Monday, September 27, 2010

PFB Voting - and Our Favorite Granola 

Voting for Project Food Blog Challenge #2: The Classics is now open. Voting continues until September 30th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time. Visit the PFB site and vote away. There are lots of great entries, but be sure to read my entry, A Royal Asian Meal (and vote for me). Inspired by a visit to Thailand almost 10 year ago, I decided it was time to step up to the plate, and cook some truly authentic Asian dishes – not my Westernized adaptation of Asian classics.
This weekend while I was focused on cooking and blogging my entry for the contest, I was a bit negligent on my usual weekend ‘duties.’ This morning the kids were complaining that we didn’t have any granola in the house – so, instead of explaining to them why I just didn’t have the time this weekend, I got cooking so I wouldn’t have to hear any more complaints.
This is one of our favorite granola recipes, adapted from an Alton Brown recipe I found a while back. Very easy and extremely satisfying.

Breakfast Granola

3 cups oats
1 cup slivered almonds
¾ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. dark sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
 ½ cup vegetable oil
¾  tsp salt

Mix oats, nuts, coconut and sugar in a bowl
In another bowl, mix maple syrup, oil and salt

Thoroughly combine both, then spread out on a cookie/baking sheet. Bake in a 250 degree F oven for one hour – or until brown – stirring every 10 minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Royal Asian Meal

    On to Challenge #2: The Classics. We’re challenged to get out of our comfort zone and try a classic cuisine we’re not so familiar with preparing.
    There is no wavering here. Without a doubt, without another thought, I know I want to capture the authentic and vibrant flavors of Asian cuisine.
    Like so many Americans, inspiration for attempting new meals in our own kitchens comes from travel. Almost a decade ago, Greg and I spent nearly three weeks traveling the back roads of Thailand in search of great adventures and great food.
    As we traveled from the islands of the south to the northern corners of the country, we marveled at the gold-gilded wats and the hieroglyphics on caves, rode tuk tuks and long boats, had monkeys sit on our backs, then sat on the back of an elephant. Along the way we ate like royalty. We eschewed fancy hotel food for street food, floating market food and local favorites. We ate the way the Thai people ate.
(view a bit of my inspiration)

    We enjoyed a truly authentic experience, an experience that, for the past decade, I have tried to replicate here at home. My attempts have failed miserably. Not so miserable that we can't eat the meal. By miserable, I mean they lacked authenticity. My efforts have lacked the full-flavored, exotically authentic experience we enjoyed on the streets of Thailand.

    I ask myself, why?
    Well, probably because in order to authentically recreate a meal, you need the proper recipe, the proper ingredients, proper tools and proper techniques. I think I have failed on all accounts.

    I’ve a Westernized version of chow mein my Mother gave me. I often substituted my olive oil for the sesame or peanut oils listed in recipe. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t even have a wok. And, when it came to preparing the meal, I often relied on my own cooking techniques rather than taking the time to learn the techniques of Asian cooking that make the meal come together.
    When I think about it - I guess I had only been sticking my big toe in the Asian waters. This time I needed to jump in and immerse myself in the cuisine.
    I promptly dug out my authentic Asian cookbooks – the ones that previously served as bookends to my dog-eared Italian cookbooks – and began searching. I dug up Barbara Tropp’s The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (William Morrow), Martin Yan’s Culinary Journey Through China (KQED Books & Tapes), Helen Chen’s Easy Asian Noodles (Wiley) and David Thompson’s simply titled, Thai Food (Ten Speed Press).
    I spent a good amount of time reading and re-reading recipes. I was in search of great tasting, satisfying recipes, but I needed to find something that wouldn’t set me into a frenzy in the kitchen with excessive preparation, AND wouldn’t set me into a frenzy at the table – when the kids refused to eat it. All the while, I needed to keep in mind the elements of creating authentic cuisine – proper recipes, proper ingredients, proper tools and proper techniques.

Proper Recipes

    For this challenge, I only considered those cookbooks that offered authentic Asian recipes. Naturally I was drawn to Thompson’s Thai Food, with his vibrant photos and exciting stories of Thailand's colorful culinary history I was drawn into the recipe and transported to Thailand. I chose the Grilled Bananas with Grated Coconut and Salt because it was reminiscent of the day Greg and I spent eating our way through the streets of Chiang Mai -- where there were no bowls or paper plates, just street food  wrapped in leaves or a fruit’s own skin.

Proper Ingredients

    Any chef will tell you that you can’t prepare an authentic meal without a bit of authentic ingredients. It’s the terroir, the history of a place, the techniques in creating that food or ingredient, that make up a dish. Therefore authentic ingredients are essential. So, when I looked for a little Asian snack and came across Yan’s Honey-Glazed Nut Snacks, a Chinese-style nut brittle, I was excited. The snack’s key Asian ingredient is the Chinese five-spice. This spice encompasses the five taste sensations – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty – and when used appropriately in this snack it creates the savory sensation of umami! Not only for this recipe, but for all four I was making, I needed the proper Asian ingredients. Off to the Asian Market I went.

