Friday, April 18, 2014

Indian-Spiced Vegetables and Chickpeas with Raisins

I'm not really sure what made me save this e-mail from the Splendid Table, except I liked that it sounded easy yet exotic, and that I'm always looking for new meatless dishes. I wasn't expecting the sum of the dish to be so much more than its parts, however. It's a simple idea - just roasted veggies tossed with chickpeas, raisins, garam masala, lemon and some parsley. But wow, was it full of flavor!

As an added bonus, this dish makes cauliflower actually taste good, a feat I never suspected was possible (being a staunch cauliflower hater as a matter of course). I liked this dish so much, I am making it again in a few days.

Indian-Spiced Vegetables and Chickpeas with Raisins (Serves 4)
From Meatless All Day by Dina Cheney

28 ounces baby red potatoes, quartered
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
5 grinds black pepper
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2- x 1/2-inch matchsticks
1 small head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
1/2 cup raisins or currants
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala (without salt)
About 2 cups plain yogurt, for serving

1. Place two oven racks in the top two-thirds of the oven. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the top rack and heat the oven to 400°F. Once the oven is hot, carefully remove the hot pan. Using tongs, toss the potatoes well with half of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and all of the pepper. Roast until the potatoes are tender and golden brown and crispy in many parts, about 50 minutes, tossing halfway through.

2. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss the carrots, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; spread on one side of the pan and roast for 15 minutes (put this pan on the lower oven rack); remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a spatula to flip over the carrots. Onto the empty half of the baking sheet, use tongs to toss the cauliflower florets, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Keep the carrots and cauliflower separate as best as possible. Return the pan to the oven and roast the carrots and cauliflower until both are tender when poked with a fork and golden brown in a few spots, about another 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with 1/2 cup of boiling or very hot water. Let sit until the raisins are tender, about 30 minutes, then drain.

4. Pour the potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower (with their oil) into a large bowl, then add the drained raisins, drained chickpeas, parsley, lemon juice, garam masala, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss well with tongs. Divide among the serving plates and add a dollop of yogurt alongside each portion

Monday, March 24, 2014

Milk Tart, or Snickerdoodle Pie

 My brother lived in South Africa for two years and came back raving about a South African dessert he ate there called Milk Tart. I kept meaning to make it for his birthday, but this year I finally made it happen. I served him up his birthday slice and waited for a verdict. He took a bite and declared it as good as the versions he ate over there (whew!).

My brother wasn't he only one who approved of the Milk Tart. My family quickly dubbed it Snickerdoodle Pie, due to the flavor's similarity to that glorious cinnamon-flavored cookie. They liked it so much, I have made it twice for family events in the past month. The first time, I forgot to take a picture and it quickly disappeared. The second time, I forgot again until there was only one [slightly flawed] piece left... but you get the idea. Snickerdoodle in pie form: a new family favorite. Enjoy!

Milk Tart, or Snickerdoodle Pie

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt

4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together 1/2 cup butter or margarine and 1 cup sugar. Add 1 egg and beat until mixture is smooth. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture just until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Press mixture into bottom and sides of two 9-inch pie pans. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

 In a large saucepan, combine milk, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon butter or margarine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove from burner. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 1/2 tablespoons flour, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup sugar. Add beaten eggs to sugar mixture and whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk mixture into milk. Return pan to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 5 minutes. Pour half of mixture into each pastry shell. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Chill before serving.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake - Revisited

 I attended a family reunion for my dad's side this weekend. My assignment was to make this lovely Pineapple Upside-Down Cake in Cast Iron Skillet. The recipe originally came from my Grandma through my aunt, and I have blogged about it before, but it came out SO much better this time around (as you can see). I like to think my photography skills are ever so slightly improved, and I edited the recipe to make it more clear.

I HIGHLY recommend using the Trader Joe's Vanilla Cake mix mentioned in the note. I'm not normally a Trader Joe's person, but this mix was amazing. It actually has flecks of vanilla bean (!!!) and no chemical junk in the ingredients. It made me wonder why Duncan Hines can't do something as simple and tasty with their mixes. But I digress! This cake is classic and fantastic- try it!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (in Cast Iron Skillet)

Trader Joe’s has a good vanilla cake mix that works as a substitute for the dry ingredients. Just mix  1/4 cup pineapple juice in with 3/4 cup milk in place of the 1 cup of milk it calls for.

