Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pumpkin Cupcakes (or cakes) with Cream Cheese Frosting—Perfect for Fall or Halloween!

Looking for something easy and wholesome (don't tell the kids I said that) to feed the little ghouls this time of year? Sick of the sickeningly sweet treats folks eat under the guise of Halloween goodies? Yeah, me too. Here's an easy and quick, semi-healthy recipe you can whip together, make your whole house smell like Autumnal celebrations, and have youngsters following you around, grinning ever after. Simple pumpkin cupcakes (or cakes). Simple cream cheese frosting. No fuss. Great rewards.

Make them fancy, if you wish, with Halloween cupcake liners and black licorice candies to decorate the tops.

Recipe makes two dozen cupcakes OR two loaf cakes.

The Wet
2 cups or one can of pumpkin (I've used fresh pumpkin before and believe it or not, you cannot tell the difference—not to mention that canned takes way, way less time)
1 cup (two sticks) unsweetened butter
3 eggs

The Dry
3 cups raw sugar (can substitute white sugar)
3 1/2 cups unbleached wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Whisk together the wet ingredients in a bowl until well-mixed. In a larger bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients until uniform looking. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir only until moistened. Do not over-mix.

Fill cupcake papers 3/4 full (most recipes call for 2/3 full, but this one looks better fuller), and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes (or put in two buttered and floured loaf pans and back for 50 to 55 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into one comes out clean. Let cool or chill before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened to room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz.) cream cheese (whipped cream cheese works well too)
4 cups confectioners sugar (1 1 lb. box)

With a large fork, mash the butter, vanilla, and cream cheese until blended. With a mixer, beat in the confectioners sugar, one cup at a time. When well-mixed, turn the blender up and beat until smooth and fluffy (it will only take a couple of minutes). Chill and then frost.

A note about cream cheese frosting: in warm weather, you will want to keep this chilled--otherwise, it can sag. Keep refrigerated and you will have some of the simplest, most delicious frosting ever.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Tom Ka with Tofu (or Tom Yam) Soup: The Perfect Fix for Flu Season, with Variations

When I went to Thailand and had this soup for the first time I think my whole world just flipped right over on me all at once--it was the most remarkable taste experience ever. The flavors just blew me away--piquant, sour, spicy, rich, amazing! You have to try it. And you can easily make either Tom Yam or Tom Ka with a simple substitution. This soup is simple to make, but what's tricky is having the ingredients on hand. Because I love this so much, I stockpile fish sauce, coconut milk and dried shiitake mushrooms (although the original calls for straw mushrooms). My hubby grows lemongrass in the garden year-round, and we have a lime tree that contributes a leaf here and there. You can make this without lime leaf and lemongrass, but add some lime zest to substitute. I think you are going to love this special and wonderful soup--one of the great wonders of the culinary world! And a quick fix when you feel yourself coming down with a flu bug. Nothing clears your head like the piquant vapors of this magical soup. 

Tom Ka Gung with Variations

  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 (12 ounce) can coconut cream (Not the reduced fat kind. Fat makes it taste DELICIOUS!)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I use the chicken stock paste that comes in little jars, Better Than Bouillon brand. It has no MSG and is all-natural. Plus, stored in the fridge, it lasts a LONG time.)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 sprigs lemongrass, root (two inch sprigs, chopped into tiny slices)
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf (or other lime leaf, tossed in whole--like bay leaves, you just fish them out before serving) (optional)
  • 1 lime, juice of
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, or 2 medium tomatoes, diced--with juices
  • 4 garlic cloves (or more depending on your preference)
  • 1 (19 ounce) package silken tofu, drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup shrimp (optional)
  • 1 cup mushrooms (Any kind, such as white, shiitake, portobello, straw, white, etc. I mostly use shiitake because I keep a giant container on hand, but the most authentic is straw mushrooms, which you can find canned in the Asian section of grocery stores.)
  • 1 tablespoon red chili paste (I like Sriracha brand. Add more to taste. If serving to kids--my five-year-old likes this soup--then add ketchup instead. A small amount of ketchup tastes good--trust me!)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root (Thai recipes call for galanga, but it's tricky to find--ginger root works fine instead)


  • Chopped cilantro
  • Thai basil, for garnish
  • Hot chili sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Diced hot chili peppers

  1. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, and water to a heavy put, and begin to simmer while adding the other ingredients (except for garnishes and shrimp or other fish).
  2. After the spices have "relaxed," add either the shrimp or chunks of salmon and stir only until cooked (two or three minutes).
  3. Garnish and serve.


Vegetarian Soup Instead

* To make this soup vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock, and leave off the prawns. You've already got tofu, so that's a great protein source. Lastly, if fish sauce is a no-no, then substitute Bragg's Amino Acids (like soy sauce).

