Sunday, January 28, 2007

Heirloom Limas -- not your mama's lima beans

I love my mother. She is a sweet, little southern woman that hates to cook. She also doesn't particularly care about eating. I think if given the option, she would take a pill to get all of her nourishment and forego eating altogether. Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I (and my father, and D and M) are *live to eat* folks and not vice versa.

However, my mother does cook a few things well. Fried okra is one. Turnip greens is another. Also, grits and salmon patties. Lima beans, not so much. In my house, growing up, my mother would usually serve warmed green limas, straight from either the freezer or a can. The only saving grace for these beans were that they were always served with applesauce. I can see you grimacing from here. Don't knock it until you've tried it. Something about the warm, nutty limas with the cold, sweet applesauce is amazingly tasty. If she was making white limas, she would soak them and boil them with ham stock until they were mush. These beans were saved only by the savory little bites of ham that you could fish out of the white paste.

Oddly enough, I still liked limas after all of this. I was, and am, a strange child.

I haven't made lima beans myself since I moved out of my parents house and went college. I like them, and I'll eat them if someone puts them on my plate, but it has never occurred to me to make them myself.

Until I found this bag of Christmas Limas.

Back around the holidays, I was at my local Farmer's Market to hunt and gather ingredients for festive meals. In the midst of a pile of cauliflower and brussels sprouts, I spotted a bag of beautiful, dried, white and maroon striped lima beans. They were unlike any lima bean I had ever seen -- the lady at the stall explained to me that they were an heirloom variety known for being particularly meaty and nutty. Sold.

The bag has been rattling around my cabinet since then, waiting for me to experiment. I followed the little recipe in the bag (with a few adjustments) and fell in love. These limas are not your (or my) mama's lima beans.

Christmas Lima Bean Salad -- serves 10 small bowls


-- 1.5 lbs dried Christmas Limas, soaked over night in a full pot of water, drained, then cooked for 1.5 hours in a gallon of water, then drained again, and spread out on the counter to cool.
--1/2 very thinly sliced red onion
--10 leaves of fresh basil, chiffonaded
--3 tablespoons of your best olive oil
--2 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar (Trader Joes has a delicious and cheap bottle)
--salt and pepper to taste (at least teaspoon of each)


1) Stir everything together, let rest a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. Eat cold or room temperature.


This is a delicious, protein filled, vegan-friendly, lunch dish. I also discovered that it is great warmed up a little with a side of polenta.

Though the beans start out cream and maroon striped, they end up light blush and maroon striped. They are beautiful either way and will convert any lima hater you know. M despises all lima beans, but loved this salad. They don't even really taste like lima beans -- they taste meaty, sweet, nutty and rich. I picked up another bag today -- a new recipe is sure to follow soon...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Mushrooms, polenta, asparagus, oh my!

There are a few foods that cause a great divide amongst dining companions. Either you like the food or you don't and there doesn't ever seem to be much middle ground. Offal is an example. Salt and Vinegar chips seem to be another. Wild game, foie gras, and fish sauce also come to mind.

Mushrooms are part of the same club. Some people love them, some hate them. Count me with the lovers. The haters can enjoy their food fungus-free, I say shower me with mushrooms in every form.

This dish came together mainly because of the chilly, wet weather in Southern California recently. I wanted something hearty and warming, but not too rich (bikini season is never far away in this part of the world). Thick, meaty mushroom gravy over a unctuous bowl of polenta fit the bill. And a side of crisp, chilled asparagus hints at the spring that is just around the corner. This is a meal to convert the staunchest omnivore to a vegetarian....well, at least for a meal (and only if you use veggie stock in place of chicken stock).

Polenta with Mixed Mushroom Ragout -- serves 4 (with some leftover polenta)


--2 cups coarsely ground cornmeal (polenta)
--6 cups boiling water or stock (chicken or vegetable)
--pinch of salt
--pinch of thyme leaves
--splash of olive oil
--3 or 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped
--1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
--16 oz of mixed fresh mushrooms, chopped (I used a mix of baby bellas and white buttons)
--4-6 oz of dried mushrooms (or more) (I used porchini)
--2 cups chicken stock (I used homemade stock from the roast chicken a few posts back)
--salt and pepper to taste
--1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
--3 teaspoons corn starch


Timing is important here, because you want the polenta and mushrooms done at the same time. Two cooks may be necessary.

1) Pour the 2 cups of chicken stock into a large bowl containing the dried mushrooms. Let them soak and reconstitute for about 30 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, bring the water/stock to boil.

3) When you are ready to cook, pour the polenta slowly into the 6 cups of boiling water/stock. Add the salt and thyme. Turn the heat down and simmer, stirring regularly to keep from sticking, for 30 minutes. Add more water/stock if the mixture gets too thick to stir. Add a pat of butter or a glug of olive oil if you want it a little more luxurious. (One person needs to stay with the polenta and stir for the 30 minutes)

4) After the polenta has been added to the water, have the other cook (or your other arm, if you are coordinated and living alone) splash a bit of olive oil into a hot frying pan. Add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes.

