Homemade Vegie Broth--Come on, you can do it!

Really I began making my own vegetable broth because I just couldn't stand how much I was paying for a couple of cartons every week, like almost $3 per carton...and the price kept going up. And here I was tossing out all the veggie scraps...carrot tops, onion skins, soft celery from the bottom bin of the fridge. My vegetable bins seem to be more like little square coffins where odds and ends of various produce meet their demise. Sometimes they just lay limp at the bottom which is kind of sad but the ones that are forgotten in the back actually begin to decay and even leak a yellowish brown goo. Do not use these for stock! Remember, garbage in-garbage out.

Back to making your own stock. If you're home for a couple of hours I think you'll be surprised at how easy making broth actually is. I make my broth every other weekend and freeze it so it's on hand when I need it. The only problem I encountered was my canning jars exploding in the freezer. As if cleaning up the vegetable bins was not enough. I tried filling the jars on 3/4 of the way but they still expanded and cracked the glass. One chef I know, Karen Diggs, recommends using plastic wrap or parchment paper as a lid instead of a metal canning lid, still using the ring to seal the wrap in place. What I have found works for me is laying the jars on their sides so there is more room for expansion. We haven't had a problem since.

Now, IF you are going to use store bought broth, which I trust you will do only for an emergency, I recommend using Pacific or Imagine Organic. You can dilute them with water to stretch them a little. However, it's worth noting that in Cook's Illustrated June 2008 issue they blasted all organic cooking broths stating, "All the organic vegetable broths in our lineup tanked." Here are the ones NOT recommended: Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base, Emeril's All Natural Organic Veg Stock, Swanson Certified Organic Vegetarian Veg Broth, Imagine Org Veg Cooking Stock, Kitchen Basics Natural Veg Cooking Stock and Pacific Natural Foods Organic Veg Broth. Imagine Organic Veg Broth was "recommended with reservations" with tasters stating stating it had a "mostly carrot" flavor and being bland. Knorr Vegetarian Vegetable Bouillon Cubes was deemed salty but on the okay list with College Inn Garden Veg Broth. So which one (and only one) unbelievably made it to the recommended list? Swanson Vegetarian Vegetable Broth (not the organic one)...and why are you NOT going to use this one? Because being conscious about what you put into your mouth you know that it doesn't make sense for a vegetable broth to have "flavor enhancers" like those found in Swansons: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, dextrose, MSG, disodium insodinate, disodium guanylate, and more.

All of that should be more than enough reason for you to want to make your own stock; it's going to taste better and it's going to make anything you use it in extra nourishing. There are literally hundreds of recipes for stock out there but the one I use is a modification of Rebecca Katz' Magic Mineral Broth. You know I love everything that comes out of her kitchen and her broth is no exception. If you're making a sipping broth please visit her website and make the exact version, it's a touch sweet which makes it especially soothing. But for my purposes, which mainly means using it as a base for soups and grains, I change a few things, including omitting the salt and using less yams/sweet potatoes. According to James Beard vegetables contain their own natural sodium so it can be added afterward.

There is such a thing as a roasted vegetable stock. It will give you a darker, deeper more earthy flavor. For a Roasted Vegetable Stock to use say as a base for Onion Soup check out this recipe. Anna Thomas in The Vegetarian Epicure (which is a great cookbook and you can pick it up on Amazon for a couple bucks) has a recipe for Dark Vegetable Broth and an Assertive Broth in which she has you saute the vegies first. What we're going for here is a light broth to use as a base for everything from soups to grains to add light flavor and lots of nutrients.

Now, one of the things you're going to see in this recipe is kombu. Kombu is kelp, yep that's seaweed my friends or as we called it in chef school "sea vegetable" because weed is such an ugly word. The Kombu package says it's an "Edible Ocean Plant." Whatever it's called, I don't want you to skip this ingredient. You can find it in most stores (see picture) you've probably just never looked. I promise you that your stock will not taste all fishy.

Kombu or Kelp, is a brown seaweed very rich in iodine. It is high too in potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium and also contains a highly important level of trace elements such as zinc, copper and manganese. According to Paul Pitchford in his book Healing with Whole Foods, kombu greatly increases the nutritional value of all food prepared with it. It has a high mineral content. In beans, the minerals help balance the protein and oil and increase digestibility. Kombu softens masses (anti-tumor), it has an anti-coagulant effect on the blood, is a natural fungicide, relieves hormonal imbalances, cools and soothes lungs and throat, and relieves coughing and asthma to name just a few benefits!

Lastly, if you want to know more about the difference between Broth vs Stock here is a decent explanation.

3 unpeeled carrots with green tops, rinse off any dirt, cut into large chunks
1 medium yellow onion, skins on but cut off dirty root, quarter
1 leek, white and light green parts, cut in half lengthwise, rinsed, then cut into chunks
4 stalks celery, with tops if you've got them, cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, tossed in whole, skins and all
1/2 bunch Italian parsley
2 medium red potatoes, unpeeled but scrubbed clean, eyes removed, quartered
1 Garnet yam, skin on, quartered
1 3x2 inch strip of kombu, rinsed
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns
4 whole juniper berries

Toss all ingredients into an 8 quart stock pot and cover with cold water to about 2 inches from the top of the pot. Cover with lid and bring to a boil. Remove lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours. Strain the stock and let cool. Refrigerate or freeze.


A Gift for Someone Sick: Chicken Noodle Soup Two Ways

Is someone you know sick? Make them some chicken soup and they are bound to feel better.

I have 2 versions for you. In version number one I use vegetable broth as a base and add one chicken breast at the end. It is totally enough chicken, easy on the budget and the digestive tract. This is the easier and faster of the two recipes. In version two, I use a crock pot and an organic chicken carcass to create a chicken broth as the base for the soup. Homemade bone broth has extra nutritional benefit and if you have the time on a chilly weekend it's worth the effort.

You know how I love fresh herbs so pick up some fresh rosemary sprigs to toss into these soups. Rosemary contains several potent antioxidants and is known to reduce inflammatory responses, making it beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis, bronchial asthma, and atherosclerosis (the build up of plaque on the inside of blood vessels). Rosemary increases circulation, improves digestion, and stimulates the immune system making it a great addition to our Chicken Noodle Soup recipe.

You'll also notice a "secret" ingredient: fresh ginger. It adds a warming touch to the soup which feels really nice on a scratchy throat, and it helps with nausea and gastrointestinal distress, and has antioxidant properties.

Version I (using only a chicken breast)


2 quarts vegetable broth
1 quart water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp organic butter
1 boneless skinless organic chicken breast, sliced thin
1 inch piece of ginger, quartered (no need to peel)
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 leek, light green and white parts, halved lengthwise, washed and sliced thin
1 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup fresh green beans, chopped
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2-3 sprigs of Rosemary(about 6 inches, more will overpower the soup)
1/2 package of good quality egg noodles
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat olive oil and butter in your soup pot over medium flame. Saute onion, leek, garlic, celery, and carrots for about 8 minutes until the onion is clear (do not brown). Add the stock, water, and ginger and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 25 minutes.

