Make Something New Every Day

This blog is inspired by all those who love to cook, whether experienced or not, and who continue to experiment with new ideas & ingredients, and best of all, share their passion with others.

The first entries are recipes prepared by the students of Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Fifteen students with varying cooking experience participated in my weekly workshop (via Tutorpedia), and successfully prepared various meals, snacks, and baked goods as part of an after-school program.

Along with the recipes from that class, I will continue to add new seasonal items, spanning every genre of the culinary world, as well as a helpful list of links to recipes, instructional videos, and places to shop and volunteer in your area.

Feel free to ask me questions and share your recipes and ideas as well. I look forward to cooking with you.

December 2, 2014

Thai Coconut Braised Spinach with Chick Peas

Until today, if I were offered a choice of beef stew or vegan stew, I would have gone with beef. 
Now, unless Julia Child floats down from the sky with a bowl of her boeuf bourguignon, I'm sticking with this vegan bowl of heaven on earth. 

A friend shared the Treehugger recipe on Facebook the other day, and I, predictably, adapted it. There is nothing wrong with the original recipe, mind you. The ingredients are simple, and once combined, may fool you into thinking you're eating at a fine Thai restaurant. That said, I only changed two ingredients because I didn't have what was called for. Instead of sundried tomatoes, I roasted some cherry tomatoes, which I'm sure weren't as flavorful, but were ok. I also substituted chili-garlic paste for the chili flakes. This was a good decision, as the paste added depth of flavor quickly. The last thing I did was serve the stew over half a roasted acorn squash. I just wanted a little more "meat" to the dish, and the squash was a perfect choice. 

Shopping List (Serves 4)
2 acorn squash , split in half lengthwise & seeded 
1C cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1# baby spinach
1 small onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1T ginger, minced or grated 
1T chili-garlic paste
1 lemon, zested & juiced (I prefer Meyer lemon here)
1 14oz can light coconut milk
1 15oz can chick peas, drained & rinsed 
olive oil
ground ginger 

Preheat oven to 400'. Lay the squash halves hollow-side up on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, coating all sides with your hands. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and roast for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender. On another sheet pan, spread out the tomatoes cut-size up. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes, until caramelized but not burnt. 

Heat a 4Qt. or larger heavy pot, add about 3T olive oil, then saute the onions until they begin to turn golden. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for another minute. Stir in the chili-garlic paste and lemon zest, then add the chick peas, cooking for a few minutes. 

Next add a handful of spinach at a time, stirring and allowing it to wilt. Continue until all of the spinach is incorporated into the mixture. Add the coconut milk and lemon juice, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with S&P and ground ginger. 

To serve, place a half acorn squash into a bowl, and ladle in some of the stew. Top with some of the roasted tomatoes. 
(Do not eat the squash skin. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon as you eat the stew.)

November 30, 2014

Crisp & Chewy Thin Crust Pizza

The dough for this pizza rises at room temperature for about 90 minutes. From start to finish, the process takes about 3 hours. You can certainly save time by purchasing dough, but if you have the time and enjoy baking from scratch, this simple meal is very rewarding. 

Top it with anything from traditional red sauce and mozzarella, to what I've done here - a fridge cleanout. This is a great way to make leftovers sing. Below I have the recipes and techniques for the dough, the bechamel (white sauce), and the sauteed mushrooms and onions that topped part of my "kitchen sink" pizza. You can find the recipe for the lox here. 

Because this technique uses a baking sheet rather than a pizza stone, it's important to prepare the dough and bake it in stages as described. The toppings are up to you! 

The Dough
2t yeast
1t sugar
3/4C warm water
1T olive oil (plus extra for the dough rise and baking the pizza)

2.5C bread or AP flour
1t salt

Heat the water to about 110' (it should feel warm, but not piping hot). Gently stir in the sugar and yeast. Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast blooms and looks foamy. 

Add the flour, salt, and yeast mixture to a stand mixer bowl. Using the hook attachment, slowly combine the ingredients, then knead on a higher speed for about 3 minutes til the dough comes together in a smooth ball. 

Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and let it rise in a draft-free place until doubled in bulk (about 90 minutes). 

