Friday, January 29, 2010

Quirky Food Rules

The official web site of Bon Appetit magazine,, recently interviewed food expert Michael Pollen (of The Omnivore’s Dilema fame) about his recently published book, Food Rules. Pollen, a proponent of grass-fed cattle and free-range chicken and adversary of all foods "fake", discusses how his prescription for eating "real food" in moderation and sidestepping the Western diet increases health, prevents disease, and lengthens life.

Pollen says the rules in his new book developed naturally from the mantra he came up with in his book In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Here are some of Pollen’s Quirky Food Rules:

Rule 20:
It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

Rule 21:It's not food if it's called by the same name in every language (think Big Mac, Cheetos, or Pringles).

Rule 26:Drink the spinach water.

Rule 32:Don't overlook the oily little fishes.

Rule 36:Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

Rule 57:
Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does

I found these questions to be thought-conducive and prompted me to re-evaluate and think more carefully about where I obtain my food and the nutritional levels of it. Favorite rules, anyone?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chicken Tikka Kebabs

I have been waiting for the right recipe to share in my Indian food experimentation. I got this one from the "Fast, Easy Fresh" cookbook Paul got for me last Christmas. It was a "WOW" - so much flavor in these! I served them with brown basmati rice and sauteed carrots.

Note: The recipe asks you to cut the chicken into 1-inch chunks, thread on a skewer, and grill. I didn't want to be bothered, so I cut the chicken into strips and broiled them in the oven.

Chicken Tikka Kebabs

2 lbs. skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 c. plain yogurt (I used Greek yogurt)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 T. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper

2 T. (1/4 stick) butter, melted

Combine chicken, lemon juice, and slat in medium bowl; let stand 30 minutes.

Mix yogurt and spices in a small bowl. Add to chicken and stir until chicken is well coated with spice mixture. Cover and refrigerate chicken at least 3 hours or overnight.

Prepare barbecue (medium high heat). Brush chicken with melted butter. Sprinkle with salt. grill until just cooked through, turning frequently, about 7 minutes.

Chicken and Waffles

I cannot survive the mundane nature of day-to-day working life without a trip to look forward to. I am currently anticipating a trip to LA this April, during which my husband and I hope to take a "foodie tour" of the city. One of our planned stops: Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.

I was introduced to this common Southern food combination recently at the local Sandra Dee’s restaurant. I initially found the idea of it bizarre, but once I tried that crispy, savory chicken with a piece of sweet waffle, I realized that just like chocolate-covered pretzels, the sweet and salty combination is as addictive as it is delicious. It is also supremely comforting food.

We are still working on developing our list, but the LA Farmer’s Market is another stop, where myriads of vendors offer their wares and one can taste a little bit of everything. Any other suggestions?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Meatloaf - It's what's for Dinner!

My aunt bought me the following Christmas present:

Norpro 2 Piece Nonstick Meatloaf Bread Pan Set

See larger image

Norpro 2 Piece Nonstick Meatloaf Bread Pan Set

You can use the outer pan for baking bread and pound cake. But the double design is especially good for making meatloaf, as the unique design allows the fat with its calories and cholesterol to drain into the bottom pan.

I don't know if my aunt was aware that I have a special place in my heart for meatloaf (hello, comfort food!), but tonight I used this pan to make my own special meatloaf. I knew I would have my work cut out for me, seeing as my husband reminded me that he does not normally care for this dish.

So I came up with the following recipe:

Delicious Meatloaf

Mix together in a bowl until smooth:
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1 piece of wheat bread, blended into crumbs (pop it in the blender until it's smooth)
Sprinkle of dried onions
Garlic salt and freshly ground pepper, to salt

Mix in:
1 lb. lean beef

Then shape mixture into loaf plan and top with sauce, a mixture of:
1/3 c. ketchup
2 T. brown sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice, yellow mustard, and honey.

Bake in 350F oven for 45 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then slice and serve. Serves 4.

Result: After a few bites, my husband admitted, "I actually like this meatloaf." That's the best compliment a cook can hope for!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal in a Slow Cooker

How would you like to wake up on a chill winter morning to the smell of apple and cinnamon? With just about 10 minutes of prep the night before, you can, with this recipe! When cooked in a slow cooker overnight, the rolled oats take on a wonderful creamy texture. Real oatmeal cooked this way is miles apart from Quaker Instant! You can also add dried fruit if you like, or try substituting apple juice for the water. Steel cut oats also work beautifully in a slow cooker overnight. The combination possibilities are endless!

