Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Veggie Tale

One of my favorite experiences is to discover I that I now like something that I previously hated. It usually happens when the original item is re-imagined in some way. For example, capri pants. I grew up disliking them; they made short folks look stumpy and taller people look mis-proportioned. They were a bit too short to be proper pants and too long to look like anything other than a piece of clothing left in the dryer for an extra 20 minutes. Bad, bad, bad.

But then, one day a few years ago, someone brought them back...but ever so slightly changed. Now capri pants can be almost any length -- just past the knee, mid calf, a few inches above the ankle. They are cut more flattering now, in better fabrics. The new lengths and new design make them adorable. I wear them all the time -- denim capris to run errands, linen capris to the beach, tailored wool capris to work. The transformation is complete - I now love what I once disliked.

The same thing recently happened in my life with a lowly crucifurous vegetable. Brussels sprouts. I despised them as a child. My mom boiled them until they turned into a bitter, sulfuric smelling, pile of mushy vile green vegetable matter. They smelled revolting and tasted only marginally better. She only made them about twice a year, but those few days lived on in my memory during the other 363 days. It was the only vegetable that I ever disliked.

Recently I have revisited the sprout. A few months ago, I was in a roasting phase -- I had roasted every root vegetable and potato that had crossed by path. I was itching to try something new and inspiration struck, as it often does, at the Farmer's Market. For some reason brussels sprouts looked good. They had dainty heads, tightly packed, tiny leaves, and a gorgeous bright green color. I bought them on whim, still not sure that I liked them. Honestly, I hadn't had them since I was about 17 years old.

Once home, I read a few recipes, brainstormed for a while, and then settled on roasting. I wanted to like brussels sprouts and I wanted to roast something. It seemed like a good plan. Luckily, I was right. I tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and garlic. I roasted them on high heat until they cooked through and began to caramelize. They were wonderful -- tangy and a bit sweet, with a hint of bitterness tempered by the bright note of mustard.

I repeated this process a few times -- I didn't want to tempt culinary fate. I liked brussels sprouts for the first time and I was sure that messing with the system could only lead back down the road to mushy, smelly side dishes.

However, once brussels sprouts were on my radar I kept noticing new recipes. One in particular kept catching my eye -- sauteed shredded brussels sprouts. The same recipe littered the web with just a few differences. Some used apple cider vinegar, some bacon, and others poppy seeds. The basic recipe was the same though -- shredded brussels sprouts, sauteed with some acid and some oil, and cooked for just a few minutes. Finally I couldn't resist the description of the crunchy ribbons of vegetables balanced with sour and a touch of fat, and I had to try it.

Here is my version of the recipe. And, you must believe me, though I know I tend to speak in superlatives, but these are the best brussels sprouts that you will ever eat. They are amazing -- both soft and crunchy, tangy and tart, rich and light, and unlike any other brussels sprouts imaginable. They don't even really taste like brussels sprouts, and I don't mean that in a bad way. They are transformed by the shredding and the sauteing into a vegetable with a whole new flavor and texture. Seriously, try these.

The World's Best Shredded Brussels Sprouts (no, really) -- serves 3 -4


--splash of olive oil
--1/2 onion, diced
--1 clove garlic, diced
--salt and pepper
--1 lb fresh brussels sprouts
--3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
--1/2 cup chicken broth
--1/4 cup pine nuts, preferably toasted


1) Remove any discolored leaves from the sprouts. Cut off any remaining stems. Use either a food processor, a mandolin, or your knife to shred the sprouts into fine riboon. (Essentially you just slice them into thin rounds and the layers separate into ribbons as they cook. )

2) Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan. Saute the onions, garlic, and salt and pepper for a few minutes.

3) Add the brussels sprouts, apple cider vinegar, and chicken broth. Put a lid over the pan (or a piece of foil) and allow the sprouts to steam for about 3 minutes.

4) Take off the lid and stir as the liquid cooks off (about 2 more minutes). Be sure to stir regularly during this time to allow even cooking and to fully separate the shreds.

5) Add the pine nuts, and toss to distribute them. Taste a piece of brussels sprout -- it if it still a bit crunchy and starting to brown, it is ready. If not, let it saute for another minute and taste again.

To serve:

Pile on a plate with the rest of your meal. Look around in wonder at your dining companions as you taste these delightful sprouts for the first time. Go back for seconds.


Resist adding bacon or lots of oil to this dish. These delicious sprouts aren't meant to taste meaty and fried. These are best light and crunchy, with just a hit of richness from the splash of fruity olive oil accented by the sweet sourness of the apple cider vinegar. Don't allow smokey bacon or oil to obscure the delicate blend of flavors -- you'll regret it! However, be sure to add the pine nuts, they are an integral part and add an important layer of flavor and crunch.

As I served them. The yummy sprouts are nestled next to meatless meatballs swimming in homemade chicken gravy, on a bed of wheat noodles. Healthy, hearty comfort food at its best :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A little counter culture, pun intended

Once upon a time last summer I met a music producer on a flight to Las Vegas. What can I say? I live in LA, we were flying to the city of fun, and I happen to be a friendly girl. We chatted all the way to Vegas, exchanged numbers, and kept in touch. He is a producer for a big label and many of his bands are regularly all over the charts. I was impressed, I won't lie, most of us in a LA have a bit of Hollywood-itis. Though flirty, he is married, and I don't go there. So, to make a long story short, we've become friends.

