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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Non-fat Greek Yogurt Review

Today I ate six containers of Greek yogurt. Ok, not really. I tasted six different brands of Greek yogurt. You can probably find Greek yogurt in your local supermarket, its become increasingly available in the United States over the past few years (I've been told it's still a bit hard to find in parts of Canada). First of all, let me clear something up, the Greek yogurt you find in the US is not yogurt from Greece. All the brands I found were produced domestically. Greek yogurt is strained and some of the whey is removed, so it's thicker than typical yogurt. It's dense and creamy, buttery in flavor and higher in fat. But there are also non-fat and low-fat Greek yogurts. You can use the yogurt in place of sour cream, with granola and/or fruit, drizzled with honey or a dollop of jam or preserves. It's also used in lots of Greek recipes . The good news is, that all the full fat Greek yogurt I tried was absolutely delicious. You really can't go wrong with the...
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook Review

On the TV show Top Chef , contestants create dishes to impress the judges often with limited resources of time or money or ingredients. From a viewer's perspective, the biggest problem with the show is that you can't taste the food. Still I love it. Perhaps it's because I enjoy the challenging aspects of cooking--like every other home cook, I am challenged to use what ingredients I have and the techniques I know, to cook something delicious, day after day, night after night. Sometimes I wonder if I would agree with the judges. And I wonder how good those cooked-in-a-flash dishes with barely any ingredients really taste. I may never bother cooking something sous vide, break down an entire side of beef or serve 200 guests in one evening, but I'm happy to say I can now duplicate various dishes presented in the quickfire challenges on Top Chef thanks to Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook . Top Chef: The Quickfire Challenge Cookbook features mostly recipes that home cooks...
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hope for the Holidays

This week my parent's gardener showed up asking if he could do some work, because he needed money. And by the way, he asked, could he have something to eat? Not only did he not have work, he was hungry . My parents gave him some work and made him two sandwiches, one for now and one for later. They may not be rich, but they do have plenty to eat. Imagine not having the energy to look for work because you haven't eaten anything. Imagine looking for work anyway. Imagine not having enough food to feed yourself or worse, your family. In your own community, no matter where you live, there are people struggling to put food on the table. There is no greater gift than to help those in need. Are you looking for a last minute gift? How about making a donation to your local food bank in the name of a friend or family member? Or make a donation to the Menu for Hope and help someone to provide for their family in the coming year. It doesn't matter which prize you choose, because...
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter & Hazelnuts Recipe

If Lee had to choose one vegetable for the rest of his life, it would be brussels sprouts. Winter is not my favorite time of year when it comes to fresh produce, but I have to admit, it is partially redeemed simply because it's brussels sprout season. Like so many other vegetables, brussels sprouts benefit from roasting. They turn brown and the textural contrast of tender and chewy with a bit of crusty crunch is ever so satisfying. When it come to flavor, brussels sprouts are very mild when roasted and can go in many delicious directions. I like them with salty capers, olives and olive oil or with bacon and balsamic vinegar or with chili flakes and parmesan. Think of them like a slightly sweet canvas to paint with flavor. For Thanksgiving I worked on a variation of brussels sprouts with brown butter and hazelnuts. The combination was good, yet missing something. Acid. Just a bit of zesty lemon peel gives this dish the boost it needs. When making something with brown butter it&...
Monday, December 21, 2009

Vita-Mix Blender Review

I've longed for a Vita-Mix blender ever since I saw them being used on various competitive cooking shows, such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, so I jumped when I was offered the chance to review one. Frankly I was curious to see if I could make velvety soups and sauces like the ones I've had at restaurants but sometimes found difficult to recreate at home. I'm happy to say, the Vita-Mix gave me excellent results. I put it to the test making potato soup, butternut squash soup and mole sauce. I have also made countless smoothies with very good results. You can get creamy textures using a blender but not the super smooth luscious creaminess you will achieve using the Vita-Mix. At first I thought perhaps the larger size of the jar would make it difficult to blend small quantities but I didn't find that to be true at all. The base of the jar is larger, but the blades are flatter, and don't stick up quite so vertically as they do in a conventional blender. I have had very ...
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Allison Arevalo?

