Friday, November 21, 2008

There's nothin' like a bowl of squash soup on a cold night

There are a lot of versions of butternut squash soup - smooth, creamy, thick, spicy, curried. I love all things squash, but when I make it myself, I make this super easy light version. of butternut squash soup. The ingredients and quantities are a little vague, but I promise you - you can't screw this up.

olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 butternut squash
2 potatoes (any variety)
2 carrots (sometimes I throw in a parsnip too, if I have them)
1 apple
2-4 cups veggie or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste
dash cayenne or red pepper flakes, chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Peel and chop all vegetables. (It doesn't really matter how big or small you chop things because it is all going to be pureed, but it's best to chop all of the harder veggies about the same size). Saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables, the apple and bay leaf, and cover with stock. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. When the veggies are soft, let cool a little before blending with a stick blender or in a food processor or blender (be careful blending hot things!). Return to soup pot and season with salt and pepper and other herbs if desired. Garnish with croutons (as in photo), toasted pumpkin seeds, sour cream, or fresh herbs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My review of Chard Gratin recipe from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food

This was my first recipe review for the CHOW's Cookbook of the Month.

This was a fabulous way to use up a bunch of greens I had bought at the Farmers Market last week. Recipe was simle and easy to follow, I have just a couple of suggestions: 1) next time I would add a little more milk - the finished result was tasty but could've been a little moister. 2) If you use chard the cooking time would probably be appropriate, but since I used mixed greens (including some tougher types like collards), I pre-cooked the greens a little longer. All in all a very tasty healthier and heartier version of "creamed spinach".

Here's the original recipe:

from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food


1 1/2 bunches chard, washed and stemmed, saving half of the stems
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 onion, diced
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup milk
Freshly grated nutmeg

1. After washing and stemming the chard, save half the chard stems and slice them thinly. Cook the stems for about 2 minutes in 2 quarts boiling salted water. Add the chard leaves and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the stems and leaves and coarsely chop them.
2. Toss the breadcrumbs with 2 teaspoons melted butter. Toast them on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven, stirring now and then, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the diced onion and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chard and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 3 minutes. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons flour over the onion-chard mix. Stir well and add 1/2 cup milk and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more milk if the mixture gets too thick. The chard should be moist but not floating in liquid. Taste and add salt if needed.
4. Butter a small baking dish. Spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish and dot with 2 teaspoons butter. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Bake in a 350°F oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Yu-um! I'm not sure what was more delicious this morning - the breakfast I made or the photo I took of it with our new camera! I now have a new tool to further my obsession with food and writing and reading about it.

My first model was the breakfast I made for MO and myself on this beautiful Sunday morning: Poached Eggs over Fried Green Tomatoes and Toast. I dusted sliced green tomatoes* in cornmeal, then pan-fried them until golden brown. I messily poached some eggs (a technique that I definitely have to work on), layered them with the tomatoes on toast and topped it all with a mixture of chopped red tomatoes*, parsley*, a splash of champagne vinegar and s&p. It was delicious and fresh and we didn't even miss the rich hollandaise that would normally drown a dish like this at a restaurant.

* = from our garden!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New York Pizza

Pizza comes in many forms, the best of which is New York pizza: thin crispy-but-foldable crust, a little sauce, a little more cheese and some drip-on-your hand grease. Yum. It's really hard to find pizza like that in California. And believe me, MO and I have been searching since we moved here. Here's a shout out to one of our favorite pizza places around, aptly named The New Yorker.

The New Yorker is located in downtown Petaluma. They also have a variety of Italian specialities, all of which look good, but we always get the pizza. And usually a green salad (not much more than lettuce, but with the yummy house dressing, its perfect for holding you over while you're waiting for your pizza).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Magical Minty Ice Cream Cake

I'm back!!! It's not that I haven't been eating and drinking and cooking - but (with the weddings, traveling, birthdays, and other stuff), I've just been too busy to post anything. But now I am back because I had to tell you all about the delicious ice cream cake I made for MO's birthday. It had a chocolate cookie crumb crust, a layer of cookies n' cream ice cream and a layer of mint chocolate chip, topped with ganache and more cookie crumbs...yum!
I have to give props to this blog I found with a very easy to follow recipe for ice cream cake. Their ice cream cake is much prettier than mine and I haven't gotten to the homemade ice cream level yet, but there's always next time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tortellini Salad

Well, I have to give LoPo credit for sharing this recipe with me and I have to give Rachael Ray credit for creating it, but it's so good I had to post it here. It does have a lot of ingredients, but is really a gorgeous addition to a BBQ or summer party.

