Category Archives: Uncategorized

April’s Promise

Winter’s jagged edge softens

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Spring brings sweet release

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Summer is a promise of yellow days

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Fallen petals drift like unmelted snow

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A Pumpkin Latte Detour

Have you ever heard of a sweet potato latte? Apparently it has become popular in Japantown, San Francisco (article link here). I was intrigued because I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate more vegetables in my day. It had never occurred to me to put them in my breakfast beverage!

I set out to make my own at home, and of course my mission took a detour. I had two butternut squash waiting to be roasted so I did those at the same time I roasted the sweet potato. (I use butternut squash puree in place of canned pumpkin, and keep it stocked in my freezer.) I made pumpkin bread with the fresh puree, and then had an idea. If sweet potato works in a latte, why not pumpkin (aka butternut squash)?

It instantly became my new favorite breakfast drink, happily taking the place of my chai latte since I’m not doing caffeine right now. I measured out the puree into little ramekins and put them in my fridge so I have a quick warm drink in the making for the next few days. I’m not sure if canned would taste as good as fresh, but I think it would be worth a try.

According to the article, this drink is traditionally caffeine free, but espresso can be added for kicks.

Pumpkin Latte

1 cup milk
4 Tablespoons pumpkin or butternut squash puree
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons honey or sugar
a tiny pinch (less than 1/8 teaspoon) each of ground cinnamon, ginger, and either allspice, or cardomom

Mix all ingredients in a microwave safe cup. Heat till warm, 1-1 ½ minutes. Froth in a blender or with a handheld frother.

I still intend to try the sweet potato latte, once my butternut fixation eases. I’ll try to keep you posted.

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Marinated Green Bean & Carrot Salad

I love olives, all of them. Kalamata, black, green with piminto hearts. I love pickles, pepperoncini, marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, fresh pickled beets…you get the picture. Anything with a nice, vinegary tang makes me happy. My husband still tells the story, in a slightly horrified voice, of the first time he saw me eat Kalamata olives at 7 a.m. I have nothing to say for myself. This is perfectly normal behavior. Isn’t it?

My Aunt Joann used to make this wonderful thing called Cumin Carrots. It’s simply steamed-till-tender carrots marinated in a fresh, zippy vinaigrette with a healthy overdose of garlic. I often make it in the middle of winter when I’m missing summer veggies. Lemon juice and vinegar go a long way towards brightening my rainy days and my carrots.

All summer long I’ve had this rather explicable urge to pickle fresh green beans. When a lovely bag of beans arrived on my doorstep in my CSA box, I was ready to set off on my latest pickling adventure. For some reason, my Aunt Joann’s Cumin Carrots came to mind. I decided to adapt her recipe by using green beans, cilantro instead of parsley… 

and some fresh jalapenos for a little kick (hi-ya!) It worked beautifully!

Do you see the lion's tear?

Now that I know green beans and carrots are interchangeable in this recipe, I’m tempted to try cauliflower. A little red bell pepper would be good too. Ooh, asparagus! The possibilities are endless!

Marinated Green Bean & Carrot Salad  

Ingredients:

1 lb fresh green beans trimmed, halved, and steamed
½ lb carrots sliced ¼” diagonally and steamed
9 small cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
¼ cup white vinegar
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ½ teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1-2 jalapenos, sliced (optional)
½ bunch fresh chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley, or 1 Tablespoon dried

Directions:

1)   Steam trimmed green beans in the microwave. Put a little water in the bottom of a bowl and cover with a paper towel. Microwave for 2-3 minutes until tender-crisp, stirring after every minute to ensure even cooking. (Remember, they keep cooking after you take them out of the microwave. Let them sit for a few minutes and then check doneness before cooking them longer.)

2)   Do the same with the sliced carrots, but cook only 1-2 minutes.

3)   Whisk together dressing. Stir in cooled veggies and spoon mixture into a jar or other non-reactive lidded container (glass is best). Refrigerate 3-4 hours before serving, better overnight.

This lasts at least a week in the fridge (unless I’m around). It’s perfect for Greek toga parties, potlucks, or as a midmorning snack straight from the jar.

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A Pink and Purple Party, Naturally

For me, planning a party without a theme is like making a sandwich without bread. I wouldn’t know how to enjoy it, and would likely end up with a huge mess on my lap. Themes provide inspiration for menus, decorations, etc. You can probably guess my favorite part-the menu of course!

When my youngest turned two last year we had to cancel her little party because both of my kids came down with strep throat two days before. Ever since then, out of the blue, she would tell me she wants a birthday party, a pink and purple one. And so, a year later, she finally got to have her cake, and eat it too.