Tom Yam Instead

* To make Tom Yam instead of Tom Ka, do everything the same, except substitute more chicken stock to replace the coconut cream.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What to Do with All This Swiss Chard? Part I

When the Swiss chard comes in in southern California gardens, it REALLY comes in. As in, gargantuan-sized leaves that loom menacingly over smaller, less ballsy plants. One could use a leaf as an umbrella, easily. So what do you do with it all? Another pan full of sauteed greens? Well, I love sauteed greens, but sometimes you would like a change. Last night, we had our favorite foodie couple over for supper. I made this simply Swiss chard soup [recipe below] and that was all they talked about. How remarkable! You can't tell there's chard in it--or sweet potatoes. The two flavors work synergistically to create, well, something else entirely. So here is . . . something else entirely.

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Soup

2 medium or one large onion
2 tablespoons olive oil and more to drizzle
8 cloves garlic, crushed
About eight cups of chopped green Swiss chard, white stems excluded
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and diced
6 cups of vegetable or chicken broth (I like to use Superior Base brand Better Than Bouillon chicken stock concentrate--it's cheap and easy to use--just store the jar in the refrigerator and reconstitute with water)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a sturdy stock pot, saute the onions in the olive oil until they are tender and starting to caramelize. Add in the garlic and saute only for a minute or two. Add in all the other ingredients except salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and falling apart. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in an upright blender. Add in seasonings to taste and drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cacao-Luscious One Bowl Easy Brownies

Cacao Powder may be the secret of the brownie universe. Not cocoa, but cacao, which is raw. If you don't believe there's much difference, try a blind taste-test. Cacao is more subtle, more rich. Cacao powder is fantastic—in oatmeal, in cappuccino, and in batches of homemade brownies—and it is off-the-charts delicious.  Here’s the brownie recipe I came up with that is insanely easy—everything mixes in one bowl and the baking pan is lined, so there’s no buttering and flouring necessary. Super-fast to make and guaranteed to win you admiration.

Makes 32 larger or 50 smaller brownies 
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter
2 ½ cups turbinado sugar
1 ¾ cups Viva Labs Cacao Powder
½  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large organic eggs
1 cup unbleached flour
1 1/3 cups chopped raw walnuts
1 1/3 cups chopped Belgian or other quality semisweet chocolate bar (do not use chocolate chips)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of a 13” × 8” baking pan (a lasagna pan) with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.  
  2. Melt the butter in the microwave in a large microwave-proof bowl until just melted. When cool to touch, add in the sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and salt. Stir gently to mix. 
  3.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, but do not over-mix. 
  4.  Stir in the nuts and chopped chocolate chunks. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
  5.  Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 35 to 40 minutes until set but not firm (should be slightly moist in the center). 
  6. Let cool completely on a rack or, if you are in a hurry, in the refrigerator.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Omuraisu: Ketchup Rice, Japanese Style

Ketchup and rice? In an omelet? You gottabekidding! Nope. Trust me, this is delicious and fiendishly simple. Omeraisu, or omuraisu, is eaten all over Japan, and millions of Japanese cannot be wrong. A scene from a famous classic Japanese movie, Tampopo, shows a chef teaching a young boy how to make omeraisu. It could not be easier.

"Omeraisu," is a portmanteau that combines the words Omelet and Rice. The red substance in the rice is the common condiment, ketchup. Don't let that turn you off, though, omeraisu is sheer genius! It's delicious and easy to prepare--plus what a great way to use a bit of leftover rice for breakfast the next day. Most often it's made from fried rice that has chicken in it, but what I remember from living in Japan was simpler--rice sauteed in ketchup then set aside. A simple omelet prepared the usual way. When the egg is almost set, top with ketchup-rice mixture, and then close up the omelet, topping with a small dollop of ketchup. Sounds yucky? Hardly--it's delish.

Now, what I usually do for fun is the same thing, only with salsa instead of ketchup--mix in salsa with the rice, set aside, make omelet, and then add the salsa-rice mixture back and close up the omelet. Serve with cilantro and avocado slices--super-delish! Mexican-style, Japanese-style, European dish. Whatever you call it, call it all gone--everyone will eat it up if you don't go into too much detail about how you made it. Three cheers for rice for breakfast!


  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped (optional, but authentic)
  • 1/2 cup chicken breast or ham, cut into small pieces (optional, but authentic)
  • butter
  • ketchup
  • 6 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
Sauté the chopped onion until transparent in butter. Add the chicken or ham and sauté until done. Add the rice and toss until heated through. Add about 3 Tbs. of ketchup and toss rapidly. Season with a little salt and pepper, and then set aside.
Melt more butter in the frying pan. In the meantime, crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt and pepper and whisk until well-blended. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and make an omelette that is still slightly runny in the middle.
Add the rice mixture to one half of the still-cooking omelet. Flip the other half over to cover all the rice, and cook through, without allowing a skin to form on the omelet. Slice the cooked omelet into as many pieces as their are diners (three or four) and slide the chunks onto warmed plates.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How Lentils Could Save the Earth, Part II

In the first installment of "How Lentils Could Save the Earth," I introduced the almighty, super-studly, protein-rich lentil, and explored where it came from, how it's used, and why it's a fabulous, inexpensive and should be an important part of our diets. Now, I'd like to share a nifty recipe that has the power to change your mind about lentils forever--if you didn't love them already, you will after one bite of this.

