Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gwen Stefani and Al Gore, Best Friends Forever...

Quiz: What do Gwynth Paltrow, Kate Moss, Woodcreek High School in Roseville, CA, Gwen Stefani, Al Gore, Oxford University, Paul McCartney, Twitter, AOL and Flickr all have in common?

.... Anyone? .... Bueller?

It turns out that they are all supporters of a movement called Meatless Monday, a non-profit organization that aims to "reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet."

I find this a fascinating idea, and the varied and diverse supporters add to the intrigue. I'd like to join the movement, although my biggest deterrent is the fact that my husband doesn't like eggs or eggplant, is allergic to mushrooms, and I'm not a big fan of beans. I'll have to keep looking for recipes that suit us...

Here's the website - it's pretty impressive! Articles, recipes, info on seasonal foods, plus, you won't believe how many people, from celebrities to schools to ordinary folks like the high school kids up in Roseville, are behind this movement.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Bright Star" - Does It Satisfy My Obsession with Romantic British Film?

I missed the highly praised British film "Bright Star" when it first came out in theaters, but put it in my Netflix queue and watched it last night. It seemed like the sort of subject matter that I would enjoy: semi-biographical story of Romantic poet John Keats and his relationship with his muse, Fanny Brawne.

I liked:

- The interesting details about John Keats that I never learned in English poetry classes, such as his love for his brother Thomas who died of tuberculosis, his penniless position in society that prevented him from marrying, his friendship and financial dependence upon friend and would-be poet Christopher Brown, his bouts of depression and own ill health that resulted in his untimely death at age 25 also of tuberculosis. (Geez, who didn’t die of "consumption" in those days?!)

- The elements of Keats’ poetry that are brought to life visually - such as the image of Keats suspended in the tops of trees, wandering flowery meadows, or Fanny keeping a butterfly garden that is as lovely as it is temporary. The visual depiction of Keats' love of nature and the inspiration he draws from beauty is moving.

On the other hand:

- I know poets are typically imagined to be moody, sickly, and effeminate, and the actor who plays Keats certainly fits the bill. But it was a little too much - I didn’t get as wrapped up in the love story as I expected to because I had a hard time believing that he was really attracted to a female. The fact that I first saw Ben Whishaw in "Brideshead Revisited" in which he played a very convincing homosexual probably didn’t help.

- Fanny kind of bugged me, with her up and down emotional vicissitudes, her pathetic sobbing one minute and romantic bliss the next, not to mention her over-the-top reaction to Keats’ death in one scene. "Mother! I can't breathe! I can't breathe!"

Overall, I found the film to be interesting, if not as compelling as I’d hoped it would be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Type of Yogi Are You?

My recent discovery, since discovering the world of yoga, is a company called Gaiam. Their slogan: “A lifestyle company.” They sell everything from natural fiber furniture and bedding to organic yoga clothes and exercise DVDs.

I was browsing some of the information they offer on their website and found a fun little quiz called, “What kind of yogi are you?” The test supposedly tells you what kind of yoga would be best matched to your personality. When I took this quiz, I was equally parts “Neat Freak” and “Frazzled”. Don’t I sound like a charmer? Hopefully, the yoga class I’ve been taking may help me curb my occasionally neurotic tendencies. Here’s the link for the quiz, if you’d like to find out what your yoga personality is:

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nathan's Lemon Cake

Last week at church, a member brought a huge bin of lemons to share. I grabbed a bag and snagged a few, then began to search for a recipe in which I could make the most of these citrusy fruits. I found a recipe for Nathan’s Lemon Cake, and made it for our family dinner last night. It was super sweet and tart at the same time, a double layer delight! I sprinkled the top with leftover lemon zest and my family loved it! I think this was originally a Cooking Light recipe, named for the guy who loved to eat it every year as his birthday cake.

Nathan’s Lemon Cake



Cooking spray

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3 large eggs

1 cup nonfat buttermilk

2 tablespoons finely grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


3 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon lemon rind

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Lemon rind strips (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. To prepare cake, coat 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms of pans with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray. Dust pans with 2 tablespoons flour, and set aside.

3. Lightly spoon 2 cups flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

4. Place granulated sugar and 1/2 cup butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and nonfat buttermilk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon rind and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

5. Pour batter into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 32 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack; remove wax paper from cake layers.