He called last week to ask if I wanted to grab dinner and get caught up. I accepted, and we planned for something this week. He called again to ask if I wanted to join him at the House of Blues after dinner -- one of his bands had a sold-out show. The band was Gym Class Heroes, currently #5 on the charts, and the sold-out venue was the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd. I said yes.

Fast forward a few days, and he called again. He had to get up early the next day for a flight, so he didn't want go to the concert after all (I could have a rain check for another concert someday, which I obviously plan on cashing), but wanted to know if still wanted to go to dinner and, if so, if I minded if the band joined us.

I didn't mind.

We all met at Katana, a very scene-y restaurant in Hollywood, known for fabulous sushi. I changed clothes after work -- no one wants to show up in Hollywood dressed in boring work clothes, particularly to dinner with a music producer and his band. One cute brown low-cut dress, metallic green cowboy boots, and chunky necklace later, I was set.

I stroll in, pretending to be cool, in a room full of H-wood players, performers, hangers on, and stars, and found my friend. He introduced me to the band and we settled in with some Invincibles, or Obliteraters, or Destroyers...whatever those drinks were called. The waitress delivered the menus. Conversation and strong alcohol flowed. The band was funny, full of stories, and genuinely nice. My friend entertained us during any dull moments with tales about his other bands and adventures in music. No one looked at the menus. I was itching to study my choices, but since no one else at the table seemed to care about the menu, I resisted as long as I could.

When I finally looked at the menu I got all drool-y. Everything looked good. I zoned out into my review of the menu, and when I emerged, fell into a conversation about taking blow. Having no personal insight, I kept my mouth shut and returned to the menu. There were about 25 items I wanted to order, but since I had realized that I was with a group that didn't care a bit about food, and were much more interested in alcohol, cigarettes, funny stories, and upcoming tour dates, I kept my selection simple (sashimi- it was wonderful) and didn't fall into my usual habit of quizzing my dinner companions about their menu selections.

They were all nice, and totally fun to spend time with, but not my ideal dinner companions. In case you haven't noticed, I like food. I like to eat food, read about food, talk about food. Yes, the conversation about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with actual music stars gave me insight into the rock star counter culture. And I'm completely glad that I went --I had a great time. But the most curious counter culture I noticed was the food-apathy culture. These people just didn't care about food. At all. They ordered safe, simple dishes that they clearly had ordered before. They ate mechanically, with no thought or apparent enjoyment. All of their focus was on the conversations, libations, and flirtations swirling around the table. They obviously had appetites for other indulgences, but food just did not seem to be one of them.

I get the appeal of the rock and roll life. I do. I see the adoring fans, the piles of money, and the joy of creating your art. I don't get the food-apathy. It just confuses me. One kind of counter culture I understand, and enjoy being a part of, even if just for one night-- but, the other....The one that doesn't use counters, or knives, or pans? That one I just don't get.

Maybe I misjudged them. They were getting ready for a big show, they are appearing on Leno in a few days, and are touring with Gwen Stefani this summer -- they clearly have big things on their minds. But somehow I don't think so. Nice though they are, these people just don't care about food. And I don't get it.

Speaking of caring about food, this Sunday night I cared about food -- about healthy, simple, vibrant food. I had been out to dinner too many times in a row and I was craving something light and easy, highlighting clean flavors.

I had been re-reading Amanda Hesser's book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and had been inspired by her recipe for salmon on a bed of lentils. Full of protein, fiber, and omega-3s, it sounded like the perfect meal. I loosely followed the recipe, added some grilled veggies on the side, and looked over the plate. I still felt like something was missing. I wanted a sauce, but I didn't want anything heavy or oily. I had some fresh basil, and began thinking about pesto. But, I wanted light pesto. Or at least something light and pesto-ish. This recipe was born, fresh and delicious. It might not be pesto, but it is tasty and healthy, and isn't that what counts?

Fresh Basil Sauce


--1 head garlic, roasted
--juice of 1 lemon
--salt and pepper, to taste (I use lots)
--few drops of olive oil
--1 cup fresh basil leaves
--3 pita chips, crumbled
--splash of water


1) combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until very smooth. Add a few drops of water at a time if mixture seems too dry.

To serve:

--Use as salad dressing, to top cooked fish or chicken, as a marinade, or to flavor baked potatoes.


Clearly, you can add more oil to make this sauce more decadent. Nuts would be good also. The pita chips give the sauce bulk and a thicker mouth-feel without a lot of fat or calories. If you add more oil or nuts, feel free to omit the pita chips.

Mixing this sauce with some mayo or sour cream would make a fantastic dip.

Oh, and roasting the garlic is an important step. Don't just add raw garlic -- you'll be overwhelmed. Roasting the garlic makes it mellow and smooth, and allows you to use a whole head in one recipe. Simply sprinkle a bit of oil on top of the garlic head (skin still on), wrap it in foil, and bake at about 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. When your kitchen smells fantastic, take the garlic out, squeeze the now-soft garlic out of the skin and straight into the food processor.

The sauce as served, poured over the salmon and lentils. The sharp lemony-herby flavor really tied the dish together. And, the next day the sauce was delicious mixed into the leftover lentils.

