Friday, July 30, 2010

The Candwich

It's time for another unbelievable story from the world of food. A new product now pushes the limits of what we thought was possible with regards to convenience food. I give you, the Candwich! Now lunch can be as easy for you as opening a soda. Pop open a can and you will find a ready-made sandwich on the inside- available in Strawberry PB&J, Grape PB&J, or (this one turns my stomach) BBQ Chicken. (To me, meat is not meant to sit on a shelf for months. I have a problem with that idea; meat-flavored spaghetti sauce has the same repulsive effect.)
From the look of their ad, the Candwich is going to be aggressively marketed to children, campers and construction workers. The product is not yet available, according to their web site, but may be "coming soon". Part of me can see the appeal to a backpacker because of the lightweight and durable nature of the can. But could one (or even two) of these dinky sandwiches on what looks like white bread (no fiber!) fill up a construction worker for a full day of manual labor? Even for a young child, do we want to teach the next generation that spreading two items on a slice of (hopefully whole grain) bread is "too much work"? If the Candwich ever does pop up in my grocery store, I will not be putting it in my cart.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Carmen at the Met

Last night, my husband and I watched a re-broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of one of the most familiar operas of all time, Carmen by Bizet. The quality of the set and costuming was amazing, and watching was like actually being up on stage with the performers.

While Carmen is now the 4th most performed opera in America, it was not always so. According to Wikipedia, "The opera premiered at the Opéra-Comique of Paris on 3 March 1875, but its opening run was denounced by the majority of critics.... Near the end of this run, the theatre was giving tickets away in order to stimulate attendance. Bizet died of a heart attack, aged 36, on 3 June 1875, never knowing how popular Carmen would become." Yet another genius dies before his artistic endeavors are fully appreciated.

The lead role of Carmen was played by mesmerizing Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca. As a fiery gypsy who seduces and ultimately ruins soldier Don Jose, Carmen’s every move and look exudes confident, seductive power. Her sexual prowess contrasts with the other female lead Micaela, a "goody two shoes" who Don Jose jilts in favor of the more whorish Carmen.

Besides the "good girl vs. loose woman" archetype, another theme the opera explores is the destructive force of lust and selfishness in romantic relationships. These themes make the opera as applicable today as it would have been in 1830 when it was set. (Interestingly, this production by the Met changes the time period to the 1930's, setting the events against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.)

We recognized many of the famous songs featured in Carmen, which are now stuck in our head. Here’s to opera appreciation, certainly one of the finer things in life!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Spirit of Marin County

Have you heard of Marin County? It's just north of San Francisco. After the 60's, loads of hippies were burned out and tired of the crowded city life. Anxious to "return to the land", they flooded north. Many founded towns and businesses that have since become very successful and affluent, but the area still maintains its bohemian roots. Here is my guide to an authentic Marin County experience.

1. Explore the many creameries, bakeries, and artisan meat shops that dot the rolling pastoral hills. Stock up for a picnic later on in the day.

2. Follow a little girl in a bread wagon down the street to the Farmer's Market where she's headed with her mom the baker.
3. Peruse the organic greens, vibrant vegetables, homespun yarn, homemade desserts, and glistening fruits at the market. Make friends with the people who grew the food or created the product that you are about to enjoy!
4. Examine the local Community Garden and get tips on how to help your crops thrive!

5. Hike the hills around Point Reyes Lighthouse and find a serene spot with a killer view before enjoying the edible spoils of the day.
6. Prepare to descend 308 steps to explore the lighthouse, built over 140 years ago! (It hasn't been operating since 1975.)

Hope you get a chance to explore this unique area soon. I sure liked our day trip and hope to explore more of it soon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Bake Cookies

Today, in honor of the weather being too hot for casual use of ovens, I will share my recipe for poor man’s crack- aka No Bake Cookies. The glory of this recipe is manifold- the simplicity and common nature of the ingredients; the easy method; and the perfect consistency of the peanut-butter chocolate combination.