Proper Tools

    During a discussion I had with Helen Chen a while back, she talked about essential Asian kitchen tools, including the electric rice cooker (or her porcelain rice cooker), a bamboo steamer, a stainless steel skimmer, and the wok. As she explained it, “The wok wasn’t immediately popular when it first became widely available in the U.S. This was because it’s design was not conducive to use on American stoves, which had flat surface burners set relatively close together.”
    It wasn’t until her mother, Joyce Chen, invented the original flat-bottomed, stir-fry pan in the late 1960s, that the wok became a popular piece of cookware throughout the U.S. “In addition to flattening the bottom of the pan to enable it to work on Western stovetops,” she explained, “the pan was smaller and included a long handle, making it more convenient for Western cooks.” This stir-fry pan, often called the Peking Pan, or a traditional wok is required to create a host of Asian recipes, including my choice, Helen’s own recipe, Beef and Broccoli on Crispy Noodle Cake. Not only would it require me to FINALLY add a wok to my collection of cooking tools, but it gave me a new perspective on noodles – pan fried instead of boiled. (It also gave me the ability to sell the meal to the kids as a crispy Asian pizza.)

Finally, I needed

Proper Technique

    The process of stir-frying requires quick movements,  deep-frying requires a precise oil temperature, and dumpling making requires a bit of finger dexterity. I needed some insider tips to ensure my Shao-Mai Dumplings wouldn’t fall apart during steaming. (After all, it was my first attempt at any Asian dumpling recipe).
    I read and re-read Tropp’s recipe, technique notes, and studied the drawing of what the dumpling – complete with its empire waste and carrot crown - should look like. I employed her four-finger approach as I lifted, rotated, and poked the dumplings repeatedly until the wrapper was securely pleated around the filling. Thank you Barbara, I’m sorry it took me so long to ready your words of wisdom.

The Results

    I have to admit that I had a perception that Asian food is complicated. Most recipes have a long list of ingredients, and even longer set of instructions that I hesitated even considering making an Asian meal. This time around –prepared with the proper recipes, proper ingredients, proper tools and proper techniques, the dinner was truly a success (with only a few of the dumplings falling apart). My previous notions are dispelled. Even before the meal was set on the table, I was pleasantly surprised – and so was Greg. There was a calm coming from the kitchen. There was no frenzy, no yells for kids to get out of the kitchen, no second guessing my choices – just excitement over what I was creating – and just as much excitement eating it.

    A sign outside one Chiang Mai wat reads, “Practice is better than theory.”

    As a result of my recent experience, I am dedicated to "Authentic" practice.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thank You, Dear Husband

Since posting my first entry for Challenge #1 of Project Food Blog, The Wild Ride of a Blogger, Baker, Tradition Maker, I’ve been in a kind of daze. A daze trying to catch up on all those things I pushed aside last week while trying to get my entry in on time.

I’m not usually a procrastinator, but it seemed as if I was this time around. I probably wrote and trashed a few thousand words before I decided on the focus of my entry. But, I guess that is me. I have a track record of writing, rewriting, trying again and again until I get down on paper exactly what I want to say. I’m the same way when it comes to cooking and baking. If I don’t succeed, I’ll try again.

That’s what happened last week, in the middle of my “I-have-to-think-of-a-focus-for-my-post” flurry, I made Galette Vieux Perouges – or, Lemon Sugar Bread. The cookbook had been sitting on the counter for several days now, and I had to break away from writing and get some frustration out in the kitchen. Unfortunately, it just added to my frustration.
From the start, the dough just didn’t feel right. Even after letting it sit to rise, it remained just a lump of dough. Still, I continued through with the recipe not wanting to dump the whole thing in the garbage. I flattened it out, zested the lemon and sprinkled sugar on top. Then, in true multitasking talent, I went to the office to catch up on emails and look over Greg’s shoulders as he sat toiling away on editing my video for my blog entry. You see, Greg is the master of the video. (He was also the master of frayed “I shouldn’t have decided to do this,” nerves of his hyper wife.)
While I was standing, staring over my husband’s shoulders, hoping my presence would make things go a bit faster, I totally forgot the bread.
 “Sh**!,” I yelled, and sped off, hurdling over one of the kids who was sitting on the floor, and headed for the kitchen. Burned crust, I was despondent. Mumbling a few words to myself, so as not to teach my children such vulgarities, I tossed it on the stovetop and walked away.
Shoulder’s slumped, I walked back to the office where my hard-at-work husband assured me it would all come together. But he had not yet seen the burnt lemon sugar bread.
I had to go for a walk. When I returned, the entire family was chomping away, happily, at the less-than-perfect lemon bread. I felt a bit better, as they all begged for more.
“Really?” I asked, wondering why they would even attempt to taste something so unappealing. Love, I guess – or hunger, as it was nearing dinnertime.
As the evening progressed, things got better. Greg continued to plug away at the video, compressing then uploading to YouTube, three separate times (because each time I’d see something I’d want to change).
Saturday evening as I went to bed, I was exhausted but assured that he would make that one last spelling change on the video and upload it for the third time. He was also in the middle of baking bread for the family-- something he miraculously found the time to do.