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
5 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
One can pineapple slices in juice
Buttermilk (or sour milk made with lemon juice and milk works fine) plus juice from drained pineapple to make 1 1/4 cup liquid
Maraschino cherries, halved (optional)
Chopped nuts (optional)

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar

Cream white sugar and butter together. Add eggs and vanilla, beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Alternate adding the buttermilk/pineapple juice mixture and the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture until mixed without lumps.

Put ½ cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar in a cast iron skillet. Heat on stove top over medium heat until bubbling. Then reduce heat while bubbling softly and thickening slightly, about 3 minutes total. Don’t burn the sugar/butter mixture. Turn off and lay drained pineapple slices decoratively on top. (Add cherries or nuts if desired.) Pour batter over slices. Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes until done. Let cake rest for 10 minutes and invert cake. Leave upside down for a minute or so. Lift pan.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Class at Jamie Oliver's Big Rig Kitchen

After watching the television program "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" back in June of 2011, I wrote this evaluation of local school lunches. Then one day last month, I was reading the newspaper published by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and saw a blurb that made my heart jump. Jamie Oliver's Big Rig Kitchen, it said, was doing a tour of California cities and would be stopping in Sacramento in January and February. As a long-time fan of the chef and fan of the Food Revolution, I knew I had to sign up for a class.

The Big Rig Kitchen is a mobile kitchen that has been offering free classes as it has made its way through our great state, thanks to donations from the places listed below (on the side of the truck). I hopped onto the website and saw all sorts of free cooking classes being offered, with menus including fish, Mexican and Italian fare, and the one I ended up signing up for - "Fast Food Now", featuring barbecued chicken.   

I arrived for my class at 5:30pm on a Friday night, pulling into the parking lot of Sacramento High school, the same fortunate school that recently enjoyed a visit from Alice Waters to their edible school garden. After a few minutes of waiting outside the closed door of the Big Rig, the door opened and I was welcomed in to don a name tag and a white apron.

At the front of the mobile kitchen was a demonstration area where Everett, our demo chef, showed us the ropes. After the demo, we washed our hands and retreated to one of the three kitchen stations where we would try our best to replicate what we had just seen.

Our kitchen stations were well-stocked with the necessary ingredients, donated mostly by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op just down the street. (Thanks, Co-op!) Everything was ready for us to attempt to make a homemade BBQ sauce, a French-style vinaigrette dressing, and oven-baked Potato Wedges.

In addition to the ingredients, our kitchen station also came with a local food expert to assist us as needed. Joe helped oversee our group of four as each of us tackled one of the elements of our final meal. He was quiet at first, but once it came out that he was a certified BBQ judge, he was brimming with stories of his travels and experiences. That weekend, he confided, he was headed down to Brentwood, CA for a rib competition. A lucky man, that Joe!
With a little help from Joe, our group completed the meal in a surprisingly short amount of time - the whole meal took us maybe 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish.(To speed up the baking time on the Potato Wedges, we sliced them super-thin instead of cutting them into chunky wedges.) 

The meal we enjoyed together at the end was both healthy and tasty, and just the kind of informal, kid-friendly meal that families should be sharing nightly. If you can't spot the purple potato slices on the plate, it might be because they are camouflaged against the mixed greens!

As I ate my meal, I imagined Jamie Oliver explaining that instead of chicken nuggets every night, parents might see what their kids say to this homemade barbecued chicken. Instead of French fries, see what the kids think of the Potato Wedges. And of course, the salad was made delicious by the homemade dressing, which contained no added sugar (unlike most commercial bottled dressings). It could truly be a revolutionary meal. Our community is so fortunate to have the chance to attend free classes like these!

My one disappointment (besides, of course, the absence of the celebrity chef himself) was a difference I noted between the cooking classes portrayed on the television show and the class I attended. On the show, all of the participants were required to make a pledge to share the knowledge they gained, by teaching at least one other person how to prepare the dishes they learned to make in the class. In this way, the Food Revolution could spread throughout the community. 

