Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Monday, December 28, 2009

Catching Fire

A very interesting book that answers the question of what makes humans different than animals... cooking! Most of it is an anthropology study determining when in the evolutionary chain humans starting cooking their food, and the implications to society. What makes it good is that it brings together several branches of science to support the theory, and although a bit technical, is well written. It pulls together several things that once put together seem obvious (like much of our food, like most grains, are not digestible if not cooked). The other is that it takes much more energy to digest raw foods (vegetable or animal), and that as humans, our digestive systems are not designed to eat large quantities of raw foods (it also supports this with some not so flattering studies done on current raw-foodists, especially if their goal was to propagate the species). The key take-away for me was that no one has a good understanding of the net energy value of foods (calories in the food minus calories needed to digest minus what is not digested). Small studies show that both cooking foods and making food finer in texture (like grinding) increases the energy and nutrient value of food, and reduces the amount of energy needed to digest the food. Which supports one of my key beliefs on nutrition: there is still a lot we don't know.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

3rd Annual Napa trip

For the 3rd December in a row, we journeyed to Napa Valley.  (here's why).  Mornings were foggy but the afternoons were sunny... not bad for this time of year.   Unfortunately, one of the couple that was going meet us there got sick, so we were on our own.
Courtyard at Clos Pegase

We grabbed lunch in Napa (the city) at the Fatted Calf,  and had soup and a sandwich (the are really a butcher, but have a special every day). We started our winery visits at Clos Pegase, one of our long time favorites (and a good place to start, since we had not bothered with reservations).  We re-joined their wine club which we had to stop when we moved to Arizona, fortunately the shipping laws have changed so we can once again get club shipments.   They also took care of making us a reservation that afternoon at Failla, a winery we passed on the way there. We had had (and really liked) their Pinot's, but  had never visited.  Failla was definitely the new find for this trip.  They are a small producer, mostly Pinot Noir's and a Chardonnay. Most of the fruit is sourced from the the Russian River or Sonoma, which is a bit cooler and better suited to these grapes.  They ferment in open containers (!), and then into French oak.   We tasted several different Pinot's ... they were all good.. and only one is available outside the winery.   Last, we visited Salvestrin, which is conveniently were we stayed (again).    Dinner was at Cook, a small restaurant in St. Helena.  Roy had some really awesome pasta, with roasted pork.  I had cioppino... lots of good seafood, but it was pretty spicy, which was OK but not wine friendly.

On Saturday, after a good and huge breakfast at the B&B, we wandered around St Helena a bit.  Then we went to Casa Nuestra, an even smaller winery.  They did some interesting stuff ... we bought a few bottles, I'm reserving judgement until we tasted them a bit more. Lunch was at Greystone, in addition to the temptations appetizer, I had the onion soup which had a fun meringue / souffle top.  Roy had the butternut squash soup.  That afternoon we visited Bremer Family Winery, one of our absolute favorites.  We liked everything we tasted!   After that, we were pretty much winery-ed out... and had enough wine coming to fill the wine fridge.   Dinner was at Martini House.  I had chicken pot pie and Roy has pot roast... nothing like comfort food done sous-vide!

There was another great breakfast Sunday morning, then we were back to airport to come home.  And now, the wine starts to arrive... did I mention that before?  Not like in the summer where you need to have the wine held before shipping.  Another great reason to go this time of year!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch

I will be the first to admit I’m not the type to read big non-fiction books.  So I’m pretty proud of myself for actually getting through the 500 pages of Appetite for Life!  This is a biography with a big B:  it was authorized; the author had full access to Julia Child, her letters, several family diaries, as well as letters and interviews with family and friends.   It’s very much the historical work, sometimes overstuffed with minutia, names and dates, but does an excellent job of describing Julia and how she fit into the recent history of food as well as US history. The appendices describe all the source material, a great job was done in editing to only 500 pages. In the end, I find myself awed and inspired by Julia and her works.

The early part of the book is slow, she grew up as a spoiled California party girl which was not all that interesting.  The story picks up during the time she was in the OSS in India and China.  Fascinating to me (as someone who doesn’t read big historical books, but lately, lots of WWII fiction) was the non-European perspective of WWII:  the people and politics of the time, including the OSS, McCarthy-ism, and their influence on Vietnam. 

Later in life, Julia Child was quite the celebrity between PBS shows and Good Morning America appearances in addition to her books. I never saw much of her on TV (but knew enough to fully enjoy Dan Aykroyd’s satire of the show), and never had the Mastering The Art of French Cooking  cookbooks. I didn’t understand her real influence on food.  Her memoir, My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme gave me much more background on what went into the first cookbook, but this book brought so much more to the story. 