5) Add the fresh mushrooms. Stir.

6) Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and the 2 cups of chicken stock that they have been soaking in to the frying pan. Add the salt and the thyme. Keep mushroom mixture at simmer and stir it occasionally for about 20 minutes.

7) Make a corn starch slurry with the 3 teaspoons of corn starch and about 1/3 cup water. Stir the slurry into the mushroom mixture. Let cook, contining to stir, for about 5 minutes. If the mixture doesn't look thick enough to you, make more slurry and stir it in. Make sure to simmer a few minutes after adding the slurry to make sure to cook off the raw corn starch taste.

8) Add a final splash of liquid to the polenta if you like and stir it a final few times. (I like my polenta to be more porridge like, so I usually add a bit of water at the end). Then turn off the heat on both the polenta and the mushrooms.

To serve:

Plate the polenta for each person in a shallow bowl. Top with a few ladles of mushroom ragout.

Note: If you tire of eating the same meal as leftovers, assuming that you have anything leftover after this yummy dinner, note that the components of this dish are great served in lots of other ways. For example, leftover cooled polenta is delicious sliced into 1/2 inch thick pieces and lightly fried. Leftover mushroom ragout would be wonderful over egg noodles.

Chilled Asparagus -- serves 3 or 4 asparagus lovers


--3 bunches of the skinniest asparagus you can find, cleaned and trimmed
--pot of boiling water
--large bowl of ice and water
-- 2 tablespoons total of either soy sauce, rice vinegar, and rooster sauce
or lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt (both are delicious)

1) drop asparagus into the boiling water
2) take out after 1 minute
3) drop immediately into bowl of ice and water and stir until asparagus is totally chilled
4) drain asparagus and mix with either a the soy sauce mixture or the lemon juice mixture, if you aren't ready to eat yet, put asparagus bowl into refrigerator to keep cold

To serve:

Place bowl in middle of table. Eat with fingers. Marvel at how the warm, rich polenta with mushrooms contrasts with the tangy, crisp asparagus.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

When the leftovers are better than the main dish...

In this case, the whole beautiful free-range chicken I roasted, tasted, well, .... really boring. I had read this fantastic-sounding recipe involving chicken, meyer lemons, thyme, and smoked paprika and I was excited about giving it a try. I love whole roasted chicken, though I usually rely on garlic and rosemary to do most of my seasoning. This version sounded exotic and tasty -- and I'm all for anything that utilizes both of those adjectives. (Exotic and tasty burritos? Show me the way. Exotic and tasty roast pork? I'm in. Exotic and tasty chocolate? Bring it on. You get the picture).

Having all of the ingredients, I eagerly separated the skin from my whole chicken, rubbed the meat with the smoked paprika and salt, nestled fresh thyme leaves and thinly sliced meyer lemons under the skin and set the bird to roasting. Sadly, what emerged from the oven looked pretty, and tasted like *nothing.* Bland city. No elusive smokey taste from the paprika. No delicate, sweet acid from the meyer lemon. No woodsy aroma from the thyme. It tasted like a 1950s salt and pepper seasoned, accompanied by canned green beans, boring-style chicken. Boo.

We ate it, mind you. And we didn't complain. Much. But, I was sorely disappointed. I still think the idea has merit, perhaps I just need to triple the amount of all seasonings involved. Anyway, there I was -- a partially eaten, bland chicken carcass glaring at me with as much venom as a dead, boring, fowl can muster.

I separated the meat from the bones and set about making chicken salad. When life gives you lemons make lemonade, when life gives you bland chicken, make Smokey Chicken Salad with Meyer Lemons, Grapes, and Thyme. This salad managed to embrace all of those flavors that I was hoping for in the original dish -- smokey, tart, and woodsy -- with an additional dash of sweet from the grapes. Enjoy!

Smokey Chicken Salad with Meyer Lemons, Grapes, Thyme -- makes 5 or so sandwiches


-- 2 cups loosely packed shredded chicken, white and/or dark meat
--1/2 cup grapes, cut in half (I used purple grapes that looked remarkably like olives. They were delicious, but it was highly confusing to my taste buds to see olives and taste grapes)
--1 shallot, finely chopped (or substitute a 1/2 onion if necessary)
--1/2 cucumber, cut into rounds and then rounds cut into fourths (I like to buy the English cucumbers that are wrapped in cellophane. They have no waxy residue, so it is easy to wash them and leave the crunchy skins on. yum.)
--zest of one Meyer lemon (do try and use Meyer lemons, they are more delicately flavored and much sweeter than your average lemon)
--juice of one Meyer lemon
--1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
--1 teaspoon smoked paprika
--salt to taste
--mayonnaise product to taste (I use a few tablespoons of a light version, use whatever you like best)


1) Stir everything together and taste. Add more paprika, salt, or mayonnaise if desired. Eat on bread as a sandwich, on top of a salad, or just out of the bowl.

Feel free to improvise. Add chopped apples instead of grapes, or celery instead of cucumber, or basil instead of thyme. I particularly enjoyed this version, but I'm sure variations would be equally delicious.