Side note: The Gym Class Heroes really are nice, fun, and friendly. And, I'm totally digging their music. In particular, in the song Cupid's Chokehold, the line,"I know I'm young, but if I had to choose her or the sun, I'd be one nocturnal son of a gun" amuses me to no end. Check them out!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

thoughts on salmon, pizza, and salmon pizza

Even us allergic-to-milk-girls love pizza. I usually make it/buy it with thick crust, extra sauce, black olives, mushrooms, artichokes, and fresh basil. In college, Papa Johns was the go-to pizza for my food-happy roommates and I. Either that, or Zachary's.....Mmmmm, Zachary's.

Zachary's is an amazing place. It can be found near the University of Arizona campus, in a non-descript building, near a deserted lot, with a sign that simply says"Zachary's." There is no indication whatsoever that it is a restaurant. Of course, as it always is with "secret" spots, it is constantly packed. People are lined up outside every night of the week to enjoy the varied beers on tap and relish some of the best pizza I've ever been fortunate enough to taste. The crust is thick, crunchy, and rich with olive oil, the toppings perfect, the sauce sublime. (And, as I'm told, the cheese is pretty fantastic too). Every time I go to Tucson, Zachary's is a must visit.

The pizzas I usually make at home are an effort to recreate a Zach's experience. I pull out the veggies, make a hearty tomato sauce, and roll the dough extra thick. But my most recent pizza experiment ventured outside of my normal red sauce laden creation.

I used smoked salmon. Yes, smoked salmon. On the pizza (!)

This is odd for more than one reason. First, obviously, smoked salmon is not what one would call a traditional pizza topping. And two, well, there is a bit of a story behind me and smoked salmon. Generally, I adore it. It is my favorite thing to order when out to breakfast -- I don't trust any of the hot cereals, waffles, pancakes, french toast, or pastries because they are likely saturated with dairy. I despise eggs, so all of the egg dishes are out. That leaves me with either dry toast or a bagel with smoked salmon. 10 times out of 10, I choose the bagel with smoked salmon.

However, this tendency to favor the delectable smokey fish left me quite miserable last summer. I was on a fancy schmancy cruise in the South Pacific with some good friends, and over-indulged on smoked salmon in a flamboyant way. I either had it for breakfast, on my salad at lunch, or as an appetizer before dinner every. single. day. I ate copious amount of smoked salmon for 13 days in a row. Needless to say, by the end of the trip, I never wanted to see a smoked fish again for the rest of my life. Then, as was my luck, I fell prey to Tiki's Revenge on the final morning of the cruise. Remembering each bite of smoked salmon, I proceeded to be ill for the next 24 hours. It wasn't the salmon's fault, but it was the last thing I had eaten, so it was blamed.

I've only eaten it a few times since last August. Seriously.

But, last week, it looked appealing again for the first time in months. In in shock, I picked up a package of the rosy red fish and let it linger in my refrigerator for a few days while I debated on how to use it.

One night, I got home from work late, saw the smoked salmon and a hunk of dough from Trader Joes and decided to experiment. I'd seen something similar on a menu before, so I can't claim that this was entirely my idea, but I gave it a few adjustments to make it my own.

I had some leftover soy sour cream from the cream sauce for the pasta from earlier in the week, and all of the other ingredients were on hand. Soon we were devouring one of the tastiest pizzas we had ever enjoyed -- it was divine. It may not replace the Zach's pizzas of my college years, but it certainly is a challenger. Salty capers, smokey fish, rich and tangy sour cream, sharp onions, and doughy crust combine to form a unique, yet fabulous pizza. Break out of your pizza comfort zone and give it a try -- you won't regret it, I promise!

Here is the very simple recipe:

Smoked Salmon Pizza -- serves 4


--lump of pizza dough, homemade or from Trader Joes , enough for one pie
--1/2 cup sour cream (soy or dairy), or more
--4 oz smoked salmon, torn into big pieces
--1/4 cup thinly slice onions
--2 tablespoons capers

--juice of 1/2 lemon

-- salt and pepper to taste


1) Roll the dough out into a circle, brush with olive oil, and bake according to directions (around 12 minutes)

2) Remove it from the oven, smear sour cream over the top, lay pieces of salmon on the sour cream, scatter onions and capers over the salmon, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and squeeze a lemon over all.

To Serve:

Slice and serve with salad. Lick your lips and cut another piece.


Thinly sliced ripe tomatoes on top of the salmon would be a delicious addition.

As served!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A non-dairy cream sauce?!? Who knew?

When people first meet me, a few things usually stand out in their minds. 1) Wow, that girl likes to talk. 2) Well, at least she is friendly. 3) She's funny, too ... at least that sort of makes up for how much she talks. 4) I'm sure glad I'm not allergic to milk.

I've known that I am allergic to milk since I was seven years old. Since then, I've been examining labels, questioning waiters, and explaining myself to practically anyone who is with me when I eat.

The first question that I am usually asked is, "Oh, you're lactose intolerant?" I (usually) patiently explain that no, I am not, in fact, lactose intolerant. The lactose intolerant folks cannot digest milk sugar (lactose) and are usually helped by lactaid, because it enables them to digest the sugars. On the other hand, those of us with actual milk allergies can often digest milk properly...we are just allergic to it. I am allergic to all three components of milk -- the fat, the sugar, and the protein. That means that even those products that are lactose free are still a problem for me (because they still contain the milk fat and protein).