Slow Cooker Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal

1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, to your taste
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 T. butter
1 medium-size apple or pear, peeled, cored, and chopped

Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 7-9 hours, or overnight, or on HIGH for 2-3 hours.

Stir the oatmeal well and scoop into bowls with a large spoon. Serve with milk, soymilk or cream.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Reaktion's Edible Series

My friend Rachel recently tipped me off about the Reaktion "Edible" book series - small volumes that chronicle the history of a variety of foods, such as cheese, pizza, hot dogs, spices, hamburgers, pancakes, and yes, my personal favorite, pie.

In a review of "Pie: A Global History", "Publisher's Weekly" writes, "The book's slim page count [40 pages] belies a wealth of information, including the science of flaky crust, recipes from yesteryear, the real-life inspirations for famous pie lovers like Georgie Porgie and Little Jack Horner, and a brief dissertation on why pie is so delicious ("biology makes us do it").

Which volume would you like to read? I personally am an insatiable pie addict and I hope to get my hands on a copy of the pie book at some point!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Lesson of the Lemon Cake

The most poignant lessons in life usually flow from our mistakes. Last night I searched for a recipe for a lemon cake, as a kind neighbor gave me quite a few lemons over the weekend. Unable to find a simple recipe for a homemade lemon cake in any of my numerous cookbooks, and feeling in an experimental mood, I turned to the internet.

I found a recipe for one Lemon Drizzle Cake that appeared in an apparently British magazine. I converted the grams to cups and even found a so-called substitute for self-rising flour (frequently used in British kitchens but less common in the states). Several different sources claimed that this substitute could be created by combining flour with baking powder and salt.

What happened? The cake looked about half the size of the picture I saw when it came out of the oven, and the bottom was markedly over crisped. Did I drizzle away with the lemon glaze and eat it anyway? Of course! I’m no quitter, especially when flour, sugar and butter have been combined and sit in front of me begging to be eaten.

What has this experience taught me? Either my baking powder is flat, or the substitute is incorrect, or British magazine food editors don’t know what they’re talking about. But I still have lemons if you have a recipe to share with me!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BBQ Pork in the Slow Cooker

Yesterday, I woke up late, spilled soymilk all over my car, and got trapped in the middle of a huge storm that threw buckets of water on my windshield as I attempted to navigate the freeway on my commute home. On a day like that, I was relieved to come home to a practically ready-made meal that I’d made some time before and frozen. And it wasn’t even hard to make to begin with!

Here’s the easiest recipe ever for BBQ Pork. It actually calls for beef, but since pork at this time is about half the price as beef (and beef is notoriously bad for the environment), I generally use a LOT of pork. Use a quality BBQ sauce, as there are so few ingredients here (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s - I just love saying that name!) Serve on toasted whole wheat hamburger buns, with a green salad and baked beans.

I suggest that you freeze half of what you make. Then, on the day that you want to use it, put it in the refrigerator to defrost in the morning. Before consuming it for dinner, heat it up in a pan for 20 minutes. It will regain that delightful texture it originally had. You can add a little extra BBQ sauce to perk it up if necessary.

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

3 pounds chuck roast (or pork)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (18 ounce) bottle BBQ sauce

1. Place roast in a slow cooker. Sprinkle with garlic powder and onion powder and season with salt and pepper. Pour BBQ sauce over meat. Cook on High for 1 hour, then reduce heat to Low, and cook 5-7 hours more.

2. Remove meat from slow cooker, shred, and return to slow cooker. Cook for 1 more hour. Serve hot. Yield: 8 servings.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My First Yoga Class

Last week, I attended my first yoga class at the Recreation Center in West Sacramento. Yoga is one of those things I’ve always been interested in but never had an opportunity to attempt. I enjoyed my first class, although my brain did cross-associate the music with my favorite Indian restaurant and leave me craving Chicken Tikka Masala.

The class I attended was a beginning one, just challenging enough but not too discouraging. I hope to attend the class once a week to balance it with my cardio the rest of the week. I found an interesting article about the health benefits of yoga on a health web site, which are:

Stress Reduction
Concentration and Mood
Heart Benefits
Other Medical benefits

Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits from the article I wanted to share:

"Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and currently, close to 11 million Americans are enjoying its health benefits. Yoga can hardly be called a trend.