This is my can of smoked paprika. There is a story that goes with it, but I'll save the juicy details for the next time I use the paprika (likely soon and likely in roasted potatoes). To whet your appetite, the story includes a date with man that may or may not have been gay, a harrowing cab ride, and a plate of octopus. :)

Chopped shallots, grapes, and cucumbers with meyer lemon zest, meyer lemon juice, salt and thyme. Just waiting for the chicken and the mayo to come to the party.


Wondering what to do with the now meat-free chicken carcass handing around? Simple, make yummy stock. Boil the carcass (and any chicken skin left) with enough water to cover the bones. Add a few roughly chopped carrots, celery, and onions and a bay leaf. Simmer forever. (At least 2 hours -- 7 or 8 would be better). Strain the vegetables and the bones out (use a cheesecloth lined colander). Refrigerate the stock overnight. The next morning, skim all of the hardened fat off the top and throw away. Use the stock right away or freeze it for future use.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Your eyes will thank me....

...for giving you this fantastic recipe for roasted carrots.

"Carrots?" you say, "pshaw, carrots are boring. I buy the baby ones and put them in my (or my kid's) lunch. Isn't that enough?"

No, no, and no.

Carrots, believe it or not, can be fantastic, unique, and, dare I say it -- elegant. Yes, indeed, this humble root can make the segue from lunch pail to dinner platter with just a few simple tweaks.

Granted, if you toss any vegetable in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast them on high heat for 30 minutes you'll create a side dish worth wallowing in. (Excuse me while I wipe those bits of brussels sprouts and sweet potato off my jacket...)

Where was I? Ah, yes, the oft overlooked carrot. Make this dish. Make it for company or make it for yourself. You'll see carrots in a whole new light -- pun intended.

Ginger Roasted Carrots -- serves 4 generous portions


--2 lbs whole carrots (Don't buy the peeled baby carrots for this. You want whole carrots -- their flavor and size are better for this dish. Bonus points for buying fresh ones from your local farmers market.)

--1/2 cup olive oil
--1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
--1 tablespoon ginger (powdered is fine, though fresh grated is a delicious alternative. If you use fresh, use less than a tablespoon)
--2 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste with a bit of salt
--salt and pepper to taste


1) Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees

2) Wash, but don't peel, the carrots. Cut into large chunks (2 inch pieces). The carrots will shrink as they cook, so don't cut them too small.

3) whisk together the remaining ingredients

4) place the carrots in a single layer in a large baking dish (metal or glass). You may have to use two dishes.

5) Pour the vinaigrette over the carrots, using your hands to toss them to ensure even distribution.

6) Bake at 400 degrees, stirring once or twice, for about 30 minutes. Your oven may run hotter or cooler than mine, so be sure to check on the carrots regularly. You want them to be browned in some places, and starting to shrivel a bit.

To serve:

Pour the carrots and any liquid in the bottom of the pan into a large bowl. Toss to redistribute the vinaigrette. Eat. Lick lips. Repeat.


Any leftover roasted carrots can be turned into a fantastic carrot ginger soup. Just puree the carrots with chicken stock, garlic, salt, a little butter or sesame oil, a bit more ginger, and perhaps a dash of curry.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Soup's on (again)

Two soup posts in a row...guess I'm living up to the title of the blog. Here's the deal -- it is freaking *cold* in Southern California right now (in the 30s at night) and I was craving something light after last night's shellfish extravaganza. Enter, potato leek soup.

Now, I'm not going to claim that this is vichyssoise. Because, well, again I have followed no recipe (Are you sensing a trend?). Instead, I went with memory and instinct. Though it isn't the most photogenic of dishes, this nameless soup is comforting, complex, and full of flavor. You can call this "Healthy, Fast Potato Leek Soup," or call it "Kristel Sure Likes to Add Smoked Trout to Things," or just call it "Onion, Potato, Garlic, and Trout Stew"... whatever. Just make some the next time the wind is blowing, a chill is in the air, and you want a hot, nourishing something for dinner.

Onion, Leek, and Red Potato Soup, with Smoked Trout

serves 6-8


--2 tablespoons olive oil
--2 large sweet onions, roughly chopped
--2 leeks, thoroughly cleaned, and finely chopped
--6 cloves of garlic, diced
--pinch of rosemary (dried or fresh)
--salt and pepper, to taste (as you might guess, I use lots of both)

--10 cups of chicken stock (homemade is obviously your best bet)
--1 lb red potatoes, scrubbed, and finely diced (the smaller you cut them, the quicker the cooking time)
-- 2 to 3 tablespoons cream, milk, cream cheese, or butter (or their soy alternatives) (optional)

--1/3 cup pieces of smoked trout, per person (more if you can afford it)


1) Sautee the onions, leeks, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper in the olive oil, in a stock pot, on medium/low heat, for 8-10 minutes. You want the onions and leeks to wilt and get soft, but not caramelize. Stir at least once a minute. Add a few tablespoons of stock/oil/butter if the mixture dries out.

