Monday, July 30, 2012

Cookbooks for Right Now

It's Summer and easy to follow, straight forward recipes that don't take hours and hours to prepare appeal to me most. The cookbooks I've been enjoying lately definitely reflect that. But these are books you will treasure long beyond this season, they are filled with comfort food, creative recipes and great stories... 

What I like about Guliano Hazan's latest book, Hazan Family Favorites is the exact opposite of what I like about many of Marcella Hazan's books. It's loose and easy and very informal. It's about flavors more than about specific techniques. It's not all Italian recipes, though most of them are. The stories of Giuliano's take on beef bourguignon, Lael's meatloaf, and desserts from the nonnas are charming but the proof is in the pudding and I can't resist an easy recipe for Bolognese Meat Sauce, surprising recipes like Cold Minestrone with Rice and of course, the most famous Marcella Hazan recipe--My Mother's Butter, Tomato and Onion Sauce. Recipes like Italian Latkes, Maccheroni Soup with Sausage and Porcini, Braised Leeks and Peas and Polenta Cookies are all destined to become favorites. But that's just me, you may find other recipes win you over. If nothing else, the book gives you a peek into the home life of one of America's most respected Italian cooking families. The foreword by Marcella Hazan is also noteworthy. Don't skip it!
I've been a fan of John T. Edge since I heard him speak at the CIA Worlds of Flavor conference a couple of years ago. At the time he was working on The Truck Food Cookbook. I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally have this book! It's got great stories about the food trucks and vendors, but also terrific recipes. For me, the recipes are not necessarily ones I follow exactly, but use as inspiration. For example after making the Roast Duck Taco recipe once I'm now a kick of buying roast ducks from Chinese delis and turning them into curry, salad, and of course, tacos. The Sweet Potato Fries recipe taught me a trick that enabled me to perfect my parsnip chips. The book is packed with fabulous recipes for sandwiches, crepes, salsas, tacos and fusion dishes like Fried Brussels Sprouts (with fresh Thai chilies, mint, cilantro and basil) and Kimchi Quesadillas. Yum! 

It's been five years since I took a class from Ruta Kahate and reviewed her classic book 5 Spices, 50 Dishes. Her book and learning just a few key techniques definitely made cooking Indian food at home less of an ordeal and showed me how easy it could be. For even more ideas for Indian food in a hurry is her follow up book Quick Fix Indian: Easy, Exotic Dishes in 20 Minutes or Less. While I haven't cooked anything from the book yet, I did get to try some of the dishes at a lunch and cooking demo that Kahate recently did. My favorite dishes were the Wilted Spinach with Red Chili and the Coriander Shrimp with Zucchini but I've bookmarked the Paneer, Smoky Eggplant Bharta and  the "Instant" Chicken Biryani. One of the best features of the book is a shopping list of that will make cooking "quick fix" meals a cinch. With the right pantry staples and a few items you can prepare ahead of time like ginger paste, garlic paste, ghee, red masala, green masala and browned onions you are one step ahead of the game. No matter what the season. 

There are three  things I love about Herbivoracious, the first cookbook by food blogger Michael Natkin. His vegetarian recipes are not trying to replicate meat dishes and never call for "fake meat." As an omnivore I eat what I like, if I want bacon I'll eat it. But plenty of times, most of time in fact, I want vegetarian food. Vegetarian food that is bold, creative and satisfying. It's what I try to cook, and what Natkin cooks too. His very original recipes like Shiitake Tacos with Asian Pear Slaw, Bocoles with Spicy Sweet Potatoes, Tofu Packages fragrant with lemongrass and chiles and Golden Beet Tartare are exciting! His Mexican Breakfast Torta with refried black beans and scrambled eggs beats the pants off of any other breakfast sandwich you can imagine. His condiments like Sesame Salt, Onion Chutney and Tomato Confit will add pizzazz to almost everything. Last but not least, though not all the recipes are quite that original, they are all appealing and not terribly challenging to make. My only criticism of the book? Natkin shot the photos in the book himself, and the best ones are where he took a step back and styled the scene a bit. In general the photography suffers from too many close ups that don't always do justice to the food.

Disclaimer: These books were provided as review copies, the links are to where I do have an affiliate account. 