The next morning, there sat 4 loaves of beautiful bread on the counter.
A smile came to my face, and I realized that all of this support – help in getting the video together, help in calming my nerves, help in calming my frustration over the burnt bread, help in making bread for the family – that he needed to be treated to one of his favorite meal.
That evening it was grilled cheese. Yes, I said, grilled cheese. But this just isn’t any grilled cheese, it’s the Tyler Florence variety made with smoked mozzarella and pesto and accompanied by my oven baked sweet potato fries with maple syrup/barbecue sauce dip. He was very happy and grateful for the meal.
Then, as a treat for the entire family – myself included – it was a delicious Chocolate Pear Tart made with pears from our own backyard.
What a great ending to a hectic week.

Thanks, Greg, for all your support.
[And, if I make it to the next round, all that I will ask of him is to eat my Classics creation – of course, with a smile on his face. If I don’t make it to the next round, he gets to join me in the kitchen, as we continue to attempt the challenges on our own.]

Voting is almost complete - so be sure to cast your votes.

Chocolate Pear Tart

Serves: 8

Make pâte brisée
1 ½ cups flour
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
7 tbsp unsalted butter

Sift flour onto a work surface and make a large well in the center. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it. Put the butter, egg yolk, sugar and salt in the well. Work together with your fingertips until partly mixed. Gradually draw in the flour with a pastry scraper, pulling the dough into large crumbs using the fingertips of both hands. If the crumbs are dry, sprinkle with a tablespoon of water. Press the dough together. It should be soft, but not sticky. Work small portions of dough, pushing away from you on the work surface with the heel of your hand, then gathering it up with a scraper. Continue until the dough is smooth and pliable. Press the dough into a ball, wrap it and chill for 30 minutes or until firm. Can be refrigerated overnight, or frozen.

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ripe dessert pears (about 1 lb)
2-3 tbsp sugar (for sprinkling)

For the custard
1 egg
1 egg yolk
½ cup light cream
½ tsp vanilla, or tsp kirsch

10-11 inch tart pan

Butter the tart generously, then sprinkle with sugar. Make the pâte brisée and chill it for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick and line the tart pan.

For the custard, beat the egg, egg yolk, cream, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle the bottom of the tart with the chopped chocolate. Peel and thinly slice the pears crosswise; flatten the slices lightly. Arrange them in a flower petal design on the chocolate so that slices overlap. Spoon the custard so the surface of the pears is coated. Note: The custard should be visible between the pear slices. Sprinkle the pears with sugar.

Bake the tart well down near the base of the oven so the bottom cooks, 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is brown and the custard set, 15-20 minutes longer. If the pears are not caramelized, brown them under a hot broiler for 2-3 minutes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Let’s Rock the Project Food Blog Vote!

After much anticipation, voting for the first-ever interactive blogging competition has commenced. Project Food Blog (PFB), an entity of Food Buzz, is an innovative online culinary blogging throw down where thousands of Food Buzz Featured Publishers compete in a series of culinary blogging challenges with the chance to be named Top Blogger.

After years of declining participation in the kitchen, Food Buzz, the brains behind the 2010 Project Food Blog Competition, inspired thousands of home cooks, professional cooks, and radical foodies to join together and share experiences. Now their culinary joys and sorrows are all exchanged in one awesome venue,
Launched this year, PFB has quickly established itself as the premier blogging competition, bringing together the young and old, the home cook and professional chef all with one common goal . . . to blog about food.
This installment of PFB brings more than 1,800 Featured Publishers to the intersection between food and the online culture, and asks them to pen their experiences related to food and beverage.
With a mission to identify and develop blogging talents, and inspire bloggers to reach new culinary heights, PFB encourages established bloggers and newbies alike, to go head-to-head in this all-out, rough-and-tumble blogging competition.
For the very first PFB Challenge, bloggers were asked to create a post that defines them as a food blogger and makes it clear why they have what it takes to be the next food blog star. They’ve wrestled with answering what makes their blog unique and sets them apart from other food blog brands. Some may say it is their foolproof recipes, others their mouthwatering photos, and still others their perspective on family meals. 

Voting for the first challenge commences 6AM Pacific Time September 20th and continues through 6PM Pacific Time September 23rd.
Contestants will be voted on by Foodbuzz Featured Publisher peers and rated by a panel of judges including: Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief of FOOD & WINE Magazine; Nancy Silverton, Founder La Brea Bakery, Co-owner Mozza; and Pim Techamuanvivit, Author of and The Foodie Handbook.

