Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What To Do With Wheat?

Last weekend, I attended a class on how to prepare wheat. Those who are interested in storing food for use in case of an emergency or disaster often rely heavily on wheat because of its nutritional value and durability. When properly stored, whole wheat (or wheat berries as they're called nowadays) can last for upwards of 30 years. But then storing it is one thing, but preparing it in a variety of interesting ways is another. So off I went, to learn the ABCs of cooking wheat.

Most obviously, wheat can be ground into flour for baking purposes. Many find freshly ground flour superior to store-bought because (as with all foods) the fresher it is, the more nutritional value it will have. On display were are a ton of different mills, grinders, flakers, etc., in all variety of price ranges and sophistication. I'll show you one of the coolest ones I saw below.

Also shown to the class were a variety of whole grains, along with several forms of wheat, including wheat berries, cracked wheat, and bulgur. Cracked wheat and bulgur can be used in cooking with ground meats to make a small amount of meat go further, because it blends right in with the meat, bulking it up without altering the taste. Wheat can also be popped like popcorn!

The demo included a bread-making session using freshly ground 100% whole-wheat flour, plus extra wheat gluten (which helps the dough rise) and dough enhancer (which extends the shelf life of the bread).

We watched a demo on how to sprout wheat. If you follow up by planting some sprouts in soil in a sunny window, you will soon have a sustainable source of wheatgrass for blender smoothies. This wheatgrass is just 10 days old and look how hardy it is already!

Here is the amazing device I mentioned before, which seamlessly combines physical fitness and food preparation. As you pedal the stationary bike, it powers the motor of the white flour mill on the floor. Just pop your wheat berries in the opening, hop on the bike for some morning exercise, and when you get off, retrieve your bowl of freshly milled whole wheat flour. I thought this was a hilarious idea!

Finally, we all left with a packet full of recipes ideas using wheat (of course!). Today, I made my first batch of wheat berries for breakfast in the slow cooker (1 cup of wheat berries+2 1/2 cups of water + pinch of salt= 2 servings of wheat berry cereal after about 8 hours. I topped mine with dried currents, honey and almond milk. The wheat berries were chewy and filling, a great breakfast dish. I will be continuing my experimentation with wheat, the staff of life!

Light Salmon Burgers

We are always looking for tasty new fish recipes. Salmon burgers seemed retro to me at first, but this recipe from Eating Well magazine really revamped the idea. Gone is the canned salmon and the fishiness (much to my husband’s relief). Now it’s all about starting with wild-caught salmon fillets and processing them as little as possible. I have to admit, when I looked at the “patties” I thought something had gone wrong. “It’s just chunks of salmon! These are totally gonna fall apart!” I fretted. But miraculously, they stayed together pretty well, and came out simply delicious. We cooked them in garlic-infused olive oil and loved the results. Buns are optional, and the burgers would be wonderful paired with either the suggested green goddess dressing or ketchup. Without the bun and served with a dollop of the sauce, they are under 300 calories and a lovely light dinner.
Salmon Burgers

From Eating Well magazine

1 pound wild salmon fillet, skinned

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion, or scallion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or canola oil

Optional: Green goddress dressing to serve Preparation: 1.With a large chef’s knife, chop salmon using quick, even, straight-up-and-down motions (do not rock the knife through the fish or it will turn mushy) until you have a mass of roughly 1/4-inch pieces. Transfer to large bowl and gently stir in onion (or scallion), cilantro, ginger, salt and pepper, being careful not to overmix. Divide the mixture into 4 patties, about 1 inch thick. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (or up to 2 hours) before cooking. 2.Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the burgers and cook until browned on both sides and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total. Serve with 1 tablespoon Green Goddess Sauce each. Serves 4.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Family Cioppino Fest

My mom's family is 100% Portuguese. Coming from the islands of the Azores where the local diet contains significant portions of seafood, they enjoy the fruits of the sea. My grandpa occasionally invites the extended family over for a big Cioppino Fest, and this weekend we were lucky enough to enjoy this special treat.