"The series of yoga poses called asanas work by safely stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion in joints. It may also increase lubrication in the joints. The outcome is a sense of ease and fluidity throughout your body.

Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. And no matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time. In one study, participants had up to 35% improvement in flexibility after only eight weeks of yoga. The greatest gains were in shoulder and trunk flexibility."

I was very surprised at all of the medical benefits of yoga. If you’d like to read more of this article, it can be found at:

Even if yoga’s not your thing, I hope that you will try something new that you’ve always wanted to try! Go for it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Busy Cook's Homemade Chicken Broth

Every professional chef I’ve ever encountered touts the flavor and quality of homemade stock/broth as superior to the store bought, canned version. It’s really not a complicated thing to make broth from scratch after you serve a roast chicken for dinner. The problem for me, however, is that I seldom find myself at home for at least 3 hours to tend a simmering pot.

If you’re busy like me, I hope you’ll like my recent discovery from my "Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook", which allows you to make broth overnight without worry in your slow cooker. After I made the roast chicken a few weeks ago, I stuck the carcass in a large Ziplock bag and froze it.

Last night around 6, I took it out and placed it in my slow cooker to let it defrost. At about 9:30pm, I used the following recipe and cooked the broth overnight. Then, this morning before work, I drained the gorgeous, golden, rich broth into a bowl and refrigerated it. Tonight, I skimmed the fat off the top, and drained it more thoroughly using cheesecloth and a fine mesh colander (I found that the colander alone wasn't as effective as I wanted at reaching a clear broth free of floaties). Finally, I froze the broth in 2 bags that can be easily used later for soups and other wonderful recipes. As Julia would say, "Bon.... Appetit!"

Slow Cooker Chicken Broth

1 chicken carcass
1 carrot, cut into chunks
2-3 celery stalks, with leaves, cut into chunks
1 yellow onion, quartered
A few springs of parsley, stems attached
A few peppercorns or ground pepper
Salt to taste (optional)

1. Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker, except salt. Add cold water to cover by 2-3 inches. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour.

2. Skim any surface foam with a large spoon. Cover, turn the cooker to LOW, and cook for 6 to 16 hours. If the water cooks down below the level of the ingredients, add a bit more boiling water.

3. Uncover and let cool to lukewarm. Set a large colander lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl and pour the broth through to strain. Press on the vegetables to extract all the liquid. Discard the vegetables, skin, and bones. If desired, reserve the meat for soup, salad or another purpose. Taste the broth and season with salt if needed, or wait to salt until you are using the broth. Refrigerate.

4. The broth is ready for use and can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 2 to 3 days. Or remove the congealed fat from the surface and pour into airtight plastic freezer storage containers, leaving 2 inches at the top to allow for expansion. Freeze for 3 to 4 months. Whether refrigerated or frozen (and defrosted), make sure the broth is brought to a boil when using it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sweet Cherry Cobbler

Towards the end of last summer, when the last of the cherries were on sale, I bought a bunch of them, pitted and halved them, and froze them. Now, it's the middle of January, fresh cherries are still a yet-to-be-realized promise of a distant spring. Yet, even on a cold and rainy winter day, I was able to pull out one of my trusty bags of frozen fruit and whip up a cherry cobbler for dessert! (Thank goodness for freezers!)

I found a recipe online that used sweet cherries, which are more widely available in California than the sour cherries more commonly used in baking. I definitely tweaked the original recipe according to my whim and fancy, and it came out pretty darn good. I doubled the biscuit topping, which is very hearty, due to the inclusion of whole wheat flour. I sprinkled the biscuits with turbinado sugar, because I like the texture of it. I also added lemon to perk up the flavor with a nice, fresh citrus element.

Sweet Cherry Cobbler

For the filling:
About 3 cups of sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 T. water (if using fresh cherries; if using frozen cherries, omit this water)
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. squeezed fresh lemon juice

For the topping:
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. white granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
3 T. cold unsalted butter
2/3 c. low-fat buttermilk
1 T. turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cook the cherries, water, sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, lemon juice and a pink of salt in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves, just a few minutes. If you use frozen cherries, omit the water. Pour the filling in a 9-inch pie plate.

Whisk the flour, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Blend in the butter with a pastry cutter until the butter is in little chunks and well dispersed throughout. Stir in the buttermilk with a fork just until blended. Drop the crumbly dough in mounds over the filling and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake about 20-25 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the cherry filling is bubbling. Serve warm.