Return to boil and drop in raw chicken slices and rosemary sprigs. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove ginger and rosemary. Add the green beans, egg noodles, and Italian parsley and cook for approximately 10 minutes until noodles are done. It the noodles absorb too much of the soup feel free to add more stock or water to get the consistency you like. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Version 2 (using, dare I say, a whole chicken carcass...mmm, special!)
1 whole organic chicken
1 crock pot or large soup pot
Water to fill
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp organic butter
1 inch piece of ginger, quartered
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 leek, light green and white parts, halved lengthwise, washed and sliced thin
1 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup fresh green beans, chopped
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2-3 sprigs of Rosemary (about 6 inches)
1/2 package of good quality egg noodles
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

So you've purchased an organic chicken to the tune of about $16.00 and you're thinking this better be worth it! Not to worry, you're going to get two meals from this bird. The first thing I want you to do is cut off the breast, legs and thighs. Those can be used in another dish right away or frozen to use later. I used mine in a pan roasted chicken with white wine, kalamata olives, garlic, and lemon. I'll post the recipe for this separately. If you're not ready to do the soup you can throw the carcass in the freezer until you need it. It should still have a nice amount of meat left on the bones.

I put the carcass in my crock pot and add water to cover the bones about half way. Cook for about 6 hours on high or until the bones pull apart gently and cleanly. Remove the bones with a slotted spoon or tongs, place on a deep plate or pan, then let cool to the touch. Separate the bones from the meat. You will be surprised by just how much meat you get. Yes, it's a lot of work but remember, you're doing a great thing by using the whole bird and you get both dark and white meat, which adds a great flavor. In addition, bone broth has great nutritional value. It contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus in a form that the body can easily absorb. To read more about bone broths check out Sally Fallon's site.

Set your bowl of chicken aside and let's work with the broth for a minute. The first thing I do is use a ladle to put it in one of those separator measuring cups that allows you to remove some of the fat. The second thing I do is line a mesh strainer with cheese cloth and slowly pour the broth through it to remove anything left floating around (skin, bones and god knows what else). Now you should have a beautiful broth to work with.

Next heat the olive oil and butter in your soup pot over a medium flame. Saute onion, leek, garlic, celery, and carrots for about 8 minutes until the onion is clear (do not brown). Add the stock and ginger and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 25 minutes.

Return to boil and add the cooked chicken and rosemary sprigs. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove ginger and rosemary. Add the green beans, egg noodles, and Italian parsley and cook for approximately 10 minutes until noodles are done. It the noodles absorb too much of the soup feel free to add more stock or water to get the consistency you like. Add salt and pepper to taste and you're good to go.

Veg Medley w/Chard & Poached Eggs-Something different for Bkfst or Brunch

I created this recipe one weekend morning when I was in an "I don't know what I want" mood. I wanted something different, and as the odds and ends in the fridge began to fill the counter top this tasty dish emerged.

I used rainbow chard because I am just enamored by its colors. You'll want to remove that colorful stem which you can do either with a knife or by using your thumb and forefinger to strip the leaves off. Then put them in your salad spinner and give them a nice washing. Spin them dry, then just give them a rough chop.

Why throw chard in the mix? Look at its nutritional profile and you'll have your answer: It has carotenes, vitamins C, E, and K, fiber and chlorophyll. It is also an excellent source of minerals -- including magnesium, potassium, iron and manganese -- and B6, calcium, protein, thiamine, zinc, niacin, folic acid and selenium! With this profile chard is a particularly powerful anti-cancer food, especially of those that affect the digestive tract, such as colon cancer. The vitamin K provided by chard (388.9% of the daily value in 1 cup of cooked chard) is important for maintaining bone health.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, cut top to root, then into long quarter-inch strips
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed well with the back of your knife
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup of a variety of tomatoes, chopped (you can substitute 15 oz can of chopped organic tomatoes with juice)
1/2 cup frozen corn (I froze mine this summer so I'd have it on hand, but when corn is in season I use 1 ear, kernels removed from cob)
4 cups rainbow chard (1 bunch), stems removed, cleaned, spun dry and roughly chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 tsp fresh oregano
1/2 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
thyme, 3 sprigs
lemon zest, 1 tsp
sea salt and ground pepper
3-4 fresh farm eggs


  • Heat 3 quart sauce pan over medium heat and add olive oil. When hot, add onion slices and a pinch of salt. Saute for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add garlic and saute 2 more minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic.
  • Add carrots and 1/4 cup of stock. Cover and simmer 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer uncovered for about 6 minutes, until tomatoes begin to break down. Add another 1/4-1/2 cup of stock and the oregano, parsley, thyme and lemon zest. Stir to blend. Add corn, simmer for 3 minutes. Add chard and simmer until it wilts. Add salt and pepper. Mixture should not be dry, nor should it be a soup. There should be a tasty sauce developing with thin enough liquid to poach the eggs. If it needs more stock add that now. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  • When you have a nice simmer going crack in the eggs and cover. Check after 3 minutes. Cook the eggs until the yolks are set to the consistency you like. Remove lid and sprinkle eggs with freshly ground pepper. Using a slotted spoon, scoop up an egg with a good helping of the underlying vegetables. Serve with corn tortillas or sprouted whole grain toast.


You're Going To Love These Green Beans with Chipotle Butter

This is an easy recipe with a big taste. It's made with a compounded butter and once the butter is made there is enough that you can also use it on other things such as broccoli. The flavor is smokey with a little heat but not overly so. We adapted this recipe after finding it in an old Bon Appetit magazine (Dec. 2006). We steam the beans instead of boiling them so we can preserve the vitamins and flavor and we give them a quick saute instead of stirring them in a pot. You can add a sprinkle of toasted pinons or pepitas (pumpkin seeds) if you'd like.

Ingredients: 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped canned chipotle chile (you can buy a can of chipotle chilis in adobo sauce in the Mexican Food section of your grocery store--use what you need and freeze the rest)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 lbs of green beans, trimmed (feel free to use however many green beans you'd like and simply adjust the amount of butter, using enough to coat them all)

Directions: Blend butter, chile, vinegar, and salt in mini processor until smooth. Transfer to small bowl or jar. You can make this ahead of time and stick it in the refrigerator.
Next steam the beans for 3 minutes. Drain. Melt chipotle butter in large frying pan over medium heat. Add the beans and saute in the butter for 3-5 minutes until they just start to blister. Stir frequently. Season with a pinch of salt if needed. Transfer to bowl, top with nuts if desired and enjoy.


Delicious Food at Ubuntu in Napa

This blog has been neglected but I think you will understand. We are new parents to a baby girl we named Remi Anise Sterling. Her middle name (pronounced like Denise) came to me when I was recipe testing with Catherine McConkie for Rebecca Katz new cookbook. We were using Star Anise, a spice, and it smells so wonderful...sort of like licorice only better. Dylan agreed that it went well with Remi and the name stuck. Rebecca has claimed her our little Spice Girl!