6. To prepare icing, combine powdered sugar and the remaining ingredients (except lemon rind strips) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread half of icing on top of cake. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining half of icing over top of cake. Garnish with lemon rind strips, if desired. Store cake loosely covered in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What I Do With Dolphin-Free Tuna

My Grandpa Rocha (mom's dad) has in his life been a cattle farmer, ice cream delivery man, and now, a retired fisherman. By that, I mean that he now spends whole summers in Oregon fishing, and his frozen and home-canned fish is a hot commodity amongst family members, particularly his tuna. The reason for this is that it is the only tuna we can be 100% certain doesn't contain any baby dolphin parts mixed in with the fish.

Recently, my mom bequeathed to me one such coveted jar of tuna. Would I relegate this fish to an ordinary tuna sandwich? Nay, heaven forbid! I decided to make it into a delicious, tantalizing casserole.

I found a recipe on but it left a lot to be desired, both in nutrition and taste, according to come of the comments. First, I substituted whole grain pasta for the refined stuff. I cut out a lot of the butter, and added lots of spices and herbs for flavor (since some of the comments implied that it was on the bland side).

The result was pure Omega-3 nirvana. This is comfort food extraordinaire, and even if you substitute Bumblebee, you will be glad you made it. The homemade white sauce kicks the pants off anything from a box or can that you have ever tried.

Tuna Noodle Casserole From Scratch

1 T. olive oil
1 (8 oz) package uncooked medium egg noodles (preferably whole grain)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. parsley, chopped
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
4 T. butter
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
lemon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper
2 (6 oz) cans tuna, drained and flaked
1 c. thawed frozen peas
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 T. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Spray a medium baking dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add egg noodles, cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente, and drain.

Pour olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the onion, celery, parsley and garlic, and cook 5 minutes, until tender. Increase heat to medium-high, and mix in mushrooms. Continue to cook and stir 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan, and whisk in flour until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk, and continue cooking 5 minutes, until sauce is smooth and slightly thickened. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon and season with spices listed. Stir in tuna, peas, mushroom mixture, and cooked noodles. Transfer to the baking dish.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter in a small bowl, mix with bread crumbs and garlic powder, and sprinkle on top of the casserole.
Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until bubbly and lightly browned.

My Thoughts on "Food, Inc."

Last night, I watched the much-hyped movie "Food, Inc." It felt like a condensation of two best-selling books ("Fast Food Nation" and "The Omnivore’s Dilemma") put on film. It was an excellent reminder (and perhaps educational tool for the non-readers out there) concerning the industrial system that controls food production and the perils of eating in America. It also reminded me to consider where my food comes from, particularly when grocery shopping or choosing where to eat out.

I really liked the end of the movie, in which the film points out that each time we make a purchase at the grocery store, we are essentially voting: organic or non, free-range or CAFO-produced meat, natural or genetically modified.

Even in an economy in which a product’s price weighs heavily in consumer decisions, there is room for improvement. While not everyone’s budget can support a weekly trip to Whole Foods, we can all choose to eat less meat, and to choose "free-range" over the bad boys of the Industry, such as Tyson. We can buy organic produce such as apples, where it really makes a difference, even if we can’t afford to go organic all the time. We can patronize farmer's markets when possible. Overall, it was an inspiring movie.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chocolate Molten Cakes with Raspberry Sauce

I wanted to bake a delicious, rich dessert for my husband for Valentine's Day. I found this recipe on and couldn't resist the idea of making one of my favorite restaurant treats at home for my hubby! This recipe is incredibly convenient because you can make the batter up to 6 hours ahead of time!

I changed the recipe a little bit (as usual) by using bittersweet chocolate and an extra tablespoon of sugar. Instead of unsalted butter, I substituted regular butter and omitted the salt.

Chocolate Molten Cakes with Raspberry Sauce

1 cup unsalted butter

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into bite-size chunks

5 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

4 teaspoons flour

8 extra-large paper muffin cups (or use regular paper muffin cups, which will make 12 cakes)


1 bag frozen raspberries, thawed and combined with

1/2 cup sugar


Melt butter and chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; remove from heat. Beat eggs, sugar and salt with a hand mixer in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Beat egg mixture into chocolate until smooth. Beat in flour until just combined. (Batter can be made a day ahead; return to room temperature an hour or so before baking.)