Be Prepared

One of our (many) goals this year is to establish a basic food storage and a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit. We started this project last year, actually, in a small way, when I began buying an extra food item every time I bought one at the store. Canned food, pasta, and dried beans/lentils being the most frequently purchased items.

We then began planning out all of the items we'll need for a 72-hour kit, following the guidelines we found here:

Last week, we learned that my sister-in-law Chelsea would be renting a canning device this weekend, and we thought it quite fitting and fortuitous, given how well the timing fit with our recent focus on emergency preparedness. We went to Winco in Elk Grove (an employee-owned grocery store where they have a fantastic bulk food section) and proceeded to buy unbleached flour, brown basmati rice, honey, water, rolled and quick oats, salt, and sugar. There were a ton of other bulk I hope to buy later to can or even just as a low-cost alternative to buying from the regular grocery store. (Whole wheat pasta, all kinds of flours, rice, spices, cereals, and legumes... Not to mention candy and snacks!)

I canned and labeled most of these this weekend (22 can's worth!). The process was not as hard as I thought it might be and we have greater peace of mind now that we have a small store of essentials that will last for a varying number of years. Sometimes it takes a disaster like the earthquakes in Haiti to remind us all how fragile we are and the importance of being prepared. We are working towards that goal, and hopefully after this weekend, we're one step closer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Millions of Puppies, Puppies for Me!

I am a small dog kind of girl. Perhaps it began when I was 7 and first acquired a small dog, a very mild-tempered and adorable rat terrier. That dog, Blazer, died while I was in Hong Kong and now I really miss having a little friend as a companion. After all, I need some one to talk to in my "little dog voice". I feel bad for my husband because he gets most of that now.

So, Pros: Cute little creature to comfort you, cheer you up, play with you. On the other hand, I feel like it would be nice to have a yard for the dog, which I don't have yet. There’s the cost involved in acquiring and maintaining the pet. Also, the time commitment - how about when we travel? Actually, I’m sure I could find someone to take care of it, especially if it’s cute enough.

Now, what kind of breed to acquire is another question.

Havanese - very cute lap dog but very pricey. I wouldn't mind a mix of this and another breed.

A black pug - look at that lil tongue sticking out! Then again, eyes are a bit googly.

How about a Shih Tzu? But I don't like long-haired ones; they weird me out. I'd have to groom this one all the time to keep it short.

Bichon Frisee is still a top choice - but again with the long-hair, and I heard they're hard to potty-train, and that is not happening, no matter how cute they are!

I'll probably end up with some mixed breed because I really want to rescue a dog as opposed to buying one. So, dog lovers - Advice? Opinions?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

German Apple Cake

Now that I've given my soapbox speech on nutrition, I shall proceed to share a recipe for... German Apple Cake! One of the best things about balance is you can still indulge occasionally, and this one really satisfied my sweet tooth. It's so simple, but when the quality of the ingredients is high, so is the finished product. I made this for dessert tonight when the missionaries came over and it was delicious. My husband insisted it was "a must" for the blog and a culinary "success". (I think he liked it; what do you think?) This recipe comes from my "Rustic Fruit Desserts" cookbook. I used Gala apples, my Microplane box grater to do the zesting work, and FYI: turbinado is coarse/raw sugar, which adds a wonderful texture to the top of the cake.

Mimi's German Apple Cake

1 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature, for pan
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. sugar granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 apples, peeled, cored, and each cut into 6 pieces
2 T. turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it smooth.

Score the peeled side of the apples with the tines of a fork and arrange the apples atop the batter around the perimeter, with 1 slice in the center. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the cake and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Sometimes the batter around the apples looks slightly underdone, but not to worry; it's just the moisture from the apples.

Storage: Wrapped in plastic wrap, this cake will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days.

How to Stay Thin Forever

It’s January, the month in which thousands of Americans resolve to improve their health, be it through increased exercise, better diet, or both. Today, a co-worker of mine related how she is attempting to lower her high blood pressure (which has been up for over a year now) naturally, but didn’t know where to start. I typed up a few ideas that I’ve picked up through nutrition classes and reading health magazines over the past few years since college, and gave it to her. I wanted to post it on my blog as well.