I also have to beware of the shifty ways milk is slipped into innocuous foods -- did you know that "sodium casinate" is milk? All words with "casin" or "lact" in them also signify milk product. And, somehow, food manufacturers are allowed to label items as milk free, even of they aren't. Case in point, "milk free" soy cheese often still contains whey. "Dairy free" creamers, often contain lecithin.

Milk shows up in almost *everything* -- even some foods you'd never dream contained dairy. To name a few examples: brown sugar flavoring, processed meats, caramel coloring, high protein energy bars, and canned soups -- there is even a brand of potato chips that uses a milk by-product to help the BBQ flavor stick to the chip. I have to watch out for all prepackaged foods, all spice mixtures, salad dressings, baked goods, etc. I must read the ingredients or question the cook for every morsel of food that I eat.

Sounds exhausting, huh?

Thankfully, it really isn't. Like I said, I've known since I was a child. It is a way of life for me -- I can't imagine would it would be like not to question what is in my food. On the plus side, I love to cook, so making things from scratch is not a problem for me. Plus, not being able to have butter, cheese, cream, etc. has helped me stay trim and healthy. And, desserts aren't really a downfall for me, because I can't have most of them. A chunk of dark chocolate with some port or a scoop of sorbet is about the only dessert I ever have or want.

On the downside, I have to take calcium pills and constantly worry that I'm not getting enough to keep my bones strong. I also have to speak with the host of any party I attend to explain my allergy and bring food with me on trips to ensure that there will be something I can have. The past few years have made my life much easier -- coffee shops now stock soy milk, stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods have entire sections of their stores dedicated to dairy-free foods, and labels now must state whether the product contains milk. When I was a kid, my poor parents couldn't find dairy-free alternatives anywhere -- now 7-11 carries soy creamer.

Another question that I get asked all the time is, "what do you miss the most?" I honestly have no answer for that. I haven't had dairy foods since I was seven --- I don't miss mac and cheese because I don't remember what it tastes like. Besides, I have dairy-free versions of ice cream, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, chocolate, and milk that I eat and cook with all the time. I don't really feel like I'm missing out on anything.

Okay, maybe cheese. I'm such a foodie -- I love to read about recipes and restaurants, and knowing that I'll never experience the glories of a cheese plate or the thrill of sneaking some unpasteurized, smelly block of cheese into the country to enjoy at a later date is rather disappointing. All who know me are convinced that I'd love cheese if I could have it, but alas, I can't. (Soy cheese, even to my uneducated-about-cheese-palate, is not very good).

Oh, and cream sauce, I'm jealous of people who can have genuine cream sauce. It just looks so decadent and delicious.

While I know that soy cheese is a wan, pale imitation of real cheese, and my dream of being able to eat the real stuff will never be fulfilled, I have become convinced that a delicious dairy-free cream sauce is possible. Why have I come to this realization, you ask? Well, I made some. And it was fantastic.

So, from my dairy-free house to you ... I present.....a non-dairy cream sauce that actually tastes *good*!

Shrimp and Asparagus Pasta, in Cream Sauce (serves 4)


--1 1lb pasta (I used whole wheat penne, but linguine or spaghetti noodles would also be great)

--3oz Canadian bacon, diced into 1 centimeter cubes
--splash of olive oil
--1 lb raw shrimp (large), peeled, tails removed, and de-veined if necessary
--salt and pepper, to taste

-- 2 -3 tablespoons grainy dijon mustard
--3 tablespoons water/ white wine
--1 tablespoon cornstarch
--1 teaspoon hot sauce
--1 garlic clove, diced and then mashed into a paste with a pinch of salt (or a cube of frozen garlic from Trader Joes)
--1/2 cup soy sour cream
--splash of soy milk
--salt and pepper to taste

--2 bunches asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1 inch pieces


1) Put on a large pot of water to boil, when you are ready for it, it will be happily boiling away.

2) Saute the cubed Canadian bacon in a splash of olive oil on low heat in a frying pan until it begins to brown (15 minutes or so)

3) Drop the pasta, with a pinch of salt, into the boiling water. Cook according to directions. Hopefully, the pasta will be finishing right as the sauce finishes .(My pasta had to cook for 12 minutes and it worked out perfectly for me.)

4) Add the shrimp to the frying pan with salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium high, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink (about 3 minutes).

5) With a slotted spoon, take out the shrimp, leaving the oil and bacon behind (it is okay if a few bits of bacon come along). Place the shrimp on a clean bowl or plate. This step ensure that your shrimp don't get overcooked or chewy. Yay!

6) Make a slurry of the mustard, water, cornstarch, hot sauce, and garlic. Stir vigorously or shake in a container (with a tight lid) until cornstarch is dissolved. Add slowly to frying pan, stirring continuously.

7) As the sauce cooks it will thicken. Continue stirring for about a minute, then add the soy sour cream and soy milk. Stir.

8) Add the asparagus pieces to the pan. Cook, stirring continuously, for about 3 minutes. If the sauce appears too thick, add more soy milk to thin it out.