2) Add the chicken stock. Allow to come to a boil.

3) Add the potatoes. Bring back to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium, and put the lid over the majority of the pot -allowing a few inches for some steam to escape. Cook until the potatoes are soft, approximately 15 minutes.

4) Depending on your desired level of decadence, add a few tablespoons of cream/milk/cream cheese/butter or their soy alternatives. Stir.

5) Using a ladle, scoop the soup into a blender. Be very, very careful to only fill the blender (at most) 2/3 full. Hot liquids expand -- you could be in for a painful and messy evening if you add too much. Blend in batches, until the entire pot is pureed. (Conversely, you could use a good immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot itself or, you could leave it chunky and have it more stew-like).

To Serve:

Pour into bowls, and top with broken pieces of smoked trout. You could also garnish with a dollop if sour cream or a few croutons, if you wish).


This type of soup is often served cold. If you do so, increase the amount of rosemary and other seasonings in the soup. Cold dishes often numb the palate and need heavier doses of spices to impart the proper flavor.

I use red potatoes because I love the skins (in fact, I leave the skins on all the potatoes that I cook.) Potato skins are full of fiber, vitamins, and deliciousness -- however, if you hate them or you want a more elegant soup, feel free to peel away.

Finally, this soup is easily vegetarianized (use vegetable stock for the chicken stock and omit the trout) or veganized (use vegetable stock for the chicken stock, omit the trout, and use soy-based additions).

Under the sea

I love seafood.

I love it.

I regularly seek out all kinds of fish, mollusks, and shellfish -- I love it cooked in every way -- fried, baked, grilled, broiled, and dried, just to name a few of my favorite preparations. If you've invited me to your house for dinner, you can bet that serving seafood will make me the happiest guest at your table.

Some of my favorite cooking memories are from preparing seafood. One year, about eight years ago, my father (an excellent cook and major source of my culinary knowledge) and I decided to make Bouillabaisse for New Years Eve dinner. It was a big splurge for us to spend so much money for a single meal, but my father loves food and loves me -- and I really, really wanted to make this complicated seafood soup.

We gathered every creature under the sea and slaved in the kitchen for hours. We made fish stock and roux from scratch, scrubbed the beards of the mussels, and created a timetable of cooking times for each ingredient (to do our best to keep anything from getting chewy). Dinner that night was transcendent. Up to our elbows in spicy broth and crab shells, Dad and I slurped victoriously. My less culinarily adventurous mother even managed to put away two bowls. Then I knew, Bouillabaisse was something special.

I've ordered it in restaurants countless times since that night, but I've never embarked upon making it myself again....until now.

It all started with a bag of defrosted scallops. We had taken them out to make a different meal, but had gotten distracted and ended up not using them. Those scallops were on my mind as I embarked upon Sunday's grocery shopping venture. Knowing that I needed to use them that night, I looked for complimentary ingredients. A few short minutes later, I found myself at a fresh seafood counter. King Crab Legs, Giant Shrimp, and whole Dungeness Crabs glistened in their icy lairs. The idea formed -- it was time to make Bouillabaisse again.

I didn't follow a recipe -- I went with the memory of how my father and I made it years ago and what I remembered of the taste of the subsequent bowls that I've had in restaurants. I trimmed the preparation time by not bothering with a roux and by not making fish stock from scratch. My version may not be the most authentic, but boy, oh, boy, is it good (and an impressive meal to serve company). Feel free to substitute any firm fleshed white fish, mollusk, or shellfish into this recipe. Enjoy!

Bouillabaisse -- serves 6-8


--2 tablespoons olive oil
--5 cloves garlic, finely diced
--2 bay leaves
--1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (more to taste. I like it salty/spicy -- I used 2-3 teaspoons)
--2 stalks celery, finely diced
--2 carrots, finely diced
--1 sweet onion, finely diced

--40 oz clam juice or fish stock
--1 bottle white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
--2 (14.5 oz) cans whole tomatoes
--2 (14.5 oz) cans tomato sauce
--1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
--1/2 lb diced red potatoes, skin on, roughly chopped (if you get the small red potatoes, cut them into fourths)

--1 pound King Crab legs, 2 whole Dungeness crabs, 1 lb scallops, 1/2 lb giant shrimp (this is just what I used this particular time. Feel free to add mussels and clams to this or just use any combination of firm white fish, shellfish, and mollusks that sound good to you. Be sure to use at least 3 different kinds of seafood.)


1) Sautee the garlic, bay leaves, Old Bay, celery, carrots, and onions in olive oil until the veggies begin to soften.

2) Add clam juice/fish stock, wine, whole tomatoes (and their juices), tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for around 12 minutes to boil off the alcohol of the wine and cook the potatoes.

3) Add your seafood in this order: frozen shellfish, fresh shellfish, frozen fish/shrimp/calamari, fresh fish/shrimp/calamari. Bring back to boil between each addition. 2 minutes after the last fresh seafood is added, turn off the heat.

To serve:

Pour lots of stock into each person's soup bowl. Add an assortment of the seafood. Serve with bread to sop up each last drop.
Also, it is a good idea to put a few empty bowls on the table for discarded shells.