Coconut Lentil Curry, with Garden Vegetables

1 medium onion
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
10 cloves minced or crushed garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
6 cups water
1 12 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup lentils (the standard size--not the small ones), rinsed and sorted
2 medium or 1 large zucchini, cut into chunks or half discs, as you prefer
1 (14 to 16 ounce) can chopped tomatoes, or 2 fresh tomatoes, diced
2 large or 3 medium carrots, cut into half discs
3 cups fresh greens (spinach is particularly wonderful, as it melts right in. If using Swiss chard, remove the spines and use just the leaves, chopped)
Salt to taste, but add only after lentils are cooked

  1. Saute the onions in the butter or ghee until tender and translucent.
  2. Add all the ingredients except the greens and the salt to a pot. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are well-cooked (no more than 30 minutes). Taste the soup and add salt to taste. I recommend using either Vege-sal vegetable salt blend (it's tasty and works like vegetable stock), or Himalayan pink sea salt, which has fantastic health properties. Anyway, be sure not to add salt until after the beans are cooked (this is true of all beans, as salt hinders bean water absorption). If using Swiss chard, add now and cook until tender (five minutes). If adding spinach, add and cook only for one minute, until wilted.
  3. Serve over basmati rice, or basmati rice pilaf. Also include minced, fresh chili peppers, for your guests to add in as they like. This dish is also wonderful when sprinkled with cayenne powder and/or smoked paprika.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Wonderful Infographic Illustrates Beer Relationships

There really are only two kinds of beer: ales and lagers. Lagers are too difficult for most homebrewers, as they require cold storage--although it can be done, I've heard. I have brewed only a variety of ales, from pale ale to Belgian tripel to oatmeal stout. I've brewed with freshly harvested hops that grow in our front yard and even tried all-grain brewing myself (and failed--I need help on that part). Much to learn--fun and scary but worth studying.

The Wide World of Beer

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ultimate Cornbread: Make It Perfectly Every Time with This Secret Ingredient

I love cornbread. Can't resist it. Forget that I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina where every kitchen cabinet has corn meal in it somewhere and where I ate cornbread a couple of times a week for my entire childhood. Nope, loving cornbread is even deeper. It's loving corn. Grain for grain, corn is more delicious than wheat, don't you think? Sure, wheat is fabulous--unless you have gluten digestion issues--but corn is fattier and has that, I don't know, irresistible corniness to it. Homemade corn tortillas, which you can get anywhere in Mexico? Well, that is just heaven for me. Grits? Can't get enough. Corn on the cob? You guessed it. And popcorn? What sane human can resist popcorn?

So, loving corn like I do, I admit to spending a lot if time searching for the perfect cornbread recipe. It's gotta be rich and  moist. It's gotta be crumbly but not crumby. It's gotta be lightly sweetened, not sweet. After years, no, decades, I think I have found the perfect cornbread--and it involves, of all the weird things to add to cornbread--yogurt. And not just any yogurt, but Greek yogurt (I use FAGE brand). Why? Maybe because Greek yogurt is so protein-rich it locks in the moisture. Definitely, Greek yogurt makes anything you bake with it more substantial food. Remember, as I wrote in my article, Lose Weight & Feel great: What a High-Protein Diet Can Do for You--protein is the good guy. Eat a good portion and you'll feel better--and less hungry--longer.

But forget all that--Greek yogurt cornbread is delicious. Simply the best. Here's how to make it happen:

The Wet
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

The Dry
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup raw/turbinado sugar
1 cup corn (roasted corn is especially good)

Mix the Wet ingredients together in one container, being sure to blend the eggs well.  Mix the Dry ingredients together in another container. Combine the two and stir only until blended.

To make muffins, fill buttered muffin cups 3/4 full of the batter and bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes.

To make cornbread, fill a buttered 9" square baking dish with the batter and bake at 400 for 20 to 25 minutes (until center has risen and is cooked through--a wood toothpick inserted should come out clean).