9) Turn off the heat and add the shrimp back to the pan, stir a few times to make sure the sauce is distributed evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings.

10) Drain the cooked pasta, and put back into the pot. Pour the sauce over top and stir to combine.

To serve:

Serve in a shallow bowl or plate. A fresh green salad goes nicely as an accompaniment.


Obviously, you can use dairy sour cream and milk instead. However, I encourage you to try to soy variation. When M tasted it, she looked up at me in surprise and said, "this doesn't have milk in it?!?!" Then, proceeded to lick her plate clean. This meal was a real treat for me, because I so rarely can have any creamy foods, and a treat for D and M because it was just plain good. The tang of the soy sour cream, with the sweet shrimp, crunchy asparagus, salty bits of ham, and earthy mustard combined to form something truly luscious. Try it and see!

The sauce, just waiting for the pasta to join the party. See the little mustard seeds? Yum!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I love the fishes because they're so delicious :)

Mmmmm...ahi tuna. Is there anything fresher, cleaner, or purer than rare ahi tuna? I *love* seafood. Period. But, my my my, I really LOVE ahi tuna. I particularly adore it rare -- barely warmed and silky textured.

D and I picked up a slab of fresh ahi at our local farmer's market. It was caught that day and never frozen -- clearly we could not resist.
We brought our prize home and discovered Fudge, attacking a fish of his own. Here he is, gleefully pouncing on his stuffed puffer fish:

Hee hee. Isn't he cute?

Anyway, along with the beautiful piece of tuna we picked up some asparagus, brussles sprouts, fuji apples, arugula, spring garlic shoots, baby bok choy, and thai broccoli (among other wonderful things). I also had a container of black sesame seeds that I had purchased a few weeks ago that had been burning a hole in my pantry. Soon the plan for dinner formed -- black sesame seared tuna with a mixed veggie stir fry on a bed of soba noodles.

A spring garlic shoot -- absolutely delicious, pungent, and crisply fresh. I buy as many as possible during the spring and use them in everything -- green tops included.

The baby bok choy, the sliced spring garlic shoots, the mushrooms, and the diced ginger -- all ready for the wok.

Black Sesame Seared Tuna with Ginger Garlic Stir-Fry (serves 4)


--1lb ahi tuna, cut into personal portion sizes
--salt and pepper to taste

--black sesame seeds

--2 inches of peeled ginger root, finely diced
--1 teaspoon rooster sauce, or more to taste
--2 tablespoons soy sauce
--2 tablespoons rice vinegar
--splash of sesame oil
--splash of fish sauce (optional)
--3 bunches baby bok choy, approximately 5 cups uncooked, cleaned and cut into very large pieces
--3 shoots spring garlic, cleaned, and roughly chopped (both white and green parts)
--8 oz mushrooms of your choice, cleaned and quartered


1) Set ahi tuna out about 30 minutes before you are ready to cook. The closer it is to room temperature, the better. (You're only going to cook it for about a minute, so starting it at room temperature ensures that the middle won't be ice cold.)

2) Season the tuna with salt and pepper and then dredge it in black sesame seeds, completely covering all visible red (no coating needed, the seeds stick to the tuna naturally). Set aside for a few minutes, you'll sear it just as you are finishing the stir fry.

3) Heat the fresh ginger, rooster sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and fish sauce in a wok. When it is bubbling, throw in the mushrooms and spring garlic.

4) Stir fry the mushrooms and garlic for about 5 minutes.

5) Add the bok choy to the wok, stir fry for another 2 minutes and then turn off the heat.

6) Heat a thin film of oil (I used a mix of olive and sesame) into a frying pan on high.

7) When a drop of water will dance on the surface of the frying pan, carefully place the tuna, piece by piece, into the pan, not crowding them too closely.

8) Cook the pieces for 30 seconds, and carefully flip over. Cook for another 30 seconds on the other side and then remove from heat.

To Serve:

Place cooked rice or soba noodles on a plate. Layer stir-fried veggies on top. Slice the tuna on the bias, and lay carefully over the veggies. Serve with wasabi soy dipping sauce (powdered wasabi with a bit of water and a generous glug of soy sauce added).


Do NOT overcook the tuna. This is dish is all about enjoying the glorious clean taste of the very rare tuna. If you buy high quality ahi tuna, eating it mostly raw (or totally raw) is completely safe (and extremely delicious). Also, be careful not to use too much oil to sear the tuna -- you'll make it greasy.

As served--the wasabi soy dipping sauce on the side. YUM!

The vegetables were still crisp, intensely garlicy, and gingery. The fish was tender and sweetly clean tasting. The noodles were a soft backdrop and the dipping sauce a spicy/salty counter point. Everything was wonderful -- don't be intimidated by this meal; it is easy and delicious. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

For the Love of Onions

I am cooking for a dinner party in a few weeks and I have a lengthy list of items I am not allowed to use (based on allergies, religious reasons, and dislikes). I have to cook without any dairy, pork, red meat, onions, cilantro, curry and smoked fish. Clearly, the dairy thing isn't going to be hard for me. I can easily avoid cooking with pork, I already don't cook red meat, cilantro I love, but I can cook without it without much sacrifice, I don't mind not using curry, and smoked fish is similarly avoidable.

