Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy, Homemade Christmas Gifts


Every year, we mix up a batch of homemade Christmas gifts and put them in some sort of fancy container to give out as gifts to family and friends (for kids and each other, we actually buy presents). Here's what we (OK, what I) made this year, with links to some of the recipes or sites for buying ingredients.

Gingerbread Surfer Babes & Dudes (I use the Mark Bittman Gingerbread Men recipe--it calls for lots of butter and molasses. Too yummy! Then, for icing, I use organic powdered cane sugar and other organic ingredients. Then, top it all off with granulated candy sugar with lots of beautiful artificial colors to make everything festive. One can be too good, you know.)

Belgian Tripel Homebrew (The Home Brewery is a great site. And the folks there are super-nice.)

Chocolate Coconut Truffles (Trader Joe's for the bulk Belgian chocolate [only $4 a pound!] and white chocolate [the real kind, not "white chips."]), made from my own recipe.

Layered Peppermint Bark (Again, Trader Joe's for the chocolates. I doubled the quantity of white chocolate in this recipe to make each white layer thick. Heavenly and to-die-for do not begin to do this justice! Add extra peppermint extract for a taste explosion.)

Rosemary Almonds (Also from my own recipe, only this one is on eHow.com. You could not find an easier, nor more satisfying gift to give and to receive. The nuts will be gone in a flash!)

Pomegranate Fruit Compote (Sure, this project started out as "Pomegranate Jelly" and ended up as "Compote" when it didn't set. Oh, well. It's a nice presentation in a festive jelly jar, and it can be yummy on ice cream instead of on toast. Why not? The compote was easy to make, even though it didn't gel as much as promised.)

Homemade Soaps in Yin-Ylang and Yang-Mint (So easy to make "Melt-and-Pour" soaps. Just melt chunks of the block of solid soap base, add in color, fragrance, and botanical doodads. Voila! Recipients rave and oooh. Don't tell them the real truth. This year, I used spearmint leaves and peppermint oil to make a "yang" soap, and ylang-ylang, sage, and tangerine oils, along with sage flowers to make a "yin" soap. Wrap in plastic wrap first, then in a strip of homemade paper, then a ribbon around the strip. Fab!)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Dying Art of Home Dining: Who Eats at Home Any More?

We must be the last family in Southern California who has three solid home-cooked meals each day at the dining room table. Sometimes I'm lazy for breakfast and let everyone eat cereal or some bread and fruit, but often I cook something for breaky, too (like grits with fixings, omelets, cheese blintzes, breakfast tacos, etc.).

My seven-year-old, Jaclyn, eats the elementary school lunch, but that’s only because they have a salad/fruit bar with fresh local ingredients (pretty cool, huh?). Brian (the hubs) often gets some form of leftovers for his lunch to take to the office. I usually make a salad or something simple for myself at home for lunch.

Then, I go tee-totally crazy every supper—I see it as a way to show my love, to learn something new, to nurture and give good, fresh food to my family, and heck—to spend some time together (and oh yeah—to use those lovely herbs and veggies Brian grows so laboriously in our back yard). We say some sort of gratitude or prayer before eating. We gather around the dining room table, and no one is allowed to watch TV or use any devices during supper. Once a week, we eat out, but usually somewhere simple and not costly (fish and chips last Sunday).

I know we’re holdouts of an earlier era. But I think the family that enjoys eating lovingly-prepared food together will stay together. At least that’s my hope. Plus Jaclyn is still young. She’ll get busier and less loyal soon enough. I’m relishing these meals at home.

How often do you eat at home each week versus eating out? Who cooks? Do you sit around the table and have a meal or is it often grab-and-growl? Let me know--just click Comment below or email me here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Easy Recipes You Must Know to Eat Well and Impress Your Friends, Part I


Basic Asian Fried Rice

Secrets

The secrets to fried rice are simple, but most cooks who make fried rice are not aware of them—thus their creations do not taste authentically Asian. Remember these two secret ingredients, if nothing else: sesame oil and ginger root.