Everyone falls in love with these cookies. When I went to college and introduced my roommates to "No Bakes", they became so infatuated that they often couldn’t wait for the cookies to harden to partake. With spoons poised over the still warm pan, they would scoop the remaining batter into their impatient mouths.

One of my roommates even mailed No Bakes to me when I was in a training center preparing to go to Hong Kong to be a missionary. (She lived down the street and was able to get them to me the same day while they were still fresh.) I hope you will have your own cherished memories of these cookies too someday!

The Ultimate No-Bake Cookies

2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
½ c. cocoa powder
½ c. milk

Combine above ingredients in a saucepan and melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil. Boil for exactly 2 minutes. Do not stir while boiling. Remove from heat after 2 minutes and stir in the following:

½ c. chunky peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. quick oats

Spoon the mixture onto 2 cookie sheets lined with wax paper or aluminum foil. Cool in refrigerator until set, about 30-60 minutes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Crafts I Dig From Etsy

I enjoy browsing the offerings on It makes me happy that there are networks connecting willing shoppers with creative, artistically gifted people. A few favorite finds:

A lovely apron from Modern June. I love the colors and quality looks great. Put me in this, stick me in the kitchen, and call me June (Cleaver)!

As an earth tone person, I find this skirt's shade of olive green ideal. And the length - not too long or dowdy, not to short or showy. Apparently you can even ride a bike while wearing it! It's so simple, I almost wonder if I could make my own at home... Or I could pay trapperjane to make me one.

These cherry blossom prints (from Painting Prints) add an Asian, earthy touch to the natural style of this living room.

If I ever have money to burn someday, I pledge to invest it in the talents of skilled artisans. That includes massage therapists as well. I would hate to exclude anyone.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Plum Compote

Photo Courtesy of 101 Cookbooks

Summer is now in full swing and nature's bounty is here for the taking. The boughs of my parents' plum tree were heavy laden with fruit this weekend. For an unknown reason, the plums of this certain tree are consistently hard and tart. Still, I couldn't stand the thought of all that fruit going to waste.

I did a little research and came up with a good use for the fruit, based on something I remember my grandma making from the plums she picked from the tree in her backyard: plum compote! You cook the fruit down with spices, citrus and sugar to your taste. This sauce is a nice balance of sweet and sour and can be served over dessert (ice cream) and also meat (such as pork chops) equally well.

Plum Compote

3 pounds red plums, quartered
1 1/3 cups (about) sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 orange - rind grated and juice
Water (I filled the pan to half the height of the plums. You may add more or less liquid, depending on how thick you want it)

Combine all ingredients in large saucepan. Stir over low heat until plums are very tender and compote thickens, stirring often, for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool completely. Transfer compote to bowl, discarding cinnamon sticks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tabbouleh - Or, a Heat-Free Dinner in July

I recently signed up for weekly e-mails from The Splendid Table (brought to America by Public Radio). So once a week, I now receive an interesting, usually ethnic-inspired recipe developed by one Lynne Rossetto Kasper. Tonight, I made a fabulous Tabbouleh (cracked wheat salad). It was flavorful, meatless, a riot of colors, and required no use of either oven or stove. Now that the weather has soared to 100 degrees nearly daily in Sacramento, the latter virtue alone was enticing enough for me to have a go at it, and I loved the results. Leftovers made a great lunch the next day - you've got your grain, veggie, fruit, and protein all in one dish.


1-1/2 cups bulgur wheat

1 medium-large tomato, diced

1 medium cucumber or 2 pickling cucumbers, peeled and diced

1/2 cup diced red onion

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

A few pinches each of cinnamon, allspice, and cayenne

1 large clove garlic, minced

One 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained (or 1 cup cooked)

1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

1/3 cup currants, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained

1/3 cup chopped fresh spearmint

1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

Put the bulgur in a large bowl and add 1-1/2 cups boiling water. Stir, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If necessary, drain excess water from the bulgur.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic and whisk together.