Julia was passionate about food, and wanted to share this passion with others.  She followed through with incredible organization, detail and hard work to share the vision through teaching.  She had the drive to get things right (and that would be her definition of right).  Also impressive was the energy that Julia had, right through her 80’s, even with the problems of aging like bad knees and loved ones in nursing homes.

Julia’s vision started with an attempt bring the pleasures of cooking and eating to the American public, not the “America home economics with its undercurrent of nineteenth-century melioristic scientism”.  (Definition of melioristic: the notion that the world can be improved by human effort). Her cookbook was out of step with the current fashion: “Americans were then eating canned vegetables with marshmallows melted on top, frozen chickens cooked in canned mushroom soups, frozen fish sticks, and dishes that could be served during commercials…  Processed food products and junk food led to unwanted poundage, which in turn stirred up a wave of dieting and diet books … Avis [Julia’s agent] commented about  the “gunk” in the American kitchen and the increasing number of manuscripts for diet books she was receiving … “[There is] not a single honest recipe in the whole book – everything is bastardized and quite nasty .. Desserts .. sweetened with saccharin and topped with imitation whipped cream. Fantastic!  And I do believe a lot of people in this country eat just like that, stuffing themselves with faked materials in the fond belief that by substituting a chemical for God’s good food they can keep themselves slim while still eating hot breads and desserts and GUNK.”  This was in 1959!  (and its taken until 2009 for me to get all of the high fructose corn syrup out of my house, and even then some slips back in, last in the guise of Rice Crispy Squares).

The other theme that runs through Julia’s work was to help Americans overcome their “fanatical fear of food”. An example: “fear of food was endemic in suburbia. Every new health warning (Poisons in Your Food) reinforced America’s puritanical relationship to food and wine. Food was either a sinful or a bothersome necessity.  The most popular food books in the early 1960s were Calories Don’t Count and the I Hate to Cook Book…”  That said, she had some confrontations with other visionaries of the time, like Alice Waters. Julia felt that all the talk of organic foods and evils of pesticides would just further scare people from cooking.

I could go on.. but this book really hit home for me during my current quest to reduce the amount of processed food in my diet and understand the struggles of those around me with food.  Plus I have another role model on living a full life, continuing to learn and share and grow (bad knees and all).  The other take away: During the life of Julia Child, there was massive amount of written communication compiled, including letters, diaries, manuscripts, and written articles.  I sometimes wondered if she ever made a phone call!    But I can hope that in addition to more people cooking from the larger selection of fresh food available, that someday people can use our blogs, tweets, Facebook and other written communications to write inspiring biographies!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stuffed Mushrooms

Last night at a wonderful party with lots of friends, we were discussing seasonal favorites, and someone mentioned how often she makes "my" stuffed mushrooms and how everyone loves them.  I'm not even sure where I got the recipe, and have not made it myself in a long time.  But a good reminder of something yummy I should make for the next get together  -- especially convenient since you can make them ahead, and bake when you need them.   And maybe a good experiment when I get around to trying to make sausage (being that I can't do anything the easy way). 

Stuffed Mushrooms

3 hot Italian Turkey sausages, casings removed
1 clove garlic chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
Olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces) 
6 ounces low fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg yolk

48 small ( or 24 large 2-inch-diameter) mushrooms, stemmed
1/3 cup dry white wine 

Sauté sausage, garlic and oregano in heavy large skillet in small amount of oil over medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through and brown, breaking into small pieces, for about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage mixture to large bowl and cool. Mix in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, then cream cheese. Season filling with salt and pepper; mix in egg yolk. 

Line cookie sheet with parchment. Brush cavity of each mushroom cap with white wine; fill with scant 1 tablespoon filling.  (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)   Arrange mushrooms, filling side up on prepared sheet pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered until mushrooms are tender and filling is brown on top, about 25 minutes.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bread for stuffing and other Thanksgiving comments

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, with all the traditional fixings   ... but we are slowly losing the tradition of cans and packaged foods. And I think we have started a new tradition of smoked chicken wings for lunch (Lou's new specialty).
A big hit was the new version of Green Bean Casserole, using the recipe from Alton Brown.  We did all the parts the night before: blanched the green beans, made the mushroom soup part, and cooked the onions.  (Did you know that the first ingredient of the fried onions that you buy in a can is palm oil... yuck).  The only tricky part is the onions.  Don't cut too thin (go for ~ 3/16 of an inch) and try to cut evenly.  And don't get too brown the first time, as they will get browner on the casserole (especially in the turbo-charged convection oven).  We cooked in a 9x13 casserole dish, for about 20 minutes after the turkey came out of the oven. 