Getting Started

Start with a tablespoon of sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Lightly scramble an egg or two in the oil, and remove it. Add another tablespoon of sesame oil, and to that, a few tablespoons of chopped onions (green onions and their tops are especially good, but half of a medium yellow or white onion will do as well), and anywhere from several tablespoons of chopped ham to an entire cup of ham if you like. You can also use shrimp, or a combination of the shrimp and ham, or use tofu. If you do use shrimp, add it just before serving and only heat it through—do not overcook it. If using tofu, fry it separately in a little oil and some soy sauce until it develops a slight skin, then add back to the other frying pan). Stir fry until the onion is almost translucent.
Add about a cup of any vegetables you like, and stir fry until cooked through. (Use firm vegetables, not mushy ones, as described in Veggies, below.) Sweet frozen peas are recommended. Chopped snow peas are great too. Soybeans (eda mame) add a lot of protein.

Rice

Add four cups cooked and cooled medium- or long-grain write rice. (It’s important that the rice be “dry.” Moist rice will make your fried rice gooey. If you make more rice than you need one time, then use the leftover for fried rice. Or, simply make rice ahead of time and refrigerate it overnight or let it rest until it is cool.)
Lightly stir fry the rice for a few minutes—it does not need to be cooked—just tossed with the seasonings.

Last Minute Items

Add 1 tablespoon grated ginger root and about a tablespoon of soy sauce to taste. Add ground pepper to taste. Stir fry for another minute, making sure the soy sauce gets evenly distributed in the rice.
Just before serving, add in the scrambled egg, chopping the eggs with your spatula to separate into small bits. Serve.

Variations

Veggies

While the most typical fried rice has green onions, eggs, peas, and ham or shrimp, other stir-fry type veggies can be added, such as greens (cabbage, bok choy, tok choy, kale, etc.), or firm vegetables, such as green beans, peas, corn, snow peas, celery, bean sprouts, carrots, etc. Not recommended are mushy vegetable, such as mushrooms, eggplant, or squash. Mushy vegetables add liquid to the rice; the worst thing you can do to fried rice is to add liquid.

Oils

You can substitute 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for one of the tablespoons of sesame oil for a lighter taste. But use sesame oil for that authentic Asian taste. A yummy variation is hot sesame oil (use only a few drops along with other oils).
Add more oil if necessary as you stir fry, but do not use too much. Fried rice should be light and not greasy. A tablespoon or two should be plenty. It’s not essential for every grain of rice to be coated with oil. It is essential for each grain of rice to have a uniform color—there shouldn’t be any bald, white spots (where the soy sauce was not evenly distributed).
Use olive oil for Italian fried rice, as described below.

Italian Fried Rice

Use olive oil instead of sesame oil, and leave out the eggs. Fry a clove of crushed garlic in the oil, if desired. Otherwise, make the recipe the same except instead of soy sauce use salt and balsamic vinegar. Season with oregano, rosemary, etc. Use cubed or thinly sliced pepperoni, prosciutto, or other Italian meat instead of ham.

Miscellaneous

  • Fried rice makes a great pot-luck dish.
  • Fried rice is excellent for picnics—it tastes fine at room temperature.
  • You can make fried rice ahead, and reheat it in the microwave easily. It should last about a week in the refrigerator. Fried rice also freezes beautifully.
  • Think variations: what about Indian fried rice made with basmati and curry spices? Or Thai fried rice made with coconut milk and lemon grass. Be creative!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Of Cabbages and Kings

Am crazy about cabbage--the king of all vegetables, nutritionally (cancer-prevention is but one benefit of eating cabbage). Simple to prepare, and inexpensive--though don't hold that against it.

I served sliced fresh cabbage last night with the beef pho soup I'd made with oxtails. We eat cabbage as often as possible--mostly in tacos (Baja style, which is popular around here in SoCal). Cabbage holds up well as a substitute for lettuce in sandwiches that ...have to travel. Plus, raw cabbage has a nice mouth-feel--it's like lettuce al dente.

Lastly, cabbage makes a gloriously good pickle--even quick cabbage pickle, which can also be used in sandwiches. And if you really wanna go all out, there's always kimchee--yum!

One last note about cabbage. I confess that never liked cabbage until I lived in Japan as a young woman and had my first tonkatsu--wiener schnitzel--served on a mound of shredded fresh cabbage. The contrast of the rich pork cutlet with the mild, crunchy cabbage was refreshing. I've been hooked ever since. Cabbage is a LOT more than just cole slaw fodder.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Garden-fresh Bud--Bud What Is It?