Only 400 winners advance to the second round, including one lucky Reader's Choice winner who earns auto advancement to the next challenge (solely based on Reader votes; not applicable in the final round). Winners will be announced 12PM Pacific Time September 24th.

In the end, there will be only one crown, but all participants are considered winners. They love what they do, and their efforts are supported by family, friends, and those online Food Buzz colleagues who have read and listened to their blogging with an open and understanding ear.

The power of the wooden spoon is in your hand – vote today, and support your PFB Featured Publishers. Get started browsing entries immediately. Visit the Edible Tidbits profile and Vote on the Wild Ride of a Blogger, Baker, Tradition MakerToday!!

Together, Let’s Rock the PFB Vote!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Wild Ride of a Blogger, Baker, Tradition Maker

This is my first entry for the Food Buzz Project Food Blog Contest and I’ve 1,000 words to explain:

What defines me as a food blogger;
Why do I have what it takes to be the next food blog star; and
What makes my blog unique and sets me apart from others.

Well, let me see . .

Would it be the recipes?
I have good recipes, tested recipes, and flopped recipes. But let’s face it, EVERYONE has recipes.

Would it be that I blog about what REALLY happens?
My blogging is about real-life adventures, but I’ve read blogs about 50th anniversary dinner mishaps, about landing a sought-after reservation at the latest celebrity chef’s restaurant, and the everyday successes of getting a meal on the table.
Let's face it, we ALL have adventures.

Would it be that I blog with conviction?

A successful blogger always blogs about what he/she believes in. That’s why we’re blogging, isn’t it?

Would it be that my blogging is therapy?

You bet! Blogging is my own little therapy group, a bit of rehab for the weary mom, an online cooking club, and a ‘you won’t believe what just happened’ outlet. I’m a Mom of four young kids, I don’t get much time for a bit of adult interaction, so I need an outlet, and I need the connection and the community of like-minded bloggers.
Let's face it, most of us Food Buzz bloggers use cooking and blogging as therapy.

Would it be that my blog is timely, relevant and interesting?

In the age of instant gratification, instant messaging, and real-time Twittering, it better be timely, it better be relevant, it better be interesting – otherwise, some wisecracking reader will blog a rant about you and make it go viral.

So, if I had to explain what it is that makes my blog stand apart from all the others, I would say that I don’t need the 1,000 words that the Food Buzz editors gifted me for this entry.

One word will suffice:


OK, OK, OK, I suppose I should give a bit of explanation. (And use up those 1,000 words I’ve been given).

Here goes:
Experience, hmmm . .
“Practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of, or participation in, events or in a particular activity; the conscious events that make up an individual life.”

Yes, I’m sporting a BA in magazine journalism and a MA in Communications, and have a 20+ year writing career under my belt. But I’m talking about experience.
Real-life, down in the dirt, living-the-life-that-you-write-about experience. You know, the kind that lives deep in your soul, and affects all that you think and do.
That practical knowledge and participatory experience that you won’t find in a textbook, cookbook, or on a Google search.

Just like so many food bloggers, my family had a big effect on how I view food. For me, it was a wonderful experience. Food and family were intertwined. We gathered for baptisms, dance recitals, and baseball games. We enjoyed homemade birthday cakes, chicken soup at Grandma’s every Sunday, and traditional Czech bread during holidays. There was mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving and carved watermelon baskets for the Fourth of July.
I grew up, went to college, and moved away from home (maybe not in that order). But still, whenever I came home, a home-cooked meal and the family were there waiting for me at the table.
I was truly happy living within my own little familial food and traditions microcosm. But then, one day, I landed a job that would rock my so-called “experienced” world.

For the next 12 years, as editor of a specialty food industry trade magazine, I traveled the globe learning about the food, culture and traditions of people around the world.

It was a wild ride that offered me the opportunity to more fully understand
the connection between food, family and friends. They are experiences that live with me every time I step into the kitchen, or get behind the computer.

These are my experiences . .

So, there you go.

Through it all, I’ve learned that the experience of food is what makes it special.
It is my life experiences – as a child, as a writer, as a wife and mom – that I bring to my blogging. Edible Tidbits a collections of “Recipes and Ramblings fit to be eaten,” . . . or should I say, ‘fit to be Experienced.”

Join me on my journey. Follow me at, and on my own website where we “Reconnect with the food we eat and the family we love.” And, don't forget to click on my Project Food Blog profile (at right) to vote for me!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cookbooks Take Me Away!