Photo credit: Allison Arevalo Have you discovered Local Lemons yet? Blogger Allison Arevalo is a New York transplant and perhaps that is why she embraces the local Bay Area food scene with such enthusiasm. She's been blogging less than a year, but her writing is already finding a home in print and beyond. She makes food that looks and sounds soul satisfying whether she's making Duck Fat Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Cranberries or her own high caliber everything-from-scratch version of a Big Mac . Her food blog is focused on sustainable living but without a hint of attitude or fundamentalism. Plus you have to love it when she improves upon potato pancakes by adding Italian sausage and leeks and topping them with poached eggs! "I never really thought about it. But now that you ask, it feels like hundreds of reasons are floating in my mind, justifying the insanely long hours I seem to spend in the kitchen. If I had to name a few, let’s start with these: I ...
Monday, December 14, 2009

Menu for Hope 6: Top Chef/Iron Chef

Are you or someone you know addicted to Top Chef and Iron Chef America? If so, this prize package is just for you: Season your way to good taste with Diamond Crystal® kosher, coarse and fine sea salt and put to use that iconic salt cellar you've seen Alton Brown using on Good Eats. Use a $25 CHEFS gift certificate to purchase anything else you might need, then cook like the chefs with signed copies of Michael Symon's Live to Cook and Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook (signed by chefs Jen Biesty, Jamie Lauren and Ryan Scott ). You'll also get a copy of Good Eats: The Early Years , Top Chef: The Cookbook and Top Chef Quickfire Challenge Game to keep you busy until next season. WHY IS SALT SO IMPORTANT? Perhaps you've noticed a lack of salt or too much salt is often a crucial element in the judging of chefs on Top Chef and Iron Chef America. Chefs like Alton Brown and Michael Symon know that to bring out the true flavor of food, you have to know how to use that ...
Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookbooks by Friends & Bloggers I Know

This year a number of my friends and fellow bloggers wrote books. I will not pretend to be unbiased when it comes to these books. I wish the authors much success! Here is a list of the books that I got a chance to review and enjoy: L.A.'s Original Farmers Market Cookbook My friend JoAnn Cianciulli wrote this terrific book with profiles of the vendors at the market at 3rd and Fairfax. Having visited the market I fell in love with the book. JoAnn is a fabulous storyteller and having written several cookbooks she knows how recipes work. Another reason why I love this book is the variety of recipes. There are dishes from all over the world yet the ingredients and instructions are very straightforward. I've made the crepes and the spiced nuts, both are winners. You could cook out of this book for a year and never get bored, you'll find everything from Seafood Gumbo, Kalbi, Tuna Sambal, Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche, to Almond Horns and Banana Cream Pie. If you love street foo...
Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Best Cookbooks of 2009

It's time for my annual cookbook round up. There were a lot of great cookbooks this year. Here are my picks for all kinds of cooks: Ad Hoc at Home I didn't want to include this book in my list but I couldn't help it. Sure it's a coffee table book, it's big and it's expensive but it has soul. Thomas Keller signed my book "It's all about family" and really that says it all. Food is about connecting with those you love. Ad Hoc is a book of recipes from Thomas Keller and Dave Cruz that shares those very recipes; delicious home style cooking but taken up a notch. Ok, taken up a few notches. Want to know how Keller makes a hamburger? Fig-stuffed Roast Pork Loin? Crab Cakes? Meatballs? Chocolate Chip Cookies? Sure you do. You'd be crazy not to. In addition there is fantastic photography and lots of personal stories. Best for: anyone who appreciates really good food Coco 10 World-Leading Masters choose 100 Contemporary Chefs Who do masters lik...
Monday, December 07, 2009

