt & pepper

    Prepare the matzo balls according to the directions. I had to refridgerate mine for 15 minutes. Be sure to make the balls small; they'll swell with cooking.

    In a soup pot, heat the vegetable oil and add the green garlic, leek and diced potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots and vegetable broth, water, and bring the to a boil. Add the matzo balls and turn to a simmer. Add the green olive paste and half of the chopped parsely. Simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes. Season, and add the rest of the parsley. Serve!