This year, BBQ-ed oysters were also on the menu...

Served in the shell with a tiny squirt of hot sauce.

As the food was being prepared under the covering of a sturdy patio covering, we watched the rain pour down. Portions of the roads in his neighborhood were flooded due to the inordinate amounts of precipitation. But grandpa soldiered on despite the weather.

Do you know how delicious a huge pot of steaming Cioppino broth smells on a cold, rainy day? MMM!

It only gets better once you start adding king crab legs...

Mussels and clams...

Dover sole fillets...


And finally, the jumbo shrimp!

Now give it a good stir with a special Cioppino spoon...

Now ladle your Cioppino into the largest bowl you can find,
and enjoy with fresh sourdough bread smothered in garlic butter!

As you can see, my grandpa makes a mean Cioppino! Many thanks to him for a great weekend, and thanks to the Portuguese and Italian fisherman of San Francisco for coming up with the idea of this delicious, fragrant, filling stew.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Turn Leftover Jam Into A Quick Breakfast

I would estimate that my current supply of jam should last me the next several years. Our refrigerator always contains several varieties of jams and preserves at any given time, and I am always open to new ways to use up this surplus.

Like many working couples, we are always rushing out the door in the morning. So when I came across a recipe for healthy jam-filled muffins that can be frozen ahead of time and thawed for a fast morning meal, I had to try it! (Actually, I used to make a similar muffin with all-purpose flour, before my days of whole grain worship!) I totally forgot to add nuts to the top of them, but they were still tasty, and would be ideal for a light breakfast/snack. I used blueberry lavender jam - delicious!

Jam-Filled Muffins

2 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs
1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. buttermilk (or 1 c. milk + 1 tsp. lemon juice)
1/4 c. orange juice
1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
jam of your choice

Preheat oven to 400F. Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Add buttermilk, orange juice, oil and vanilla; whisk to blend. Add to the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until moistened.

Scoop half the batter into the prepared pan. Drop a generous teaspoonful of jam into the center of each muffin. Spoon on the remaining batter, filling each muffin cup completely. Top each muffin with walnuts.

Bake muffins until tops are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly, 15-20 minutes. Loosen edges and turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Early Spring Planting Complete

I think I've finished my first spring planting. And I wish the apartment management would stop reminding people not to use their patios for storage. It makes me sad to think that they might mean me. It's not storage, it's a homemade composter, people!

To date, the most vigorous plants have been the potatoes. We planted some seed red potatoes and they are exploding almost faster than I can cover them with additional mounds of soil. The garlic is also doing well. The empty pot is Swiss chard, which I read can be very slow to germinate. I just hope it gets there eventually!

Herb-wise, my thyme, rosemary and basil didn't like being moved inside and had to be replaced. Sage, parsley and mint all pulled through like champs. I'm also trying to grow dill from seed. The iris in the back will hopefully bloom in April. Iris is my all-time favorite flower, and girl is allowed a bit of luxury right?

Mixed greens, arugula, spinach and carrots are slowly sprouting, and I have great hopes for our little garden this year! Even if I can barely walk out on our patio.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Adventures in Eating In

March has had me thinking about budgeting and how to cut back, especially in the area of eating out. Coupons have helped, and we have been eating at less expensive places. But I have also been asking myself the reasons behind my decision to eat out. After contemplating it, here are my main reasons:

1) Convenience- This is mostly a weekend urge, when I just want us both to be able to relax. No one has to buy ingredients, prepare dinner, or do dishes.

2) Sometimes I crave things that are difficult to duplicate exactly at home, like ethnic food.

So this weekend, instead of eating out, we made two meals at home that resembled food we would normally buy at a restaurant. The gourmet burgers we made with buns from the Grateful Bread bakery, grass-fed ground beef, green goddress dressing and Irish cheddar leftover from our party, and caramelized onions. Best burger I have ever made at home.

Total approximate cost for two burgers: $4.50, or $2.25 each. Obviously, a fraction of the price of eating out. Total prep time: 1 1/2 hours. (Caramelizing the onions was a very long process...)