Spinach Artichoke Pasta Salad
Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray
Show: 30 Minute Meals
Episode: Now That's a Sandwich!

Coarse salt
1 package fresh mushroom or chicken prosciutto or spinach filled tortellini (recommended: Contadina or Buitoni brands) available on dairy aisle in most markets
1/2 pound fresh baby spinach
1 (15-ounce) can baby artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped
1 red roasted pepper, drained and chopped
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, cracked from skin
1 lemon, zested
2 teaspoons lemon juice, the juice of 1 wedge
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, a couple of splashes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried leaves, eyeball it
Black pepper
A handful sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, coarsely chopped

Bring 5 or 6 inches of water to a boil in a large pot. Salt boiling water and add pasta. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until pasta is just tender and the tortellini are floating like buoys. Drain tortellini, then cool the cooked pasta by spreading them out on a large plate or a cookie sheet in a single layer.
Coarsely chop baby spinach. Combine with artichoke pieces, roasted red pepper and red onion. Chop garlic, then add salt to it and mash it into a paste with the flat of your knife. Transfer garlic paste to a small bowl and add lemon zest, lemon juice and vinegar to it. Whisk in oil, thyme and pepper. Add pasta and sun-dried tomatoes to the salad. Dress salad and gently toss. Serve or refrigerate.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lobstah in San Francisco?

San Francisco is very far from Maine, but at the North Beach Lobster Shack, I almost felt like I was "down east". Surrounded by Italian restaurants and pizza joints on every side, The Lobster Shack is a surprising find. Not exactly cheap eats (it's lobster after all), but very casual and fun. Almost like you were at Beal's in Southwest Harbor.

Mo and I had clam chowder (very thick New England style with big chunks of clam) and lobster rolls (fresh lobster on a toasted roll). Not the best I've ever had, but pretty darn good for California. We'll definitely be back for a special ocassion for a steamed lobster dinner.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kitchen Gadgets Galore!

Cherry Pitter
(no, this is not a medical device)
Fresh cherries have been so fabulous this year and after eating enough to get a stomachache, I decided to freeze some for later use, using my new cherry pitter (thanks, D)! It's really handy and easy to use and makes cherries even easier to eat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happy Summer!

So, I know I've been a bad blogger lately, but that's because summer is here and I've been busy! One of my favorite summertime past times is grilling. Now, I have to get a little creative because I don't do meat, but I've re-discovered an old family favorite that makes everything on the grill taste better (especially grilled shrimp): OLD BAY!

Grilled Shrimp with Old Bay
Peel fresh or thawed uncooked shrimp and marinate in a vinaigrette or blend of oil and a little vinegar. Add a liberal amount of Old Bay seasoning and fresh chopped parsley. Let marinate (in the refrigerator) to allow flavors to blend for as much time as you have. Skewer and grill on a hot grill for 3-5 minutes on each side. Depending on the size of the shrimp, it may take a little less or little more time. This is key: DO NOT OVERCOOK SHRIMP. They will become rubbery and icky.

This is delicious served with grilled veggies or even better, grilled pineapple!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I "HEART" the Farmers Market

Those of you who know me know that my love of food is rivaled only by my love of Farmers Markets. It all started in Ithaca (see the photo at left of me and Sis selling Fat Boy Bakery goodies at the Ithaca Farmers Market!) but I must say that the Marin County Farmers Market is quite wonderful. MO and I go almost every weekend to stock up on wonderful produce and other goodies.

Some of our current favorite items (besides whatever produce is at its peak) are:

green chile corn tortillas
Mi Abuelita makes these really tasty corn tortillas with the best texture. Excellent for homemade fish tacos.

honey yogurt
According to their label, Saint Benoit yogurt is "Artisinal, French-style yogut, made in small batches in Bodega, CA". According to me: delicious and rich - I especially love the honey variety(not sure if its the "Frenchness" or the adorable ceramic crock I like more)

old world portugese cheese
Located in Petaluma, Spring Hill Cheese Company makes a huge variety of delicious cheeses (and let's you taste as many as you want!), including our favorite, which is salty, delicious, and hard but creamy. Yum.