Jam Bars Recipe

I'm something of a party pooper when it comes to Christmas. I can't stand anything red and green and find Christmas trees universally tacky. Don't even get me started on the rampant Christmas consumerism or we'll be here all day! But I have always had a soft spot for Advent calendars. I like the surprises behind the windows, even if they are just paper windows. So I couldn't resist when the folks at Lexiophiles invited me to participate in their Recipe Advent Calendar. It's a bit like those Cookie of the Day newsletters that I sign up for every year. It doesn't matter that I don't actually make any of those recipes, the surprise of seeing them appear in my email box each day is a treat. This recipe is one I've been making since college. It's super easy and you can prepare it in no time at all. I've made a few adjustments to it over the years. Most importantly, don't use jelly, use good jam, or better yet, use preserves. I used Oregon ...
Friday, December 04, 2009

Interview with Paula Wolfert

At the Worlds of Flavor conference a few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of speaking with celebrated author Paula Wolfert about the subject of her latest book, Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking . It's one of the books I was most excited about this year, and I've already bookmarked a number of recipes that I can't wait to try. Why cook with clay? This is the way people in the Mediterranean cook. All the pots used have meaning. The saute pan is great for fast cooking but most slow cooking is best done in a clay pot. Try cooking butternut squash or an eggplant without any water or salt with paper over it (meaning a round of parchment paper as a lid) very slowly. See what happens when food returns to the earth. A pot is made of earth. What kinds of foods cook well in clay? Mediterranean food; breads, beans, stew. Commit yourself to underutilized cuts of meat. Buy spareribs and lamb necks, because you can cook in clay in increments and you will see the difference, the m...
Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Leftovers Recipes

If you ask me, the second best thing about Thanksgiving is not the dinner itself, but the leftovers. I like turkey a lot, especially its amazing versatility. Leftover turkey, even dry, overcooked turkey, is good in soups, salads, sandwiches, stews, smothered in sauce or topped with a poached or fried egg. Here are my suggestions for how to use leftover turkey. I've linked to recipes that I think look solid, but feel free to use your own or your imagination! Turkey Pot Pie Turkey Mole Turkey Enchiladas Turkey Mushroom Crepes Turkey Quesadillas Turkey Barley Soup Turkey Hash Turkey Salad Turkey Noodle Soup Turkey Cobb Salad Turkey Gumbo Turkey Posole If you have any favorite turkey leftover recipes, please share them by leaving a comment....
Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's easy to love Thanksgiving. Sure it's a day off to enjoy a feast, but the real reason why I love it is because it means getting together with friends and family and feeling thankful for all that we have, especially each other's company. Cherish those you love, they are more precious than anything else that you possess! cheers, Amy...
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Milk Chocolate Bars

Not too long ago I was a bittersweet chocolate snob. I would only eat chocolate bars with a very high percentage of cacao, the higher the better. But I've discovered some milk chocolate recently that I really love. If you only eat high percentage cacao, I urge you to try some of the more exquisite milk chocolates on the market. They may surprise you. They certainly surprised me. Milk chocolate has milk powder or condensed milk as an ingredient and generally has much lower percentages of cacao. Having tasted lots of chocolate, I am still very fussy about what I like and what I don't like. Regardless of the cacao content, good chocolate has to have clean flavors, it can't be too sweet, too salty or overwhelmed by flavorings such as vanilla. It should melt smoothly without a hint of graininess. It should be so good that even a little bit satisfies. When it comes to milk chocolate, I highly recommend each of these bars: Scharffen Berger Milk Almond Sea Salted Almonds...
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Parmesan Flatbread Recipe