Saturday, I tried to make Burmese food at home, similar to what we might have gotten at Burma Superstar in the Bay area. Now, I simplified the cooking process for my beloved chicken curry noodles by using leftover caramelized onions and omitting the hard-boiled egg and raw onion. The cooking time was still about 1 1/2 hours, and taste was similar but not identical. Cost per serving: about $2.

Cheap it may be, but I gotta say, this is one complicated dish, traditionally simmered until thick and then served with crushed chilies, lemon wedges, cilantro, raw onions, hard-cooked egg, and caramelized onions. Making it at home is a lot of work. I wouldn't mind paying for just to have someone else do it all for me. But I would have to drive to San Francisco, so that is quite a lot of time and expense unless I was already there.

We will continue our experiments in eating in and see what we come up with. It's always an adventure. And I really like not having to pay a tip.

Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Our Way

Paul loves St. Patrick's Day, and I'm rather fond of the holiday meself. Although our dark complexions disguise it, both he and I have significant Irish ancestry. We also celebrate March 17th as the day we went on our first date 4 years ago now. It was a bit of a catastrophe, but aren't the most memorable dates always part chaos?

This year for our St. Patrick's Day dinner party, we started off with a Ploughman's Lunch platter. Traditionally, this consists of cheese, bread, pickles, chutney, salad and perhaps some meats. Our featured Kerrygold Dubliner cheddar cheese, sweet pickles, and homemade persimmon chutney, along with slices of hearty, slightly sweet soda bread.

One friend brought a green salad with green goddess dressing; another brought a pistachio fruity salad. We served extra soda bread with Irish butter alongside a variation of a thick Paula Dean beef-potato stew.

For dessert, we made some chocolate-mint cupcakes that looked picture perfect both before and after frosting:

And boy, when you bit into one, it really kicked you in the mouth and shouted, "Mint!" I like spunk in a cupcake. I appreciate it very much. Crowned with a viewing of "Darby O'Gill and the Little People", the evening was an Irish sensation. How can you top a young, dark-haired, smiling Sean Connery? Tis impossible. And with that, I take my leave and wish you all the luck of the Irish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tamarind Pork with Pineapple Chutney

Photo courtesy of Cooking Light

This dish was so good. As I sat down to eat it, I was licking my lips and showering my husband with praise. (I left the recipe out on the counter and he had the pork ready and waiting for me when I got home from work. I was ecstatic!) It may seem like a random recipe to try, but ever since last week when I bought some tamarind paste (hoping to add an authentic touch to some shrimp pad thai), I have been wondering what to do with the rest of the jar.

Tamarind is a sour-sweet flavor common to some Asian and South American cuisines. I loved it in this recipe, in which the pork comes out tender, moist and absolutely packed with flavor. Sour and sweet, tangy and a little spicy, this dinner was full of juxtapositions and we couldn't get enough.

P.S. We were fresh out of rum (Why is the rum always gone?) and my husband confided that he substituted some vanilla extract and water for it.

Tamarind Pork with Pineapple Chutney

1 1/2 teaspoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
3 cups chopped pineapple
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons gold rum
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
2 (1-pound) pork tenderloins
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. To prepare chutney, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, and chile to pan; cover and cook 6 minutes or until onion is tender. Uncover. Stir in pineapple and next 3 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes or until pineapple is tender, stirring occasionally. Cool 20 minutes; stir in cilantro and red pepper.

2. Preheat oven to 400°.
3. To prepare pork, combine chili sauce and next 3 ingredients (through tamarind), stirring to combine. Reserve half of soy mixture. Heat a cast-iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with 3/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper; coat pork with oil. Add pork to pan; sauté 4 minutes on 1 side or until browned. Brush pork with half of soy mixture; turn pork over. Place pan in oven; bake at 400° for 16 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of pork registers 155° (slightly pink). Remove pork from pan; let stand 10 minutes. Brush pork evenly with reserved soy mixture. Slice pork crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick medallions. Serve with chutney.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Unexpectedly Beautiful

The morning still comes obtrusively early, but when I crawled out of bed today, I remembered to practice some yoga stretches to clear my mind.

