Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Journey in Vegetables.

I have to admit that seeing spring vegetables in the markets and local farm stands gets me all giddy. Spring and early summer are definitely my favorite times to cook. I mean just look at this array from our local farm, Sweetwater . . . hard not to be inspired.

I love it that this farm is 4 blocks from our house, yes we are so very fortunate to live in Northern California. This salad more evolved than was planned, a method that usually results in my favorite kitchen creations.

We had a few friends coming over for dinner and I wasn't really sure what I was going to make with these vegetables. I thought roasting them sounded good. So I drizzled them with a bit of olive oil and put them in the oven. When they were done,  I pulled them out, and then, as happens a lot around our house, the kids wanted something, and then something else, which resulted in the baking sheet sitting on the the stove for a while. They cooled to room temperature and I tasted them, they were a mix of crispy, tender, sweet deliciousness. Which, by the way, if you have never had roasted radishes you have been missing out. The roasting mellows their bitterness and leaves this interesting spicy-sweet flavor.

True confession time, when I was a kid my family nicknamed me "bunny" since I was always eating rabbit food.  Fortunately, my love of vegetables has endured, while the nickname has not! So, when our friend said of this dish ... "That's not a salad. That is a journey in vegetables!" I took it as a huge compliment. To dress the salad I made a roasted green garlic vinaigrette with Chardonnay Wine Vinegar from one of my favorite suppliers--Sonoma Harvest. For the recipe, head on over to Sonoma Harvest and check it out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flour. Butter. Eggs.

You guys, do you know how amazing those 3 ingredients are? Add a bit of sugar--you can make sugar cookies, or madeleines, pound cake, or sponge cake. Add some milk--you can make waffles, crepes or éclairs!

Crepes image available at:
Éclairs image available at:
Ponder for a moment the difference between crepes and éclairs, the same ingredients combined by different techniques--vastly different results. If you don't find that just a little bit thrilling, well then, heck, you are probably reading the wrong blog.

One of the first food blogs I ever started following was Love and Olive Oil. Blogger Lindsay Landis does a monthly "Kitchen Challenge", which I think is a brilliant idea. She has covered everything from bagels to the finicky french macarons. This month her cooking challenge is éclair.

Éclairs have been on my cooking bucket list for sometime and this post on the subject gave me that extra little push to go for it. Nothing like someone describing the challenges of a particular dish to make me want to try it.

From reading Love and Olive Oil, I know Lindsay loves cookie dough (She did author "The Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook" after all.) So I thought hmmm, "What if you filled the éclair with a brown sugar, vanilla pastry cream studded with little cookie dough bites?!?!" And that's exactly what I did.

While there are a lot of steps in this recipe, I don't think it is particularly difficult. Frankly, it was more difficult for me to write the recipe than to actually cook it. Don't skip the sifting steps for the flour and the powdered sugar. It really helps produce a smooth dough and glaze, respectively.

Also, people tend to discuss pastry creams, and the like, as if a great big scrambled egg monster is going to rear up out of your saucepan at any moment. I have never once scrambled the eggs in a pastry cream, lemon curd, or crème anglaise. That is not because I have some cooking super-power--I am just not intimidated by it and there is no reason you should be either. The key is to simply warm the eggs up slowly, also known as "tempering".

I have a few tips that may help:

1) Use a heavy bottomed sauce pan. (Mine is an all-clad stainless steel one.)

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2) Place a towel, rolled up like a doughnut, under the bowl you are going to be mixing into. This way it won't slide all over the counter while one hand is whisking and the other is slowly pouring in the hot liquid.
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3) Use a ladle or small measuring cup to transfer the hot liquid. Controlling a small measuring cup is a lot easier than trying to drizzle slowly from a heavy pot.

4) After the eggs have been warmed and poured back into the pot, stir constantly. Really, don't stop gently stirring all around the bottom of the pan.

5) Lastly, don't worry about making a mess. I always drip all over the counter and stove, but hey, that's what sponges are for.

Incidentally, the pâte à choux in this recipe can be used to make profiteroles, beignets, or gougères.
Thank you for the inspiration Lindsay. I can't wait to see what the May Kitchen Challenge is ...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Necessity and Pancakes

They say Necessity is the Mother of Invention, but I would also say that Invention is the Necessity of Mothers! Preparing truly nutritious meals for kids that are appealing, quick, and easy, can be a challenge (to say the least). It makes me ever so grateful for things like, oh I don't know ... a refrigerator, a blender, and a dishwasher!

Moms (and Dads) have come up with many great tricks, tips, and schemes to take care of their families. These days we are also fortunate to have the Internet, where we can share all these ideas. I saw this recipe for Cottage Cheese Pancakes on Super Healthy Kids a couple of weeks back. It appealed for being high-protein and whole-grain and wheat-free. Added bonus, it was also super simple, and quick, which made it feasible for a school morning. 