Add the tomato, cucumber, onion, garbanzos, pine nuts, and currants to the bulgur. Sprinkle with the mint and parsley. Drizzle the dressing over the tabbouleh and toss well. Let the salad stand for about 30 minutes before serving and taste again for seasoning; you may need a little more oil, lemon juice, salt, or pepper.

The salad can be prepared in advance and kept at cool room temperature, or if refrigerated, allowed to come to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to Pick a Ripe Melon

When I lived in Hong Kong, I had a good friend who taught me her method of picking the ripest, best-tasting melons. She came from Thailand, land of many fruits, and she taught me to rap all of the melons in the pile and listen for the deepest tone.

While there may be some validity to this method, I recently read an article that indicated that the key thing to look for is a creamy spot on one side. This spot indicates that the melon was allowed to rest in one spot in the field over a long period of time, allowing ample time to gain natural sugars and water content, making for the best flavor!

As for shape, avoid asymmetrical melons, because this indicates that the melon may have been water starved at some point and grew in irregular spurts.

Another interesting suggestion was to avoid refrigerating the melon, as this will alter it’s true flavor. One farmer even puts his watermelon in the hot sun and slices them up hot, claiming that the heat brings out all of the fruit’s exotic, subtle nuances in flavor, describing it as "mango-like". Now that I have to try!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Making Your Own Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is commonly used in Indian and Mediterranean cuisines. Thick and creamy, cool and refreshing, it is wonderful as a snack with fresh fruit and honey. However, the cost is generally higher than regular yogurt. Never fear, home cooks! You can use regular plain yogurt to make your own Greek-style yogurt. Just follow these steps!

Start with a colander, preferably one with smaller holes such as this mesh one.

Next, line the colander with clean cheesecloth, a dish towel (make sure there's no funny scent from detergents first), or even strong, durable paper towels.
Get your plain (cheap) yogurt ready (I used a low-fat organic brand).

Place the colander over a slightly larger bowl, so that the colander sits suspended over the top of the bowl. The bowl will be catching the liquid as it drips out of the yogurt. Use a spoon to transfer the desired amount of yogurt into the colander. Return to the refrigerator and let the yogurt drain until the yogurt has reached the consistency you want it to be.

For this amount of yogurt, I let it drain for roughly 24 hours. Here is what the yogurt looks like after I take it back out of the refrigerator - it's much thicker. Next, remove the colander and place it over paper towels (in case of dripping).

The bowl will have some semi-clear yellowish liquid (whey) in the bottom of it. You can discard it, unless you know a clever use for whey. As for me, Little Miss Muffet is the only one I know of who eats the stuff, so I toss mine.

Finally, spoon your yogurt out of the cheesecloth/dish towel/whatever and into a bowl. It's going to be silky smooth and thick and perfect! Voila, your Greek-style yogurt!

Happy yogurt making!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beet It, Just Beet It!

A story is told by my father of a time when his father stumbled to the refrigerator in search of late-night refreshment. After taking a big gulp of what appeared to be grape juice, he gagged, and realized that it was not fruit juice at all, but leftover beet juice! Needless to say, the ruby red root was shunned in my family ever since.

However, there is hope. I have noticed that one by one, the less popular vegetables are being brought back into the limelight by trendy recipes that are shared amongst friends at potlucks and dinner groups. First, in the 90's, someone re-imagined spinach by pairing fresh leaves with sweet fruit and vinaigrette dressing. Kale chips are gaining popularity amongst health foodies, and now, even the humble beet shines like a jewel in many restaurant salads.

When contrasted against creamy soft cheese, refreshing greens, crunchy nuts, and a zesty dressing, beets are tranformed into a veggie that can hold their own against the rest. This recipe was shared with me by my friend and sister-in-law Chelsea whose blog chronicles all of the recipes she experiments with.