The girls were playing school and Addie asked for some help finding a book that she, the teacher, could use. “I need a book with no pictures, only words,” she said to me, as she handed me La France Gastronomique (Arcade Publishing, 1991), the book she had removed form the shelf. “This one has too many pictures.”
I pulled down another book, and as I handed it to her, the French cookbook fell open revealing a beautiful shot of Gougeres. Sitting aside the delicious-looking pile of cheese puffs was a bottle of Chablis--all awaiting me in Burgundy. My heart began to long for France. I paged through the book and found one taste-tempting recipe after another.
Then I smelled the meatloaf in oven and wondered why, with such great recipes on hand, I was once again making meatloaf, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables for the family. Now, there is nothing wrong with a little comfort food now and then, especially when everyone in the family will partake in that meal, but I had a treasure trove of cookbooks just awaiting to be rediscovered.
As I paged through Gastronomique, I remembered the countless times I visited the country, stopping to reminisce a bit longer on one particular trip. It was 1996 and I was in France for cooking school. The trip would take me from Paris, down to Arles where I, along with 6 friends, would spend the week in a small cooking school. Along the way we visited Aix, Avignon, and Lyon gobbling up fancy dinners, perusing daily markets, and picnicking on the hills for our Fourth of July celebration.
At the school, we honed our basic skills and learned some new ones that I have never used since (i.e. skinning a rabbit). Our mornings were filled with the market and instructions, and our late afternoons were filled with pastries and Pastis 51. In the evening we enjoyed the meal we prepared ourselves, coupled with good wine and lots of memorable conversations.
This cookbook transported me to France, and made me want to capture some of that beautiful tradition here in my home. I said, “Yes” to the photo of the baker in Ancy-le-France showcasing his honey spiced bread (yes to the bread, not the baker). I then grabbed a kale leaf (which was sitting on the counter) and placed it as a bookmark for the Chocolate Pear Tart. I found several recipes I wanted to whip up immediately, but this was only one of my hundreds of cookbooks.
Dreams of India, Italy and Greece awaited, while Charlie Trotter, Douglas Rodriguez and Martin Yan all beckoned me to expand my culinary horizons.
Tonight, I have to thank my dear little Addison for asking me to find her a book. In the process, she has reawakened my desire to create something new in the kitchen -- to travel the world in my kitchen. After all, with a family of six, traveling the world in our kitchen is much more affordable than hopping on a plane. Sure, it may not be the real thing, but it definitely will be a vacation from my everyday meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Go ahead, I beg . . Cookbooks, take me away!

Gougeres (Cheese Puffs)

Makes 9-10 large gougers
Pate a choux made with
3/4 cup water,
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup flour
3-4 eggs,

4 oz. finely diced Gruyere cheese
1 egg, beaten to mix with ½ tsp salt (for glaze)
1 oz grated Gruyere cheese (for sprinkling)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a baking sheet. Make the choux pastry
Cut the butter into pieces. In a small saucepan, gently heat the water, salt and butter until the butter is melted. Meanwhile, sift the flour on to a piece of paper. Bring the butter mixture just to the boil (prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough). Remove from the heat and immediately add all the flour. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few moments until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball. Beat for ½ -1 minute over a low heat to dry the dough. Beat one egg until mixed and set it aside. Beat the remaining eggs into the dough, one at a time, and beat thoroughly after each addition. Beat in enough of the reserved egg so that the dough is shiny and just falls from the spoon. If too much egg is added, the dough will be too soft and not hold its shape.

Once the pastry has reached the desire consistency, beat in the diced Gruyere.
Transfer the dough to the pastry bag and pipe 2 ½-inch large mounds on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the puffs with egg glaze and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in the oven until the gougers are puffed and brown but still slightly soft inside, 30-40 minutes. Gougeres are best eaten while still warm, but they can be baked up to 8 hours ahead. Keep them in an airtight container and warm them in a low oven before serving.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Channeling my Inner Vegetarian