PS: I've also started volunteering with the Marin Farmers Market. Oh, yeah, and we're getting married at the farmers market pavilion in Ithaca. See, I really do love Farmers Markets.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pizza Pie

Since moving to California, MO has been complaining about the lack of a really good "New York slice". After much trial and tribulation (and testing many many pizza places), we think that Amici's probably has the North Bay's closest thing (although 1 - you can't get it by the slice and, 2 - it costs much more than NY pizza). If you're looking for Chicago Style pizza, Old Chicago in Petaluma is the way to go (although in my opinion, it's hardly the same food).

Because MO was never quite satisfied with the pizza selection in the area, he had my Dad (also known as "Fat Boy" of Fat Boy Bakery) show him the real way to make New York pizza from scratch. Sorry - it's a secret family recipe, but I can share some photos!
Last weekend, MO made pizza for the whole gang after we went for a gorgeous hike out near Point Reyes.

peppers and sausage

white pizza with garden rosemary

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Early Valentine

Since I love to go out to eat so much, I am always looking for excuses to do so. And Valentine's Day would seem like an easy one. However, in my mind, there are a million reasons why it's not a good idea to go out to a restaurant on Valentine's Day...

Reasons not to go out to eat on Valentine's Day:

1. crowded and loud (despite attempts to create a romantic atmosphere)
2. long wait times (even though you had a reservation)
3. Valentine's Day "specials" (the kitchen makes special new untested dishes on one of the busiest nights of the year)
4. overpriced prix fixe menus (less choice, more money)
5. grumpy servers (I know because I was one)
6. rushed service ("turn" and burn")

That said, my sweetie and I decided to go out on the Tuesday before the big day. We had a lovely meal, complete with a 1/2 off bottle of wine (thank you, Tuesday) at what I consider downtown Novato's nicest "special occassion" place, Kitchen. Our server was helpful, (but kept out of our hair), the food was quite good, and I really enjoyed the Pinot from Monterey County. The highlight of my meal was a radicchio salad with fried artichoke hearts and manchego cheese. (I think I might try making that sometime...) And afterwards, my Valentine and I walked home, hand and hand. Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Look Mom, we made Sushi!

I know it may seem like the recipes I try always come out great, that's not necessarily always true. I promise to put some stories of failed attempts and photos of burnt cookies or something soon, but not on this post. That's because this past Saturday we (myself, LoPo and CK) attempted a sushi making party and it was a huge success!

Above: LoPo prepares to roll out while CK works on some nigiri.
I guess it did help that CK's Mom made the sushi rice and CK also brought along enough gorgeous sushi fish to feed an army, from her sushi chef relative (thanks, again!). But what we did with it was amazing! We also loaded up on supplies (nori, sesame seeds, potsticker wrappers, rice vinegar, rooster sauce, etc) at my favorite little Asian market (appropriately named, "Asian Market"). With all the approriate ingredients and tools (a sharp knife is a must), making sushi was actually pretty easy and super fun.

When Sparky and Mo got home from their day skiing, we had a beautiful spread of sushi rolls, nigiri, sashimi and even homemade potstickers. We were all really impressed when we sat down and admired our work. And it tasted awesome, too.

Yes, we made all that sushi!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Summer Rolls in Winter Time

As a part of this "trying to eat healthier" thing that I've been trying out for a few weeks, I decided to finally try to make my most favorite healthy asian dish...the Summer Roll. It has always seemed a little daunting (which is why I bought the rice paper wraps 2 years ago and still hadn't touched them), but it actually wasn't as hard as you'd think. I admit the first roll looked and looked quite hideous, but after a few tries, they were looking pretty darn good if I dont say so myself. There are lots of versions of these little gems - Vietnamese, Thai, etc., but here's the s.d.m. version:

The quantities in this recipe are approximate. Do a little experimentation, but this should make 6-8 rolls (enough for 3-4 people as a main course or 6-8 as an appetizer)

6-8 rice paper wrappers
2 oz dried rice vermicelli
8 small lettuce leaves
1 medium to large carrot, sliced into thin matchsticks
1 small cucumber, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 red pepper, sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 Haas avocado, sliced into thin pieces
4-6 oz. baked thai style tofu (shrimp would be good, too)
6-8 sprigs cilantro
8-10 mint leaves
Dipping sauces (recipes below)