Chopper Chef Knife Giveaway & Favorite Knives

Congratulations to Greg Patent, A Baker's Odyssey cookbook author (a great book by the way) and The Baking Wizard blogger who won the Chopper Chef Knife in the giveaway.  

In looking at the comments I found it interesting that so most people love their chef knives best, especially the 8-inch, though some like larger and some like smaller knives. Santoku knives were popular too. 

If you didn't win, just a reminder, New West Knife Works is also holding a contest  and giving away an entire knife block. Head over to their Facebook page to enter.

Disclaimer: I was given a knife to review by New West KnifeWorks and they are also providing the prize in this giveaway

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kitchen Knives & Chopper Chef Knife Giveaway

To cook you need a knife. It's as simple as that. You can "cook" raw food without a stove, possibly even manage a meal without running water, but cooking generally requires trimming, cutting, chopping, paring, slicing and dicing. The knife or knives you choose are up to you. Some prefer smaller knives, others like large knives. I've found that no matter how many knives you own, you likely will gravitate towards one or two. 

What knives do you need? 
If you had to limit yourself to the bare minimum, I'd say you should have a small paring knife, a large chefs knife and a serrated knife. The paring knife is ideal for trimming, peeling and small jobs in general, the chefs knife for just about everything else except slicing bread and tomatoes, which is why you need a serrated knife. After that it's really up to you. Which knives you choose, the style and size, are a completely personal decision, but I would recommend finding something you are comfortable using and that is the best quality you can afford. 

Choosing a knife
I have a few ceramic knives I enjoy using, but they are very delicate and can easily break and chip. Most knives are made from steel. But there are lots of different kinds of steel. Stainless steel knives are fairly inexpensive but don't retain a sharp edge for very long. Carbon steel does stay sharp longer, but is prone to darkening and requires proper care or it will rust. High carbon stainless steel pretty much offers the best of both worlds. I have Japanese and German knives. Both are good, none are perfect, and it's nice to have a variety of each. 

Chopper Chef knife review
Recently while my knives were being sharpened at Bernal Cutlery, a shop that specializes in sharpening using a Japanese whetstone, I had the pleasure of using an American made knife from New West KnifeWorks. I already have two of their steak knives and I really enjoy using them. The knife I received was their Chopper Chef Knife, which is similar to a santoku knife in shape. It's smaller than I typically prefer, but has nice heft, balance and an ergonomic handle. The cutting edge of the blade is very large. It's also gorgeous, thanks to the fusion wood handle. If you had to choose just one knife, this is a very good choice, small enough to handle paring and trimming jobs and heavy and long enough to chop your way through a large onion or even to butcher a chicken or chop meat for stew. 

Thanks to New West Knife Works I am giving away a Chopper Chef Knife (retail value $119) to one lucky reader! 

To win:

1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me which knife you use the most, or your favorite knife
2. The contest will end at 10 pm PST on Sunday, July 29, 2012. 
3. A winner will be chosen at random and will be announced on Monday, July 30, 2012.
4. Giveaway is open to US residents or anyone with a US mailing address.
5. One comment per person, please, and you must include your email address to win (in the registration is fine, you don't need to leave it in the body of the comment). 

New West Knife Works is also holding a contest of their own and giving away an entire knife block. Head over to their Facebook page to enter.

Disclaimer: I was given a knife to review by New West KnifeWorks and they are also providing the prize in this giveaway

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Vegetarian Green Chili recipe

green chili

Vegetarian green chili was the request for dinner the other night. Chili is very popular at my house. But I rarely make it the same way twice. It might be red or green made with white beans or black beans. I have made it with pork, beef, bison, turkey and chicken, but I like the challenge of creating a truly satisfying vegetarian chili. Somewhere a Texan is not very happy about that.

For this version of vegetarian green chili I knew I wanted to use Green Pepper Tabasco sauce which is made with jalapeños. Fresh jalapeños can vary greatly in heat, but the jalapeño version of Tabasco is always consistent. In addition I used many other green ingredients, some traditional like roasted chiles and tomatillos and one very non-traditional ingredient, spinach. I know that might sound strange, but it's really good. The slightly sour edge of spinach and tomatillos cuts through the starchy sweetness of the white beans. This recipe is a keeper and I know I will be making it again. By they way, when you buy tomatillos, choose the small or medium ones, not the large ones, which can be spongy and almost hollow.