So, yesterday we drove to Napa and left her with Chris's parents for our first real outing. There was a tinge of seperation anxiety but hey, our caregivers were a retired surgeon and a retired baby nurse and lactation specialist! So knowing she was in great hands and having cell phones on the ready, off we went to Ubuntu. The restaurant was recommended to me by a fellow chef, Jason, who works on their biodynamic farm.

The weather that day was warm and sunny and the food was beyond expectations. That shouldn't surprise anyone, Chef Jeremy Fox has many accolades including Rising Star Chef. So, what did we have to eat? Chickpea fries with herbs and romesco sauce. The chickpeas had been mashed and shaped to look like french fries and then lightly fried with the romesco as a dipping sauce. Then there was the hickory smoked grits topped with BBQ brussel sprouts, crunchy green apple and bronze fennel sprouts. Now that should make your mouth water. Dessert was poached pear with fennel and white chocolate, citrus and horchata. It was served in a martini glass with the white chocolate on the bottom, sliced pear and orange with hazelnuts next, topped with half vanilla ice cream and half citrus ice. On the one hand the ice was cleansing and on the other hand the ice cream was rich...wonderful combination. Okay, next time I will remember to get the camera out of the glove compartment and take pictures of the food for you. But hey, I'm a tired new parent and I was lucky to have my shoes on the right feet!
Please spoil yourself by visiting a wonderful restaurant on occassion - it really is worth every bite.


What's in Season for June? Bonus: Bruschetta Recipe

Woohoo! Summer fruits and vegies are on their way to a market near you! So, here's my version of Frida Kahlo's watermelon in Viva la Vida. There is an exhibit of her work at the SFMOMA starting this month. We were lucky enough to go to her house in Mexico City last August and be wowed by the art, the torturous devices she wore for her polio, and the brilliant colors inside the house and out...reds, blues, greens, yellows...just gorgeous.

All those colors have me thinking about the shades of summer fruits and vegies. Maybe you've noticed the first of the yellow corn showing up in your grocery store. It's still not at its peak yet but I have to admit I couldn't resist getting a couple of ears and testing out my new toy. It's the Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper from Sur la Table and it's very cool. The monster teeth on this kitchen tool make stripping the kernels off the cob a breeze.

You should also be seeing green beans start to show up as well as cucumbers, those beautiful purple eggplants, your summer squash and even juicy red tomatoes are making an appearance. Those tomatoes look pretty right now but by July you'll get that great flavor that goes with those good looks. Yes, we already bought some of those too. I like the ugly heirloom ones. Dylan chopped them up and made some bruschetta for a great after work before supper treat. I'll let you in on her recipe below.

We are in fruit heaven as we move from strawberries to blueberries, raspberries, apricots, early peaches and nectarines and the first of the melons. Now, maybe I'm old fashioned but I still like the watermelon with the black seeds. I just don't think "seedless" watermelons taste as good...and anyway they're not really seedless, the seeds are just white and a little softer/smaller than the black ones. Remember growing up and spitting those seeds as far as you could while the juice was running down your fingers? Are we going to deny a whole generation of kids this thrill by feeding them seedless watermelons? Pffft. Let's not forget the grapes are coming out as well as black mission figs and of course you've seen those delicious deep dark red cherries or even the yellow-red rainiers. Now are you seeing that summer color palette?

So, on with the Bruschetta recipe.
Dylan emailed this recipe and it's dated 08/09/2001. I taped it to my refrigerator and would make it every year when tomatoes came into season. She tells me she got the recipe from a book entitled Vegetarian Cooking of the Mediterranean.

Getting Ready for those Tasty Tomatoes Bruschetta
1 medium tomato, diced
6 sundried tomatoes, chopped (I used the ones in oil, you can also used dried ones that are soaked in water until soft)
1/2 bunch of basil, cut into thin strips
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained, optional (I'm not a fan of them so I leave them out)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 French Baguette, sliced on the diagonal about 1/4 inch thick

Mix together all ingredients except bread. Let the tomato mixture sit so the flavors will marry while you toast the bread. Set over to 350 degrees F. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and bake in over until golden, 3-5 minutes. Turn bread over and repeat. (Note: We have been known to slap slices of bead in the toaster and "cheat".)


Red Potato Slices Roasted with Lemon and Olives

I know this sounds really weird, in fact it sounded so weird I had to try it! And guess what, it was really good. You can eat the lemon slices, rind and all, which I liked but dylan did not so she picked them out. The flavor here is wonderful and refreshing and quite spring like.

Red Potato Slices Roasted with Lemon and Olives
from The Best of Fine Cooking Fresh Spring/Summer 2006

2 lb. medium or large red potatoes (about 5 medium), scrubbed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
3 Tbs. olive oil; more for the pan
1 lemon, very thinly sliced (discard the ends and seeds)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (I used sea salt)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup pitted olives (Recipe called for oil-cured olives, didn't specify the type. I used water packed kalamatas because that is what I had on hand and it turned out fine).

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Generously oil a large baking dish (9x13, oval gratin, or you can use a cast iron skillet like I did).
In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, the 3 Tbs. oil, lemon slices, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper; toss well. Spread the potato mixture in the baking dish so the potatoes are evenly layered (it can be rustic looking). Roast, turning the potatoes with a spatula every 20 minutes, until most of the potatoes are crisp and golden and the lemon skins are shriveled and caramelized, about 1 hour. Scatter the olives over the potatoes for the last 3 to 5 minutes of cooking.

I served this with sauteed chard. Enjoy!


Tips from Culinary School To Take Your Cooking from Good to Great

Wow, it's been a month and a half without so much as a single recipe from me. This is all because I severely underestimated how consuming culinary school would be. As my classmate Pamela said, "I used to think about food a lot but now I'm totally obsessed with it." It's true. When not in class cooking up a storm, I'm writing up recipes and analyzing their nutritional content (homework), going to the farmers market or trying out new recipes at home. Oh and don't forget that mess of cookbooks and cooking magazines I flip through looking for inspiration.

I thought you all might enjoy some tips from the culinary kitchen that you can start using right now to take your recipes from good to great.

1. Start using lots of fresh herbs and spices. Get rid of any old stale spices in your spice cabinet and replace them with fresh organic spices. Buy small quantities and put a date on the bottom of the jar. Don't be afraid to throw in a handful of fresh herbs to spark up the flavor of a dish. This time of year why not plant a couple of pots with basil and Italian parsley, rosemary and thyme? Then you can just go out and snip off what you need which is cheaper than buying fresh organic herbs in the market.

2. Upgrade your salt. Most chefs love salt and they love it because it brings out the flavor in their dishes. Unless you're on a restricted salt diet, go buy yourself some good sea salt. The one I'm using right now for everyday cooking is called Redmond Real Salt "ancient all natural sea salt " and boasts "unrefined sea salt mined from ancient sea bed contains 50+ trace minerals, including iodine. Okay, I'll tell you one of my salt secrets. I take some salt and put it in a little jar. I grab an herb, say rosemary or the lovely purple flower off of a lavender plant. I gentle crush it just a bit in a small mortar and pestle and toss it with the salt and then use that to season things like soup or roasted vegies. Delicious.

