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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

No Recipe Pumpkin Soup Recipe

Necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing could be truer in the kitchen. It's amazing what you can cook when you have very little in the pantry. It can be much more challenging and yet gratifying to try to figure out what do with the ingredients on hand than to come up with a new menu from scratch. Coming home from vacation means coming home to an empty fridge. If you're lucky. If not, you've probably got some smelly clean up to do. Keeping certain canned foods on hand can insure that you will be able to make a meal from virtually nothing. A few things I always keep on hand are garbanzo beans, jars of artichoke hearts and canned pumpkin puree. With garbanzo beans you can make a one-pot meal, you just combine the beans, cooked couscous and a few chopped steamed vegetables. With artichokes you can make a simple pasta sauce by chopping the artichokes and adding them to store bought tomato sauce. Or just saute some garlic in olive oil and add the artichokes to that--voil...
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Fruity Yogurt Scones Recipe

I love scones. When I was in high school we had a British exchange student come stay at our house for a few weeks. We showed her around town and in turn she introduced my family to the pleasures of homemade scones. Or "scons" as she called them. Now that was a recipe we had her write down for future reference. From what I have read, it seems scones originally came from Scotland and were made with oats and cooked on a griddle. Oat scones are still one of my favorites, but now there are all sorts of sweet ones, savory ones and many that have no oats at all. They are usually flour based, round or wedge shaped, and bake quickly in the oven. Most famously served in the afternoon for tea with clotted cream and strawberries, they are also terrific for breakfast, instead of muffins or toast. For years I have experimented with various recipes and I have come to the conclusion that the reason that they taste so divine is because they have so much butter or cream in them. There are...
Friday, December 26, 2003

Eating Cactus

You know the saying "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade". Well what if life gave you a cactus? In Mexico, you'd do the logical thing and figure how to make something to eat with it. In Baja California the sea, the desert and the mountains all come together in breathtaking landscapes. The stark desert is dotted with many types of shrubs and cactus including the saguaro, prickly pear and barrel cactus. The prickly pear cactus in particular has been used as food since pre-Columbian times in Meso America. The fruit of the prickly pear is called "tuna" in Spanish and is super sweet. Mexican popsicles or "paletas" are sometimes flavored with this cherry red fruit. The paddles of the prickly pear are called "nopales" and are commonly cooked with scrambled eggs or served in tacos and salads. They have a slippery texture, somewhat like cooked green bell peppers. You can buy the cactus paddles de-spined or jarred in Latin grocery stores. A...
Monday, December 22, 2003

Viva Mexico!

An all-inclusive resort. Included are not just food and drink but "activities". The advertised snorkeling trips have been long been cancelled (though you can borrow the snorkeling gear and search the pool for fish) and the bikes all have flat tires. So activities are limited to daily Mexican bingo--lotteria, volleyball and lounging poolside. In addition to the meals in the dining room, Fiesta Inn, in San Jose Del Cabo has a swim up bar and a snack bar. The snack bar is the real center of activity. Imagine a menu composed of hamburgers, hot dogs, onion rings, french fries, various quesadillas, fish tacos and unlimited guacamole, salsa and chips--all included of course. Now that's what I call vacation! The guacamole here is just divine. It must be the most simple mixture of mashed ripe avocados, salt, cilantro, perhaps a bit of lime? but that's really it. Fresh tortilla chips fried up every day and a chopped fresh salsa of tomatoes, sweet onions, cilantro and ho...
Friday, December 19, 2003

A Quest

Somewhere there is a drink with an umbrella in it and I am on a quest to find it. I will be gone until Christmas day, and there is a good chance I will be posting updates while I am away but an equally good chance that I will not...check back here soon....
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue:Restaurant

I've been dreaming of going to Hawaii for months now. The beach, the ocean, the gentle breezes and swaying palms. Pure relaxation. But somehow it wasn't meant to be. Work got in the way then procrastination and suddenly Hawaii was no longer an option, not this year anyway. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that one of my favorite Hawaiian dining institutions had set up an outpost in the Bay Area. What Hawaiians call "drive-inns" are not what you and I think of as drive-inns they are really Hawaii's idea of fast food outlets often found in strip malls without any "drive-inn" service at all. They feature inexpensive "plate lunches" that consist of a scoop or two of rice, macaroni salad, and any one of a number of island specialties like chicken katsu, Hawaiian BBQ short ribs, fried mahi mahi or BBQ chicken. As specials you will also see Hawaiian local dishes like kahlua pork and lau lau. These entrees are all a mix of the is...
Monday, December 15, 2003

Black Russian Bundt Cake Recipe

Holiday party season started officially last weekend. We had so many events to go to we needed most of the week to recover. This weekend was much the same. One of the best events last weekend was a tree-trimming open house at Elizabeth's house in Palo Alto. Elizabeth is a managing editor at Weldon Owen, a publishing house that is responsible for the Williams-Sonoma series of cookbooks among other things. While Elizabeth doesn't work on cookbooks (at least not yet!) she is a terrific home baker. The spread of baked goodies she prepared looked bakery beautiful and I felt a personal responsibility as her friend to try absolutely everything. That's just the kind of friend I am. The biggest hit was the Black Russian cake. You may know about doctoring cake mixes, and you may have even heard of adding Kahlua to a cake, but the vodka in this cake really gives it a holiday kick! Elizabeth not only came up with the recipe (after doing much research online) but she chose to make ...
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Pacific Chai Refrigerator Cookies:Recipe

My friends and I discovered the Indian tea beverage Chai in college. As students of all things new and exotic, we made it from cooking freshly ground spices, black tea and milk with honey until it was strong, spicy, and creamy. We might have bought it at the store if it was available like the instant coffees and cocoas we hoarded in our rooms, but it wasn't. Now it's all over the place. Almost every espresso bar, coffee shop and cafe sells it in a "latte" version. Even supermarkets are selling instant chai under their private label brands, a sure sign Chai has gone beyond college dorms. There are even several Chai bath products for those who can't get enough just drinking it. While I still make Chai from scratch, I confess I buy a powdered version so I can make a refreshing cold slushy drink by whipping it up in the blender with ice cubes and a splash of milk. But now that winter is upon us, I have begun drinking more hot Chai and it dawned on me that there ou...
Thursday, December 11, 2003

Nitrites Healthy?