Note: Don't be a piglet. I LOVE Dungeness crab and ate waaayyyyy too much of it during this meal. I was actually sick later that night (M and D were fine -- I was the only piglet). I still love Bouillabaisse, but I learned my lesson not to over indulge in shellfish.

Action shots:

D playing with a Dungeness Crab, just before we sat down to eat. I think the crab looks like it is about to break into a song & dance routine -- much like the monster perfoms "Puttin' on the Ritz" in Young Frankenstein. Anybody with me?

One of our bowls of discarded shells, post dinner. Honestly, I think this was my bowl. See, told you I was a piglet that night...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The F word

Yes, folks, I'm talking about that ubiquitous F word. You know the one I speak of -- you hear it so often it has lost its meaning, and though you mock it, you find yourself throwing it around nonchalantly without noticing.


Everything is fusion right now. I half expect to find fried chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and sauerkraut wrapped in nori and served with curry dipping sauce at my local deli the next time I visit. Now, I'm not saying that some fusion isn't absolutely brilliant -- tuna carpaccio, anyone?-- but often times it is a little, um, overboard.

That being said, I'm as guilty as the next person in my own kitchen. Take tonight's dinner -- including left over spices from the Larb (Thai), a chunk of pork sirloin, soba noodles (Japanese), fish sauce (Vietnamese), pickled ginger (Korean), eggplant (Italian), and sweet onion (Texas).

This mix of ingredients aren't traditional and neither is my cooking technique, but I think I managed to create something worth eating -- even if it is the dreaded F-word. However, the warning still stands: cook bravely, but fuse lightly. Good luck!

Asian Fusion Stir Fry, with Soba Noodles - serves 4-5


--1 lb of pork sirloin, cut into cubes
--1/2 cup of marinade (pickled ginger with some of its juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, rooster sauce, rice vinegar, soybean paste*, and garlic combined in whatever ratio is most appealing to you)

--pot of boiling, lightly salted water
--10 oz package of soba noodles (I used TJ's whole wheat, organic)

--2 tablespoons of soy sauce
--splash of sesame oil
--splash of rice wine vinegar
--1/2 sweet onion, roughly chopped
--2 cloves garlic, chopped
--1/2 1b eggplant, cut into thick matchsticks. (I used tiny eggplants that did not need prepping. However, if you use big eggplants, slice them and salt both sides to allow the bitter juices to be drawn out -- should take 20 or so minutes. Then wipe clean and cut.)
--2 stalks of lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces

-- 2 cups of baby bok choy, chopped into big pieces
--1 cup of chinese cabbage, chopped into big pieces
--1/3 cup loosely packed, finely diced herbs (cilantro, basil, mint, or kaffir lime leaves -- don't use all of these, pick two at most)


1) Place the cubed pork into the marinade about an hour before you plan to start cooking, stir occasionally during that hour.

2) When you are ready to get started, put the pot of water on to boil. By the time you need it, it will be boiling.

3) Heat a large wok on high for about 90 seconds and then add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar.

4) Add the garlic, onions, lemongrass, and eggplant to the wok. Stir until the vegetables barely begin to brown (probably 2-3 minutes at most).

5) Add the cubed pork with its marinade to the wok. Stir until the meat is mostly cooked through (3-5 minutes, make sure the meat is not pink).

6) While the meat is cooking, drop the soba noodles into the boiling water (they are supposed to cook for about 5 minutes)

7) Add the bok choy and the cabbage to the wok. Stir for a minute.

8) Turn off the heat. Put the chopped herbs into the wok, stir to distribute the herbs throughout the dish. If your wok has liquid in the bottom of it, either pour it off and save it to use in another dish or leave it in the bottom to garnish this stir fry)

To Serve:

Put approximately 2 oz. of soba noodles in the bottom a large bowl. Top with a portion of the stir fry. Pour a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid over the top (optional).

Eat, preferably with chopsticks . The herbs should be fragrant, the cabbage and bok choy crunchy, the pork tender, the broth a little spicy, and the noodles toothsome. I recommend avoiding the lemongrass pieces, they were cut into long lengths for just this reason.

Note: The leftover stir fry (with noodles included) made wonderful soup the next day. I just added the stirfry to a pot with a dash of chicken broth and a 1/2 can of light coconut milk. Delish.

* Soybean paste is a new and wonderful discovery for me. D and I found this bottle during a 3 hour shopping spree in a giant Vietnamese market a few months ago. The funny thing is, we always (incorrectly) refer to it as "Lucky Boy," and we always (incorrectly) repeat its claim, every time we use it, that "it makes good food better."

As you can see, it is actually called "Healthy Boy"

And, its instruction, is in fact, to "add a few drops to all dishes to improve instantly the flavor of good foods."

Even though we get the name and the claim wrong consistently, we still love this stuff. And, whatever you call it, it is a delicious and complex addition to Asian soups, stir fries, and salad dressings. If you see a bottle, pick one up and give it a try.