I grew up in a meat and potatoes family. T-bone steaks, meatloaf, Sloppy Joe’s, and beef stroganoff, were mainstays on the table. We enjoyed pork chops, pork roasts and fried chicken. Fish made its appearance during Lent, and vegetables were a canned variety taking a minor role aside a huge portion of potatoes or rice. That’s the way things were in the 70s. Meat on the table every night was a sign of a successful middle class family life.
Fast-forward 30 years and meat remains a mainstay on the table (and on the grill, in our cars, at the restaurants we frequent). No longer a status symbol of middle class wealth, consumption of beef is driven by its low cost and extreme availability. In fact, in 2009, the average yearly consumption of red meat, including beef,pork, veal and lamb was at 106.3 pounds per person. Even when vegetarians are factored into this number, the poundage is still staggering.
The USDA recommends that individuals consuming 2,000 calories eat 5.5 ounces of lean meats and beans each day (although this varies by gender and age). It is obvious that the 106 pounds of red meat Americans eat annually is leaps and bounds above what is recommended.
Sure, consuming red meat, especially beef, is a good way to fulfill recommended daily allowances of protein while providing our bodies with vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, but eating too much beef, which has a high saturated fat content, has been shown to increase the incidence of breast and colorectal cancers, as well as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
My health (and that of my family) has a lot to do with our cutting meat consumption. Not only the saturated fat issue, but also the health implications of consuming meat and poultry treated with antibiotics and growth hormones is quite upsetting to us. Beyond our own health, I also weigh in the fact that the production of meat is a big polluter of the environment.
But, to be honest, cost is a big reason we have cut back. While conventionally reared meats are sold at low prices, our choice for more natural and non-chemically enhanced options can be expensive, especially when feeding a family of six.
Whatever the reason is - the cost, our health, or the health of our environment - Americans are paying a bit more attention to the amount of meat consumed each week. To that end, programs such as Meatless Mondays have taken hold.
Lately I’ve taken a more active role in seeking vegetarian meals to incorporate into my rotating mix of recipes. Nothing too radical for our egg-loving, cheese-eating family, just a gentle switch from seven days a week, to five.
In the process, I easily mastered a healthy entourage of meatless pasta recipes including Spaghetti Alla Piemontese, Pasta Fresca, and Eggplant Parmesan to our mix. As for seafood, we add an offering or two every couple weeks, but since I’m not a fan of seafood, I find it hard to add it into the mix more frequently. So, that leaves me to turn to to veggies, grains and beans.
How fitting because this is Whole Grains Month. I can find inspiration on the Oldways/Whole Grains Council website, in addition to digging around in my cookbook collection.
Yesterday, it was Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Vegetable Upside-Down Cake. I enticed the kids’ inner-fairy fantasies and asked them to bring their fairy dust and wings to dinner, as we were venturing into the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I whipped out the cookbook and showed them a picture of what I was talking about, and they were definitely excited.

The results were less than enchanting. I’m attributing a big part of the mishap to the distraction of Keely’s top-of-her-lungs screaming (because I hadn’t planned a play date with her friend), just as I was trying to prep and prepare both dishes at once. As a result of this distraction, I put the upside-down cake in the oven to bake without adding the shredded cheddar. By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late. My heart dropped as I realized that the cheese, the one ingredient that just might entice them to eat the dish, sat on the counter.

Dinnertime came, and so did the complaints. I send a big Thank You to Greg for gobbling up both dishes, a high five to Grayson for trying both dishes (although he left the 'cake' on his plate), and a low five for the girls who wouldn’t even put the cake on their plates. Thank goodness I has some of those garbanzo beans waiting in the wings to help fill the gap.

Tonight, instead of trying to channel my inner vegetarian, I’m on a quest for some inner Zen. The kids will get their favorite pasta dinner, and I’ll get some peace.

Here’s hoping the vegetarian vibes are with you (at least once a week).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Great Gnocchi Incident