Whether you’re looking to lower your blood pressure, lose a few pounds, or have more energy, I hope you find one or two new ideas that will help you to achieve your objectives for 2010. A few are geared specifically towards a salt-restricted diet, but most are general guidelines for a healthy eating. I’m a big believer in balance. I have never gone on a "diet" because I believe that they are only temporary solutions when a balanced, healthy lifestyle is the true solution. Through small, smart decisions, I believe that anyone can enjoy health and thrive.

Healthy Start

Always start with a whole grain breakfast (like cereal with low-fat milk, oatmeal, or whole wheat toast). Also great: fruit ( I like frozen berries in my cereal) and lean protein (like eggs cooked in olive oil or turkey bacon).

Healthy Snacks (Eat One Every 3-4 hours)
Fruit, especially apples, oranges, cut up melon, berries, bananas

My Formula for Healthy Lunch/Dinners

1) Start with a whole grain like:
Whole Wheat pasta
Whole Wheat bread
Brown Rice
Whole Wheat tortillas

2) Add a lean meat or legume like:
Lean beef
Pinto/black/kidney/garbanzo beans
*Avoid processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, lunchmeat, ham - they have too much salt*

3) Always include at least one vegetable (fresh or frozen are best) and, if possible, a salad with a low-fat dressing (best kind: vinaigrette).


- Remember: the more colorful the fruit/vegetable, the more nutritious it is. (Bright orange and dark green are especially good for vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach or kale.)

- When you buy canned foods, always buy "low-sodium" ones.

- Use herbs to add flavor instead of fat or salt. Mrs. Dash contains a blend of herbs and spices and no salt. Try growing fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley.

- Whenever possible, cook foods in regular olive oil (which contains healthy fats).

- Replace butter or margarine with heart-healthy Smart Balance or Promise and full-fat mayonnaise with low-fat, canola-based mayonnaise.

- My favorite way to get 2 servings of fruit quick is a smoothie. The easiest way to make it:
Buy bananas, cut them into chunks and freeze them. Later, combine a few banana chunks with frozen fruit like berries, peaches, etc., add juice or soy/rice/almond milk, and blend in the blender until smooth.

Low-fat yogurt (like Yoplait or Dannon)
Kashi bars or Fiber One bars
Natural oven roasted almonds, cinnamon brown sugar flavor
Whole grain crackers (like Triscuits) with thin slices of cheddar cheese (not processed American cheese)
Celery with natural peanut butter
Hummus with carrot sticks
Carrot sticks with light Ranch dressing
Dried fruit

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Autumn Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Autumn Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Sunday night I attended a birthday celebration for my friend and sister-in-law Heidi. We had a lovely time eating dinner together: salmon, potatoes, asparagus, and a salad that I brought. I found it in a the October 2007 Cooking Light magazine and it is an excellent salad to serve in the fall/winter season when pears and apples are ripe. Homemade vinaigrette dressing is one of my favorite things to make because it's so simple and so superior to store-bought versions. It is healthier for you too, when you use real olive oil and eliminate the added high-fructose corn syrup that most store-bought dressings contain.

I often tweak it according to what’s in season or what I have on hand. Last Sunday night, for example, I used a mixture of spring mix salad and romaine lettuce, replaced the red onion with sliced fennel (love that fresh licorice flavor!), used a red pear, Gala apple, added dried cranberries, and omitted the goat cheese. It was still great and very fresh-tasting! Here’s the recipe: tweak it as you will!

Autumn Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette


2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of dried basil
Pinch of ground red pepper

5 cups mixed salad greens
4 cups torn romaine lettuce
2 1/2 cups cubed Asian pear (about 1 large)
2 cups chopped Granny Smith apple (about 1 large)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled goat cheese

Combine first 9 ingredients in a bowl, stirring with a whisk.
Combine salad greens, romaine lettuce, Asian pear, apple, and red onion in a large bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette, and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How to Bake Like the Pros!

The Christmas dinner rolls that I made (a la Peter Reinhart)

One day, while visiting the Ferry Building in SF and browsing through the cookbooks at Sur La Table, I found one called The Bread Baker's Apprentice by one Peter Reinhardt. This lovely book was distinguished by two gold stickers - one for the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook of the year, and another by the IACP Cookbook Book of the Year. Intrigued, I bought it, determined to learn how to bake truly great bread.

It has not disappointed me. Reinhardt is completely devoted to the art of bread baking, and his writing expertly guides even amateur cooks through the perils of this initially daunting realm of baking.