In the class I took, we were not required to make such a pledge. But I still want to do my part to help the Revolution spread, by sharing the recipes from the class I took. Viva la revolution!

French Dressing:
1/4 of a clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Put the garlic, mustard, vinegar and olive oil into a glass jar with a pinch of salt and pepper. Put the lid on the gar and shake well.

Potato Wedges (serves 4):
1/4 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 medium (about 10 ounces) baking potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400F. Scrub the potatoes clean and get rid of any gnarly bits. Cut the potatoes into chunk wedges (about 6 per potato). Transfer to a roasting tray and add a good lug of olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss together so all the wedges are coated in the oil, then spread out in one layer, skin-side down.

Cook in the hot oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden, crisp and cooked through. To tell if they're cooked, poke one or two with the tip of a paring knife- you should meet no resistance.

Barbecued Chicken (Serves 4):
1 orange 
1 dried chile
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon or English mustard
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/16 teaspoon sea salt and
freshly ground pepper
4 x 5-ounce boneless skinless chicken breasts

If you're barbecuing, light the grill now so the flames have died down and it's ready when you're ready to cook.

Finely grate the orange zest into a shallow bowl. Crumble in the dried chile. Add the paprika, mustard, honey, ketchup, and a splash of olive oil. Season with a small pinch each of the salt and pepper and mix well. Spoon out a few tablespoons of the marinade and set it aside.

Add the chicken breasts to the bowl with the remaining marinade. Turn them over in the marinade so they're well coated, cover with plastic wrap and leave to sit for 5 to 10 minutes or until the grill is ready.

If using a grill pan, put it over high heat now to get it screaming hot.

Use tongs to transfer your chicken breasts onto the grill or grill pan. For chicken breasts about 1 inch thick, cook for about 5 minutes on each side, turning every minute and basting as you go, or until golden and cooked through. Spoon a little of the reserved sauce over each breast.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Megan's Bake Shop

Today I investigated West Sacramento's first cupcake bakery, Megan's Bake Shop. Located in the shopping complex right off of 50 and Jefferson (across from Chevron), you can't beat the location for convenience.


Daily flavors are posted on the Bake Shop's Facebook page, as well as on the board outside the shop.
Today, the cupcake flavors included Maple Bacon, Almond Raspberry, Churro, Reese's, Banana Chocolate Chip, and several more. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only cupcakes are sold here, but a wide variety of cake- and candy-making supplies. Classes on a variety of cake-making skills are offered as well. The beginner's class is 4 weeks long and $45, and sounded like a good deal to me.

Recent college graduate Megan told me that originally her plan was just to teach the classes and sell supplies only, but her grandmother (the famous Carol of Carol's Restaurant on West Capitol) convinced her to do the bakery as well. 

So... how about those cupcakes? 

I tried three cupcakes today: Churro (cinnamon cupcake and frosting), Reese's (chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut-butter frosting), and Maple Bacon (chunks of bacon in the cupcake, topped with maple frosting and crumbled bacon mixed with maple syrup).

I thought the flavors were creative and liked that the cupcakes were moist and freshly-made from scratch that day. (Yes, I asked.) With the cupcakes plus the versatility of the store with the supplies and classes, I'm very happy to welcome this new addition to the neighborhood.

Finally, I am a sucker for filled cupcakes (think lemon cupcakes with lemon curd filling), and I hope that soon some of the offerings will be filled with delicious goodness. I will be back to try more flavors as they change regularly!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What I Learned from My Month Without Sugar

I might have been happier before I saw this picture and 
knew how much sugar is in Thanksgiving dinner.

In the past month, many people have asked me why I was going a month without sugar. The answer I generally gave? “For a challenge”. The real answer is a little longer.

Last year, two of my friends from college shared their “30 before 30" lists and I noticed that they both included one particular goal in common. They both wanted to go for one month without sugar. They inspired me to develop my own “30 before 30" list, and I decided to add it to my list as well. I didn’t really give much thought to this, but thought it sounded cool.

Flash forward to September of this year, as I’m reviewing my list to see what remained to be done before my birthday in December. My first impulse was to just ignore this item and not even try. I didn’t think I could do it even if I wanted to. In fact, I challenged the possibility that anyone could do it. I messaged my friend Jodie on Facebook to see if she had attempted this item from her list, expecting a negative reply. Instead, she informed me that yes, she had done it several times, and it helped her lose the pregnancy weight.