I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have made if from scratch. I should have had done a bit more research. I shouldn’t have had a meltdown.
But it happened, and I’m sure it will happen again.
Now as I look back, with a few days between the now-famous gnocchi incident and my
clear mind, I can see exactly what went wrong. Poor planning, relatively stressed out mood, and a way too late start.
It was just that tub of ricotta sitting in the fridge, just ready to reach its sell by date, and a desire to make this recipe that has long been on my list of things to do.
As I gathered ingredients, the kids heard noise in the kitchen and quickly arrived to see what was up.
“What are we having,” Keely’s favorite line.
“Gnocchi,” I said. What immediately followed was a linguistics lesson – how to get the right sound out of their mouth.
The twins eventually lost interest in the lesson, and wandered off to play. But Grayson was pulling up the chair ready to help. He was a big help making the dough, but since it took very little time to put together, he was antsy waiting the 30 minutes for it to chill.
When that time arrived, I moved everything to the kitchen table, and set up cutting boards for Grayson, Addie and Keely – Nicole was taking a late afternoon nap.
We each floured our boards the floor, the table and our clothes. I then divided the extremely sticky dough and began to roll it out.
With time ticking and the kids screaming, “I want to roll it out,” I instinctively just added more and more and more flour.
Eventually, I was able to roll it out with the kids begging for their own to play with I cut off a bit and handed the twins some, and gave Grayson a bigger piece to cut into the 1” pieces.
As I was trying to make the dough manageable, a thought kept creeping into the back of my mind . . . the kids are just not going to eat this –especially since they can see green (i.e. spinach) in the gnocchi. But I had to move on, time was ticking, flour was spilling, dough was sticking and water was boiling.
I think the biggest distraction was the time. You see, I need dinner served at a certain time so I can escape afterwards and get a swim in before I give Greg a hand getting the kids down. It’s a well-oiled time schedule that I desperately need to work in order to get a little exercise in and relieve the day’s bottled up stress. (you know, the ‘It’s summer and all four kids are at home waiting to be entertained while I’m trying to meet a deadline for an article” stress)
Greg popped in for a moment to take some photos of the gnocchi-making experiment. He left just as I was moving to the stove to start cooking. Three minutes, small batches of 15 gnocchi pieces. I plopped the first 15 in the water, and set out to clean up the kids. By the time I turned around, the water was a murky gnocchi color, and I could only fish out a handful of indistinct blobs.
The stress began to rise. I put more in the water, as the clock was ticking, and I set to clean up the table and ready it for eating. Back of the mind was knocking again, “They’re going to take one look at this and scream, ‘I don’t’ like it. What’s that green stuff?’”
I moved forward, without thinking this through, and once again, a handful of blobs I’m not sure I would eat, were fished out of the gnocchi broth.
Reaching full frustration at this point, I said a few under my breath, then barked at Grayson, who was innocently standing by waiting to help me, to go get Daddy.
By the time he arrived, I was in full crazed mode – dinner was a mess, I was seeing my relaxing swim time disappearing, and there wasn’t much in the fridge that I could whip up as a back up meal.
As Greg swooped in, he ordered me to get away from it all. After a few more minutes of madness pacing around the kitchen, I eventually retreated to the bedroom. When I returned, I was still upset about the failed attempt at gnocchi, but glad things were out of my hands now. Grayson quickly came to my side with a card reading “I’m sorry you’re feeling sad,” and a picture of perfect, un-melted spinach gnocchi(seen above). In a further attempt to make me feel better, he kept reassuring me that he was going to taste it.
We sat down to dinner, gnocchi with a bit of fresh tomato sauce. As expected, Nicole stuck her nose up at the whole things. Surprisingly, so did Addie. But Grayson and Keely dove right in and ate it up. Of course, whether Greg liked it or not, he obliged by finishing his meal.
In truth, it wasn’t all about the failed gnocchi attempt. But I think the failure just was the last straw in what was a stress filled day. It is hard to focus and enjoy the process if something is eating you up from the inside. It should have been fun – even if it didn’t turn out. Cooking is constantly trial and error and you can’t be discouraged by one failed attempt.
Believe it or not, but I’m ready to jump back into gnocchi-making. This time around, I’ll make sure I have set aside the proper amount of time to make them, and I’ll always, always have a backup.

Oh, by the way, here is the recipe:

Sabrina’s Gnocchi

These light-as-air gnocchi are nice with either Fresh Tomato Sauce or Gorgonzozla Sauce.

Fresh Tomato Sauce, heated
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
12 oz. spinach, trimmed (1 cup cooked)
12 oz. ricotta, well drained in sieve
2 eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan
pinch grated nutmeg
½ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup mashed potato
salt and ground black pepper

Prepare tomato sauce, then make gnocchi:
Heat oil with garlic and spinach. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes until spinach has wilted. Squeeze out all liquid and chop finely. Combine with other ingredients, season to taste.
Chill mixture for 30 minutes. Turn out onto a well-floured board. Divide into 4 (mixture will be very soft but just manageable, if it is too sloppy to handle, add a little more flour).
Use extra flour to roll each piece into a 1-inch thick log about 16 inches long. Cut each into 1-inch pieces. Roll in a little extra flour to prevent sticking. Cook about 15 at a time in a large pot of salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Scoop out with slotted spoon and transfer to a serving dish. Keep warm.
When all gnocchi is cooked, spoon hot tomato sauce over and serve.

Hot Tomato Sauce
Puree 1 lb. 4 oz. sweet tomatoes, chopped; 1 large clove garlic, peeled; salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Transfer to a pot, add 8-10 torn basil leaves, simmer for minutes.

Serves 6
Source: Savour Italy: A Discovery of Taste, Annabel Langbein, Graphic Arts Center Publishing

A No Labor, Labor Day

Labor Day, first held in 1882, is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.

As described on the U.S. Department of Labor website:

"The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take were outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families."

However you plan to celebrate - a backyard barbecue, a local parade, or a community festival, enjoy the time spent with the family and friends with some great food. Try this easy and delicious rolled cake that won't have you laboring in the kitchen on this late summer holiday.

Red, White and Blue Cream Roll
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 tbsp. water
confectioner’s sugar
(1 can (21 oz) cherry pie filling)
or, fresh strawberries and blueberries
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp. almond sugar

Grease a 1 X 10 X 1-inch jelly roll pan. Line bottom with waxed paper; grease paper. Preheat oven to 37 degrees
Sift flour, baking powder and salt onto a fresh piece of waxed paper.
Beat eggs in medium sized bowl with electric mixer at high speed until thick. Beat in sugar, 1 tbsp at a time and continue to beat at high speed until mixture is very thick and creamy.

Turn mixture to a very low speed. Beat in orange juice concentrate and water. Sift flour mixture over little by little, beat in until batter is smooth. Do not overbeat. Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading gently into corners.

Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touched.