In the morning, I went for a walk and saw wild turkeys, all pomp and circumstance and feathers. The air was humid and wet and chill. It felt like Oregon or San Francisco, someplace I would like to be.

I crossed a bridge where someone had carefully placed stones in a line along both handrails. The effect was beautiful and zen-like.

Inspired by the dank weather, I treated myself to a steamy hot helping of spicy Thai red curry chicken with sweet pineapple.

Later, when the rain came, I welcomed it, even with a traffic delay. I observed that a gray sky makes a green field even sharper to the eye, which explains Ireland, doesn't it?

Finally, my teacher instructed the class, "Breathe, and let go of everything that doesn't serve you anymore." And I saw all the beauty that this day had held, ever so quietly.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Crystallized Ginger

I would like to say a word concerning crystallized ginger. Call me out of touch, but I hadn't heard of this ingredient until earlier this year, when I read Molly Wizenberg's book "A Homemade Life". There, the author mentions a banana bread into which she tucks chocolate and yes, chunks of crystallized ginger.

Found either with the spices, or for my local grocery store, in the bulk food bins, crystallized ginger is sweeter and less potent than ginger in its raw form. This makes it perfect for adding a spicy, sweet note to baked goods.

My favorite recipe so far using this ingredient has been the Ginger Peach muffins from Kim Boyle's "Good to the Grain" cookbook. You can find the recipe here. I made a batch yesterday using the lazy (wo)man's method- jarred ginger and frozen peaches, which seemed to make no difference as the finished product was still heavenly. The oat flour and pieces of crystallized ginger in the batter adds an unexpected element. Topped with an almost caramelized slice of sweet peach, the muffins are addictive and best the day they are made, but also freeze well. I expect they will become a go-to snack/breakfast for me until they are gone. And at the present rate of consumption, that day will not be far away.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Panko Fish Nuggets With Potato Wedges

Can this diet bomb be lighted up and remain delicious?

The answer is yes!

Ah, Family Circle, that upbeat staple of waiting rooms, that perpetual presence on mom’s coffee table. I was flipping through this month's copy (our waiting room at the law office where I work is no exception to the rule) and saw there was a nutrition section focusing on fish. According to the article, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. I think that’s pretty doable - a tuna sandwich for lunch one day and fish for dinner once a week and you’re there!

The magazine offered a few family-friendly recipes featuring fish, including one I like to think of as an updated, healthier version of the traditional fish’n’chips. Instead of deep-frying the fish and potatoes, you coat the fish pieces with crunchy panko and bake them alongside potato wedges. Kids would probably enjoy these "fish nuggets" because they resemble chicken nuggets, which have all but become its own food group for American children everywhere .

Note: I substituted tilapia for the cod because it’s one of the most sustainable choices at the fish market. It came out great!

Light Fish N Chips
(or Panko Fish Nuggets with Potato Wedges)
Adapted from Family Circle

2 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and each cut into 8 wedges
2 eggs
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs (preferably whole wheat)
1 1/2 lbs cod, tilapia, or other firm white fish, cut into chunks

Heat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Set aside.

Place potatoes on another foil-lined baking sheet. Spray with olive oil and season with sea salt and ground pepper. Bake at 450F for 30 minutes or until tender, turning after 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow glass dish. In a bowl, whisk together eggs and mustard. Place panko on a separate plate. Coat fish pieces with flour, dip in egg mixture and coat with pank. Place fish pieces and prepared baking sheet. Add pan to oven after potatoes have baked for 15 minutes. Bake fish for 15 minutes.