Calling all foodies: who can be the first one to guess what this bud is? It's used in cooking something very familiar to us all--but seldom is it seen.* We just harvested this from the garden this weekend.

* Unless you are a master brewer.

~~~~~~~~~~

My friend Malan knew it immediately. "Hops," he said. "Related to cannibis botanically." Things that make you go hmmm.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cool Summery Asian Noodle Salad on a Hot Day


Too hot to have something heavy and bready to cook or to eat. Too. Hot. Can't. Think.Ugh.

What to make for a summer lunch? How about cold Asian noodle salad? Cold noodles may not sound fabulous, but they are cooling--and if you use rice noodles, are not too filling. The perfect complement for light summery veggies. Now mix this one up and enjoy al fresco in the shade. Ahhh. Don't you feel better?

Gather the Goodies

1/2 package pad Thai rice noodle fettuccini. You can substitute other kinds of noodles/pasta. Prepare according to package directions, and then immediately run noodles in cold tap water until the water is cold. This will stop noodles from growing and keep them cool.

Sliced deli ham, shrimp, tofu, chicken--etc. whatever you have on hand Slice into thin strips to match the noodles

Sliced vegetables, such as carrots, summer squash, cucumber, etc. Again, whatever you have on hand. I enjoyed it with carrots and cucumbers.

Japanese ginger pickles, such as kizami--the spicy, dark pink kind. You could substitute other pickles as well--just slice into thin strips as well.

Lettuce, rinsed, drained, and cut into strips


Asian Restaurant Soy-Ginger Salad Dressing

o 1 tablespoon ginger juice , from fresh ginger

o 2 tablespoons soy sauce

o 3 tablespoons rice vinegar

o 1/3 cup salad oil

o 1 tablespoon sesame seeds



Assembling the Salad

Line each salad plate with a base layer of lettuce strips. In a large bowl, mix the drained cold noodles with the other salad ingredients. Whisk the salad dressing in another bowl and pour on the noodle-veggie mixture, tossing to mix. Mound the noodle veggie salad in the center of the plate, distributing the ingredients evenly for a nice presentation.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Wow 'Em Summer Supper of Love: Pineapple Fried Rice

Summer. Hot. What. To. Make. For. Supper. Ugh.

How about something refreshing and Islandish. Maybe it's Thai--who knows?

Use my Basic Asian Fried Rice recipe, only throw in three cloves of garlic, and use vegetable oil instead of sesame oil. Skip the ginger, and add in crushed cashews, golden raisins, and chopped pineapple. Serve in the hollowed out pineapple shells. Guaranteed to wow dinner guests, and leave them sated in a light way.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Protein than a Pancake, More Substantial than a Crêpe—It's a Crêpecake!


Granted, I love crêpes—light, airy, eggy wisps filled with yummies and topped with yummies, but tricky to make well. And I love pancakes, too—who doesn't?—although pancakes do not love me (uggghhh—all that starch!). So what's a hungry foodie to do? Take the best of both worlds and you get, voila, a crêpecake. A freshly made light-fluffy-tender-moist cake—lighter and richer than a pancake, chock full of eggs like a crêpe. Crêpecakes. You'll never go back to plain pancakes again. And your family will get more protein and a better breakfast or brunch meal out of the deal. No need to serve eggs on the side, because crêpecake already have the egg base covered.

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup unbleached white flour
Dash salt
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons butter, melted,
Extra butter and non-stick spray (like Pam) for the frying pan

Optional: 1 cup whole, fresh blueberries or chopped strawberries to add at the last minute to the batter

Serve with little bowls of:
  • Warmed maple syrup
  • Melted butter
How to Make Crêpecakes
  1. Here's the secret: use your mixer to whip up the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Set aside while you make the rest of the crêpecake batter.
  2. Mix the egg yolks into the milk until well-blended.
  3. Stir the dry ingredients together, and then stir in the egg yolk-milk mixture a little at a time. Stopping as soon as blended (it will be lumpy—don't fret!).
  4. Stir in the melted butter s-l-o-w-l-y, so as not to over-work the batter.
  5. Fold in the fluffy egg whites a little at a time.
  6. If you are adding fruit, add it now.
  7. Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium heat, testing to see if a drop of water dances on the surface. Add a small amount of butter, and spray the pan with nonstick spray.
  8. Pour about a heaping tablespoon of batter for each crêpecake. Cook on one side until bubbly on top and toasted a bit on the sides (one to two minutes). Flip and finish cooking for 30 seconds to a minute. Crêpecakes should be light brown on each side.