The Bechamel
2T butter
2T flour
1.5C milk
3-4T fresh goat cheese

In a glass measuring cup, heat the milk until warm, but not piping hot (don't scald it). Melt the butter in a saucepan, then whisk in the flour. Whisk this mixture on med/low heat for about a minute to cook the flour, then slowly whisk in the warm milk. Raise the heat to med/med-hi, and whisk continuously until it begins to boil and thicken. Turn the heat down as low as possible, and stir in the goat cheese. Season with S&P to taste. Turn off heat. Whisk occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. 

Sauteed Onions & Mushrooms
I had some of these leftover from the night before, and just heated them up a bit before adding them to my pizza. If you're making them the same day, make them before starting the bechamel. 

1 white or yellow onion, peeled, halved, & sliced into half rings
8oz crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
olive oil
3T dry sherry, red wine, port, or broth 

Heat about 3T olive oil in a large skillet on med-high heat. Saute the onions until translucent, then sprinkle with about 1/2t salt. Reduce the heat to med-low, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring to avoid hot spots. This slow process will result in deliciously caramelized onions. 

When the onions are beginning to brown a bit, add 1T butter and raise the heat to med-high. Stir in the sliced mushrooms, and saute until the mushrooms are golden brown. Sprinkle with about 1/4t salt and freshly ground pepper. Deglaze the pan with about 3T of dry sherry. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Back to the Dough
After the pizza dough has doubled in bulk, transfer it to a floured work surface, and gently roll in out to a 16"x12" rectangle. Oil a rimmed baking sheet, and transfer the dough to it, gently stretching it out to fit inside the pan. Brush the dough with more olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450'.

<1C grated parmigiano reggiano
chopped lox or smoked salmon
mushrooms & onions
extra goat cheese, crumbled
chopped basil 

Assemble and Bake the Pizza
After the dough has rested for another 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap, and dimple the dough all over with your fingers. Sprinkle the grated parm all over, and bake for 7-10 minutes (til the cheese is melted, and the dough becomes lightly golden. 

Remove the pan from the oven, and carefully spread the bechamel over the crust, leaving a small border. Cover part of the pizza with the mushrooms and onions, and part of the pizza with the lox. Sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese, and bake the pizza for another 10 minutes, or until the bechamel begins to bubble and the outer crust is a deep golden brown. 
I only had a little bit of the mushrooms left over, but next time I'll make a whole pizza's worth. It was the BOMB. 
Transfer the cooked pizza to a cutting board. 
Sprinkle with basil. Let it rest for a few minutes before cutting. 

November 29, 2014


On a chilly March weekend several years ago, my posse gathered at Haypress Campground for Lauren Fiel's birthday. Recent rains turned trails to rivers, and by the time we pitched camp we were ready for a nice hot communal meal. I brought a few jars of my Mom's (now famous) borscht, and with it gained a new crop of Russian soup evangelists. 

Just as it takes five English letters to emulate two Russian ones, this borscht blog may seem bombastic. My advice for first-time borschters is to read it through, and taste as you go. Soup is not an exact science, but the techniques within give my Mom's version a depth of flavor that truly celebrates its humble ingredients. Ha здоровье! 

Shopping List
1# beets (about 3 large, 4 medium)
3/4# carrots (3-4)
3/4# yukon gold potatoes, yellow, or white potatoes (3-4)
3/4# cabbage (1 tiny, or 1/2 regular)
1 large white or yellow onion
1 leek or shallot
2 cloves garlic
14 oz canned or jarred tomatoes, peeled & seeded (preferably unsalted), and pureed*
olive oil
apple cider or red wine vinegar (about 1/4C)
salt & pepper 
sugar (optional) 