For Christmas dinner, I used his recipe to make dinner rolls. They were the most professional-looking bread I've made, with an excellent texture and kept wonderfully for several days, giving us a chance to savor them. I did alter it a bit by substituting part whole wheat flour for the bread flour, and I'm simplifying the recipe a bit. Enjoy!

Professional Dinner Rolls

3 3/4 c. unbleached bread flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. sugar
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 large egg (slightly beaten, at room temperature)
1/4 c. butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp. water until frothy, for egg wash (optional)

Mix together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Pour in the egg, butter, and buttermilk and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until all the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball.

Mix on medium speed with the dough hook, adding more flour if necessary to create a dough that is soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky. Continue mixing for 6-8 minutes. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick ever so slightly to the bottom. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Remove the fermented dough from the bowl and divide it into 18 2 ounce pieces. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment. Place dough on the baking sheets, lightly spray with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Proof the dough at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, or until rolls nearly doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Brush the rolls with the egg wash if desired. (I suggest doing so, as it will give the rolls a gorgeous golden color.) Bake the rolls for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown. When they have finished baking, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Battle of the Green Chile Pork Recipes

My husband adores Mexican food. I’m not as enthusiastic in general, but one dish we both enjoy is Green Chile Pork. I found a pretty tasty recipe for this dish in my "Allrecipes" cookbook, and it was one of his favorite dinners that I’ve made so far. I loved the fact that it required so few ingredients and was so easy to prepare.

About 2 months later, while on vacation recently, I found another recipe for the same dish in "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American". Curious, I decided to try the new recipe and see which one was better. I made the dish this week, and felt like the second recipe was great, too, and was having a tough time deciding on the winner. Then, after comparing the two recipes, I realized that they were essentially..... exactly the same recipe! No wonder I couldn’t decide which had been better. I guess we’ll call it a tie.

Green Chile Pork

3 pounds boneless pork loin, cubed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
7 green chile peppers, chopped (or 2 small cans of diced green chiles)
1 T. cumin
4 cloves crushed garlic
4 cups chicken broth or water
1 (10 ounce) jar prepared green chile salsa
salt/pepper to taste

In a large skillet over medium high heat, brown the pork in oil, doing so in 2 to 3 batches. Place the meat in 3 to 4-quart covered saucepan and add celery, tomatoes, chilies, and garlic. Add about 1 cup chicken broth or water to skillet pork was cooked in, stirring over high heat to scrape up browned bits on bottom and bring to boil. Add to pot with enough additional water or broth to barely cover the ingredients. Cover and simmer until stew is thick and meat very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Season to taste before serving. If stew is not hot enough, add a bit of green salsa.
Serve with wheat tortillas and a green salad.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Indian Spice and Everything Nice (and Cheap)

A recent article in "Cooking Light" magazine suggests trying new foods in the coming year. Whether it be growing your own exotic herbs or cooking with an unfamiliar food such as quinoa or fennel, the article submits that this will help us break out of our eating routines, potentially add health benefits to our diets (assuming you haven’t been aching to try fried butter...), and inspire us with a renewed enthusiasm for food.

One thing I’ve long wanted to try is Indian daal, a lentil-based dish served with rice. The aforementioned article actually included a recipe for daal, and I decided that I would make it.
I began my experiment yesterday in the Indian grocery store next to the popular Kaveri Madras restaurant in Sacramento. As I piled all of the necessary ingredients into my little basket, I began to worry about the cost. Spices are notoriously expensive, and I almost always sneak into my mom’s pantry when I need to use some for a recipe, rather than shelling out the $5-10 price per container at the store. (Don't judge a poor girl.) Nothing I saw had a price on it, which I found odd and a bit disconcerting. (The girl behind the counter later told me that their price sticker machine had jammed up.)

As I looked down at my basket and saw the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, turmeric, mustard seeds, nigella seeds, cumin, and moong lentils, I felt a bit of trepidation and guilt at the thought of the cost of my experiment. (After all, saving money is another one of my goals!) Imagine my relief when the grand total came to a mere $13.63! I also had a pleasant conversation with the girl behind the counter, who helped explain how to cook a proper daal and even got on the internet to make sure that I had the right spice that I needed for the nigella seeds.

Who knew that spices would be so much cheaper at Indian stores? I will totally go back for that reason alone. I will write again next week about the results of my attempts at daal-making.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best Restaurants in Sacramento

Tower Cafe wins for both Best Theater and Best Dessert

Every year, locally-based Sacramento Magazine comes out with a "Best of Sacramento" list, as voted by for the apparently generally ignorant masses. I do not often find their picks to be particularly enlightening, but rather predictable, overrated, and ordinary. (Example: Best Chinese - PF Chang’s. Really, people?!)