However, I am absolutely flummoxed by having to avoid onions. The guest hates them -- cooked and raw-- and asked that I not cook with them. Of course I said yes, because I adore her and I'm up for the challenge, but I am hard pressed to come up with a savory dish that I don't cook with onions.

I love the entire onion family-- red, white, and sweet onions, leeks, scallions, shallots, etc. Some form of onion is sauteed in olive oil to begin almost every dish that I make. I even use raw onions regularly -- I put them into salads, burgers, salsa, and salad dressing, just to name a few of my staple raw onion-using dishes. Onions are the backbone of my cooking, so this upcoming dinner party is going to challenge my improvisation skills. I'm guessing that I'll use a lot of garlic.

Perhaps in response to this upcoming restriction, I went a little onion crazy a few days ago. I had purchased a few gorgeous young maui onions and four leeks from my Farmer's Market. I also had some large russet potatoes rattling around my cupboard, and a turkey sausage staring beguilingly out of the freezer at me. And an idea for some sort of soup was formed. If you remember, a few weeks ago I improvised a vichyssoise style soup with leeks, red potatoes, and smoked trout, but I didn't want to repeat the same dish. I wanted a chunky soup this time, and I wanted to use the sausage instead of the smoked fish.

It turned out delicious -- warm, comforting, smooth, and hearty. I'm calling this soup "Deconstructed Vichyssoise with Sausage" because, well, that is what it is, and, I like how it sounds. Enjoy!

Deconstructed Vichyssoise with Sausage (serves about 6)


--2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
--3 young maui onions, the bulbs and the lower 1/2 of the stalks roughly chopped (or substitute sweet onions if you cannot find the young maui onions)
--4 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced, (white and green part)
--4 garlic cloves, finely diced
--salt and pepper to taste
--6 cups chicken stock (I used homemade broth I made from the chicken I roasted last week)
--3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed clean and finely diced
--1 package (4 or 5 links) turkey sausage (I used Trader Joe's Turkey and Chicken Sausage with Italian herbs)
--1/4 cup soy milk (or dairy milk/cream if you prefer)


1) heat the olive oil/ butter in a large stock pan, add the leeks, onions, and garlic, and turn the heat on low

2) stir occasionally, while allowing the onions to soften, for the next 30 minutes (if you like, continue stirring over low heat until the onions begin to caramelize)

3) add the chicken stock, the salt and pepper, the potatoes, and the sausage, bring to a simmer

4) simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally

5) take off the heat, stir in the soy milk, taste and adjust seasonings

To serve:

Pour into a large bowl and serve with a hunk of crusty bread.


Be careful not to add too much oil or butter. I wanted a richer soup and added too much and it was a little greasy. Stick with just 2 tablespoons. Oh, and be sure to add plenty of freshly ground black pepper -- it really brightens up the mellow onion and potatoes.

If you want a more traditional vichyssoise, puree the contents of the stockpot, sans sausage. Then, if you like, add sausage at the end to the smooth, pureed soup.

Young Maui Onions -- if they had been left in the ground for a few more months they would grow into full sized onions. However, when they are harvested young like this you can enjoy the smaller bulbs and the tender green tops .

Look at the green tops -- yum!

To give you an idea of size -- the bulbs are about the size of a large golf ball

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A secret shared

Have you ever noticed that it is easier to tell secrets in the dark?

When you were a child at slumber parties, the best gossip and the juiciest secrets always came out when the lights turned off. Similarly, when you are an adult, the intimate dreams, the private thoughts, the potentially embarrassing stories, and the closely-guarded secrets don't usually emerge until you are safely cocooned in darkness.

Something about the anonymity of the night makes revealing your full self easier. Lucky for you, dear readers, the blogsphere causes a similar reaction. Though you all know my name and face, and some of you know me in real life, when I sit at my laptop to post, I feel the safety of dark room. This is why I feel comfortable telling you this:

I've had the same thing for breakfast for the past *ten* years.

What? You were expecting a juicier secret? Nice try -- it'll need to be a little darker in here for that. :)

I'm not kidding, by the way, I've had nearly the exact same thing for breakfast since I was a junior in high school. Granted, occasionally (usually on a Sunday morning), I'll have something different. I'll make my famous french toast waffles, or a bagel with smoked salmon, or Cheerios with soy milk, or scrambled tofu with mushrooms and peppers, or a smoothie, or a vegan muffin from Trader Joes, or grits. But 6 days out of 7, for the past 10 years, I've had oatmeal for breakfast.

Yes, oatmeal. The dorkiest breakfast possible. And I love it. I don't just eat it because it is good for me....still, to this day, I wake up in the morning looking forward to my bowl of oatmeal. I genuinely adore the taste, the warmth, the texture, the smell,...everything. I love oatmeal, and it the relative dark safety of the blogsphere, I'm comfortable telling you all of this love.

As you may guess, I have a particular way of preparing my oatmeal that makes all the difference. I am an oatmeal snob -- no gloppy mess from Denny's will do. Neither will some powdery mess from a pre-flavored bag. Not only is the pre-flavored stuff full of sugar, but it is also often times full of dairy. Plus, it isn't as good for you as the non-instant variety. I will eat the "regular" flavored instant oatmeal if under dire circumstances (such as, I'm starving) at a Best Western continental breakfast bar...but, that is about the only time. (This is actually what the secret is: I'm letting you all know how crazy I am about my oatmeal routine.)