Pictures of the process:

Pork marinating -- with all of the ingredients of the marinade (except the Healthy Boy) in the background. From left: pickled ginger, fish sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and rooster sauce.

Lightly browned onions, eggplants, and lemongrass.

As served!

Monday, January 8, 2007


Just a quick post today. For dinner tonight I made larb (served with white rice and cabbage leaves to make wraps) -- after reading about it at one of my favorite blogs. For the first time in ages, I actually (mostly) followed a recipe -- only changing a few things -- adding mint and basil to the cilantro mix, using rooster sauce instead of chilies, substituting ground turkey in place of ground chicken thighs, and using black sticky rice to make the toasted rice powder instead of white sticky rice. Erm, I guess that means I didn't exactly follow the recipe.

No matter. It was magnificent. Spicy, sour, salty, and heady with herbs. This would be the perfect gateway Thai dish for those who may hesitate to explore new asian foods. Oh, and toasted rice powder? Yum. We quite literally licked the dishes clean.

Go make this immediately!

Adventures in Gnocchi

Gnocchi are beautiful little things. Potatoe-y, noodle-y, chewy orbs of starchy goodness. Freshly made are best, of course, but even packaged ones have the ability to be fantastic. Dressed simply with olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper they make a tasty side dish. Tarted up with marinara sauce, capers, and olives they become a filling main course. However, the past few times I've made gnocchi, I've served them with a squash based sauce – and loved each bite more than the last. I've used sweet potato gnocchi, whole wheat, and regular potato -- all types seem to compliment the sweet earthiness of the squash. I prefer butternut or acorn for this recipe, but any squash you like can be used (though I don't recommend spaghetti squash – its texture just won't work here).

This particular dish was an exercise in kitchen improvisation and a good example of how I usually cook. I get an idea (here: squash, sage, and sausage) and run with it. Usually this "cooking by feel" method results in some great dishes. . . but, occasionally, a meal cannot be redeemed (ask me about a certain coconut salad --- eeek). Don't get discouraged by the rare bad dish -- a good one is surely just arount the corner.

In this case, the idea had promise, but needed a little nudge to make it just right. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did -- it is comfort food at its best -- salty, creamy, soft, rich, and sweetly spiced. Posted below is the recipe as I made it, with notes about the later changes.

Gnocchi with chicken sausage and squash serves 6 hungry people


--2 packages of gnocchi (approximately 24 ounces) (I recommend Trader Joe's Whole Wheat)
--enough salted water to give the gnocchi plenty of room to boil freely (approximately ½ gallon)

--2 tablespoons of olive oil

--1 tablespoon of good quality butter/margarine (more if you are feeling decadent) ( I use Earth Balance)
--1 whole sweet onion, roughly chopped
--2 or 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
--4 or 5 chicken or turkey sausages (or feel free to substitute another salty meat – bacon, proscuitto, and pork sausage come to mind. I used TJ's garlic spiced chicken and turkey sausage)
--7 to 8 fresh sage leaves, finely minced ( I originally used 5 leaves and it wasn't sage-y enough)
--salt and white pepper to taste (at least ½ teaspoon each)

--a 1 lb squash, cooked. (I used butternut) (to cook, cut it in half, scrape the seeds and membranes out, and place cut side down in a dish big enough to fit both halves. Pour ½ inch of water in the dish and either bake or microwave until soft – baking should take around 30 minutes at 350 and microwaving about 15 minutes.)

--liberal dash of each: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (fresh, if you've got it)
--splash of apple cider vinegar
--1/2 cup total of white wine or chicken broth (or soy milk or cream) (or a combination of any of these)
--a few tablespoons of cream cheese (soy or cow) (optional -- if you are feeling decadent)
--a slurry made of 2 to 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and enough white wine/chicken broth/soy milk/cream to make a loose paste

--½ cup of ground walnuts to garnish (at least) (toast lightly to release more flavor)
--parmiggano reggiano to garnish (It's dairy, so I can't vouch for it, but M is convinced it would be good on this)
--fresh nutmeg to garnish


1) Put on your pot of water to boil, add a touch of salt, and leave it alone for a bit. It will be boiling by the time you need it.

2) Scrape the cooked squash meat out of the shells and put into a bowl.

3) Add the olive oil and butter to a large pan or skillet and turn the heat to about medium high. When the fats are hot, add the garlic and onions. Sautee until softened, stirring occasionally. Cut up the sausage into a fine dice and add to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes. Add the minced sage, salt, and white pepper. Breathe deeply – your kitchen should smell fantastic about now.

4) Add the squash meat, smashing it with your spoon and breaking up any large pieces. Stir until the squash begins to break down. Add the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cider vinegar. Stir. Add the ½ cup of wine/broth/milk/cream and the cream cheese (if you are adding it). Stir. Turn the heat down to medium and let this simmer for a few minutes, stirring to keep mixture from sticking.

5) Drop the gnocchi into the now boiling water.