I got up this morning and realized that our breakfast choices were, Cheerios, or ... Cheerios ... I figured I'd give it a go. I blended up a batch exactly as the recipe indicated (with a touch more cinnamon). I drizzled them with a little local honey, and the girls were very happy. I thought they were tasty too, but, a bit too flat, and dense ... Hmmm ... 

Then, of course, I googled "cottage cheese pancakes", because that's what you do these days right? Many were similar to the one I followed. There were some with all-purose flour -- no thanks, I want to keep this wheat-free. Some added banana to the mix, nice idea, but oh, let me see ... yep no bananas. 

Then there were some that called for whipping the egg whites separately ... which would be great for lightening the texture, and a fine idea for a Sunday morning. But on a school morning? No way in "h-e-double hockey sticks" am I going to be separating eggs, pulling out the Kitchen Aid, and tenderly folding the batter on a Wednesday. I'll be lucky if both kids make it to school without a memory they'll share with their therapists decades from now. 

So I thought, what else can we use to make more bubbles in the batter? Perhaps a dash of baking powder? I pulled the baking powder out of the pantry ... and this was staring right at me:

Oat flour instead of whole oats? Well sure, why not? I put everything in the blender, turned it on, and was ready to go in less than 5 minutes. Guess what? They were great! Nice little bubbles formed, the crumb was smooth and tender, and as an unexpected benefit, the oat flour really upped the oat flavor. 

These are great drizzled with a little honey, or spread with a bit of jam. I could just as easily see making a savory version rolled up with a slice of ham and swiss cheese. 

So here's my school morning invention. But, you know, feel free to make it this weekend too!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Jasmine Orange Ice Cream

Jasmine Orange Ice Cream
I have made at least 6 different ice creams, but this is the first time I have blogged about one. That's because this one is really, really, really good.

A perfect example of what I wrote about previously, this recipe was created because a bunch of beautiful local oranges fell into my lap, so to speak. We were at our good friends' house this past weekend, and they had this amazing orange tree, loaded with oranges. And they asked me what the heck they should do with all those oranges ...

So I googled how to use oranges, because, well, I'd had a glass or two of wine, and we were watching football, and I wasn't feeling particularly creative at that moment. I found this, and this, and then I found this recipe for jasmine orange cupcakes. Jasmine and orange is a brilliant combination, and not only because the smell of jasmine reminds me a lot of the scent of orange blossoms. 
Orange blossoms and jasmine blossom. Images available at:
While researching these ingredients, I learned that jasmines are in the same family as olive trees, Oleaceae. That was an "of course!" moment for me since we use both in many culinary applications. I also must admit a sentimental attachment to jasmine (I wore jasmine flowers in my hair on our wedding day). So, if you don't love this as much as I do, I will totally understand.

I let that jasmine-orange idea sit in my head overnight. And then I thought . . . ice cream! Aside from emotional chemistry, there is quiet a bit of actual chemistry involved in this (and all) ice cream making. Frankly, ice cream is a rather fantastic structure of air, ice, fat, and sugar.

Ice cream under the microscope
 (From Clarke, 2012, “The Science of Ice Cream” Physics Education 38 (3))
The scientific concept of freezing-point depression is what governs much of texture of the ice cream. Freezing-point depression is when the freezing point of a liquid (here, the milk and cream) is lowered by the presence of other molecules (the sugar). The sugar molecules get in the way of liquid freezing. If you have too little sugar, the ice cream will end up too hard and icy. Too much, and the result is slushy. Just the right amount helps you achieve soft, scoop-able ice cream.

There is a fun article on the science of ice cream at Ice Cream Nation if you'd like to read more. And if you'd rather just eat ice cream instead . . .

Monday, January 20, 2014

Appreciating What We Have.

Grapefruit Tart with Earl Grey Cream
Appreciating what we have. It is both a kitchen, and life, philosophy. My inspiration for recipes is whatever fresh produce I have in hand. It could be that a neighbor dropped off a big box of persimmons, or that our CSA that week included purslane, or I might see some beautiful broccoli Romanesco at the market. That's where I like to start, with whatever may be at my fingertips (or at least close by).

It is a similar ethos to locavorism and seasonalism. But for me, it goes deeper than that -- for me it is also a metaphor for life. Noticing and appreciating what is right in front of me. Letting what is present on any given day inspire me, and allow me to connect more fully with myself and my family and friends.

This week the inspiration was grapefruit. It's a lovely, bright, and sunny inspiration. My folks dropped off a big bag of grapefruit from their friend's farm. I had a lot of ideas -- grapefruit avocado salad, grapefruit pound cake, winter citrus salad ... and then this . . . Grapefruit Tart with Earl Grey Cream.