Nitrites cause cancer. Remember hearing that? Health experts said that to be on the safe side you should cook your bacon over low heat to avoid those nitrites or better yet buy nitrite-free bacon. Nitrite, a common additive in cured meats like bacon is used to help preserve it and give the meat a rosy color. How, you might have wondered, could something that makes bacon better possibly be so bad for you? Well, it turns out that the science behind nitrites (or nitrates) being carcinogenic is sketchy to say the least. In case you missed it, according to a New York Times article published November 3, 2003 *, it now turns out nitrites might actually be GOOD FOR YOU. There is even the possibility of nitrite therapy being developed for certain ailments, specifically stroke, pulmonary disease, obstructed heart vessels and other conditions involving poor circulation. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at the University of Alabama and Wake Forest University have found...
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Potluck Stories

Here's my theory. Everyone has a good potluck story. I know I've got a couple. When I was growing up potlucks were very popular. It's economical for one thing and there is the pride in showing off your culinary skills of course. Personally I feel a great deal of pressure nowadays if asked to bring something. What if I mess up? My reputation is on the line! These days potlucks aren't as common among my set. The only potluck events I can think of are my parents annual 4th of July party, my book club and Christmas cookie parties. The first potluck I can remember attending was with my family and I must have been in one of the primary grades. I think it was a school or Campfire girl event and several parents were in charge of bringing main dishes. Maybe 4 or 6 main dishes all together, I can't remember. What I do remember is that all the main dishes without exception were lasagne. All different of course, but still what are the odds? My other potluck story has to ...
Sunday, December 07, 2003

Fig, Onion and Black Olive Tapenade:Recipe

I get a lot of good ideas from reading Craigslist Food Forum . Recently I read about an olive fig tapenade that people seem to be raving about. Needing an appetizer that could survive for a few hours without refrigeration, I figured it would fit the bill. The recipe originally comes from the "Jimtown Store Cookbook:Recipes from Sonoma County's Favorite Country Market", a recipe collection that also comes recommended by one of my favorite food bloggers--Heidi Swanson on her site 101 Cookbooks . Tapenade, a French condiment, is a thick rough paste typically made from capers, anchovies, olives, olive oil, and lemon juice. You can use it as a sandwich spread, to spread on bread, crackers or as a dip for raw vegetables. There is also an Italian version, olivada which is a simpler puree of black olives, olive oil and black pepper. Either way, because olives are so salty, combining them with sweet figs makes perfect sense. Though making it with a mortar and pestle is tradit...
Friday, December 05, 2003

Sunflower Authentic Vietnamese: Restaurant

When I was growing up Asian food meant Chinese and occasionally Japanese. But over the years Thai restaurants became quite common. Then Vietnamese restaurants started popping up. What strikes me about Vietnamese cuisine is how varied it is. Sometimes you can taste the Chinese influence, other times you can taste a French influence. But it's all good. In San Francisco there are many Vietnamese restaurants to choose from but one I go back to consistently is Sunflower. It's a popular place, in a happening neighborhood full of great places to eat. Actually this restaurant has two locations, one right around the corner from the other. The food is the same. The prices are very reasonable. The staff is welcoming and efficient. Tonight we had some spring rolls, the fresh cold ones, wrapped in rice paper and lettuce leaves stuffed with rice noodles and shrimp and served with a spicy peanut sauce. Another appetizer was the deep fried pot stickers. We also had a stir-fried chicken ...
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Persimmon Bread Recipe

I've never really gotten into making bread. I do it occasionally, but it's not my passion. When I want to bake something I usually don't have much patience so quick breads are more my style. There are lots of great quick breads. Two of my favorites are banana bread and persimmon bread. They each use very ripe or over ripe versions of the fresh fruit. For persimmon bread you want to use the Hachiya variety. The Fuyu is rounder shaped than the Hachiya and is a bit crunchy, good for using in salads, it has a pale orange color. Fresh Hachiya persimmons are really extreme. Their color is almost shockingly bright orange and the texture is downright slimy. Though they are sweet there is sometimes a very bitter after taste to the raw fruit. They sound just awful, but actually they are quite delicious. And if you can't fathom eating them raw, you should really try them in bread because they are no longer bright orange, slimy or bitter. This recipe comes from a neighbor of m...
Monday, December 01, 2003

Jam Souvenirs

Lee and I are collectors. We collect all sorts of thing. Some of it valuable, most of it not. We love to travel and to bring stuff home. Problem is with a small apartment collecting can easily get out of hand. And it's not like we actually NEED anything. So a few years ago we came up with an ingenious idea. Rather than buying lots of stuff we don't need on vacation, we'd buy something we actually do need. Jam. When we go on a trip--even if it's just a weekend trip and we feel compelled to buy something we pick out a jar of jam. We know we'll use it up and while we do we'll remember our trip fondly. In Hawaii we have bought tropical guava and lilikoi jams. On our honeymoon in Spain we bought Seville orange marmalade in Seville. In Paris we always buy Bonne Maman jam. It's a grocery store brand, not gourmet but it's really good and much cheaper there and they have flavors you'd never find here--rhubarb prune and orange fig, both delicious. Our o...