Roast the beets. This can be done a day ahead, or several hours ahead of making the soup. Cut the greens away from the beets, without cutting into the beets themselves. Don't cut the root end either. Leaving a 1/2" of the greens at the top will prevent beet juice from leaking out during roasting. A little will, so line a sheet pan with foil, scrub the beets well with a brush and cool water, and roast the beets whole for 30-60 minutes depending on their size. You want them yielding, but not mushy. 
Roasted beets
Prepare the Soup
Peel the cooled beets and grate them in a food processor. Wearing latex gloves will keep the mess and stained hands at bay. Peel and grate the carrots. 
Heat a very large stock pot and add a few tablespoons of olive oil. On low heat, cook the beets and carrots for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. 
Grated carrots and roasted beets. 
Meanwhile, dice the onion, leek or shallot, and mince the garlic. Peel and dice the potatoes. Core the cabbage, slice it lengthwise into wedges, then slice into thin shreds (a little thicker than you would for cole slaw). 
After 20 minutes of sauteing the beets & carrots, remove them from the pot, and set them aside for later. 
Add about 3T of olive oil to the pot, and saute the onion and leek or shallot until translucent. Stir in the garlic and saute for another minute or two. 
Stir in the cabbage and cook it down for just about a minute, stirring as it wilts. Stir in the potatoes.
Sprinkle them with about 1T kosher salt. Stir in the pureed tomatoes, then add 3Qts of hot water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. 
not yet...
Stir in the beets and carrots. Adjust the seasoning. Stir in the vinegar and dill. Adjust the seasoning. If the soup is too acidic, stir in about 1T of sugar. 
Serve immediately. 
Refrigerate cooled soup in airtight containers for up to 1 week, or freeze in mason jars for up to 6 months. 
Makes 1.1 cubic Sweeneys. (A lot.)

* I found this marvelous organic tomato puree at my local Mediterranean market. The ingredients are simply organic tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and pureed. No salt or anything else added. I used about 2/3 of the jar, and will make a marinara with the rest. Delightful. 


November 24, 2014

Quick & Zesty Black Bean Salsa

You'll have no problem getting your "5 a Day" once you discover this combination of ingredients. 
This is how I do it, but feel free to change it up to your taste. It makes a batch big enough to share at a party or potluck, or to feed you for a week. The authentic flavors will make it easy to do just that. 

1 can black beans (the Trader Joe's organic are cheap and have less sodium that other brands)
1/2 canned corn (Del Monte has a "no salt added" variety that is firm and tender)
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced 
1 small shallot or 1/2 small onion, finely diced 
1/2 bell pepper (red, orange or yellow are sweetest), diced
1/2C jicama, diced 

cilantro, about 3T finely chopped
cherry tomatoes (optional), about 1C, quartered 
juice from 1/2 lime
red wine vinegar, 2-3T
garlic powder to taste
cayenne pepper to taste 
cumin to taste
salt to taste (if your beans, corn, or chips are salty, you may not need salt here)

*note* seasoning with spices, herbs, and vinegars adds a ton of flavor without needing salt.

Drain and rinse the black beans; add to a medium/large bowl. Drain the corn and add half the can to the beans. If you don't plan on using the rest of the corn within a few days, freeze it. 

Add the shallot, jalapeno, bell pepper, jicama, cilantro, lime juice, and vinegar. Stir to coat evenly, then season to taste.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. 
Great as a snack with chips, served with seafood, poultry, or pork, or atop nachos. 

I make these quick microwave nachos by sprinkling finely grated cheese onto chips on a microwave-safe plate. Cook on high for about 30 seconds until melted. Sprinkle on as much of the black bean salsa as you like, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Top with a little sour cream and Tapatio, and chow down. 

November 23, 2014

Citrus Cured Lox

A trio of citrus zests add brightness to the briny salmon. For the best possible result, pick up the freshest line-caught salmon (check your local farmers' market), and cure it the same day. 
Within 24 hours you'll be enjoying the fruits of your effortless labor. 

Choose a 1-2 pound center cut filet.
If you're buying from a store rather than a farmer's market, don't be afraid to ask to smell the fish.
It should smell lightly sweet, and not at all fishy.
Most fish mongers will remove the scales, but if needed, scrape off any remaining scales, leaving the skin on.
Rinse well under cold running water, and pat it dry with paper towels.
Remove the pin bones using tweezers or needle nose pliers.
(The pin bones run perpendicular to the stripes in the flesh. See them popping out left-to-right in the above photo.)
Lay out several layers of plastic wrap large enough to wrap the salmon.
Mix 1/4C kosher salt with 2T sugar per pound of salmon. Stir in zest from a lemon, lime, and a small orange. 
Cover the filet with the cure mixture, adding most of the zest on top.
You want the salt & sugar to cover all sides of the salmon so it cures evenly.
Let some of the cure fall around the sides of the filet.
When you wrap it up it will stick to the sides. 
Tightly wrap the salmon for its fridge nap. 
Place the wrapped salmon into a dish and weigh it down with weights or some heavy jars or cans.
Refrigerate it for 24 to 48 hours. 24 is plenty.
The cure will weep out of the wrapping, so  place it in a dish with sides.
Unwrap the cured salmon, rinse it well under cold running water, and pat it dry. Use a thin sharp knife to make paper-thin slices. Wrap the rest of the filet well. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

September 2, 2014

No-Squish Squash with Coconut Rice

It looks simple, doesn't it? 
It is simple to make (YAY!), and is also surprisingly delicious and satisfying (YAY! squared). 