Ouch. What was I going to say? “No, my body really needs sugar to support all of this weight I gained during pregnancy...”  It was on. I wanted to do this before the holidays, so I jumped right in. I limited myself to eliminating refined sugar. Here are some of the things I learned during the past month:

-First, sugar is in everything. Reading labels is essential because it is in seemingly healthy items too. Almost all of our cereal, our balsamic dressing, even our natural peanut butter had sugar in them.

-Cravings for sugar supposedly go away after 2 weeks. Not true for me. Constant craving went away after about 10 days, but then cravings came and went throughout the month. Some days I was glad I was doing this no sugar thing because I felt I didn’t need it. Some days I thought it was the stupidest thing ever and I was irritable because all I wanted was a brownie with walnuts or a slice of apple pie. I suspect hormones have a lot to do with why we as women crave what we crave and the timing of our cravings.

-My lifesaver was a smoothie made with frozen bananas, unsweetened almond milk, and cocoa powder. I'm not sure I could have gotten through some days without this pick-me-up!

-I have a big fear of failure. I had many dreams in which I unthinkingly indulged in dessert and then felt horrified that I had fallen short of my goal.

-I have a food addiction, like most Americans. I love flour+sugar. It makes me happy. It also makes me fat when indulged in too often. At the same time, baking and sharing is part of how I nurture and connect with other people, and I don’t think I need to give it up permanently. There do need to be limits, however, and I have been thinking a lot about what those limits should be in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When I return to eating sugar, my new goal is to only indulge on the weekends or special occasions.

Conclusion: I  can't say that giving up refined sugar improved my mood. I may have felt more stable on average, but I also felt irritable a lot. Going without refined sugar did help me lose weight. So far, I’ve lost over 40 pounds since I gave birth about 3 months ago. I have more I want to lose, and I hope that my new sugar limitations will serve my purposes well.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Winter Squash and Sage Pasta

Two weeks ago, I was visiting one  of my favorite farm stands at the West Sacramento Farmer's Market, Moon River Farm. The farmer, Sara, was selling some beautiful, smooth-skinned butternut squashes. It was a hot August day and I thought it seemed a bit early for me to be making squash, which seems so autumn-y. After all, tomato season seems to last through September in Sacramento. But the squashes were so lovely, and the farmer, Sara, told me that it would keep on the counter for several weeks.

Sure enough, my squash was still in good shape today when I got around to chopping it up. I've been wanting to try a certain winter squash recipe ever since I read The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren, who lives about 30 minutes away from me in Davis, CA.  The dish is a deconstructed version of butternut squash raviolis, only much simpler. For my take on it, I attempted to make it healthier, too, by cutting back the butter and cheese and using whole wheat, organic noodles. To add more flavor, I roasted my squash extra long, until the edges were brown and the squash was decidedly caramelized. The end result of my experimentation still felt indulgent and was totally delicious.

And can I just say-  roasted, caramelized butternut squash, where have you been all my life?! Oh... probably sitting on the shelf because I was too intimidated to cut you up and too lazy to prepare you.  I'm just glad that I've found you now, especially with fall and winter coming up. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Winter Squash and Sage Pasta

4-6 cups any winter squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1-2 cups sage leaves
8 oz. whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
1/2-1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cube butter
2 T. brown sugar or honey
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the cubes of squash into a bowl. Drizzle squash with olive oil and sugar or honey. Stir until the moisture from the squash and the other ingredients form a thick juice to envelope each squash cube.

Pour the squash onto a lipped cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, spreading the squash into a single layer. Place in oven and roast until squash is tender on the inside and browned on the outside, about 40 minutes. Put squash on the counter to cool slightly.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, adding your sage leaves. Allow the butter to barely bubble and cook the sage leaves until crispy, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta as the directions indicate. When the pasta is cooked and drained, place it in a large bowl. Add your butter/sage and a large handful of Parmesan. Toss together. Place the squash over the top of the pasta (to avoid having it gravitate to the bottom of the bowl). Serve with a green salad if desired. Mangia!