First, the oats themselves. I prefer the Multi-Grain oatmeal that Quaker Oats used to make (it was in an orange canister), but I haven't found them in years. Instead, I now use any quick cooking, good quality steel-cut oats. Recently, I've been buying Irish ones from Trader Joes.

To make my style of oatmeal, I start by pouring 1/2 cup of the oats into my bowl. Next comes the banana. Now, you must understand that the banana is key -- if I don't have any bananas around, I likely will opt for another breakfast. The bananas joined the oatmeal during high school when I was playing two sports and needed a hearty breakfast, and they have become such an integral part of the meal that I can hardly eat a bowl of oatmeal without a banana. It just doesn't have the proper texture or taste to me without the banana-y deliciousness.

Next, the banana is sliced into the bowl, over the raw oats. Yes, this means that the banana is going to be cooked into the oatmeal-- don't worry, it is fabulous. I used to slice the banana into the already cooked oatmeal, but I found that I liked the texture better when the bananas are cooked in.

Oh, and on the topic of bananas -- they must be barely ripe. I can't stomach bananas with spots -- I literally gag. I am convinced that one mushy, brown spot changes the taste of the entire banana -- cutting the brown spot out does not solve the problem. No sir-ee, no spots for Kristel.

Once the oats and sliced banana are in the bowl, the ground flax seeds are added. The flax seed meal is a relatively new addition to my oatmeal. It made its first appearance about two years ago after I read an article about the wonders of ground flax. (I don't put whole flax seeds in, because, as the article told me, they are not as nutritionally available to your body.) The flax meal is faintly nutty flavored, and essentially just disappears into the oatmeal. However, it adds lots of nutritional goodness. -- Ground flax is full of omega-three fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and fiber that your body can access. I usually sprinkle about a teaspoon over the top. If I'm out of flax, I use wheat germ to fill its role.

Next, I pour a little over 3/4 cup of water over the mixture and give it a quick stir. I happen to like my oatmeal "stacky" (as my Dad puts it). Meaning -- thick. Really thick. Think thick enough that a spoon can stand up in it. Thick enough that you practically have to chew your oatmeal. I know I am strange -- I don't know anyone else who likes oatmeal this way. I've accepted my odd preference, and moved on. If you like thinner oatmeal, add a full cup or more of water.

I then put it in the microwave for 3:33. Why three minutes and thirty three seconds? It is something my Dad and I both do -- it is easier to hit the same button three times in a row instead of different buttons. We don't consider it "lazy," we believe we are saving time. :)

After the 3:33 is up, I take the oatmeal out of the microwave and stir some sort of sweetener in (honey, brown sugar, splenda(!), whatever). Then, the final step --- the frozen blueberries. I occasionally skip the frozen blueberries and add fresh strawberries or peaches to my oatmeal. 99% of the time, however, the final addition is frozen blueberries -- they are delicious, they cool down the hot oatmeal, and they are chock full of antioxidants. Yum!

Then, the frozen blueberries are stirred in and my breakfast is served!

The entire process takes about 5 minutes (plus eating time) and it is a fully integrated part of my morning routine. I always eat breakfast and I (almost) always eat (my style of) oatmeal. Give it a try sometime -- you just may like your oatmeal the way I do -- thick, banana-y, accented by flax, and topped with luscious frozen blueberries. And, if you do, I promise to turn out the lights and let you share your secret!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dinosaur Kale, and the girl who loves it

Wandering through the humid jungle, wearing a loin cloth and a bra made of palm fronds, I stumbled upon a pile of nubby, dark green leaves. I rested my spear against the trunk of a nearby tree, hung my sack of fruit on the closest vine, and inspected the bumpy leaves. I had never seen such a leaf, but I was bound and determined to have some :

OK fine. I was actually wearing jeans and a t-shirt that said "club sandwiches not seals." And, I wasn't in the humid jungle, I was in Studio City, CA at my local farmer's market. However, the part about carrying a bag of fruit, ruining across an intriguing pile of nubby leaves, and then lusting after those leaves is totally true.

I had seen these before, in one of my favorite
blogs, but hadn't ever found them myself for sale. I love greens in all forms and these, boy oh boy, these greens have become a front runner.

Dinosaur Kale is also known as Cavolo Nero, Black Cabbage, Tuscan Kale, and Lacinato. It is beautiful raw, gorgeous cooked, and delicious, period. Dinosaur Kale retains its texture better than traditional kale and tastes sweeter, all while maintaining the traditional earthiness that all greens naturally posess. I am falling for it, and fast.

The first batch that I bought I simply cooked in a bit of chicken broth with a shake of vinegar and a few drops of hot sauce -- it was divine. This time, however, I opted for something a little bit more complicated. As I've mentioned before, my mother is from the South. Therefore, I grew up learning to love (and cook) blackeyed peas, grits, biscuits, greens, and the like. I have always particularly adored blackeyed peas; I could eat them every day and be happy.