The star is the summer squash, which thanks to a quick blanch prior to the saute, is tender and delish - without a hint of squish. I'm pretty sure that the reason some people don't like squash is the sog factor. I feel you. Texture is a very important element to an appealing dish. Along with the squash being cooked properly, the caramelized garlic, toasted panko, and coconut rice come together in perfect harmony to support the sweet squash with roasty-toasty flavor and a bit of crunch. 

(Serves Two as an Entree) 

The Rice
1T coconut oil 
1/2C basmati rice
1/4t kosher salt 
1C water

In a small (1 quart) saucepan, melt the coconut oil and stir in the rice and salt. Raise the heat to high, and add the water. Stir the rice as the water comes to a boil. Put a lid on it, lower the heat to super-low, and cook for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check the rice to see if all the water has been absorbed. Stir it with a fork. If it's still wet, cover it and cook for another 5 minutes (a heavy pot, like Le Creuset, can take longer than a stainless steel pot). If the rice looks done, turn off the heat and leave it covered until service. 

The Panko
In a medium pan, melt 1T butter on medium-high heat. Stir in 1/3C panko crumbs. Stir the crumbs as they brown in the butter. Do not walk away. They will become golden brown before you know it. Once they're done, spread the crumbs out on a plate to cool a bit. 

OK...Now, the Squash
3, 3-4" summer squash, washed and left whole (do not trim off the ends) 
1 large garlic clove, sliced thinly 
1-2T olive oil 

Boil about 6C of water. Gently drop in the whole squash and cook for about 1 minute on each side. Remove them from the pot and let them let off some steam as they await the frying pan. 

Heat the pan from the panko on medium heat. Add the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for about a minute. Slice the summer squash into bite-sized wedges, and add them to the pan. Sear each side of the squash until golden. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the toasted panko crumbs right before serving. 

Serve the squash over the rice. Add a little freshly grated Parmigiano Reggaino if you wish. 


**Note: Summer squash can be substituted with zucchini. Just be sure to keep the squash whole when blanching. 

August 25, 2014

Craveable 3-Piece Salad (No Dressing Required)

The juice from the grapefruit is all the dressing you'll need (or want). 

Girl, you know it's true. Ooo, ooo, ooo. I love you. 
This salad is so quick & easy to make, and is extremely satisfying. 
Crunchy jicama, creamy avocado, and bright & juicy grapefruit are a match made in heaven. 
Even better? With no dressing needed, it's really good for you.

The 1-2-3...
1 ruby grapefruit
1/2 of a small jicama root
1 small, or 1/2 a large avocado 

The A-B-C...
Peel the jicama with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Slice into bite-sized pieces about 1/8" thick. Add the slices to a medium/large serving bowl. (Avoid serving in a metal bowl. The acid from the grapefruit can react to the metal, leaving a bad aftertaste.)

Segment the grapefruit. Using a sharp knife, remove the peel and pith. Start by slicing off the top and bottom of the grapefruit. Then slice down the sides, using the shape of the grapefruit to guide you. Tear the peeled grapefruit in half at the core. The skins should peel off the grapefruit segments quite easily. Work over the bowl of jicama so any juice drains into the salad. Add the segments to the jicama. Squeeze the grapefruit peels to extract any remaining juice, and drain the juice from the cutting board into the bowl as well. Toss the grapefruit and jicama in the juice to coat. 

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Using a large spoon, remove the flesh by moving the spoon closely between the flesh and the skin of the avocado. Place the avocado flat-side down on the cutting board, and slice with a thin, sharp knife. Add the avocado to the jicama and grapefruit, and serve immediately. 

To add a bit more nutrient value, serve the salad on a bed of baby kale or supergreens. 