3. Invest in a good chef knife. This act alone will change your life. When dylan and i were just friends she would come over and we would cook dinner together. one time she was over and trying to cut the skin off a kabocha squash which is already difficult but with my dull knives it was ridiculous. Well, that put her over the edge and the next time she came over to cook she brought me a "real" knife. It was a Henckel 8" Chefs Knife and I've been using it every since. And well we've been together for years now so you see it really can change your life!

4. How to Balance Flavors. Have you ever cooked up something only to taste it and realize it's way too spicy or way too sweet? Here is the key to fixing those situations:

flavor to balance add

too sweet sour (acid)/heat... such as lemon jc, chili sauce, vinegar
too salty sour (acid)...lemon jc, vinegar
too hot, spicy sweet/fat...such as agave, honey, olive oil, butter
too sour(acidic) sweet/fat...agave, honey, olive oil, butter
too bland add salt/heat/herbs/spices
needs brightness acid/aromatics/heat...balsamic vinegar, wine, lemon/lime jc, zest, spices, herbs, chili sauce
needs depth herbs such as thyme and rosemary, maybe some salt to bring our flavors
too harsh/strong sweet such as agave, honey, molasses

5. Turn it up a notch with zest. A really nice microplane runs about $12 and will definitely take your cooking from good to great or is that grate! Start adding zest to things and see what happens. Wash your lemon, lime or orange first then zest the peel without getting the white pith as that part is bitter.

6. Make your life easier with natural parchment paper. If I'm going to roast or bake something I line that pan with parchment paper and let me tell you it beats the heck out of soaking and scrubbing those pans.

7. Make your own salad dressings. No, don't grumble, seriously you can do this. Your dressing will be fresh and taste better, you'll know exactly what ingredients are in it and it will cost you way less than buying bottled dressing. So here is the ratio: 1 part acid (usually vinegar) to 3 parts oil (usually olive oil). Use only 2 parts oil for a stronger more intense flavored dressing and 3 parts for a more subtle flavor. Okay, an example of one I throw together that has a slightly sweet taste: 1 part white wine vinegar, 2 parts olive oil, a little orange zest then a squeeze of orange juice, few drops of agave, salt and pepper.

I hope you will try some of these tips and do let me know how your dishes turn out.


A Kitchen on Fire

Okay, this video really tripped me out. I knew you were not supposed to put water on an oil fire but I did not know this is what would happen if you did. The video seems to be some sort of British Public Service announcement. It's short but very powerful. I certainly won't forget what to do if I'm ever in this situation.


Food...Faster, Faster

You used to hear more about microwaves being "dangerous" but now that 90% of US homes have them they are just a given, like having a stove or refrigerator. Remember when they were saying not to stand in front of your microwave while it cooked because it was emitting something dangerous? My non-scientific gut feeling is that something "un-natural" is happening in that metal box, and as convenient as it may be, I don't want to cook my food in it. If you do use a microwave to heat your food up, remember not to use plastic as plastic has been shown to leach toxins, so use glass.

Now, obviously the producers of microwaves are not funding any studies figure out the effects of microwaved food on the food or on those who eat it regularly. There is a good article about some of the research that's been done and what they've found about microwaving food.

I remember getting a Sharp Carousel Microwave as a wedding present in 1982. So I've been using a microwave at least since then. Despite having a Microwave Cookbook I never could get the hang of cooking with it. The food didn't cook evenly and never browned right. The microwave was reduce to warming up leftovers. Nowadays it lives in the basement, unplugged, collecting dust.

The 1.2 BILLION dollar frozen dinner market certainly won't be funding any studies about the dangers associated with microwaving food. Healthy Choice from ConAgra Foods leads the way in the frozen dinner industry. I grew up eating Chicken Pot Pies baked for 45 minutes in those cute little aluminum trays. (The jury is still out on the Alzheimer's/Aluminum link). God I loved those things with their 3 tiny pieces of meat and that yummy top crust. My mother loved them too, after all it was a fairly cheap and easy way to cook for 4 people.

We have Swanson to thank for the TV dinner market. Necessity being the Mother of Invention, in 1953 Swanson overestimated the demand for Thanksgiving Turkeys and ended up with a whopping 520,000 pounds of extra meat on their hands. Long story short, they put it in a compartmentalized tray, linked it to the nation's new TV craze and bammo you've got yourself a TV dinner.

I'm concerned that we feel this rush all the time around food. As a child I used to have to WAIT for dinner to be prepared, didn't you? There just weren't fast food joints on every corner and there wasn't the money available for eating out every night. Marketing plays a big part in making us feel like we don't have time to cook. Maybe the bad economy will help us to spend more time in the kitchen and at the table, reconnecting with food and family.

Can You Afford Organic Food?

This post is for my co-worker, Julie, who told me yesterday that organic food is just too expensive for her to buy. Especially because she has a 13 year old son who eats a lot. I think price is a very legitimate concern and this is a hot political topic. Yes, organic has 40% more nutritious value than conventional and yeah for no chemical cancer causing sprays and so on. But hey, on a social worker's budget I feel her pain! So, my first advise is to buy in season, that is always cheaper. My second piece of advise is to check out the blog MyDailyDiner

Amanda has grocery shopping for *organic* on a *budget* broken down to a science. Look at the right hand column of the blog and scroll down to the section entitled "A Smarter Way to Shop."

It starts with this, "Eating can be expensive. How do I keep my budget between $120-$200/per week, while feeding a family of four only organic, local and seasonal food?
It took practice.
On Friday's, I hit Whole Foods and buy a weeks worth of meat. I buy whatever is on sale. I spend $20 to $30/weekly on meat..."
So, you get the idea. Check out her site and start buying organic.


The Birthing of 9 Chefs

How did this happen? I've been in culinary school for 2 whole weeks now and I haven't posted a thing! So much to tell you about...

The first day of class finally arrived on April 1 for 9 very passionate culinary students. Here we are in our chef garb just this past Saturday, which was the first time we were allowed in the kitchen. As you may remember, I was all worried about the hat. In the end I found the perfect purple and blue striped cotton and hemp hat, even locally made. (I'm the one front and center -- note the hat.)

And just what do they teach in culinary school? Well, we had 5 classes before we were even allowed in the kitchen. There was instruction on kitchen basics like measurements (yes, math conversions--never one of my favorite subjects in school). So you take a recipe that serves 4 and make it serve 45. Believe me those 3 tablespoons become a nightmare. There was also nutrition analysis, macro- and micronutrients, sanitation, and then finally we got into the kitchen to learn knife skills. We were each loaded down with carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, basil, bell peppers, jalepenos, and more. And there was my little cheat sheet of all the cuts--chiffonades, cubes, fine dices, etc.--quickly bloodied by the juice of a strawberry sliced into a decorative fan and by the drippings from a supremed blood orange.