Not so big a hit were the brussels sprouts, even sauted with a bit of bacon (and finished with a little cider vinegar).  Roy, Sharon and I loved them, everyone else, not so much.  At least Bridget had fun slicing them with the Cuisenart!

Also a note on a deconstructed turkey:  You can do a big one this way: we did a 23-pounder.  Using the turbo-convection oven, when started at 400F for 20 minutes, then 325 it was done in about 2 1/2 hours (we dropped the temperature to 300F towards the end so it actually cooked for almost 3 hours).   I started at the higher temperature because I was a little late getting it into the oven, I had figured on 3 1/2 hours (which might be right for a normal 325 oven).  As always, everything cooks evenly.  We just had to use an extra pan because both legs didn't fig into the roaster.

Finally, here is the recipe for the stuffing.  Last year I discovered that Pepperidge Farms stuffing (which is what our family ALWAYS used) had one of my banned ingredients (don't even remember if it was HFCS, hydrogenized oil, or MSG) so I made my own bread using the bread machine (where you don't care there are stupid holes in the bottom from the paddles).   I'm always surprised at how long it takes for the bread to dry, especially considering that if you leave a slice of bread out you are making a sandwich from it is crispy in 15 minutes.  If you don't have a bread machine (I suspect that mine is on its last legs), there should be no problem making like normal bread, would just follow the steps for any whole wheat bread recipe. 

Herb Bread for Stuffing
2lb loaf, make 20 ounces of stuffing (lots)

¾ cup milk 
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
½ teaspoon sage
Black pepper (a couple of good grinds)
2 teaspoons yeast

Heat the milk and butter together in the microwave until the milk is just a little warm, and butter is soft and starting melt.  Put everything (in order) in the bread machine and start.  When done, let completely cool, preferably overnight.  Slice into cubes, about ½ inch square.  If the crust is particularly heavy, remove some of the crust, but otherwise leave on.  Spread the cubes on a large sheet pan, and let dry for a couple of days.


Bread Cubes 
½ ounce dry mushrooms, reconstituted in ~ 1 cup boiling water. 
8 ounces (1 package)  mushrooms (sliced)
1 large onion (diced)
2 stalked celery (diced small)
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter
2 cups turkey broth
¼ cup of chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, sage, etc).

Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl.  Stain the dry mushrooms, reserving liquid.  Chop and add to stuffing.  Saute the fresh mushrooms, onion, and celery with salt in the butter, add to the bread cubes.

Add mushroom liquid to bread cubes, careful to not get any grit at bottom.  Mix the cubes, add a cup of turkey broth (slowly pour around the top).  Stir and taste.  Add another ½ to 1 cup broth.  Cubes should be just moist, not soggy.    Ready to go in / under turkey, or in a separate casserole dish to cook (if cooking separately, put a bit of turkey fat and / or skin on top). 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving's coming

Its just a week away!  This year will be at my brother's house, with the standard Norman fare.  I slowly can change things ... for example, everyone is now expecting homemade cranberry sauce, and not disappointed that you can't see the ribs from the can in the jelly.

Last year, I started making the bread for the stuffing instead of Pepperidge Farms ... as part of my ban on HFCS and hydrogenized oils, not sure if anyone noticed.  I plan to do it again this year, just need to find the recipe (and I will post when I find it). 

This year, I'm going to mess with the green bean casserole, and will make the mushroom soup part instead of using Cambells.  Lou even agreed to use fresh green beans. 

We will also do a deconstructed turkey.     But the squash gratin will need to wait for Christmas.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Creamy Pasta Sauce

OK, so obviously I have not made the blog every day goal.  So I'm resetting the goal to blog every week...  at least until the end of the year.

Always an inspiration are recipes that I e-mail out to family and friends.   I was talking to my brother today, who had some chicken he needed to cook, and wanted some pasta for dinner.  I really like a creamy sauce with chicken and pasta (plus a few vegetables), so I recommended this:

Creamy Pasta Sauce
This is great to use up whatever you have on hand.  Also, it reheats very well

3-4 servings

8 oz pasta (linguine, spaghetti, corkscrew)

1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon flour
1 ¼ cups low fat milk
¼ cup of low fat cream cheese (block or tub)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Start water to boil for pasta.  For the sauce, melt the butter in a sauce pan or skillet.  Add garlic and sauté for a few minutes, then add flour.  Cook for about 30 seconds, then slowly add milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook until nearly boiling, add cheeses and cook until very thick.