Roasted Cauliflower with Dates, Pine Nuts, & Garbanzo Beans

For everyday eating, I subscribe to the E.N.D. mantra - Easy, Nutritious, Delicious. Fortunately for my tiny pocketbook, this also usually means "super cheap". Shopping for produce at local markets with high turnover, you should be able to find a wide variety of seasonal ingredients at good prices, ensuring a well-balanced diet, and highly-entertained palate. Taste and texture are paramount for me. I am not about to wear a bland-vegetable hairshirt in order to live a long, healthy life. Luckily, that's not necessary. Vegetables are delicious. And I can prove it.

Without further ado, here's the latest (and my recent favorite -  seriously, I make it at least once a week), roasted cauliflower with dates, pine nuts, and garbanzo beans.

Serves 3-4 as an Entree
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2t cumin seeds 
1/2C raw pine nuts
1/2C medjool dates, pitted & finely chopped
1T coconut oil 

1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets (flat sides help browning) 
1/2 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed 
juice from 1 lemon 
olive oil
freshly chopped parsley for garnish 

Preheat oven to 350'. Oil a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. 
In a medium skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, heat about 30 seconds. Add garlic, pine nuts, and dates. Gently stir for about 1-2 minutes, just until the pine nuts turn golden. Remove pan from heat and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine the cauliflower, garbanzo beans, and date mixture. Squeeze in lemon juice, stir, and spread evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and roast for about 30-35 minutes, until the cauliflower begins to brown. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, and serve immediately. Reheat leftovers in a skillet or microwave. 


Adapted from the Kripalu School of Ayurveda 

May 7, 2014

Easy Perfect Polenta

Looks good, doesn't it? It is.
Read on to see how easy it is to make!

That does look good, but polenta is one of those things you break your arm stirring for hours, right? Nope. 

It's true. Cooking polenta takes about 30 minutes total. But with a couple tricks provided by my culinary heroes of making difficult easy (while amping up the delicious) - America's Test Kitchen - we can make creamy, luscious polenta with very little stirring.

3 & 3/4C water
3/4C polenta (Bob's Red Mill works great!)
pinch of baking soda
1/2t kosher salt

2T butter
1/3C grated Parmigiano Reggiano 

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed 4Qt pot. Keep the lid on so the water doesn't evaporate. 
Once the water is boiling, add a pinch of baking soda, and the 1/2t kosher salt. The baking soda will help break down the large grains of corn, and save you a lot of stirring. 
While whisking the water back & forth, sprinkle in the polenta. If it foams up, whisk quickly, and if needed, turn off the flame. Stir down the raging boil, then turn down your burner to the lowest setting possible, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. If you have a "simmer" burner on your stove, transfer the pot to it, and use the lowest possible flame. 
Some newer gas ranges feature a "simmer" burner, which is ideal for cooking polenta. 

The lowest possible flame I could get out of my simmer burner before it goes out. Make sure there is no draft in your kitchen, or the flame could go out, and your kitchen could fill with gas. Although you don't have to stir the whole time, keep an eye on the flame. 
After 5 minutes, remove the lid and stir the polenta. It should be starting to absorb most of the water. Stir it well, replace the cover, and cook for 20 more minutes. If you can't get your flame as low as you'd like, check the pot after 10 or 15 minutes. You can stir as often as needed to keep the bottom from scorching, but ideally, you won't have to. 

After 25 minutes total cooking time, your polenta might look done. Give it a good stir, and check two things: 

  • Give it a taste. If you're biting down on chewy pieces of cornmeal, it needs to cook for another 5 minutes. 
  • Also, stir it, and see how the polenta falls off the whisk. If it runs right off, it needs another 5 minutes. 

Cooked polenta should be velvety-smooth in your mouth, but still hold up a bit on the whisk. (See the photo below)

Some of the polenta stays in the whisk, and the part that falls
sits on top rather than sinking in. It's done!
Perfectly cooked polenta is soft and flowing, but doesn't run off the whisk.
When spooned into a bowl, it will settle a bit, but maintain a soft mound. 
Congratulations! You made perfect polenta. Now, finish it with the butter, Parmesan, and pepper (or omit the butter & cheese if you are vegan). If you think it needs more salt, I suggest you sprinkle a little on each serving, rather than stir more into the whole batch. If you're planning on saving the rest for the next day, you'll be glad. Salt can taste more concentrated once a dish has cooled. I also add other things to my leftovers (like Tapatillo!), and prefer to control the salt then. 