And you should see what Chef Brian Keane did with the bell pepper. I've never seen anything like it. He cut off the top and the bottom. The stem popped right out of the top leaving an impressive ring for garnishing. He then made one vertical cut and opened up the pepper. He took out the ribs and laid the pepper out flat. From there he was able to cut it into even strips. I, for one, was quite impressed by this.

Anyway, as I said we weren't in the kitchen until Saturday but that isn't entirely true as we were allowed in the kitchen to clean it. So class started each day with a lecture, followed by our instructor do a cooking demo, all the while telling us what she was doing. After the demo we each had our assigned tasks for cleaning up. And I mean CLEAN right down to the floor being mopped.

Though we have "guest appearances" by other chefs, our main instructor is Chef Karen Diggs.
She apprenticed with a French chef, she has also opened restuarants in Hong Kong and the US, as well as worked with celebrity chefs on TV. She even worked in a "silent kitchen" at one point. Where apparently you get your orders at the beginning of the shift then no one talks in the kitchen (except for safety). She says this is the ultimate in discipline and focus. She likes us to be on time "because a sense of timing is critical to cooking" and reminded us what her teacher used to say to her was, "A dull knife is a dull mind."

Well, I need to go sharpen my knife and my mind!


Spectacular Swirly Bread Pudding

Thanks to Molly, a co-worker of Dylan's at Children's Hospital, for introducing us to the wonderful bread pudding that forms the foundation of this recipe. We've made only a few minor changes to give it a little less sugar and a cinnamon swirl.

8 Eggs
2 Cups Milk (we use 2% Organic)
2 Cups Heavy Whipping Cream
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Amaretto (yes, that's liquor in your pudding folks - go Molly!)
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
1 Loaf Semifreddies Cinnamon Swirl Bread (if you don't have this or something similar in your area you can substitute 1 loaf of Challah bread but you won't get the swirl)
Cocoa powder

You will need a 9x13 glass pan. Prep the pan by spreading a little canola oil over it and dusting it with sifted cocoa powder.
In a large sized bowl, rip the bread into pieces.

In a medium sized bowl, mix the eggs, milk, heavy cream, sugar, amaretto and vanilla thoroughly.

Pour this mixture over the bread and let sit for 30 minutes.

Bake in 350 degree F oven for 40-50 minutes. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled, whatever you prefer. Enjoy!


Easter ramblings

What do vegetarian's eat for Easter dinner? I have no idea. Fortunately, Dylan and I will be working (this is what happens when you work at a hospital, they tend to be open 24/7) so I won't have to figure out what to cook. Growing up it was always HAM on Easter. The kind that had pineapple rings on it and cloves stuck between the criss cross slices, oh and a maraschino cherry in the middle of each pineapple ring. Mmmmm.

And anyway, how on earth did Easter get here so quickly? We just celebrated St. Patty's day! And vegetarian or not I tried Tamara's corned beef and cabbage which was slow cooked in Guiness beer. Tender and quite good. And this was served with Mushy Peas, not Irish but rather British, and not as bad as they sound.

We had my son over to dye eggs, a tradition. That translates to deviled eggs, egg salad and potato salad this coming week. This year there were rubber bands used to wrap around the eggs before they were dipped into the dye, markers, ink bunny stamps, the ever popular clear wax crayon and even scotch tape. Also new for us was using some brown eggs which created a more intense color than the white eggs.

Oh and I found my chef coat and pants for culinary school. I thought this would be fun but it was really quite stressful. The men's pants were baggy beyond belief and the coats were also too big. The women's selection was quite small compared to the mens but I was able to find a pair of black pants (will have to be hemmed) and a white chef's coat with knotted buttons. I am so glad I didn't try to order online, it would have never worked.

I will be seeing my brother for a couple of days when he visits San Diego in April. He is a chef and owns the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Winter Park, Colorado. He has been cooking for what seems like forever and it always makes my mouth water when he rambles off his latest creation. Don't ask him for a recipe though, he just composes things like a musician writes a song and has yet to give me an exact recipe. I hope to help out with some of his catering events when I am done with school.

Culinary school starts April 1, be sure to follow along as the adventure unfolds!


What to bring to the Potluck Orzo Salad

You know the problem. There's a potluck at work or a baby shower or something of the sort and you're supposed to bring a dish. Someone beat you and signed up for "chips and salsa" first. Someone else signed up for your back up plan of "plates and napkins." Okay, you're going to have to cook. These potlucks often have an abundance of sweets but not enough "real food." Not to worry, we have the ideal recipe for you. You don't have to heat it up, it's "real food" that everyone will love and you will be praised for months to come going down into the history of pot lucks as "Remember when Jill brought that fabulous Orzo Salad?" Yeah baby, that's you!

This is Dylan's recipe which was inspired by a rice salad in The Silver Palate Cookbook which both of us love.

Orzo Salad

3 cups of dried orzo
1 sweet red pepper, chopped into small pieces
6 scallions, cleaned and finely sliced, white and light green parts
1 cup dried currants
1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
2 cups frozen peas
1 medium sized carrot, chopped into fine dice
1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Organic Feta
Pine Nuts, toasted

Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Cook the orzo in boiling water until just tender and firm to the bite. Drain and run under cool water for a minute to stop the cooking. Set aside in strainer.

Blanch the frozen peas in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, drain again. Set aside.

In a good sized bowl add the red pepper, the scallions, the currants, the shallot, the olives, the carrot and the parsley. Mix. Now put in your peas, mix gently. Add the orzo and mix again. Set aside and make the vinaigrette.

2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (add up to 1/2 tsp as desired)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup olive oil

Measure mustard into bowl. Whisk in vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and parsley. Whisk in olive oil and adjust seasoning to taste.

Now, let's finish the salad that's going to make you famous. Add about 1/2 of the vinaigrette to the salad and toss. It should be moist, not wet. Add your feta and toss again. Transfer to a nice serving dish and cover. Sprinkle pine nuts on top before serving and bring extra dressing with you. This salad is best served at room temperature so the flavors explode in your mouth. Remember to let us know how it turns out and don't forget the little people when you're famous.


Who Stole the Vegetable Tian?

Admit it, you steal recipes from magazines you find in waiting rooms. I know I'm not the only one because I've seen the half torn pages in the food section while I'm passing time in the doctor's office, the dentist's office, waiting for my car to be serviced... I feel a little guilty when I do it but something comes over me and I just HAVE to have this recipe AND the picture that goes with it. I try to be subtle, to make sure no one is looking directly at me, to crease the page well before tearing it and then quickly shoving it into my pocket. What I really find annoying is that after I've been waiting in the lobby for 30 minutes and finally decided that YES I DO want, no need, that recipe and just as I am about to make my move the nurse calls out my name. Rats! Or when the recipe begins on page 51 and is continued on page 123 so I have to tear out multiple pages. This can only be done by experienced recipe bandits.

So here then is a recipe, yes shamefully taken from a magazine. And sin upon sin it's Martha Stewart.