The Menu:

The party was set for 3-5 p.m., so I didn’t have to plan a full meal. Pink and purple finger food (healthy-ish, or at least from scratch anyway) for kids? Interesting.

The first thing that came to mind was “pink and purple” fruit with my Aunt Rose’s fruit dip-recipe below. (Now she is a theme party queen! She even orders her bread for little sandwiches to be specially dyed by the bakery to go with her theme colors. Hard core, I love it!) I know marshmallow crème and cream cheese are rather devoid of nutrients, but hey, there’s a little protein in there right? As an added bonus, the kids actually eat more fruit (at a party no less).

Next, a must-have at all my parties is baked brie wrapped in homemade Challah dough.  To add some pink, I wrapped the brie first in applewood smoked ham before the dough. These beauties go into the oven just as guests are scheduled to arrive, and disappear soon after emerging (the brie, not the guests). Again, not the healthiest of appetizers, but well worth the extra pogo-sticking. And I challenge you to compare the ingredient list to that of a Hot Pocket! 

My husband’s big idea for party food, a snack, or meal replacement for that matter, is always chips and salsa. Blue corn tortilla chips are sort of purple I thought, so maybe. Years ago I fell in love with that cabbage stuff served like a salsa with tortilla chips at some Mexican restaurants. Two winters ago, while still mourning the loss of tomato season, I decided to make my own cabbage-based salsa using all my favorite salsa ingredients-garlic, lime juice, and cilantro. It became an instant family favorite-even my picky 7 year old digs in and enjoys the fresh flavor! I’ll eat it straight from the bowl with a fork, and our grilled fish tacos are much cheerier now. The clincher-cabbage comes in a natural, fantastic, in-your-face purple! I won’t bother with the pale green version anymore. Purple cabbage tastes just as good, but is sooo much prettier! (Scroll down to the bottom of my superbowl post for my recipe: cabbage salsa)

Punch and Cake

Pretty in Pink Punch: bathe ½ gallon raspberry sherbet with 2 2-liters of chilled Gingerale till melty, and voila!

If only the cake had been that simple. Well, making the cake was easy-The New Best Recipe cookbook from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated has a basic chocolate sheet cake recipe that turned me away from cake mixes forever. I bolstered the chocolate, and used two round cake pans instead of a 13×9.

I had a little too much fun experimenting with fresh blueberry and strawberry/cherry juice as natural food coloring for my cream cheese frosting. The act of frosting the cakes, however, was quite a challenge. My mother-in-law (esteemed sous chef for the day) can attest to that. Pale pink and purple frosting may be lovely, but chocolate cake is not terribly forgiving of amateur decorators. Chocolate sprinkles to the rescue!

Aunt Rose’s Fruit Dip

Ingredients:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 jar marshmallow crème
Fresh seasonal fruit

Directions:

1)   Blend softened cream cheese and marshmallow crème until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring if white is too boring

2)   Serve in a pretty little bowl surrounded by seasonal fruit.

Baked Brie
Serves: 1 (or 8-12 if you are willing to share)

Ingredients:
1 wedge brie
½ pound Challah dough (from “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”), or 1 ½ cans Pillsbury crescent rolls
4 large slices good deli ham (if you want the pink)

Directions:
1)   Preheat oven to 350 for Challah dough, or according to crescent roll directions.

2)   Cut brie in half lengthwise so you have two pie wedges.

3)   Roll out your Challah into a ¼ inch thick rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Or, unroll crescent dough on a clean, flat surface. Press seams firmly together so you have one cohesive rectangular sheet of dough.

4)   Cut the rectangle in half and wrap each wedge of brie. Try to make the dough evenly thick so that it will bake evenly. Press the seams firmly together (so the cheesy goodness doesn’t leak out) and make it relatively smooth. If using Challah, let it rise for at least 20 minutes, up to 40 if you have time.

5)   Bake at least a few inches apart on a rimmed cookie sheet until deep golden brown, 15-18 minutes for crescent rolls, 20-22 minutes for Challah.

6)   Cut into warm gooey slices and pass the plate around with lots of napkins.

Notwithstanding my husband’s next-day trip to urgent care for a freakish pollen in the eye incident (photo withheld for obvious reasons), the party was quite a succes. A pink and purple dream come true.

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Early Garden Poem

It’s spring, still spring, Sunday morning said.

All hail the lion. I’m calling for the lamb.

A lady waits

her treasures tucked

from morning sage

just in thyme

for first blush

as shadows lengthen, the grasses deep.