I have a weakness for flatbread, all kinds of flatbread. If flatbread is on a menu, it's pretty much a given that I will order it. Years ago I made those Chinese spring onion pancakes, but other than that, I really haven't bothered. Why? Well, making flatbread seemed like it would be a bother, what with the yeast and the kneading, and rising and resting and all I figured it was easier to just order it in restaurants. Until last week. While in London I spent many hours perusing food magazines and the fantastic cookbook collection at Books for Cooks , one of my favorite book stores in the world. I will share with you my list of purchases at some other point, but suffice it to say one of my purchases was a Donna Hay magazine. Donna Hay is Australian but she is tremendously popular in the UK and for good reason. Her recipes are generally not that complicated but offer maximum impact for a minimum of effort. When I saw her recipe for rosemary flatbread I was intrigued. I adapt...
Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bay Area Food Events

I am very pleased to introduce a new feature on Cooking with Amy. If you scroll down the page on the right hand you will find a Google Calendar that lists local events that I have cherry picked. These are not randomly chosen, but only events I personally think will be well worth attending. I may even be attending some of them myself. Note: the image on the left is just that, an image, so don't try clicking on it! To use the calendar just click on the title of the event you are interested in for more details. Click on the title again and you will again see the full listing of events. If you click on the "+ Google Calendar" image you can subscribe to the calendar if you wish. I'll be adding more events as they come to my attention. A big thanks again to my coding guru Christine Vilar for making this calendar come to life....
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Perfect Fruit: Book Review

Have you ever noticed how the perfect fruit demands your attention? A run of the mill apple or banana is fine, benign even. But really spectacular fruit grabs you and doesn't let go. I hope everyone has the amazing experience of fresh, intensely flavored, sensual and almost overwhelming experience some day that Chip Brantley had when he first tasted a pluot. It changed his life. No kidding. The Perfect Fruit is his personal and journalistic investigation of this relatively recent stone fruit. Barely into the first chapter I found myself inexplicably drawn to a local farmers market where I found the aptly named "flavor king." You have to admit, it is an awfully beautiful looking fruit. It tasted even better. Sweet, tangy, juicy, floral and complex. The season for pluots is pretty much now over, but if you want to read a book about a most unlikely subject that will draw you in, much like a piece of perfect fruit, I wholeheartedly recommend The Perfect Fruit . Brant...
Monday, October 26, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Guy Prince?

Guy Prince is a man with focus. He grills and he smokes and coaxes the best out of food in his own unmistakeable way. Who else would serve squares of bacon as an appetizer at a picnic? There is no mistaking the man, his food or his writing. He's also a true gentleman who never passes up the opportunity to help anyone with their smoking, grilling or meaty dilemmas. His blog is Meathenge and his stunning carnivorous photos will make you insanely hungry. "Excellent question. For me, when I was a lot younger I found that I could cook better tasting food at home. And since I live and grew up in California, I could sure as hell out grill or out smoke any my local BBQ joints. The deal was sealed."...
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hodo Soy Beanery Factory Tour

Last week I got a sneak peek at the Hodo Soy Beanery factory in Oakland. I learned how tofu, soy milk and yuba (tofu skin) is made and my ability to eat store bought tofu was ruined forever. I am not a tofu hater. I like it. I don't find it bland, but mild, and I love the way it picks up the flavor of whatever else is in the pot or pan. I even like the Japanese style of serving cold cubes of tofu topped with a little grated ginger, soy sauce and scallions. Hodo Soy founder Minh Tsai likes tofu too. But he missed the fresh tofu he ate in Vietnam where he grew up. He experimented making it and his creations were a big success. Today he sells to high end restaurants like Greens , Slanted Door and Coi . Tsai explained at first restaurants used his products for staff meals but quickly it migrated on to menus. Soon his tofu will be at retail outlets and in December you can visit the factory and see it being made too. It's not a very complicated process, though much of the pro...
Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween Chocolate: Michael Recchiuti

Have you noticed that Halloween has become a major commercial holiday? I'd complain except that I am completely beguiled by the marvelous creations in the October edition of Martha Stewart Living magazine. I actually got a sneak peek at the photos for this issue when I was in New York last year. That chocolate cake with the green snake has been haunting me ever since! If I need one more thing to put me in the Halloween spirit it's this, Michael Recchiuti's adorable Jack o'Lantern decorated Halloween motif chocolates . They are filled with burnt caramel, one of the most popular flavors. A box of eight chocolate confections is $19. Any excuse is just fine to indulge in Recchiuti chocolates and these little sweets are more cute than creepy. But treat yourself soon, they are available only until October 31. Burnt caramel is something Michael Recchiuti clearly enjoys playing with, it ends up as a sauce , coating nuts , and even in ice cream . It really is the flavor of...
Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Susan Russo?