Now, it may look like I, as a 49ers fan, making a red-and-gold tart today is some kind of a message.  It isn't! Football, like cooking, can be sweet and savory, or sour or bitter.  The sign of good cooking isn't in the flavor -- if it were, we'd eat nothing but milkshakes. It's the response to, and understanding of, our environment, of where and when we live, that makes the craft into an art, and makes us enjoy what we find right in front of us ...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ode to Coconut and, a Bit of Kitchen Chemistry

Toasted Coconut Pancakes . . . I know I had you at toasted. We love pancakes in our house, and I find it easy to make pancakes that are delicious and also pack in a lot of nutrition.

Toasted Coconut Pancakes
For these pancakes I use shredded coconut, coconut sugar, coconut milk and coconut oil. You know what they always say,  "Go coconut, or go home!"

Holding all that coconut together are whole grain flours, a touch of almond extract (I find it enhances the coconut flavor), and buttermilk. The buttermilk is important. It plays a vital role in making a fluffy pancake with a tender crumb. Why? Because of its acid content.

Quick breads, things like pancakes and muffins, owe their rise to a bit of simple chemistry. It is the same reaction that produces those science fair "volcanoes". The reaction of Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and acid. Combine baking soda, and vinegar (or lemon juice, or buttermilk), and you get Carbon dioxide and water. The Carbon dioxide gas gets trapped as bubbles in the batter resulting in light airy pancakes.

There is not much point in adding baking soda to a batter that doesn't have any acid in it. It won't have anything to react with. If you're batter doesn't call for an acidic ingredient, baking powder will be your leavening agent. Baking powder is baking soda with the acid already added, usually in the form of potassium bitartrate, also known as "cream of tartar". In fact, if you run out of baking powder, you can substitute baking soda with the addition of vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar.

Image source:
Ok, back to the toasted coconut. Do you know how good coconut smells when it is toasting? Crazy good! I seriously adore it. To start making these pancakes, set your broiler to low. Spread shredded coconut in a thin, even layer on a baking sheet. Set it on the middle rack of the oven. Then just stand there.

I know, it's hard to just stand there and not start doing other things.  Trust me it's worth it. Think of it as a few minutes of meditation; be fully present in the moment, with your coconut. You will be rewarded for your efforts by a greater sense of calm, and the amazing smell of perfectly toasted coconut. You want it just the softest shade of brown. It should look a lot like the latte you are drinking.

Now that you are in coconut heaven, let the coconut cool while you mix the rest of the ingredients for your pancakes. Then enjoy (with your latte of course)!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Amazing Birthday Blueberry Muffins

Whew! With a birthday party and Christmas preparations now complete, I feel like we are all taking a deep breath.  Our Christmas day was peaceful and lovely, and I hope yours was too. 

Our oldest recently turned 6 and we asked her if she'd like to plan her special day. From what to have for breakfast, to what activities the family would do, she picked her favorite things. It was both fun and endearing. Her first request was blueberry muffins for breakfast. 

With all the holiday indulgences I wanted to serve a very nutritious muffin, but of course it also had to be delicious and feel special for her special day. Then of course, we are in December, pretty much the opposite side of the year from fresh blueberry season in Northern California. I picked up some frozen organic blueberries. A bit leery of them releasing too much moisture into the batter, I thawed them (just by leaving them out in a bowl on the counter top) and then gently patted them dry with paper towels. 

For extra blueberry-ness, I used a special blueberry infused honey, compliments of Sonoma Harvest. If you don't have this, any good local honey will work.

The second trick to these muffins is ripe bananas--blended well. A while back I made banana crepes (which were incredibly tasty). When you prep the batter for banana crepes, you blend the banana, eggs, flour and milk together with an immersion, or stand blender until the mixture is totally smooth. I have since employed this strategy whenever baking with bananas. I love this technique because you get all of the banana nutrition and natural sweetness, with out those little chunks or brown stringy bits that pop up in your banana baked goods when you just mash with a fork. Now if you're into banana chunks, but all means go for it. But for these muffins the perfectly blended bananas work wonders.

All I have to say, is mission accomplished! These muffins had loads of blueberries, held together by a 100% whole grain, refined sugar free batter. 

A note about the recipes: you probably noticed that I changed the format of my recipe display here. While cooking over the holidays, and usually using an iPad to reference my recipe, it was constantly bugging me that I was scrolling up and down between the ingredients and the method. It leads to either a rather messy iPad, or attempting to scroll with my elbow, which never works well. I came up with this side-by-side orientation in the hopes that you can view all the essential information at tonce. I'd love your feedback on the best way to view recipes, well actually I'd love any feedback at all :-)