Before serving dinner, adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a standard-size muffin tin (1/2 cup capacity) with 8 extra-large muffin papers (papers should extend above cups to facilitate removal). Spray muffin papers with vegetable cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin cups.

Bake until batter puffs but center is not set, 8 to 10 minutes. Carefully lift cakes from tin and set on a work surface. Pull papers away from cakes and transfer cakes to dessert plates.

Top each with raspberry sauce and serve immediately.

Friday, February 12, 2010

One TV Show I Can't Wait to Watch

I try to avoid TV in general, as I find that there are hundreds of things that I could be doing with my time than sitting in front of a box. However, I must confess I feel a great deal of interest and anticipation regarding British chef Jamie Oliver’s upcoming reality tv show.

I’m not sure when “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” is slated to start, but I understand that the basis of the show will be Oliver touring America's unhealthiest cities and giving the residents good-food makeovers using local resources. The show is going to be produced by Ryan Seacrest.

Let’s see.... sexy famous chef with a killer accent, boasting loads of natural charisma and passion for fresh, easy food, making over the diets of fat Americans who are willing to change... Yes, that sounds captivating! When do we start?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Best Prepared Indian Food?

I received a wonderful basket of prepared sauces from a friend recently, and we have been testing them. I already gave high marks to the W-S Sloppy Joe starter. Tonight, we sampled a Coconut Tamarind Curry sauce made by Maya Kaimal. I have also tried the Tikka Masala sauce made by the same brand and I am very impressed with their products.

Indian food is tricky. I have tried multiple kinds of prepared Indian dishes, from frozen to canned to pouches and most were inedible, to be honest. Maya Kaimal has offered the best made-at-home option that I've found. It couldn't be easier to make- just brown the meat/fish, add in vegetables of your choice, simmer in the sauce for a few minutes, and serve it up over basmati rice.

The products are available at, some Williams-Sonoma stores, some Whole Foods Markets, and other grocers depending on the area. More info can be found at

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ode to A Hole-in-the-Wall

Last weekend, my parents asked me for a recommendation on where to eat for dinner. Hm, what to suggest? I find it easy to recommend a places that I am passionate about; a bit tricker is hitting the right spot for someone with different tastes that you. For example, I knew that my parents prefer quiet dining ambience with ordinary American dishes.

I briefly flipped through the newspaper and saw "Evan’s Kitchen" mentioned; the name struck a chord and I recalled hearing good things about it. I consulted yelp and saw that the menu looked like ordinary, American food, and that the location was unassuming. Sounded like a match!

My parents said they were a little leery of the dive-like exterior appearance of Evan’s Kitchen, but completely won over by the quality of this little place. The next day they enthusiastically informed me that they had never had better service, the place was bustling but quiet, and the food was to die for! They couldn’t wait to take my husband and I there sometime.

They even shared their leftover steak and prawns and this dish (which under normal circumstances would have produced a yawn from me) turned out to be bathed in a delicious herb and butter sauce, served next to mashed potatoes fit for the gods! And I don’t even like mashed potatoes - ever!

This experience made me truly grateful for the small businesses out there that still offer genuine quality behind a mediocre appearance. Here’s to all of those amazing hole-in-the-wall eateries! May they thrive even in the rough economic times we live in through our continued patronage and loyalty.

(More information on Evan’s Kitchen, including restaurant hours and menus, can be found at:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day

I received this book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day", as a wedding gift (thanks, Allison!), and I've had the opportunity to try several different things from it now. I don't want to share the recipes because I guess the right thing to do would be to encourage you to buy the book, as the authors are trying to make a living... and since the book is more about the method than the ingredients.

The idea goes like this: Day 1, you mix a big batch of dough in a bowl, let it rise for a couple of hours, then cover the bowl and refrigerate it. For the next one to two weeks (depending on the recipe), you can then take out however much dough you want, let it rise for 40 minutes, then bake it at a high heat on a baking or pizza stone. To create steam, you pour hot water in an empty broiler pan placed on the bottom shelf. This method is meant to imitate that of a professional oven, thereby creating a crisp crust, a soft interior, and a bakery-level quality of bread with a limited time investment.