Serve fish with potato wedges and condiment of your choice. (We aren’t fans of mayo-based dipping sauces like tartar sauce, but we do like ketchup, honey mustard or Thai chili sauce.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Basic Shrimp Pad Thai

Courtesy of Cooking Light

Cooking Light magazine did a feature this month where they lightened up classic take out dishes. Chicken fried rice, supreme pizza, and my beloved pad thai were all featured. I've not been impressed with packaged versions of pad thai, so I thought I would give the recipe a go. As it turned out, although quite simple, this recipe impressed me with its spicy goodness (yes, if you go with the chili garlic sauce option, it's got some heat). The resulting dish wasn't quite identical to take out, but pretty close, and its much less oily- a good difference! We will be making it again!

Shrimp Pad Thai

8 ounces uncooked flat rice noodles (pad Thai noodles)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar or tamarind paste
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha or chili garlic sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup (2-inch) green onion pieces
8 ounces peeled and deveined large shrimp
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

1. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain.

2. While water comes to a boil, combine sugar and next 4 ingredients (through Sriracha) in a small bowl.

3. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion pieces, shrimp, and garlic; stir-fry 2 minutes or until shrimp is almost done. Add cooked noodles; toss to combine. Stir in sauce; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly to combine. Arrange about 1 cup noodle mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1/4 cup bean sprouts, 1 tablespoon peanuts, and 2 teaspoons basil.

How You Vote Every Week and May Not Realize It

At the end of the film “Food, Inc.”, we are reminded that every time we as consumers buy food at the grocery store, we are essentially voting with our wallet and choosing the way we want the food industry in our county to go. A perfect example of this reality happened to me this past weekend when I went to wholesale store Costco. I was drawn there by the allure of more affordable new tires for my car. While they worked their magic, I had some time on my hands and wandered around the store.
The last time I shopped at Costco was probably in the 90's with my mom, stocking up on Bagel Bites and Chicken Taquitos . Let me tell you, a lot has changed since those days, and I believe that it has everything to do with customer demand.

Every aisle held surprises as I noticed a startling amount of healthy foods: bags of frozen fish fillets, huge jars of almond butter for $5, bags of steel-cut oats, and organic chicken and beef. The samples we tried (always the best part of a Costco trip) included free-range chicken meatballs, fruit smoothies made in a Vitamix blender, and Organic Tuscan Italian dressing (made with sea salt) on vegetables.

This was a far cry from the Whitecastle frozen mini hamburgers I remember being offered on childhood visits to Costco. While the store may still stock the freezers with Bagel Bites, they are also adding a lot of health-conscious selections. At least where this business is concerned, the voice of the people is being heard and catered to. So never underestimate the power of your vote for organic/local produce and free-range/grass-fed/sustainable meats!

And in case you’re wondering if the Costco hot dogs taste better now than in the past, the answer is sadly: not really. But I had to check just in case, because hey, $1.50 with drink included is hard to turn down. I never learn.

Friday, March 4, 2011


As I look at my online budgeting program, it not-so-gently informs me that February was a month of indulgence. As I look back on the month on my blog at pork belly, bread salad and chocolate cake, I am reminded that food-wise, indulgence was indeed the theme of last month. As the plum trees burst into gorgeous pink and white blossoms, I am hopeful that March will bring a chance for slimming down, focusing on the essentials, and finding new growth.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Is Your Travel Personality? (A Quiz to Find Out)

Malta: More to offer than just Maltese dogs

I'm getting the itch to travel again. This happens from time to time. Last weekend, I entered so many giveaways promising a free trip to [insert cool place here] that I lost count. This week, I took an interesting, brief online quiz that diagnose your travel style and offers a list of recommended places for you to consider visiting.

My quiz results were right on, classifying me as a Mid-Venturer Type. According to the author, this means that I am curious and adventurous, but well-balanced and avoid extremes. I laughed when several of the recommended spots were locations I have already visited (and loved!) including (domestically) my native Northern California and Monterey, Utah, Seattle, Portland; and international spots like Thailand and China.

Also included were places I indeed have long desired to see (Argentina, Boston and India) and places I hadn't thought of before, but am now interested in exploring (like Malta and New Brunswick, Canada). So if you need inspiration and advice on planning your next trip, check out the link here! Happy planning.