I decided that I should combine the deliciousness of the Dinosaur Kale with some of my Southern cooking roots. This dish of Beans and Greens was created. Of course, I can't really claim this concept as my own -- beans cooked with greens is a classic combination, I can't even begin to list the variations on this theme. But this one, with my own little tweaks, I do claim. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Beans and Greens
--serves 4-6


--4 cups total of broth (I used a combination of smoked turkey broth* and chicken broth)
--1 large onion, roughly chopped
--1 cup shredded smoked turkey (diced ham could be substituted, as could baked tofu)
--3 to 4 cans blackeyed peas (or 1.5 cups dried blackeyed peas, soaked in water overnight, and boiled for an hour)
--3 bunches Dinosaur Kale, stems removed, washed, and the leaves sliced into large pieces (if you can't find any, substitute another kind of kale, or any other kind of greens -- turnip, beet, spinach, swiss chard, etc.)
--hot sauce to taste ( I prefer the green Tabasco sauce)
--white vinegar to taste (at least a splash -- a touch of sour is important)
--(or you could use a few shakes of the vinegar used to marinate hot peppers like my mother does)


1) bring broth to a boil
2) add remaining ingredients
3) simmer for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour or more to allow the flavors to meld. Stir occasionally and keep the lid partially on. If the beans and greens dry out too much, add more broth or water. You want this dish to be a little soupy
4) taste, adjust seasonings, and serve

To Serve:

Ladle into a bowl, offer hunks of bread (I like sourdough), and pass the hot sauce.


I discovered that the more hot sauce I added the better this was. When I got it just to the point that it was almost too spicy hot to eat, it was perfect. Something about adding lots of heat to a dish full of smokey broth, nutty blackeyed peas, toothsome bits of turkey, and tender kale just made the entire combination irresistible.

*Smoked Turkey Broth:

(see previous post for picture)

The night before you need the broth, boil a few smoked turkey legs/wings in enough water to cover the pieces with an inch of water. Boil for hours. I mean it -- hours. When the liquid level reduces down, add more water. Boil the hell out of the legs/wings. When you are satisfied that every last drop of flavor and nutrition has been extracted, strain the liquid, let it cool, and put it in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use it, just remember to skim the hardened fat off the top.

Take the skin off the meat, discard the skin (unless you love skin, I don't), and shred the meat for later use.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Behold the prettiest cauliflower you've seen today:

...dramatic pause.......I have a camera again! Granted, I had to buy a new one, but still, there is cause for celebration. It turns out that it would have cost nearly as much to fix the old camera as it would to pick up a new one, so I made the executive decision to buy the new camera.

I haven't posted in the past few days because 1) I was crazy busy, 2) I went out to dinner a lot, 3) I was still sad about the lack of camera in my life.

However, new camera in hand, I cooked up a storm tonight and took oodles of pictures. I was also able to use my new turquoise plates as a back drop, which rocked my world. I have no recipes to share today, just lots of pictures to make up for the previous few posts full of photo-less prose.

Presenting, your weekly dose of food porn:
Beautiful purple cauliflower from my local farmer's market

All cooked up -- A Lighter Shade of Pale (Purple)

Roasted chicken, with garlic cloves, sliced lemon, and rosemary

Blanched asparagus, with walnut oil, lemon juice, and walnuts

Dinner tonight -- polenta, roasted chicken, steamed cauliflower, and walnutty asparagus

Our appetizer tonight: Green chile bread, with seasoned olive oil for dipping

Pasta salad made with the leftover roasted chicken, tomatoes, capers, olives, mushrooms, arugula, fresh basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Hello, lunch for the week!

Again, just because it is pretty -- mmm, pasta salad. Who said carbs were bad? I mock the very thought!

While all of the chicken-ing, cauliflower-ing, asparagus-ing, polenta-ing, and pasta salad-ing was going on, I was also boiling the hell out of a few smoked turkey drumsticks. Above is the resulting broth and shredded smoked turkey. This broth and turkey will be used later this week in a dish with blackeyed peas and kale.

See? I told you I went wild in the kitchen tonight -- I even wore an apron. :)

My new camera and I wish you a wonderful evening -- see you soon!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

so, are the days of our lives... sand through an hourglass, that is.

Sorry I haven't posted in a week or so. Life seems to have gotten in the way of my all important blogging duties. I was out of town at a conference most of last week, in Tahoe skiing all weekend, and busy with work and errands the past few days.

Honestly, I haven't done much cooking -- let alone cooking worth blogging about. However, you may rest assured friends, lots of ideas for posts are marinating in my little head. Before you know it, I'll be back with recipes, reviews, and thoughts.

Meanwhile, I'd like to point out something I recently noticed while looking for a quote to use as a header to this blog. It seems that quite a few great minds have found the interplay of loving and dining to be a topic worth discussing. Enjoy a few of my favorite such quotes:

"Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all."~ Harriet Van Horne

"Of soup and love, the first is best."- Spanish Proverb

"No mean woman can cook well. It calls for a generous spirit, a light hand, and a large heart."~ Paul Gauguin

"We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf."~ Epicurus

“There is no sight on Earth more appealing than the sight of a woman making dinner for someone she loves.”~ Thomas Wolfe

"The art of cooking is among the most intimate things that we can do for another.”~ Charlie Trotter

"Don't let love interfere with your appetite. It never does with mine."~ Anthony Trollope

"I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them."~ Nora Ephron, in "Heartburn"

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."~ Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One's Own"

Any favorites?