Bonus! You can have soft polenta with just about any accompaniment for dinner, then save the rest for next level action the next day (or two). 
Soft polenta poured into a lightly oiled dish sets firmly when chilled. This 8" dish will yield 4 generous wedges of polenta that you can sear, creating an irresistible crust

To fry leftover polenta, cut a slice out of your chilled pan. Gently pat it dry on a paper towel. Water will spatter when it touches a hot pan, so you want to avoid that.

Heat a nonstick pan to high. Add 2T olive oil. Once the oil is heated, gently lay in the polenta, and don't move it for at least 5 minutes. If you have a spatter screen, you'll want to use it. Once one side is nicely golden, use a thin spatula to shimmy under the polenta and give it a quick flip. Ideally, flip it to a spot on the pan that has some oil. Again, don't move it for about 5 minutes. That way you'll get that lovely crust. 

The magic? The center will be as soft and velvety as fresh polenta. Eat it as is, or top with a fried add and a dash of Tapatillo. Add some veggies if you like, and enjoy! 

A Great Kitchen Tool

The inexpensive and indispensable Microplane!
In this recipe I used it to quickly and finely grate the Parmesan.
You'll find it works great on hard cheese, citrus zest, ginger, garlic, and more.
Be careful. The blades are razor sharp. They now come with rubber handles for easier gripping. 

May 4, 2014

Radish Leaf Pesto

During the spring and summer, I often make my own pestos. Store bought varieties tend to have an oxidized taste, too much oil, or (IMO) the wrong combination of ingredients. Since I am fortunate to live in an area with an abundance of inexpensive fresh produce, I enjoy experimenting with new dishes, focusing on economy (both money, and making the most of each ingredient). A lover of basil (who isn't??), I typically make basil pesto. 

Recently, I bought a few bunches of beautiful spring radishes (some of which I used in a Thai cucumber salad). To make the radishes last, I snipped them off their stems and refrigerated them in a container filled with cold water. 

Just before I tossed the greens into the compost bin, I had an epiphany. Why not use the leaves in something? Knowing that some veggie extras are inedible, I did a quick Google search, and got the "green" light to proceed. I tasted a leaf. It Not bitter, not sweet, just sort of grassy and fresh. Because the leaves have sort of a neutral taste, I decided to toast up some pistachios to give the pesto a nutty flavor, as well as a little crunch. Other than that, I stuck to the usual pesto ingredients: olive oil, salt & pepper, parmigiano reggiano, and a little lemon juice. 

The result (as you can see above) was a vibrant pesto, that not only tasted bright and lovely, but kept its green color and freshness after several days in the fridge. Considering that a bunch of radishes costs about 50 cents, this radish leaf pesto is a great way to stretch your dollars, while adding a tasty and healthy touch to your meals. 
Look for radishes with fresh, green, undamaged leaves. Farmers' markets or stores with high turnover are your best bet. Whenever possible, buy organic, or ask where and how the radishes were grown. Obtaining a Certified Organic label is very time-consuming and expensive. Many farmers grow clean produce, without an organic seal of approval. 
Greens from 2 bunches of fresh radishes
About 1/3C of shelled pistachios (Trader Joe's 50% less salt, or Whole Foods bulk are good choices)
Olive or Grapeseed oil
Parmigiano Reggiano (Trader Joe's and Costco have great prices)
Kosher salt, & pepper
Lemon Juice 

In a dry pan, toast the shelled pistachios until they're golden and fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool. 
Toasted pistachios
Remove the stems, and float the radish leaves in a large bowl of cold water. Gently push the greens under the surface of the water every so often. The dirt will settle to the bottom of the bowl. (We're in a drought! You can use "dirty" water on your plants, or to flush your commode. Pouring sandy water down the sink can lead to clogging.) 

Either spin the leaves in a salad spinner, or place them in a clean kitchen towel, wrap up the corners, and give it a few shakes to dry the leaves a bit. (Slightly wet leaves will help produce a smooth pesto.)  