This is a recipe for Vegetable tian and it's one we make we make again and again finding
something comforting in the flavors. We serve it with a rice pilaf and a glass of chardonnay. It's soft but not mushy. The use of a food processor (or mandolin I suppose) makes the vegie prep quick. Allow an hour for baking.

Vegetable Tian
original recipe martha's, adaptations by drake and dylan

Makes one 9 inch tian, serves 4

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 leaks, white and pale green parts only, halved, fanned and rinsed well and cut into thin slices
2 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 medium or 2 small zucchini, unpeeled, very thinly sliced
1 medium or 2 small yellow squash, unpeeled, very thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, very thinly sliced
1 small Italian eggplant, unpeeled, very thinly sliced
6-8 crimini mushrooms, cleaned, thinly sliced (can substitute shitake or use a mixture)
1/4 cup dry white wine (I use a nice Chardonnay, you know, some for me, some for the recipe)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (can substitute 1/2 tbsp organic dried oregano)

Grated Parmesan, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat 3 tbsp oil in large skillet over med heat. Add leek and garlic, season with some salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Spread in a 9 inch gratin or round baking dish (a glass pie pan works nicely).

2. Arrange vegies on top of leek mixture in slightly overlapping circles, alternating them as you go.

3. Top with wine, 1 tbsp of oil, oregano, s and p. Bake 30 minutes. Drizzle with remaining oil. Bake until vegies are tender, 30 minutes more. Serve with Parmesan.


Chop! Chop! Culinary School Starts Soon

I don't look good in hats. That's going to be a problem because we have to wear one for chef school. I hope they're not too picky at Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts.
They have sent me a list of supplies I need:
-8 inch Chef knife
-3 inch paring knife
-vegetable peeler (apparently no chef should be without one of these)
-hard, closed toe shoes or "professional chef shoes"
-chef coat
-hair wrap (cap, hat or scarf)
-white shirts
-chef pants
-chef gear bag (not really sure what that is and haven't found one online either)
-instant read thermometer
and some computer software called Master Cook.

I like wearing a uniform. When I was a kid I was a girl scout and I had my little green polyester uniform that proudly pronounced, "Hey, look at me, I've got the cookies!"

Yesterday there was a post card from a personal chef on my car window. Basically it states that if you're tired of grocery shopping, hate to cook and never have time to make a decent meal you should hire this guy and he will do it for you. I respect his right to market this way however that is soooo not my philosophy about all of this.

First I am doing it for the experience. I have a handful of experiences in my life that I look back on and say were totally worth it and very rewarding. For example, the time I bought an old Victorian house in Denver and totally renovated it from the ground up. What an amazing experience (though mind you it was a lot of work and I would never do it again!). I want culinary school to be like that...just in and of itself a totally cool, fun, and engaging moment in my life. When I told my co-worker this he said I sounded very "Oprah-ish."

And, unlike the guy marketing on my car window, I come from an empowerment model. I want to teach people to cook. I want to help them have fun with it and reclaim it and nurture their bodies with it. And while I do understand how busy we can all be, I wonder how much of it we have been programmed into believing. Manufacturers came up with prepackaged food during the war for the soldiers. The question was how to market it to consumers post-war. It's interesting to think about these words from the book The United States of Arugula by David Kamp, "...the packaged-food companies would abandon any pretense of claiming their processed and frozen products were superior in taste, instead stressing their convenience. Cannily (and often with canned foods), these companies' advertising campaigns actually stigmatized the experience of spending hours in the kitchen...an ad for Minute Rice that sounds like it was written by someone hopped up on Dexedrine: 'Baby fussing? Dinner to get? When baby wants attention and Daddy wants dinner, your best friend is quick-quick Minute Rice!" could it be that on some level we are at least in part victims of marketing and rather than enjoy the preparation and dining experience with food and conversation we've been programed to think it a drudgery?

When my partner and I got together she would come to my place and we would have "The Kissing Lounge." We would have a cocktail called a French Kiss along with a plate of cheese, crackers and fruit. We would sit and sip our drink and eat and talk about our work day. Then we would go make dinner. We had a one drink limit so that we would not cut off a finger.

Ah well, I digress. So school starts April 1 and I will be spending the next few weeks checking off items on the list. Stay tuned for class updates...

Drake's Colorado Cowboy Cookies

I lived in Colorado for over 20 years so I feel a connection to anything with a name like Colorado Cowboy Cookies. The original recipe can be found on epicurious.com but I've made a few modifications that I think you'll like. One is the switch from all purpose flour to whole wheat pastry flour, which yielded wonderful results.

The other modifications have to do with the sugar. The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp dark brown sugar. I have made these cookies many times but I always use light brown sugar because that's what I have around. However, after making the Pots of Gold recipe on Orangette's blog (absolutely to die for!) I had some dark muscovado sugar left over so I used 2 tablespoons of this for a really tasty result. If you can't find it at a local grocery you can order it online at indiatree.com. Lastly, I did not use white sugar -- instead I used cane sugar (a sort of light brown colored sugar you can often find in the bulk section).

Actually, now that I'm looking at the recipe I realize I also changed the nuts, I don't chill the dough for an hour and I don't bake them the way they say to. The baking modification has to do with this very finicky antique -- read: OLD -- stove we own (which I cannot stand beyond words but oh let's save that topic for another day).

So, I admit to having turned the recipe inside out but hey, that's the fun of cooking -- being creative and in the moment and ending up with something that goes down really well with a glass of milk...and a pair of cowboy boots.

Drake's Colorado Cowboy Cookies
Original recipe from Bon Appetit: inspirations theirs, modifications mine.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup cane sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (depending on how much you like chocolate)
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (can substitute walnuts if you prefer)

Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and all sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating to combine. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients and mix. Repeat with other half just until blended.

I line my baking sheets with parchment paper, which is the cooking god's gift to mankind. Drop healthy tablespoons of dough onto the sheet leaving a little room between them (they don't spread a lot) and flatten them just a bit with your fingers. Bake about 8 minutes at 350 degrees F, longer if needed to get golden brown on the bottom and just around the edges. Remove from pan when done. I always put my cookies on a cut up paper bag to cool. Enjoy!


Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette & Croutons

In case I haven't mentioned it yet, my partner, Dylan, is a nurse in the ICU at Children's Hospital. On this rainy Saturday she happens to be working and I was wondering what I could make her for dinner. She loves salad but on this cold evening that didn't really seem fitting. I went thumbing through some cooking magazines and various cook books for inspiration and came up with this combination. Her response? "Wow, I feel like I'm at a restaurant!" We probably won't get to make this again until next fall, but if you hurry you can squeeze it in before squash goes by the wayside. This salad has some wonderful surprise flavors...raisins soaked in port, sweet maple syrup and spicy Dijon mustard in the vinaigrette oo la la.