6) Add the cornstarch slurry to the pan and stir, stir, stir. In the 2 or 3 minutes that the gnocchi need to cook, the cornstarch mixture will thicken your sauce and the raw cornstarch taste will cook off. When the gnocchi float to the top, scoop them out of the water and put them into a colander to drain. Do not overcook the gnocchi -- they will become chewy, heavy balls of unappedtizing dough.

7) When all of the gnocchi are cooked, dump out the cooking water and put the gnocchi back into the pot. Turn the heat off the sauce and pour immediately over top the hot gnocchi. Stir like mad until the sauce is distributed evenly.

To serve:

Plate the gnocchi and liberally sprinkle finely ground walnuts over top. Add parmigianno reggiano if desired. Generously grate fresh nutmeg over top.*

In the first version of this sauce, I added rooster (sririacha) sauce to give it some heat. It turned out that the rooster sauce was distracting – this dish didn't need heat. I also did not have enough sage, nutmeg, or salt in the sauce and I hadn't thought of the walnuts or cheese. However, once I added more sage, salt, and nutmeg and sprinkled the gnocchi with walnuts, the dish just *popped*. As is often the case, a few tweaks make all of the difference in the world.

Happy eating!

*(If you've never had fresh nutmeg, I recommend a trip to your nearest gourmet shop or kitchen store. Buy a few nutmegs and a grater and experience the joy of fresh nutmeg. Remember the SAT? It goes something like this: Fresh nutmeg : dry nutmeg as 1997 Silver Oak : wine in a box. The fresh nutmeg is brilliantly spicy, intriguingly complex, and heady with perfume. Once you go fresh, you never go back. Try it on oatmeal, in cookies, or in pancakes. Divine.)Sauteeing sausage, onions, garlic, and sage.

Up close and personal.
Cooked squash, waiting to be scraped clean.

Sauce, just before the cornstarch slurry (on the right) was added.
Dinner! (before the walnuts, and extra sage, nutmeg, and salt were added. See above for the final product)

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Best Soup Ever?

What, you may be asking, is "The Best Soup Ever? Well, let me share with you the tale and the recipe for this extraordinary soup born out of hunger, summer vegetables, and more than one lemon drop.

My wonderful housemates (who are more like a self-appointed aunt and uncle), M (queen of wine and vodka beverages, lover of Mediterranean food) and D (her husband, scotch aficionado, and eater of all foods)(the proud parents to Lionel the wonder dog*) and I were hungry, tired, and a little cranky. M and I had spent the day running errands and D had been busy doing chores around the house. While M mixed up a batch of delicious lemon drops, D and I discussed dinner. We had a package of smoked trout, rumbling bellies, and no plan…

"To the internet," I cried, sloshing lemony vodka on my hand. The internet yielded a recipe for soup using smoked trout, tomatoes, and corn. It sounded tasty, fast, and summery. Perfect. As I am wont to do, I read the recipe a few times, and then promptly forgot it and began going about cooking by feel.

Meanwhile, M continued to drink her lemon drop. Mind you, she hadn't eaten all day. Needless to say, that lemon drop (and the one that followed it) did its job well.

Less than an hour later, dinner was served…and oh, what a meal. Fragrant soup, fresh bread, and a salad. As I sat and marveled at the interplay of rich smokey trout, crisp, slightly charred corn, tart, sweet heirloom tomatoes, and fragrant fresh basil, I became aware of muttering in the back ground.

Dear, sweet, M was completely….how do I say this delicately?...smashed. Blotto. Sauced. And was *loving* the soup. She looked up at me with vodka and bliss in her eyes and with only a slightly slurred voice, proclaimed, "Kristel, this is the best soup ever. Seriously, the best soup ever. I can't even believe how good it is. How did you make it? Oh, my God. This is seriously, seriously the best soup ever." M repeated this string of sentences, with slight variation, for the next 45 minutes. (Yes, we tease her about it to this day. She claims to remember nothing of it. We don't believe her). D and I, highly amused and mostly sober, had to agree. This was the best soup ever.

The rest of the evening was spent laughing at (with?) M and fantasizing about quitting our day jobs and opening a restaurant. This soup, hereafter known forever as "The Best Soup Ever," would be the first thing on the menu.

Well, so far, the restaurant remains a dream, and all of those delicious summer veggies are just a memory to most of the country, but this recipe still needs to be shared. Here in southern California you can still get decent corn and tomatoes, but I'm refusing to make it again until I can get the truly good stuff. I'd recommend you do the same – file this recipe away until your farmer's market is overflowing with goodness and then make this soup and be prepared to be blown away.

I'll do the same and post a picture back here of the first delicious bowl of 2007.

*Note: Lionel happens to be best friends/cousins/mortal enemies with my dog Fudge. Here is their most recent picture:

Photo courtesy of the talented and hysterical Jean Kinney -- otherwise known as The Cow Whisperer.

Without further ado:

"The Best Soup Ever" (6-8 servings)

(*Note: here is the picture from the first bowl of 2007. Go here for the story. )


--4 to 5 ears of the freshest corn you can find, shucked and cleaned

--olive oil for brushing

--1 tablespoon olive oil

--3 to 4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic

--1 whole onion, roughly chopped (red or white is fine)

--3 quarts of stock/broth (homemade chicken broth would be great, though veggie broth would work. Use water as a last resort.)