I don't know about you, but I get very carried away when it comes to chili toppings. I usually set out little bowls with sour cream or plain yogurt, shredded cheese (queso fresco this time), chopped green or red onions, chopped cilantro and lime wedges. What do you like to put on top of your chili? Did I miss anything good? With the chili I serve cornbread, tortillas or tortilla chips.

Vegetarian Green Chili 

Serves 6


1 pound white beans
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken if you prefer)
8 ounces (2 small cans) chopped mild green chiles, drained (such as Hatch or Ortega)
1 cup water
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped
1 Tablespoon Green Pepper Tabasco


Cook the white beans according to package instructions. Drain and mash about 1 cup of the beans. Set aside.

Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat, when hot, add the oil. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring often, until golden about 7 - 10 minutes. To the onions add the cumin, give it a stir then add the tomatillos, salt, sugar, broth, green chiles, and water; heat to boiling over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, covered.  Stir in beans the beans, cilantro, spinach and Tabasco sauce; simmer until greens are wilted.


Disclaimer: I created this recipe on behalf of Tabasco and I was compensated for it. The choice to post it here, was my own.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Julia Child's Ratatouille Recipe

Next month will be the celebration of Julia Child's 100th birthday. Her publisher is marking the occasion with Julia Child Restaurant Week, weekly recipe reprints and a charming new book called Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child

It's sometimes hard to imagine that Julia Child has been gone for almost eight years. Her statuesque frame, her distinctive high pitched voice and sense of humor are impossible to forget.

Keeping the memory alive and introducing Julia Child to a whole new audience is Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child. It's one of those illustrated children's books that adults will adore. It's filled with joyful images, funny anecdotes and a range of recipes from easy and accessible like Mayonnaise to more advanced like a Gallantine and Bouillabaisse. The colorful images and cheery text manage to entertain and educate in equal measure. I've just seen some sample pages, but I was thoroughly charmed. If you have a budding chef in your family this is a great book to share with them. But any fan of Julia Child will want this too. It's worth it for the tales of Julia Child's childhood pranks and illustrated recipes alone. 

I don't know all the details of the Julia Child Restaurant Week August 7-15, but I can point you to the listing of restaurants. Find one in your area, then stay tuned! 

As a participant in JC100, I'm very happy to share with you Julia Child's recipe for Ratatouille. I have made this recipe the wrong way for ages. The secret is in cooking each ingredient separately so they retain their own flavor and texture. This recipe came back in fashion thanks to the adorable Pixar film, Ratatouille and Thomas Keller's elegantly revamped recipe (also known as confit byaldi) which featured overlapping layers of vegetables. 
Julia Child's Ratatouille

For 6-8 people

1 pound eggplant
1 pound zucchini
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
1/2 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) thinly sliced yellow onions
2 sliced green peppers (about 1 cup) 
2 cloves mashed garlic
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 pound firm, ripe, red tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced (about 1 1/2 cups pulp)
3 Tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and pepper

Peel the eggplant and cut into lengthwise slices 3/8" think, about 3" long and 1" wide. Scrub the zucchini, slice off the two ends and cut into slices about the same size as the eggplant. Place the vegetables in a bowl and toss with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and dry each slice in a towel.

One layer at a time, saute the eggplant and then the zucchini in 4 Tbsp. hot olive oil in a 10-12" skillet for about a minute on each side to brown very lightly. Remove to a side dish.

In the same skillet, cook the onions and peppers (add an additional 2 Tbsp. of olive oil if needed) for about 10 minutes, until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Slice tomato pulp into 3/8" strips. Lay them over the onions and peppers. Season with salt & pepper. Cover the skillet and cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until tomatoes have begun to render their juice. Uncover, taste the tomatoes with the juices, raise heat and boil for several minutes until juice has almost entirely evaporated.

Place a third of the tomato mixture in the bottom of a 2 1/2 quart casserole (about 2 1/2" deep). Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. fresh, minced parsley over tomatoes. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then half the remaining tomatoes and parsley. Put in the rest of the eggplant and zucchini and finish with the remaining tomatoes and parsley.

Cover the casserole and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover, tip the casserole and baste with the rendered juices. Correct seasoning if necessary. Raise heat slightly and cook uncovered about 15 minutes more, basting several times, until juices have evaporated leaving a spoonful or two of flavored olive oil. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the casserole. Set aside uncovered. Reheat slowly at serving time, or serve cold. 

Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ball Jar Giveaway Winner

Congratulations Patricia Crowley! You have won a case of Ball jars.

Thanks to all who participated.

Another giveaway coming soon...


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Can It Forward Day Giveaway!

Saturday, July 14 is not only Bastille Day, it's also National Can-It-Forward Day. That event, my recent post on DIY, Canning and Preserving and a Home Canning Discovery Kit I received from Ball made me decide it was time to take the plunge and try my hand at canning.  The kit had a book on canning, a special rack and lifter, some pectin and Ball jars, which you can find in just about any hardware store.

Instead of making a big batch, the kit enables you to make three pint jars which was pretty easy to manage and good for a beginner like me. I made a batch of canned plums that I spiced up with cinnamon chunks, cardamom and black pepper. I washed the fruit, boiled my jars for 10 minutes, made a sugar syrup according the instructions, filled the jars with plum halves and syrup, sealed the jars and simmered them for 20 minutes. It was pretty darn easy, though you have to be careful because the combination of boiling water and heavy jars can be a bit awkward. 

If I CAN than you CAN! If you've always wanted to try canning, now is the perfect time. There will be a series of live streaming canning demos on Ball jar brand's site, Fresh Preserving on National Can-It-Forward DayExperts are going to demo a mixed berry jam, kosher dill pickles, pepper jelly, fresh tomatoes and Italian style pasta sauce so if you want to try one of those recipes you can get a whole lot of help! 

Thanks to Jarden, maker of Ball and Kerr canning supplies I am giving away a coupon good for one case of canning jars.

 To win:
  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me what you'd can with a case of jars. 
  2. The contest will end at the conclusion of Can It Forward Day, at 10 pm PST on Saturday, July 14th, 2012. 
  3. A winner will be chosen at random and will be announced on Sunday, July 15, 2012.
  4. Giveaway is open to US residents or anyone with a US mailing address.
  5. One comment per person, please, and you must leave your email address in the comment to be considered. 

My thanks to Ball for providing me with the Home Canning Discovery Kit and for providing a case of jars to one lucky reader.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Bay Area BBQ Championship 2012

The Oakland Fire Department BBQ team shares samples and smiles
Liam Mayclem puts on his game face
The Bay Area BBQ Championship is back! On Saturday July 7th, 2012, there will be baseball, beer, bbq and a really good time for all at the Oakland Coliseum. Last year I was a judge and got to eat a whole lot of BBQ with my pal and fellow judge, Liam Mayclem.  It was the first year and I was happy to help lend a hand, especially because it was also a benefit for Alternative Family Services, a foster care agency in the Bay Area that supports families and kids. 

Here's what I learned, BBQ is taken very seriously! There is an official organization, the Kansas City Barbecue Society that sanctions competitions and even judges. I'm not a certified judge, but who knows? Maybe someday I will be. There are thousands of dollars in prize money not to mention bragging rights at stake. This year competitors will choose from chicken, pork rib, pork and brisket categories. Just hearing the names of the teams should be enough to convince you to attend, you'll meet the Butcher's Daughter, Bad 2 the Bone, Bad Boyz of BBQ, Big Dick's BBQ, Casual Smokers, Chain Smokers and Sir Porkalot BBQ. Over 35 pro teams are expected.

The amateur categories are a bit broader and include tri-tip, vegetarian and "Captain's choice" which can be beef, pork, chicken or seafood. There's also a BBQ sauce competition and a "throwdown."  I've helped to recruit some of my favorite local chefs as judges--Ben De Vries from Luella, Hoss Zare from Zare at Fly Trap, Scott Youkilis from Maverick and Hog & Rocks, Mitch Rosenthal from Townhall and Tanya Holland form Brown Sugar Kitchen and B-side BBQ. 
A winning tailgate dish from 2011 Bay Area BBQ Championship
This is a super family friendly event with carnival attractions, an urban garden, a baseball clinic and lots of entertainment. Tickets are $33 and include both tasting tickets and A's vs. Mariner's game tickets. You won't want to miss the chef demos or the beer tent where you can learn about pairing beer and bbq. Check out all the details at Bay Area BBQ. I hope to see you there!