  9. Continue in this way, adding a small amount of butter and/or nonstick spray for each batch. Remove each batch to a covered Dutch oven kept in the oven on the lowest heat, until all are ready to serve.
· Drizzle with melted butter and maple syrup and enjoy the accolades.
· Crêpecakes freeze beautifully—just store in a plastic freezer bag and reheat in a microwave or toaster over for a quickie breakfast treat.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Cookbooks Are Here! The Cookbooks Are Here!

video
The new cookbook from the White House and Michelle Obama's kitchen garden, written by renowned cookbook author Clara Silverstein is out! My six-year-old Jaclyn and I are featured in full color on page 34 of “A White House Garden Cookbook,” with a recipe there and on page 104. Yeah! Get your copy straight from the publisher, Red Rock Press, while they're still available.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How Lentils Could Save Planet Earth, Part I


Lentils. Daal (or dal or dahl). Sambar (or sambhar). Lentil soup. Lentil curry. Lentils and veggies. Over rice. Nice.

Lentils are seeds, of course, like all good pulses, and are shaped like little lenses. In fact, their genus is lens. Lens culinaris. Culinary lenses. Probably the earliest plant actually to be planted for cultivation purposes—the dawn of human agriculture—lentils make a huge contribution to the human diet with their 26% protein content (bested only by soybeans for sheer plant-protein-fortitude).

Lentils come in an eye-catching array of colors: green, orange, yellow, black, brown, red, white. And sizes—from teeny lenses to pea-sized lenses.

What I notice when I work with lentils is how fast they cook, compared to other beans (20 to 30 minutes for smaller lentils, more for larger ones). So, if you are serving rice and lentils, start them both at the same time, and you will be eating sooner than if you went out and bought Chinese take-out. Vegetarians love lentils—and with good reason—if you serve lentils along with a grain dish, between the two, you'll be getting complete protein, with all essential amino acids. Wow.

Some folks, like my husband (who has a tendency to explosive digestive issues), express concern about the inherent, um, fart-causing aspect of lentils and other beans. Well, it turns out there is a trick: soak lentils in water prior to cooking, and then discard the water. You will be pouring a good percentage of the fart-factor down the drain—and your whole household will be happier for it (unless that sort of thing amuses you—but probably best to reserve explosive digestive displays for say, camping trips, where the air is fresh).

Oh, yeah. Did I mention vitamins, minerals, and fiber? Lentils pack heaping doses of these too. It's even thought that regularly eating lentils can lower your risk of heart disease, and help balance your blood sugar. And don't forget—lentils are inexpensive. If you are a starving student, buy rice, lentils, and veggies and you will stretch your dollars to the maximum, while still eating well (and saving on doctor bills that your well-fed compatriots will later have from being part of the fast-food nation).

Drought-tolerant and grown simply everywhere, lentils are adept at feeding the world. Lentils could save the Earth and the people inhabiting same. Need any more reasons to start adding lentils to your family's diet? Nah—just some cooking ideas, please!

Here's a great list from Indian Foods Co. of spices and seasonings to use with lentils:

Cumin Seeds

Red Chillies

Mustard seeds

Ghee or oil for base of seasonings

Ginger Paste a must in most dals

Garlic Paste is sometimes used in dals

Coconut shreds (optional)

Tamarind or lime juice or fresh tomatoes or amchur powder to flavor the dal sour

Jaggery, maple syrup, brown sugar or palm sugar to flavor the dal sweet (optional)

Sambhar Powder to make the popular southIndian dal called sambhar

Garbanzo spice package to make the popular North Indian beans called Channa



A good rule of thumb is to use four cups of water for every cup of lentils and to cook for somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes (again, cook longer for larger lentils). Do not add salt until AFTER the lentils are already cooked. This is also true of all dried beans. Salt impedes the absorption of water during cooking. Save salt and salty seasonings until the end. (Sambar seasoning usually does not contain salt, so you can add that whenever you like).

You can buy a nice sambar powder at any Asian or Indian grocery store, with a recipe on the back. Sambar is a tangy, piquant, and irresistible lentil stew—but you will need tamarind paste to make it correctly (while cooking, just scoop off the white bubble layer that appears on top). You can always treat lentils like curry, and start with sauteing onions in butter or olive oil, adding garlic and grated ginger root, cooking the lentils in enough water (lentils are thirsty!), and then adding the usual suspects of turmeric, cumin, and coriander to flavor it "curry."