So far, I've made a light whole wheat bread and used the same dough to make a rosemary focaccia. They were all very good indeed. I have to hand it to the 2 authors of this book for simplifying bread-baking to the bare minimum of effort. While the process does require more than 5 minutes as the title suggests, I am loving it and would like to try some of the other recipes included. Challah with raisins, Sticky buns, and really everything sounds delicious!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Failed Attempt to Make Meat Sauce

My increasing dependence on my slow cooker converged with a craving for pasta lately. The results were less successful than I would have liked. It seemed so logical- what could be better than coming home to a piping hot bowl of meat sauce? I combined the usual ingredients - lean ground meat, beef broth, tomatoes, spices, sugar, onions and garlic. That night, I served the sauce over Williams-Sonoma pasta... but even that wasn’t enough to save it!

I learned that when you cook meat sauce in tomato sauce all day, the meat takes on a texture similar to that of dog food. Maybe it’s the acidity of the tomatoes breaking down the enzymes of the meat. Whatever the cause, I won’t attempt to use this method to make meat sauce again.

By the way, my husband’s reaction: "Good sauce." That’s why I love him.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Portuguese Green Soup (Caldo Verde)

My husband and I both found ourselves sniffling today. We both had a few long, exhausting days this week that left us fighting off colds. Fortunately, my weekly menu announced that today was the day I had planned to make soup using the homemade chicken broth I froze a couple of weeks ago.

I don't know how big of a difference in flavor the homemade broth made, but this was an amazing soup. I've made several soups over the course of the past months, and this has been my favorite thus far.

I pumped up the heat to clear our our sinuses and used hot linguica, a dash of red pepper, and some mild Spanish paprika. I also substituted kale for the collard greens - it's in season and very good for the body! Gotta get those dark leafy greens in somehow and this is the tastiest option I've found yet. You can tweak this recipe too, just so long as you make it - you won't regret it! (Recipe comes from "The Bon Appetit Fast, Easy, Fresh Cookbook".)

Portuguese Green Soup (Caldo Verde)

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch collard greens, center stems cut away, leaves thinly sliced
1 lb. fully cooked spicy sausage (such as linguica, andouille, or hot links), cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds
5 3/4 c. low-salt chicken broth
1 3/4 lb russet potatoes, peeled, diced
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Saute until onion is soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add greens and saute until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add sausage and saute 5 minutes.

Simmer soup uncovered until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer 2 cups soup (without sausage) to processor. Blend until smooth; return to pot and bring to simmer. Mix in crushed red pepper. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Makes 4 main-course servings.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pear Walnut Crisp

Last night I took what I had lying around and made the following dessert, which I found to be the perfect sweet treat for a rainy winter night. Enjoy!

Pear Walnut Crisp

3 large pears, peeled and sliced and peeled
1/2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. white sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 cinnamon
6 t. butter, melted
2 T. chopped walnuts

Place pears in a small dish, or 2 small dishes. Combine other ingredients, mix and sprinkle on top of the pears. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes until pears are tender and topping is brown. Serves 4.

Nuggets of Goodness

I blogged about a few W-S products I like last time, but we’re all cutting back these days (whether in money or in calories), so here are a few of my favorite healthy grocery store finds. All can be found at the Nugget market, and many can be found elsewhere as well.

Kashi Raspberry Chocolate Bars: These taste indulgent but offer 4g of fiber and make a tasty afternoon pick-me-up.

Sabra Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: Addictive, smooth, creamy, delicious. Fanastic with crackers or vegetables.

Figueroa Olive Oil: Produced at an LA-area farm, this extra-virgin olive oil has got me hooked with its delectable fruity notes. I use it in salad dressings, marinades, baked goods, etc. Nothing like the bland, flavorless brands you usually find at the grocery store. Wallaby Organic yogurt: The Strawberries and Cream tastes like just that - mild, creamy yogurt mixed with chunky, real fruit. I feel like I’m eating dessert at snacktime!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Yummy Food Product Recommendations

Here are some of my favorite food products that I have tried lately! (Courtesy of a delicious Christmas basket of treats from my friend Laurel, and a free coupon courtesy of Starbucks!)

Mixed with ground beef or turkey and served on toasted whole wheat buns, this Sloppy Joe starter from Williams-Sonoma makes a delicious, quick dinner.

A healthy breakfast to go! The Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal comes with a mixed nut medley, a dried fruit medley, and a packet of brown sugar. Mmm! Healthwise, it sure beats an Egg McMuffin.

‘Wichcraft Cranberry and Apricot Chutney: Delicious on grilled sourdough with roasted chicken or turkey, this fruity condiment begs to be put in a panini. Also available at Williams-Sonoma.