Add the leaves to a blender, food processor, or my favorite go-to, the Mini Prep. Sprinkle about 1/4t of kosher salt (you can always add more later), some fresh ground pepper, the pistachios, the cheese, and drizzle over a few tablespoons of oil. Pulse the blender or processor at first, then let it go for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides, and repeat. If the pesto looks chunky, but a little dry, add some more oil. Once it starts to resemble a pesto, stop the machine and taste. Add a little lemon juice, and adjust the seasoning. Give it one more blend, then transfer the pesto to an airtight container and refrigerate until needed (up to 3 days), or serve immediately. 

My beloved Mini-Prep holds 3C of goodness, has a reversing smartblade, and only cost about $35. It has a ton of uses. Check out the link for color options, more info, and a brief instructional video from the good people at Cuisinart. 

Other than a sauce for pasta, pesto can be used on potatoes, as a spread on a sandwich, or however you like. 

Make & Freeze
You can also prepare and freeze a pesto for later use. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays, then pop them out and store them in freezer bags. The cubes defrost easily, and are great to keep around for dinner "emergencies". 

May 3, 2014

5 Minute Thai Cucumber Salad

OK. 5 minutes depending on your knife skills. But it's quick. And easy. And way cheaper than anything you'll get at a restaurant. For those who need their vegetables sugar-coated, this is a delicious and healthy way to get at least one serving a day.

At the very least, you can make this with 3 ingredients: cucumbers, vinegar, and sugar. With a couple more ingredients, it's fantastic. 

Clockwise from left: Shallots, radishes, cucumbers, bell pepper
Very thinly slice one small shallot. Add to a medium-sized bowl. Drizzle with rice vinegar and sprinkle with a little sugar. Stir, and let sit while you prep the other vegetables. 

Slice a 2-3" piece of English cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice thin half moons. 
Slice a couple radishes as thinly as possible.
Dice a little red bell pepper. 
Stir the cucumber and radish into the shallots & vinegar. Adjust seasoning (if it's too acidic, add a little more sugar). Garnish with the bell pepper. Serve immediately. 

This salad is best made fresh, as the veggies will become limp if left sitting for more than an hour. Keeping rice vinegar in the pantry is a great idea. It's soft and balanced, makes great dressings, and adds dimension to all sorts of dishes. 

Fried Rice...Russian Easter Style

Restaurants are making a killing selling you a carton of leftovers for about $8. 

Next time you find yourself with leftover meat and rice, make a honkin' batch of fried rice, and feed your whole family for a fraction of the cost (and without wondering how much sodium or "mystery ingredients" may be lurking behind that carrot). 

My family only cooks a ham twice a year - at Easter and Christmas. We eat meat so rarely that when we do, we indulge in a pricier nitrite-free ham from a good butcher. And we all want leftovers, so we tend to overbuy (even for a Russian family, hell-bent on overfeeding our guests). This Easter, my Mom* wanted to try a new method she had read about - braising the whole ham in apple cider and spices. This resulted in a moist, delectable flavor, deeply spiked with apple, clove, and allspice. 

Since my Mom is highly praised for her beef Stroganoff, we had a sort of "turf & turf" Easter buffet. Cold ham served with an assortment of salads, and hot Stroganoff served with rice. It was a very warm day, and one of those years when Russian Orthodox Easter falls on the same day as the Gregorian Easter. This meant more leftovers than usual, which was fine with everyone who went home with lovely parting gifts of meat and Easter bread. 

Having cooked and cleaned for days ahead of our annual party, I was not in the mood for preparing anything at all time consuming for myself the following week. And then it hit me. Russian + Chinese makes sense in my family. After all, my Father's family came through China on their way to the U.S. My paternal grandparents were born in Shanghai. And with this Easter falling on April 20th (the anniversary of my Great Grandmother's passing), nothing felt more right than using Russian Easter leftovers to make Chinese food for an American girl. 

Now, contrary to the pomp that precedes the instructions, preparing fried rice can be quite simple and quick. I opted for using fresh veggies, which I usually have in abundance. Most people have a carrot lying in wait in the fridge, and if that bag of peas hasn't been in & out of the freezer for years of bruise-tending, it should be good to go as well. I'll list the ingredients I used, but as always, feel free to improvise. The best way to a successful dish is to prep everything ahead of time so that when you're cooking, you can work quickly. 