--2 small cans of tomato sauce

--1 small can of tomato paste
--1 or 2 tablespoons cumin

--juice of one lime

--hot sauce (to taste – I use about 2 tablespoons of the green tabasco, sometimes more)

--salt (at least a teaspoon –more to taste)

--2 to 3 firm, ripe, large heirloom tomatoes roughly chopped

--½ cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (stack the leaves, roll them, and then slice across the vein to make ribbons). Note: dried basil is not a substitute.

--3 to 4 tablespoons of finely diced fresh cilantro (again, dried is not a substitute. This recipe really relies on the freshness of these herbs)

--smoked trout – as much as you can afford, broken into pieces (at least 1/3 cup per person) (I made it once with smoked tuna – it was tasty, but not as good. Stick with trout)

--a few quartered limes


1) Brush the ears of corn with olive oil and place on a hot grill. A piece of mesquite added to the grill would be a nice additional touch. Grill the corn, turning it every few minutes with tongs, until charred in places and fragrant. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Then, cut the corn off the cob and place kernels in a bowl.

2) Sautee the garlic and onions in the tablespoon of olive oil in big stock pot until slightly softened. Add the water/stock and wait for it to boil. Add the tomato sauce and paste, the cumin, lime juice, hot sauce, and salt. Allow to return to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Add the corn kernels, and cook for a few more minutes. Taste -- add more salt, hot sauce, lime juice, or cumin to your desire.

To serve:

Give each person a large bowl, ½ filled with the soup. Place on the table, each in individual bowls, the heirloom tomatoes, the basil, the cilantro, the limes, and the trout. Tell your guests to layer these ingredients into their bowls, in the amounts that they choose, and then stir to combine. Conversely, you could put the ingredients on top for them and instruct them to stir before eating.

You will be tempted, as I was, to add more to this soup. I debated on adding black beans, tortilla chips, sour cream, and/or chipotles. However, I really encourage you not to – the magic of this soup is in its simplicity. The interplay of the salty trout, smokey corn, tangy tomatoes, and sweet basil is stunning. More ingredients would just muddle the effect.

Eat. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Until next time….


I've been dabbling with the idea of starting a food blog for months. A long time lurker in the food blog world, I have read hundreds of posts, tried a few recipes, and itched to share my own creations. I was a creative writing major in college, and though my current career involves a lot of writing, little of it is creative. I miss the feeling of inspiration when an idea strikes and the joy of writing a sentence that begs to be re-read and relished.

This blog will be a place for me to allow myself to write (and eat) with gusto. And hopefully entertain a few of you along the way.

First, a little about me to give you an idea of what to expect when visiting my little corner of the internet. I love to cook and eat – particularly things with a healthy twist. Not to say, of course, that I don't indulge in something naughty on a regular basis (I'm a sucker for a good french fry and I have a sad obsession with finding the best carnitas in Los Angeles).

I am allergic to milk (I'm not lactose intolerant – I am actually allergic to milk protein, fat, and sugar) which means that you will see a severe lack of butter, cheese, milk, and cream in my cooking and eating. However, the food will still be delicious and, if you can't stomach soy substitutes, cow-products can be used instead. Coincidentally, I never really liked beef either – maybe because of its association with milk. Regardless of the reason, you won't see any cow at all in my cooking – be it solid or liquid.

You'll notice that on occasion I will blog about reading and cooking vegan. No, I am not vegan (though I greatly respect those who are). However, I love that all vegan food is dairy free – plus, I really enjoy vegetables, tofu, and being nice to the earth and the animals.

Foods you'll likely see a lot of in this blog (because I love them): seafood of every variety, pork, tofu, fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, mint, rosemary, and sage), any and all tomato products, chicken, carbs of every kind (bring on the polenta, potatoes, rice, and noodles), sauerkraut, pickles, corn and all corn products, spicy things, fruits, drinks with vodka, wine, vegetables, soy sauce, ginger, fish sauce, anchovies, capers, olives, dark chocolate, mushrooms, vinegar, hummus, garlic and more garlic, nuts, curry, sourdough bread, olive oil, sausage, and much, much more that I can't think of right now.

Foods you won't see (because I hate them): eggs ( I despise them in all forms. I hate the way they smell, the way they look, and, most importantly, the way they taste. Eggs are a slimy abomination. I have been repulsed by eggs since I was a baby – if someone at the table with me is dipping toast into an egg yolk I literally have to look away or risk gagging. However, I will use them in baking and I'll use just the whites –less eggy flavor—in things like french toast or homemade noodles), caraway seeds (though I love both sauerkraut and rye bread – they just have to be seedless), and black licorice (self explanatory – though this also includes licorice beverages like ouzo and particularly strongly flavored fennel).

There you have it -- a summary of why I'm doing this, who I am, and what I like. Please -- stop by often, share recipes, leave comments, say hello. I'm a whole bucket of fun, I promise. :)