Beet Salad

1 package arugula or spring mixed greens
2 beets, boiled and julienned (red or golden)
1/2 package goat or mild feta cheese, crumbled
handful of chopped walnuts

Toss together, then dress with dressing.

Mix together:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 TBSP Dijon mustard
1 TBSP lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

McDonalds: 10 Billion Now Served... Silly Putty?

To my generation who grew up in the 80's, perhaps nothing represents the taste of childhood like McDonald’s. As a child, a trip to McDonald’s was a treat, an illusion doctored by their flagrant catering towards children (the Happy Meal, Ronald McDonald, the Fun House, etc).

Today, I’m extremely leery of fast food establishments, for reasons exactly like the following news story from A recent investigation revealed that American chicken nuggets contain “at least two industrial chemicals, the sort with names that are as hard to pronounce as Icelandic volcanoes. Tertiary butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) is a petroleum-based preservative, and dimethylpolysiloxane is an "anti-foaming agent," which also happens to be used in making...Silly Putty!” Toxic? Supposedly no. Disturbing? Yes.

Now I think of all those times I bit into the crunchy surface and slightly rubbery center, each time I dipped those nuggets in sweet and sour or BBQ sauce, I never dreamed that what I was consuming was a scientifically engineered substance as opposed to what a growing child should have been served - real food.

While I do appreciate the recent improvements made to the McDonald’s menu (apple slices and milk are now available options for the Happy Meal), I won’t feel comfortable eating there until they cut the fluff, eliminate scary secret ingredients, and serve real, honest food to their customers.

Read more:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Indian Potatoes with Peas

Lately I have been craving Indian food. While it's not the cheapest thing to eat out (my favorite lunch buffet is $13.99 - ouch!!!), it can be fairly economical to make at home once you stock up on the basic spices found in the Indian pantry. Because many people in India are vegetarian, there are many tasty meatless dishes to choose from as well. Here is an easy, quick recipe if you're new to Indian food. Serve over basmati rice.

Indian Potatoes with Peas

1 onion, chopped

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp. garlic

1 tsp. ginger

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed

1/2 bag of frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1. Lightly brown onion in oil in a medium size skillet until golden.
2. Stir in spices. Add potatoes and cook 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
3. Add tomatoes and peas, cover pan and cook until potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Michael Scott's Colored Greens

Michael: Colored greens.
Stanley: Collard.
Michael: What?
Stanley: They're called "collard" greens.
Michael: No, no. That's offensive. They're not called "collard" people.
- "The Office"

Think you don't like collard greens? This recipe might help you change your mind. I have had collard greens at many Southern restaurants. Sometimes they were bitter and distasteful to me; other times, so spicy that taking a bite lit my mouth on fire. I like to challenge myself every now and then, so when I found collard greens at my local farm stand, I bought a bunch with the goal of coaxing my green-disliking husband enjoy them.

Here is a recipe I adapted from the classic standard The Joy of Cooking, which can also be made with mustard greens. Here, the bitterness is balanced with a little sugar and vinegar, and there is just a slight heat from red pepper flakes. Try it next time you make fried chicken or BBQ - excellent with cornbread.

Collard Greens with Bacon

Wash thoroughly and chop into 1-inch pieces:
2.5 lbs. collard greens

In a large cast iron pan, cook until crisp:
6 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

Add the greens along with:
2/3 c. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c. diced leftover ham (optional)
Red pepper flakes, as desired.

Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the greens are coated with fat. Cover the greens with chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer gently until the greens are tender, 1 hour or longer. Stir occasionally and add water if they threaten to scorch. When the greens are done, increases the heat to medium-high and, stirring often, boil off nearly all the cooking liquid. Add:
1 or 2 dashes of cider vinegar

Season with:
Salt/freshly ground pepper
Sugar to taste.
Serve very hot.