But honestly, you could also keep it simple: saute chopped onions in olive oil or butter, cook lentils in enough water, and then add a couple of cups of chopped veggies: eggplant, carrots, green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, etc. Add salt to taste, and serve. If you want to play around, throw in some Cajun spice or Tabasco. It goes without saying to use your imagination and play around. Lentils are forgiving. Even if they are cooked to death, they merely resemble pea soup, and are still good to eat. And good to save your health and the planet.

Please send in your favorite lentil discoveries to me (Tumerica).

An incredibly scrumptious curried lentil dish

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A White House Garden Cookbook: Healthy Ideas from the First Family to Your Family



The secret is out. It's A White House Garden Cookbook: Healthy Ideas from the First Family to Your Family, by Clara Silverstein. It's coming out tomorrow. I haven't seen it yet, but somewhere in the cookbook is a photo of my six-year-old daughter Jaclyn and me (cutting strawberries in the kitchen!) as well as two of my recipes. If you'd like a copy, I can get you one at a small discount. Just send me an email to tumerica [at] gmail.com.

Monday, April 12, 2010

When a Great Restaurant Serves Sub-par or Even Dangerous Food

Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez, California


We have a six-year-old. And I'm a rabid foodie. And my husband keeps a gourmet organic vegetable and herb garden in our back yard. So to say that we don't get to dine in fine restaurants often is an understatement. Once you pay the babysitter, that leaves, oh, a few cents left over in the budget for fine cuisine. But occasionally, we make an exception. Perhaps another foodie couple has a tip on a great restaurant and we feel inspired to forget our budget and go check it out with them

That was the case this past Saturday. An unfairly beautiful afternoon for a drive up to wine country and Santa Ynez (known famously as the backdrop of the movie, Sideways). The most beloved high-end restaurant in town is Trattoria Grappolo, staffed by Italian chefs and servers, and with ingredients gleaned locally and seasonally.

Our food and service (Michele Mancuso—what a wit!) were spectacular—until I bit into my primi, rigatoni with three mushrooms. The flavor was delicious but the texture was reminiscent of snippets of bicycle inner tubes, I’m sorry to say. Al dente is one thing, but this was work to chew. After a few bites I gave up.



My husband ordered the pork tenderloin—which was juicy and delicious. He saved one piece for me (this secondi is generously portioned). I enjoyed my first bite, but on the second bite, red oozed out onto the plate. I wouldn’t let him eat the rest of it—although he wanted to—the sauce was heavenly. When Michele’s assistant came to clear our table, he saw my plate full of rigatoni and asked if I wanted a takeout container. I informed him that the pasta was not cooked well and that I couldn’t eat it (a full plate of food is not a good sign). He said nothing and cleared the plates. He also cleared my husband’s plate that had one screamingly red piece of pork on it. Again, no comment. (Michele would have asked about these things, I’m certain, but he was away—the restaurant was slammed that night.)



Now, for a more complete picture, we’d had two superb appetizers (the stuffed calamari--amazing!) and our dining companions enjoyed their veal and shrimp linguini dishes completely. The desserts were divine and everyone at our table was otherwise happy, I felt bad about the possibility of spoiling the collective joy by complaining. But on reflection, I do wish I’d made a point to explain to Michele or his assistant—in a positive way—that I wanted a replacement for the inedible rigatoni and for the oozy pork. (In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered the shrimp linguini and the lamb instead.)



Because our other dishes were outstanding and because Michele’s service was impeccable (and he kept us laughing!), I felt we probably simply ordered the wrong things and that the restaurant is probably justifiably well-loved. But the full plate and the red pork do tell tales and I was surprised no one was interested in those tales. I've written the chef to find out his thoughts, but haven't heard back from him yet. What a bummer to have two out of four dishes we ordered be sub-par or even dangerous. Hopefully this experience was just a fluke? At $75 a head, we may not ever get the chance to return and find out.