As part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program, I have been entered for the chance to win a trip to Greece courtesy of FAGE. You too can enter to win one of three trips to Greece by entering the FAGE Plain Extraordinary Greek Getaway here:"

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Turmeric Turkey Meatballs: The Anti-cancer Comfort Food

Golden, glistening, savory curry meatballs
Note: This ORIGINAL recipe has been selected for publication in the Lehman's Diamond Jubilee Cookbook

Comfort food doesn't always have to be something familiar. How about turkey curry meatballs in a warm, creamy curry sauce? Not even real curry, curry-flavored. Savory, sumptuous--like Swedish meatballs, only kicked up a notch with lots of warming curry spices and especially the magically anti-cancer turmeric. (If you are looking for more anti-cancer turmeric recipes, look here.)

Making the Meatballs
  • 2  pounds lean ground turkey (or beef, chicken, lamb, etc.)
  • 1  egg, lightly beaten
  • 4  cloves garlic, minced
  • 1  teaspoon salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander seeds
Mix the meatball ingredients together until well blended. Form into ping-pong ball sized meatballs, and fry in a nonstick or seasoned iron skillet with enough olive or other vegetable oil to make sauteing easy (1 to 2 tablespoons). Fry about 1/3 of the meatballs at a time, without crowding, turning until meatballs are almost cooked through but still pink inside. Set aside and continue frying the rest of the meatballs. Don't fuss too much--the meatballs need not be perfectly round (mine flatten out a bit while frying).

Curry Gravy
I call this curry gravy instead of curry sauce, because real curry sauce is based on an onion-ginger-ghee slurry that is sauteed. This is instead a curry-flavored white sauce--a delicious savory sauce you might want to use for other things--to top veggies, for instance (broccoli or asparagus are particularly good with curry gravy). (I explain how to make curry sauce here.)

1/4 cup butter (four tablespoons or half a stick)
1/4 cup white flour
1 cup milk
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup half 'n half
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 to 2 tablespoons ground turmeric (to taste)

In the bottom of a large, heavy saucepan, whisk the butter and the flour over medium heat until the flour lumps disappear (making a roux). Add in the other ingredients, whisking constantly until the gravy thickens and all ingredients are fully integrated.

Curry Meatball Synergy
Add the meatballs gently into the still bubbling gravy in the large heavy saucepan. Let boil gently for about 10 minutes, tossing gently to make sure all meatballs get enough sauce to cover and cook them through (the meat juices will also flavor the gravy beautifully).

Serve over steamed jasmine or basmati rice, and serve with lightly sauteed green vegetables that you can also ladle the curry gravy over (makes it easy--no need to season the veggies!).

  • Serves 6 (1/3 pound each) to 8 (1/4 pound each)
  • This dish is the perfect party food--you will be a major sensation and have your handiwork devoured if you bring this to a potluck

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Super Bowl Treats: Pick-up Food for a Small, Casual Foodie Party

First of all, I'm making gelatin shooters, "jiggelos," that are NOT made using Jell-o brand. (Who uses that stuff anymore? Ick--we are not kids, nor hospital patients. Artificial what goes in there??) Knox unflavored gelatin, and fruit juice and alcohol. The alcohol proportion is one part for three parts of liquid. Add gelatin to the hot liquid, stir to dissolve, and then when the mixture is cool, add the alcohol. Instead of pouring into cups--so Plebian!--pour into a large mold and cut individual shapes out of the collective. I used twice as much unflavored gelatin as in regular gelatine--thus making, "Knox Blox." The resulting jiggelos stand up well for ages, and need no refrigeration. I made Margarita jiggelos, using Grand Marnier, Sauza Tres Generaciones tequila, and homemade limeade (the limes came from a friend's yard). Also, pina colada jiggelos using coconut rum, coconut milk (unsweetened), pineapple juice, and simple syrup. Decorated with unsweetened shreaded coconut. YUM!

Curried Meatballs in Curry Gravy

Here's the real recipe I wrote for this outstanding--and original--dish. I'll be mixing ground turkey and beef together, along with ground ginger, and other curry spices (cumin. coriander, turmeric), and eggs, to form the meatballs. Then, I make a white sauce, and add in curry spices. I've made this many times for my family--with this original recipe, I am making a variation of Swedish meatballs with a curry flare, instead of making authentic curry--which I often do, that starts from a roux and has an onion base--to take this dish into comfort food category

Homemade Crab Egg Rolls

The secret to making egg rolls is that anything you stir fry can also go into an egg roll. The difference is, the stir-fry bits must be small. After you make the stir-fry, add some cornstarch to thicken--a loose sauce will spoil the egg roll wrappers. Deep fry in peanut oil until golden. I serve with an apricot ginger dipping sauce (to apricot preserves, add water to thin a bit and grated, fresh ginger root--stir thoroughly).

Greek Tomato-Cucumber Salad
Any salad at a Superbowl party has to be able to stand up--hour after hour--and not wilt. So no lettuce need apply. I'm making a Greek salad of chunks of tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and Greek salad dressing (olive oil, wine vinegar, Greek oregano, salt, and pepper).

Raspberry Ice Cream