Pork Fried Rice
2-3T soy sauce
2T rice vinegar
1t sesame oil
pinch of sugar

3T grapeseed or vegetable oil

1C diced leftover ham
1/2C+ thinly sliced carrot
1/2C+ peas (either blanched fresh, or thawed frozen)
3-4 crimini mushrooms, sliced 
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 green onion, thinly sliced
2-3C leftover white rice
pickled ginger garnish

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients, and set aside. 

Heat a large skillet or wok on high, and add the oil. 
Saute the ham until golden on the edges. Add the carrot and mushroom, and cook about 2 minutes, stirring often to avoid burning. Add the peas to heat through. Make a well in the center of the pan, and add the egg, stirring to scramble, then mix in with the other ingredients. Add the green onion and rice, stir to combine & heat through. Pour the soy sauce mixture evenly over the rice, and heat through for about a minute. 

Serve immediately, topped with julienned pickled ginger. 

Allow leftovers to cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge. 

Note: The special braise on this ham gave this dish a wonderfully authentic Chinese flavor akin to 5-spice. I have made fried rice with regular ham, chicken, shrimp, and tofu - all delicious. Have fun improvising! 

*The ham was Mom's idea, but the credit goes to my brother-in-law, who prepared and sliced the ham to perfection. 

April 15, 2014

It's the Time of the Season for Loving...Your Vegetables!

Spring. A time for renewal. And nothing quite compares with the joy of going to the market and filling a basket with beautiful fresh produce. I hope my Mom is proud that I have always loved my fruits and vegetables. The woman cooked for a family of six every day, and we seldom ate anything processed (though we begged, and occasionally got our way after wearing the poor thing down). 

If you would like to add more fresh produce to your diet, keep an eye on this blog. Throughout the spring and summer I will be adding posts for simple and delicious vegetarian items, using seasonal ingredients in both traditional and unexpected ways. I love trying new things in the kitchen, and hope I can inspire you to do the same. 
I welcome your questions and comments!

Where to Buy
One of the reasons I choose to live in a bustling area of San Francisco, is the ability to shop for my produce daily. Just a few blocks from my home is a wonderful Mediterranean market featuring oodles of varieties of fresh produce, and a surprisingly vast selection of dairy and pantry items. My family has shopped at this market for decades because the owners are there every day, ensuring the prices are as enticing as the cornucopia of goods. 

I encourage you to explore your neighborhood. Grab some bags, hop on your bike, or stroll the streets to see what surrounds you. Check the right side of this blog for suggestions on where to shop, find farmers' markets, and see what's in season in the San Francisco Bay Area. 
Have a happy and healthy day!

February 13, 2014

Jam Jar Vinaigrette

I never could stand store-bought salad dressing. But if I make a big batch of my own, and buy a honkin' tub of organic greens, I'm sure to eat my vegetables every day. The sweetness of the jam balances the acid from the citrus and vinegar. Herbs, shallot, and ginger add layers of flavor and dimension, making this vinaigrette (and hence, your veggies) irresistible. 

This is may favorite combination of ingredients, you can have fun using different vinegars, jams, and herbs. The measurements I give are just guidelines. I encourage you to taste as you go, and adjust whatever you like to suit your palate. 

Shake it Up
Add all ingredients to the jam jar, shake well to dissolve all the jam, and adjust ingredients to taste. If you have time, make it ahead and allow the flavors to develop in the vinegar before adding the oil. Otherwise, add oil to taste. I like about 3 parts vinegar, etc. to 1 part oil. 

Rice Vinegar - about 1/4C
White Balsamic Vinegar - about 2T 
Meyer Lemon Juice - about 2T
Orange Juice - about 3T 
Red Wine - 1-2T
Shallot - 1T finely minced 
Ginger - about 1t, either in a chunk or grated
Kosher Salt - about 1/2t
Grapeseed Oil - about 1/4C (grapeseed oil is just as healthy as olive oil, but has a milder flavor, and doesn't coagulate as much in the fridge)

Herbs: You can add a sprig of thyme to the jar, and the flavor will infuse the dressing, or mince a few leaves of basil or tarragon. 

So next time you polish off a jar of your favorite jam, save the jar and turn it into a cup of goodness. 
Let sleeping ingredients steep before adding oil.