So I am going to publish my own list of favorite spots in the greater Sacramento Area. If a certain business is not in the city of Sacramento itself, I will note the specific location in parenthesis. (My reviews of these and other places, and my reasons for choosing these particular establishments as the winners, can all be found at

Best Chinese: Frank Fat’s

Best Thai: Bangkok Garden

Best Laotian: Vientiane (West Sac)

Best North Indian: Pooja Indian Grill (West Sac)

Best South Indian: Kaveri Madras

Best Hamburger: Squeeze Inn Best

Pastries: Ettore’s

Best Desserts: Tower Café

Best Italian: Il Fornaio

Best Dim Sum: New Canton

Best Sandwich: Corti Brothers

Best French: La Bonne Soupe Café

Best Trip-Tip Sandwich: My BBQ Spot

Best Socially-Responsible Café: Magpie Café

Best Spot to Hold a Wedding Reception: Arden Hills Country Club (Based on attending many weddings and my own!)

Best Place to Pretend You’re in Europe: Le Petit Paris

Best Cultural Dining Experience: Casablanca (Moroccan restaurant. On Friday nights - belly dancing!)

Best Place to Hang Out on a Saturday Morning: Davis Farmer’s Market (Davis)

Best Theater: Tower

Best Used Bookstore: Time Tested Books

Best Mexican: Q’Bole (Folsom)

Best Place to Buy Honey: Sacramento Beekeeper’s Company

Best Bread (tie): The Bread Store and Grateful Bread

Best Grocery Store: Nugget Market

Any suggestions, contributions, or comments?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Me and the Naked Chef in the Kitchen

I received “The Naked Chef Takes Off” as a birthday present as a teenager. I was a huge fan of Jamie Oliver’s hip cooking show and loved looking at the pictures and reading this cookbook, which is chock full of British slang and Jamie’s quirky personality. Yet I never tried any recipes... Until last night, when I made an attempt at his “fantastic roast chicken”!

A whole chicken is a wonderfully economic thing to make for dinner, particularly for a young couple. Besides a delicious dinner, you’ve got leftovers for the next day’s lunch (great for sandwiches or salads), as well as a carcass and tidbits to freeze and use to make stock and/or soup at a later time. I made many (healthier and/or more desirable, in my opinion) adjustments to Jamie’s recipe, and was thrilled when it came out “absolutely fantastic”, as he would say. You simply must try parsnips with the vegetables - they were the best part!

One organic chicken ( I used a 5 lb. Chicken)
1 large lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 handfuls of fresh thyme, leaves picked from stems and finely chopped (I used a bit of fresh rosemary along with thyme)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. softened butter
Vegetables: chunks of potato (I used fingerlings), carrots, parsnips (they’re sweet and wonderful!), onions cut into quarters (if you do slices, they may burn), whole gloves of garlic if you like

Pre-heat the oven and an appropriately sized roasting pan to 425F. Wash your chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Using your fingers, part the breast skin from the breast meat. It’s important to try to push your hand gently down the breast, being careful not to rip the skin. With a zester, remove the fragrant yellow skin of the lemon, placing the peel in a bowl. Then add the softened butter, garlic, and whatever herbs you’re using. Season, then scrunch it all together. Push this into the space you have made between the meat and the skin - rub and massage any that’s left over in and around the bird. It’s all tasty stuff. Slash the thigh meat to allow the heat to penetrate a little more, which makes it taste better. Cut the peeled lemon in half and push it into the cavity. Prepare your vegetables by cutting them into approximately uniform sizes to cook evenly, season with salt/pepper, and pour them into the bottom of the roasting pan. Then put your chicken in the roasting pan and roast in the preheated over for 20 minutes. Stir the now-melted butter into the vegetables and continue to cook until the chicken is done. The whole baking process will probably take about an hour. Leave the chicken to stand for about 10 minutes before carving.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Cookbook Acquisitions

One of my most recent tantalizing acquisions....Mmmm!