Menu: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sherry Maple Vinaigrette, Homemade Garlic-Parmesan Croutons

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
adapted from The Best of Fine Cooking Fresh, Fall 2007

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup port
1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. real maple syrup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium head frisee, trimmed, leaves torn into bite size pieces
4-6 cups mixed fresh organic salad greens, rinsed clean and spun dry

Cover the raisins with port and let sit for at least 3 hours. I used a 1997 Zinfandel Port from the Napa Valley. I felt kind of guilty opening it for some raisins of all things, but truth be told I don't drink port (obviously, since it's been in my liquor cabinet for, oh, 11 years now).

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F and then (and oh how I hate this part) peel the squash and cut it into 1/2 to 3/4 inch cubes. Feel free to cheat and use the pre-cut squash you can find in stores these days. You can really use any kind of squash that you have on hand as long as it is flavorful. I cut open an acorn squash and it was pale, pithy and bland -- yuck! That went into the compost pile.

In a medium sized bowl toss the
squash and onion with the olive oil and maple syrup. I use a grade B organic maple syrup, which has a nice flavor without being overpowering. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet (good idea to put some parchment paper down first) into a single layer and sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the squash is just cooked through and it and the onions are browned -- approximately 20 minutes. You can do this step in advance if you'd like and then just microwave it before adding it to the salad.

Toss the greens and frisee together in a large bowl with about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette (recipe follows). Plate individual salads and add some of the still warm (not hot) squash and onion mixture. Drain the raisins and sprinkle some on each salad. Serve with garlic-parmesan croutons (recipe follows).

Sherry Maple Vinaigrette

1/3 cups sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. real maple syrup (I use Grade B - very mellow)
1 Tbs. finely chopped shallots
1 cup grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and shallots in a bowl and whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream. Season with s & p to taste.

Garlic-Parmesan Croutons

These croutons are easy to make, hard to mess up and they taste really good. These can be made using the bread of your choice. Tonight I used 5 slices of some ciabatta we had on hand and a few slices of sour dough bread stolen from the loaf we had in the freezer. The garlic is subtle so as not to overpower your salad or dressing.

6 cups bread, cut into bite size pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed, chopped up
sea salt
parmesan, finely grated

Put your oven to 400F and get out a 9x13 baking sheet with edges

Pour olive oil into a bowl and stir in the garlic. Allow to sit for a few minutes.
Add the bread to the bowl and toss until all of the pieces get a little oil. Spread the bread onto your baking sheet. I then use my microzester, holding it over the bread and lightly grating some parmesan onto the bread squares. Lastly sprinkle the bread, again lightly, with salt.

Bake for 5 minutes, turn, and bake for another 5 minutes, watching carefully so nothing burns. Remove from oven and place on paper toweling, allow to cool. If needed add another sprinkling of salt. Store in airtight container.


Oaxaca Tacos with Seasoned Black Beans and Lime Cilantro Slaw

We just finished having Oaxaca Tacos for dinner and we're both sitting here asking ourselves if there is possibly room for a few more bites in our already full stomachs. We've decided to split one more because they just tasted so good. You know that feeling, don't you?

The first time we actually had Oaxaca Tacos was not in Oaxaca. As a matter of fact, we were in Oaxaca in August and I never saw them on the menu. We were introduced to them at the Hotel San Ignacio in Belize. When we told the waiter we wanted something vegetarian he scrambled back to tell the chef and emerged with these wonderful corn tortillas filled with a mashed pototoe mixture. Honestly, I would never have put that combination together but I assure you, dear readers, it tastes great.

I can't remember what was served with this dish at the hotel, but we serve ours with black beans and have modified the filling a bit. Feel free to invent your own filling by adding various veggies to the potatoes.

I'm going to break this recipe down into 3 parts: the black beans, the tacos and the side lime cilantro slaw. But please don't be intimidated, once the black beans are made the rest is easy. If you do the beans in advance and freeze them you can just pull it out in the morning and use it in the evening for dinner.

1. The Seasoned Black Beans
adapted from the oh-so-good cookbook: Hot & Spicy & Meatless

If you have never made your own black beans, try this recipe and you will never go back to canned. The aroma that fills the kitchen while the beans are cooking is worth it in and of itself.

2 cups dried black beans
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

First soak the beans overnight in a pot with cold water. The next day you can rinse away the old water and add fresh water to cover by 3 inches or so. Bring to a boil then add the bay leaf, oil, cumin, oregano, garlic and curry. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the beans are soft. Add a little more water along the way if it boils away. Salt and pepper to taste.

2. The Oaxaca Tacos

Gather the following ingredients:
3 large russet potatoes, peeled, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 - 1 1/2 cups grated jalepeno jack cheese
3/4 cup roasted corn
8 corn tortillas, thin variety
canola oil for frying

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put potatoes into a pot and cover generously with water. Bring to boil then lower heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are soft (aproximately 15 minutes). Drain well and while they are still warm go ahead and mash them with the butter and salt. Set aside.

Heat canola oil in a frying pan over medium-low flame. There should be enough oil to just cover the tortilla when frying - you may need to add more along the way as the oil is absorbed. Dip each tortilla into the oil for about 20 seconds on one side, turn and another 20 seconds on the other side. The idea here is to warm the tortillas to a pliable state. You do not want them to get crispy. Lay them into a pie pan and cover with foil until you have all 8 tortillas prepared. Or if there are two of you one can cook the tortillas and one can fill and roll them!

Now you're ready to assemble the tacos. Spoon about 4 tablespoons of the mashed potatoes onto a tortilla. Spinkle on some corn and some of the jalepeno jack. Roll and place into a 9x13 pan seam side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Put tacos in oven for 15 minutes until they are just starting to crisp up. While they are in the oven you can throw together the slaw.

3. Lime cilantro slaw

Grab a small and medium sized bowl and the following ingredients:
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped coursely, large stems removed
1 lime
olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Squeeze the juice of 1 lime into a small bowl (or even a little jar). Whisk in an equal amount of olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon of each).

Toss together the cabbage and chopped cilantro in your medium bowl. Add about one half of the dressing and toss again. You may add more if you feel it is too dry.

Take the tacos out of the oven and plate up a couple of tacos, a large scoop of black beans and the slaw on the side. Garnish the tacos with whatever you have on hand: a few sprigs of cilantro, some extra cheese, black olives... And enjoy!


What to Eat at a Funeral

As much as food is a part of life it is also a part of death. A patient passed away here in the hospital earlier this week. I went to the room where the motionless body was lying with a crisp white sheet up to her neck, eyes closed, toothless mouth open. My intention was to simply pop in and offer the daughter my condolences on the passing of her mother as they were waiting for a priest to arrive. The daughter wanted me to sit down and talk. So there we were sitting, next to the dead body, chatting. Believe me this is not an everyday occurrence for me. Out of the corner of my eye I kept expecting the sheet to rise and fall with breathing but that didn't happen. It's hard to focus when there is a dead body next to you.

I asked if the family would have a wake, the daughter replied that she didn't know if it was a wake or not but that people would drop by and bring food to share. I have never been to something like that but all night I thought about the importance of food in life and around death. How comforting it is to people, how it feels caring and gives us a space to eat and talk about an important person who has passed. I also painstakingly wondered what I would bring to such an event. Would I cook up a lasagna? Potato salad? Cheese plate? Surely, I could be more creative than that. Fellow cooks, have you ever shared in this after death ritual? What would you bring and why? Does time of day play into what you would bring?