Loosen cake around edges with a paring knife; invert onto a clean towel that has been dusted with 10X sugar; peel off paper. Trim ¼ inch from all sides with a sharp knife for easier rolling. Roll up cake and towel together, starting with one of the long sides. Cool completely on wire rack.

(Put cherry pie filling in a sieve and let most of the liquid drain off; reserve cherries)
beat cream in a medium-sized bowl until stiff. Beat in a 10X sugar and extract.

Unroll cake; spread with half the cream. Spoon ¾ of cherries over the cream. Roll up cake and filling, using towel to aid rolling. Place roll, seam side down, on serving plate. Spread with remaining cream; garnish with remaining cherries.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

It's Backyard Bounty Time Again!

I am still getting used to our relatively new home and all that we have growing in our back yard. Aside from the vegetable garden Greg started this year - and the kale, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, beets, carrots, pumpkins, etc. growing, we've blackberry bushes galore, an ancient and huge pear tree, and an apple tree all bursting with goodness.
Last year, our pear bounty was too much for this family of six to consume - even freeze - so we made frequent trips to the Marin Open Garden Project. I made my share of pear pocket pies, and throughout the year we enjoyed frozen pears in smoothies, on top of ice cream, and other dessert.
Now, it is pear time again. I will start out with the pear pockets, simply because the kids are asking for it. But, I'm determined to expand my pear horizons and work it into dinner recipes. Stay tuned for my impending creations. In the meantime, enjoy the pear pocket recipe and a little video we created for last year.

Family Eats - Backyard Bounty


1 homemade piecrust
3 small, ripe California Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp sugar
Dash nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie dough and cut circle in crush using a 5-inch bowl as a guide. Gather up remaining dough and roll out on a lightly floured board and cut circles until dough is gone.
In a medium bowl, combine pears with brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg; toss well to combine. Place equal amounts of fruit onto half of each circle, leaving excess liquid in bowl.
Brush edges of dough with water. Pick up each circle like a taco shell, with rounded sides up, and pinch edges together to enclose filling. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and press with the tines of a fork to seal. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

The Everage Family
– Greg, Laura, Grayson, Nicole, Addison and Keely

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese Heaven

Like most kids today, mine were introduced to macaroni and cheese via a box – albeit a box of 365 Whole Foods branded mac and cheese and not the Kraft variety. Of course, one taste of boxed mac and cheese and the kids were hooked. What am I talking about, so was I. The convenience of making it, complemented by the ooey-gooey-good taste, and I could be found scooping spoonfuls of it into my own mouth before serving to the kids.

One day, I went cold turkey. I refused to buy the boxed mac and cheese any longer and set out to find a recipe that our family – all of us – would love to eat at dinnertime. (One with few ingredients and free from indecipherable additives).
This weaning period (from the boxed version) was a bit unsettling, especially since the kids often complained about the dinner even before they sat down. Yes,there were a few recipes I prepared that left a mound of leftovers and a hungry family after dinnertime.
“Mom, when can we have our regular mac and cheese?” they asked. My response of, “I’m not sure if we ever will,” completely perplexed them, but I knew an explanation of why I was choosing to make macaroni and cheese from scratch, instead of serving up the faux version from a box, would just fall on deaf ears.
Now, I have a few versions of mac and cheese under my belt that the family loves. There is the Carrot Macaroni and Cheese version, and the ever-famous Parmigiano-Crusted Rigatoni with Cauliflower and Proscuitto (or Tigaroni as Nicole has named it, because she has a hard time saying Rigatoni). There are rarely leftovers from Tigaroni night, and when there are, everyone fights over who will get them for lunch the following day.
Last night I added another one to our recipe box – Leek Mac and Cheese. It's a recipe I pulled from a Food & Wine magazine a year ago. When I made it several months ago, the results were less than perfect. I received lots of complaints about the cheese, and even more about the leeks. Following through with my resolve to try it again, I made it again (with reservations. This time, I split the mac and cheese in two – a pan with leeks for Mom and Dad, and a pan without for the kids.
“I want more mac and cheese!” was repeated time and again during dinner.
This time around: Success!

Leek Mac and Cheese

4 tbsp unsalted butter
Leek greens from 1 ½ pounds leeks, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups half-and-half or whole milk
10 ounces Manchego cheese, shredded (about 2 ½ cups)
1 pound elbow macaroni* Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the leeks and cook over high heat, stirring until slightly wilted, 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until very tender, about 20 minutes.

* Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and cook over moderately high heat, whisking, for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half and bring to a boil, whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add 2 cups of the cheese, season with salt and pepper and whisk the cheese sauce until melted.

* In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until nearly al dente. Drain well. Add the macaroni and the cheese sauce to the leek greens and stir until combined.

* Transfer the macaroni to an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes, until bubbling. Turn the broiler on and broil the mac and cheese until golden brown on top, about 3 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.