There is nothing I love better than to sit down and read a good cookbook. I like oogling the vibrant, mouth-watering pictures, I like reading the descriptions of the foods, I like the interesting anecdotes the author writes about the recipes, and I like getting inspiration for future meals. Between Christmas, my birthday on the 28th, and a used bookstore I found in Mendocino, this holiday season was a real winner for me. Here's the DL on the goods:

From my husband for Christmas:

Julia’s Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
We recently watched "Julie & Julia" together, so he got me the "Bible of French cooking" featured in this film. I’m hoping to get out my Le Creuset and prepare a traditional French casserole or stew this winter!

Bon Appetit Fast, Easy Fresh:
This one is cool because all of the dishes can be made in under 30 minutes. The dishes are a bit exotic so it can also double as what some refer to as "food porn" - you know, the glamorous recipes you fantasize about as you eat your bowl of Spaghettios or hot dog or whatever you, in your slovenly laziness, threw in the microwave for dinner.

My Birthday:

Rustic Fruit Desserts:
My sister-in-law Chelsea got this one for me for my birthday. When it comes to dessert, I never turn down anything with fruit in it. This book features just the sort of thing I adore - cobblers, crisps, pies, and slumps, all based on fruit fruits by the season. I can’t wait to start making these for my family!

Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook:
As a working girl, I love to come home and know that dinner is ready for my husband and I. It gives me time to clean up the apartment or work out. ( One of my New Year’s goals is to go to the West Sac Recreation Center gym 3 times a week, so I intend to use this book a lot this year!) Forget about old-school canned soup and artificial ingredients - this book is chock-full of appetizing recipes using fresh, from-scratch ingredients to make everything from Steel Cut Oatmeal to soups to Thai Pork to Peach Cobbler.

Moore Used Books in Mendocino:

Nigella Bites:
Featuring the British author/TV star Nigella Lawson, this is her follow up to the bestseller How to Be A Domestic Goddess. I got this one because most of the recipes focus on local British favorites- nothing I’d prepare myself, but I love to read her interesting commentary on it. Great pictures, too!

Real Simple Meals:
Basic recipes, pared down to the most basic ingredients and steps, just begging to be played with and adapted to the cook’s own individual tastes. I already made one of the recipes - Fettuccine with Bolognese Sauce, and it was great. (See my last blog)

Once Upon A Tart:
Written by the owners of the café by the same name situated in NYC, this book features some inventive yet practical and delicious recipes for soups, salads, dressings, sandwiches, and of course... tarts! Almost all of which sound amazing, I might add. Quirky, helpful, and just my cup o’tea.

That should satiate my cookbook fetish for a while. Anybody else have a favorite cookbook they want to recommend? (Hey, Valentines Day is coming up....) :-)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Fettuccine, Linguine, Martini, Bikini...

It was a cold winter Saturday and I had a bit of time at home on my hands. I decided that a nice plate of pasta with homemade sauce sounded fabulous, so I paged through my cookbooks. I decided on a recipe from a Real Simple cookbook I have for Fettuccine with Bolognese Sauce. It's not too complicated a recipe. The most unusual ingredient is the pancetta, but even that was easily procured from Raley's grocery. I tweaked it to make it non-dairy and cut out the wine, and it came out delish! Best of all, there were leftovers for lunch, as well as enough to freeze and use later. Sometime in the next 3 months, I'm going to have a really easy dinner waiting for me in the freezer.

Fettuccine with Bolognese Sauce


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 pound pancetta, chopped
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
2 cups beef broth
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tablespoon dried
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the pancetta and cook for 5 minutes, then add the beef and cook until brown. Drain mixture and return to pan. Add the beef broth and the remaining ingredients and simmer for 45 minutes. Serve with cooked fettuccine. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan if desired.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Three Greatest Novels.... Ever?

Last year, I purchased a used copy of Tolstoy's "War and Peace". It has been sitting on my shelf ever since, both beckoning and threatening. I wanted to read it when the weather got colder, as winter and Russian literature always seem so well-suited for each other. The time has arrived, and I have begun reading this behemoth classic novel. This ties in with one of my goals for 2010- to read at least 3 daunting, great novels. These novels will be daunting in both length and content, but this year I would like to spend time with truly great minds.

But which 3 novels to read? I found the following list of the greatest, most influential novels of all time, and I am pondering which selections appeal to me. I must have some interest in the novel itself, lest I fail in my goal. Don Quixote, The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick and Madame Bovary... Oh my! Any other suggestions? Joyce is right out - I understand that Ulysses cannot be read without extensive cliffnotes. No thanks! But for now, I shall content myself with Tolstoy.