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Farmer’s Market Chronicles-Week One

I was very fortunate to grow up on a ten-acre farm with an awesome variety of seasonal pickings. The change in seasons was marked by the surrounding trees. An almond tree bloomed outside my window as soon as the sun broke through the winter sky a few warm days in a row. The only time we saw snow in the California Central Valley was when a strong wind blew through the orchards in full bloom.

By April/May, our first summer fruit came. Cherries, glorious cherries, could be harvested for a few short weeks. In June, apricots arrived, which led to more than one apricot fight with the goopy, fallen fruit. Not a pretty picture.

In June/July we had nectarines, my all time favorite summer fruit. Until peaches arrived in August that is. It’s impossible to argue with the perfection of a sun-warmed peach picked straight from the tree, so juicy you have to eat it barefooted and dripping in the grass.

Now that I live in a metropolitan area, the closest I come to enjoying fresh summer fruit, besides my now biweekly produce box from Farm Fresh to You, is going to the farmer’s market. The good news is I work only a few blocks from a one. The bad news is it closes from October-April. But here we are again, hello May!

I am so thrilled to be reporting on the first farmer’s market of the season. It was an absolutely gorgeous day in the neighborhood.

My loot for this first week:

Sugar snap peas – $3.00 / 1 pound (split the pound with a lovely friend)
Blood oranges (I think they should be called purple oranges. They’re too pretty to be called something so visceral)- $2.00 / pound
Pink grapefruit – $1.00 / pound
Cherries – $4.00 / pound
Native grain bread – $4.25 / loaf

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a closet vegetarian. I don’t eat meat for the first two meals of the day. I don’t think I could ever be a full vegetarian. For one thing, I like meat. For another, I wouldn’t want to be rude in imposing my dietary wants (not needs) on anyone who was gracious enough to cook for me.

Most importantly, I could never get away with full on vegetarian meals every single day with my rather carnivorous family. Did I mention my almost three year old’s favorite food in the world is sausage? And if I won’t make special meals for my wanna-be picky kids, then why would I make a separate meal for myself? But, that doesn’t mean I can’t try to turn the focus of our meals towards vegetation.

I’m always trying to figure out new lunch combinations that I can make at work. It’s pretty challenging to eat fresh with limited equipment-microwave, toaster oven, and steak knife. (I’m seriously considered bringing in a cutting board and chef knife.)

This is my new favorite veggie lunch wrap:

1 spinach tortilla
2 thin slices of brie
1 handful sugar snap peas
1 handful grated carrot
a couple of teaspoons of Drew’s All Natural Shitake Ginger dressing

Melt brie on tortilla for about 20-25 seconds in the microwave. Top with veggies & dressing. Wrap & enjoy.

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Filed under Culinary Travels, Ingredients, Meal Planning, New Recipes, Obsessed with Produce, Picky Eaters Anonymous, Uncategorized

Coffee Spiced Yogurt Marinade for Kebobs

I’m a little bummed. This recipe was going to be my first submission to one of the weekly contests at Food52. Coffee recipes! I have two in my repertoire so far—this one, and a coffee cream cheese frosting recipe. I knew the contest closed tonight at midnight. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider that it would close at midnight EST, not PST. Sigh. The good news is we had a wonderful meal tonight. Even better, now you can test the strength of your spice provisions and try it out for yourself. The resulting Indian flavors work well with pork or lamb, and aren’t too spicy for the little ones.

This is actually a great weeknight meal thanks to a morning marinade, and broiling is my new favorite trick for getting dinner on the table speedy quick!

Coffee Spiced Yogurt Marinade for Kebobs

Ingredients:
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons instant coffee
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½-2 pounds boneless pork country ribs (or boneless lamb)

Directions:

1)   Morning-Stir up dry spices and salt in a small bowl. Add yogurt, crushed garlic, and olive oil. Blend to make a thick paste.

2)   Cut pork into 2-3” cubes and put into a large Ziploc with the spice paste. Seal the bag while pressing the air out. Squish the meat around to coat with spicy goodness. Tuck the bag into a bowl (to avoid leakage) and marinate for 8 hours in the fridge.

3)   Evening-Preheat broiler and set oven rack two rows down from the top. Thread meat onto skewers, packed nice and tight, and place on a broiler pan or wire rack set into a rimmed baking sheet.

4)   Broil for 8 minutes, turn, another 8 minutes, then check the temp. It may need another 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness to get to 145º.

5)   Serve with warm flat bread and cucumber yogurt sauce (1/2 cup plain or Greek yogurt, ½ diced cucumber, 1 clove garlic, minced, and a pinch of salt.)

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