Nigella Lawson has a cookbook called Feast: Food to Celebrate Life. In it there is a chapter called Funeral Feast. The recipes include Sweet Lamb Tagine, Lentil Soup-easy to transport and reheat as well as sustaining, Meatloaf-a comfort food which can also be used later for sandwiches, Heavenly Potatoes, a Mormon specialty also called Funeral Potatoes made with sourcream and using cornflakes for a crusty topping, Rosemary Remembrance Cake and Hamine Eggs-boiled eggs are a traditional Jewish food for mourning and are died dark using teabags-quite lovely really. I like the soup idea, you could bring it in a crockpot. I am also thinking about a pie, this time of year an apple pie.


Jamaican Banana Bread w/Spiced Rum

...if you like pina coladas and gettin caught in the rain...I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne...

Ah the Caribbean, makes me feeling like swaying and singing corny songs. This recipe will make you want to sing too. ...put the lime in the coconut, da da da...

2 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
1 Cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/2 cup milk (your choice 2%, whole, half and half with water...)
4 Tbsp Spiced Rum
1 tsp lime zest
2 tsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp fresh orange or tangerine juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour (I use King Arthur white whole wheat)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut (don't have coconut, don't worry tastes great without it too)

Preheat oven to 375°. Oil and flour your loaf pans (8 x 4, 9 x 5, or mini loaf pans). Recipe makes one large loaf.

You will need 3 bowls-1 large and 2 small.

1. In small bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Beat in brown sugar and then the egg.

2. In the other small bowl, combine the mashed banana, milk, rum, lime zest, lime juice, orange juice and vanilla; mix well.

3. In large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Now pour half the creamed mixture into the flour and give it a good stir. Then pour in half of the banana mixture and mix that it. Repeat and you should have a nice looking batter.

Fold in your pecans and coconut.
Poor batter into pan and bake for 50 - 60 minutes. Do not overcook as it will be dry - remember it finishes cooking a little even after you take it out of the oven. The old toothpick test works well, when a toothpick comes out clean it's done. Remove from over and let it sit and cool for a bit before taking it out of the pan. Enjoy what goes into your mouth!

Dear readers, please tell me you have a micro-zester. This is one of my favorite tools as it makes zesting super easy.


Hearty Lentil Stew

This recipe was first inspired by a dish in last Febuary's Sunset magazine called Lentil Stew with Winter Vegetables. However, since I don't like (some) root vegetables I had to recreate this dish with things I do like. I don't know what it is about turnips and beets but they just taste like dirt to me. Onward with the version I have been enjoying for a year now:

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 cup French green lentils
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups broth/1 cup water - or any combination there of to equal 4 cups
4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters (if they are too small they will cook too quickly and turn to mush)
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
4 cups stemmed chopped kale
4 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
Small handful of green beans, trimmed
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped fine
3 oz. aged goat cheese (such as Chevrot or Bucheron or Humbolt Fog - something sort of firm)

Heat the olive oil in good sized pot over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (maybe 3 mins). Add garlic, lentils, salt, pepper, thyme, and 4 cups water/broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low.

Add potatoes and squash and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 20 mins.

After your 20 minutes are up add the kale, carrots and green beans. Cover and cook over med-low heat for 10 minutes. Remove lid and pierce carrots to check for doneness. They should not be mushy, firm but easy to bite into. You want some juice in the pot but it should not be soupy. If it is too soupy let it cook for a few minutes without the lid. Now, you can stop and eat it as it is -- very delicious. Do not burn your tongue like I just did though.


Since we are talking about French Lentils here, you may just say in your best French accent, "Chef Drake" (I'm practicing for when I'm a 'real' chef) "Chef Drake, my life is so boring these days. I feel I need more complexity. Can you help me achieve this?" Why certainly! At this point you may remove the pot from the heat and stir in the parsley and the goat cheese. Plate it up immediately with a crusty bread. Enjoy!

Orzo with Spinach, Feta and Lemon

Today cool, overcast and Orzo Salad. This is my version of a Rebecca Katz recipe that can be found in one of my fave cookbooks, One Bite at a Time. I love how bright the lemon makes this dish and I think it will perk up your day too.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
3 cups fresh spinach-clean it spin it and give it a rough chop
1/3 cup crumbled organic feta cheese
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 cup orzo
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts-more if you love them like I do

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and saute until just starting to brown. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and cook until wilted (a couple of minutes will do it). Now, add the feta cheese, the lemon juice and half the zest. Taste. If you feel it is lemony enough, don't use the rest of the zest. However, if you like the adventure go ahead and put it all in.

Meanwhile, on the stove...Bring yourself a couple quarts of water with a 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil. Add the orzo and cook about 10-12 minutes-firm but not hard in the middle. Drain. Put the orzo in a beautiful dish and stir in the spinach mixture and the pine nuts. Enjoy!

Serves 4


Dishing Up Healing Foods

My friend Tamara has a close friend who was recently going through chemo. Tamara had looked up some cancer fighting recipes and took these meals to her friend. After the treatments were over her friend told her that everyone's support had been appreciated but as she looked back the most significant thing she received were the homemade meals Tamara had made.

Last week I was working with a patient and her family in the hospital. The patient was diagnosed with something called Pyoderma Gangrenosum which basically means she has some wounds on her legs that are not healing well (it's a lot grosser than that but I swear do not google it unless you want to see some really stomach turning pics). In addition, her albumin was very low indicating malnourishment. After discussing various topics with them I finally turned the conversation to nutrition. What was our patient eating? Now, I'm not a nutritionist or dietitian but I do know that wounds need protein and nutrients to heal. Our patient's son lives with her and bless his heart he works and it turns out that picking up a pizza or McDonald's is what he can do. Obviously that is not going to cure anyone of anything. Our new plan was for the family to talk with the patient and make a list of things she likes to eat concentrating on fruits and vegetables. And who in this family can pitch in and cook? Well, as it turns out the patient's niece who looked to be about 15 is a great cook! She was sitting on the floor beside the patient's bed and grinned as the family doted on her abilities. Now our little cook has a mission and would be part of this patient's healing.

I have also discussed nutrition with my cancer patients. I remember recently working with two different newly diagnosed cancer patients, both of them were in their early thirties. If there is a single diagnosis that can knock the wind out of you and make you feel completely powerless, it's cancer. As we talked chemotherapy and radiation treatments eating and appetite came up. When I mentioned that there are actually cookbooks out there to help them find immune supportive recipes they were surprised. Here was something the family could actually DO. One of the books I use and have cooked many of the recipes from is One Bite at a Time by Rebecca Katz.

Many of us are touched by cancer, either our own bodies or someone we know. I encourage you to bring them a meal or two. The healing power of food and the thoughtfulness of your gift will be appreciated more than you can imagine.