In a very short time Susan of the blog Food Blogga has established herself in the food blogging constellation. From the very beginning she reached out to her readers and other bloggers which is how I got to know her. Her breezy honest writing style and solid recipe writing skills has gained her a following not just on her blog but at NPR where she writes for Kitchen Window . Susan doesn't just share recipes but also family stories. Italian American to the core, her perspective spans her youth in New England and current life in San Diego. Next year, look forward to seeing not just one, but two cookbooks she is writing for Quirk Books. "Why do I cook? I could say because I’m endlessly fascinated with San Diego’s local produce (which I am), or because I like to eat healthfully (which I do). But the real reason I cook, the reason I’m drawn to the kitchen day after day is because it’s where I’m the happiest. I have my mom to thank for that. I grew up in an Italian-American fam...
Monday, October 12, 2009

Brussels Sprout Slaw with Apples & Walnuts Recipe

This brussels sprout salad recipe is perfect for lovers and haters of the little cabbage-looking sprout. The flavor is so mild, that it barely has any cabbage flavor. Because the brussels sprouts are shredded, guests might not even know they are the basis for the dish. Sweet apples and toasted nuts add complexity and crunch. It's a nice balance of sweet, salty, crunchy, tangy with just a touch of richness from the walnuts and the oil. Brussels sprout slaw is yet another recipe that was created out of "whatever was in the house." I will admit, laziness that keeps me from going to the store in turn inspires new recipes on a regular basis. In this case I had one apple and a bag of brussels sprouts. Back from a weekend out of town, I had no desire to go shopping. My original plan was to roast or saute them, but raw was a refreshing change from the expected. You could probably slice the brussels sprouts very thinly with a knife, but it's much easier to do in a food pro...
Thursday, October 08, 2009

Goodbye, Gourmet

I am definitely going through the five stages of grief. I could not believe the news on Monday that Gourmet was closing--denial. I quickly became angry. How dare they! Don't they know how important that magazine is? Bargaining came next. Why didn't they sell the magazine? Go to quarterly issues? Charge more for subscriptions? I wanted to find any way possible to save it. Right now I'm firmly in depression. I'm just so sad to see a magazine that provoked, inspired, educated and entertained for so long go away. It's not the end of the world, but it feels devastating, as if an old dear friend has slipped away without even a chance to say goodbye. I didn't always agree with the editorial or art direction but I always appreciated it and I never dreamed it would disappear. Visiting the Gourmet offices last year and the test kitchens was an experience I will treasure forever. It made me appreciate all that went into the magazine even more than I had before. At some po...
Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Kamran Siddiqi?

Photo credit: Kamran Siddiqi Kamran Siddiqi is unlike any food blogger I know. It's not because his blog The Sophisticated Gourmet is beautifully designed with gorgeous photos and an infectious enthusiasm, it's because at 17 he has that appealing confidence that comes with youth. Anyone who thinks teenagers are unfocused, rude and living only in their own world, clearly hasn't encountered Kamran or his blog. "Recipes meander through my head during every minute of every day. As a child, I was always in the kitchen where I would watch my parents, grandparents, and other family members create masterpieces. It was always exhilarating to hear the knife against the cutting board, pots and pans clacking, and spoons tapping against the sides of things. Who knew that these unintentional symphonies could create such amazing dishes? Sure, we all cook and eat to fill our stomachs, but as years go by, for most of us cooks, cooking, baking, and eating (and anything else that has t...