  • Cook rice noodles according to instructions. Set aside to cool.
  • Slice and prepare all ingredients and lay out on a large clean surface.
  • Fill a large shallow dish or pan with warm water. Dip each rice paper round in water for 15-20 seconds. ** Wrapper will not feel completely pliable. Let it rest for 30 seconds before filling it and it will become soft**
  • Place rice paper wrapper on clean surface, such as cutting board or a clean lint-free kitchen cloth.
  • The amount of ingredients in each roll will depend on how mnay items you have and how much of each you'd like. Start with a lettuce leaf and experiment a little with combinations, but a general rule of thumb is approximately 1/4 cup cooked noodles,5-10 strips each of carrots, cucumber and red bell pepper, 2 slices avocado, 2 slices tofu (or shrimp), 2 mint leaves and 1 sprig cilantro.
  • The rolling part takes a little practice, but this is what I found to work best: place ingredients in center of wrapper, laying horizontally. Bring bottom of wrapper up to cover filling, fold sides in, then tightly roll to top. Again, it takes practice and I ended up peeling the wrapper off of my first 2 because they were so ugly!
  • Slice each roll into 2 or 4 pieces and enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce. Yum!

Saucy Sauces

I love sauces and condiments. And these days it's easy to find yummy Asian-style prepared dipping sauces, but if you want to try your hand at making your own (and have a few asian ingredients on hand), here are a couple of good recipes:

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup natural-style creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile-garlic paste (what i like to call "rooster sauce")
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1/4 cup warm water

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Stir until well combined, adding more water to thin the sauce if necessary.

Easy Chili Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
In Vietnamese cuisine, no meal is considered complete without this sauce which is used as freely as salt and pepper. If you are vegetarian or if, like me, vietnamese fish sauce just isn't your favorite, you can substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce.

1 small fresh chile pepper or 1 teaspoon Sriracha paste (here's the rooster again)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 teaspoons sugar
1 fresh lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam - available at Asian markets and many supermarkets) OR soy sauce
3 tablespoons water

Mix all ingredients well.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Roasted Corn Salsa

This quick and easy salsa is impressive and makes a great addition to a party snack table or a mexican or latin dinner. The family who I worked for as a nanny made this often and it always makes me think of them.

2 cups corn kernels (defrosted and drained if frozen)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small jalapeƱo, seeded and minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450.
Mix corn and minced garlic with olive oil. Spread on cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until corn kernels are a dark golden brown. Watch so that garlic does not burn.

Let corn cool before stirring it with remaining ingredients. Serve with tortilla chips or as a side dish.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Soup #2: Chicken-Free Chicken Noodle

MO kept talking about this wonderful chicken soup with homemade noodles that our friend Suzanne made years ago. I figures we could try a chicken-free chicken noodle soup, so I called Suzanne for the recipe: 2 cups flour, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 2 Tablespoons of water. It sounded easy.

So, I made a basic vegetable soup, using my homemade veggie broth. First I sauteed some finely chopped onions and garlic with thyme and sage (your typical chicken soup herbs), then I added the broth and carrots, celery, cauliflower and peas (any of your favorite soup veggies would do).

Ok, back to the noodles...
We mixed together the ingredients (MO's hands got very sticky) and rolled it out as thin as we could get it. We sliced it into strips about 1/3 inch wide and dropped the noodles into boiling water for about 10 minutes. (You can also boil the noodles directly in the soup, but I was afraid of over cooking my veggies). When the veggies were still a bit firm, we added the hot cooked noodles and let the whole thing simmer for about 5 minutes before serving. It was awesome. Who needs chicken anyway? The best part of this soup was the noodles - just a bit chewy and very slurpy and messy. Yum!

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Cake and the Storm

Well, I had grand plans to make and decorate a cake for my friend Nan's bridal shower over the weekend (ask my colleagues - I've been talking about it for weeks)...I went to Michael's and bought cake decorating supplies, I researched techniques and found a recipe, and had big plans for posting photos of my first cake decorating adventure on my blog! Then, the storm hit and we had no power for 36 hours. So, we'll all have to wait until the next big event to see how cake decorating and I get along...