Drain pasta (with optional vegetables) and return to pot, add sauce and other options.  Give a good twist of black pepper, add more cheese or toasted nuts if desired


Vegetables (blanched):  Use up to 2-3 cups of asparagus, peas, broccoli, carrots or other vegetables to pasta and cook (need to judge how much time to cook the veggies, generally add 2-3 minutes before the pasta is done

Vegetables (sauted): Use up to 1-2 cups of onions, shallots, mushrooms, and/or bell peppers, can put garlic here rather in sauce.  Place a small amount of oil in skillet, add red pepper flakes if desired, and sauté vegetables.  If it gets too dry, add a little white wine, or a bit of broth or water. Use the same pan to cook the sauce, remove the vegetables first (unless you are just using a little onion or shallots, then its ok to leave them in the pan).

Herbs: whatever you like, add to sauce when it is done.

Meat: Sauté chicken chunks, black forest ham (cut sandwich slices into strips), or use other leftover roasted meat.

Cheese: the original recipe called for Gorgonzola, but I’ve never actually tried this.  Usually I use a hard cheese, plus will throw in scraps if we have any left from a cheese appetizer.

Nuts:  A nice addition if there is not any meat in the sauce.  Walnuts or pine nuts, toasted in the toaster oven (1 cycle through “toast” on a foil lined pan) are good.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tourists in DC

Back from a wonderful trip to Washington DC with my mom.  We did most the normal tourist things, visited one museum off the beaten path, and had a wonderful private tour of the Library of Congress.   Plus, it was really nice to spend time with mom.

1st Day ...

We flew into Baltimore airport on Wednesday, and although rain was forecast it was only overcast. Our hotel was very close to the Capital, and we got out for a walk after we arrived.   We found a great place for dinner just around the corner called Sonoma Wine Bar and Restaurant. 

On Thursday, we started out with a visit to the Botanic Gardens, which is right by the Capital Reflecting Pool, but not a common stop on the tourist route.

 Next we had a tour of the Capital, then lunch at the American Indian Museum, then spent the afternoon (which was just a bit wet out) going to a few of the Smithsonian museums. 

On Friday, we took a cab to Hillwood Museum (out towards the zoo), which was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post.  (Note, if you plan to go, you need to make reservations, which you can do on-line).

The museum “features the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia”  plus a bunch of French decorative art and furnishings.  The house was really nicely done, especially considering how much "stuff" there was in it.  More impressive (to me) were the gardens, the sun came out that afternoon, so we took the opportunity to do some sketching.

Next, we visited the Washington National Cathedral.

It was dinner time by then, so we headed to DuPont Circle, and found a restaurant with tables out on the sidewalk for a nice dinner. We took the Metro back to our hotel, with a slight detour to walk by the White House.

The highlight of our trip was on Saturday, a tour of the Library of Congress.

In addition to the rare books, documents, and maps, the building is just layered with art – all with themes that relate back to libraries or literature.  And extra special was a private tour from my brother’s wife’s aunt who is a docent there.  

That afternoon we visited the monuments on the mall: Lincoln Memorial plus the Viet Nam, WWII, and Korean War Memorials.  
It was a beautiful day, but a little somber with the reminders of the wars and people killed.

And we had dinner (again) at Sonoma.

The last morning, we walked through the residential section of Capital Hill to the Eastern Market.

Its centered around an old (but recently rebuilt) market, on Sunday’s a farmers market and flea market is set up on the street in front. It was nice to watch the people and their dogs out on a sunny but cool morning, and we picked up a few honey crisp apples (they were really good).  

On the way back we circled around the Supreme Court building,

and took a last look at the Capital and Library of Congress before heading back to the airport to come home.

I twittered along the way as well ... check it out for more pictures and doings.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


My aunt asked for my freezer pesto recipe last week, and I was surprised that I had not blogged about it yet, it’s one of the things that is a staple at my house, generally as pizza sauce.

If you have basil in your garden, now is a good time to harvest large quantities, as the weather starts to cool, the basil plants seem to get tired.  I have a couple of basil plants in my garden which although have been quite healthy (and good tasting) have stayed fairly small, I might try to find some basil at the farmers market this weekend. 

I start by picking off the leaves, then rinsing (and if they are especially dirty, putting into a sink full of water), then spinning dry in my salad spinner.  I lay out on towels try dry a bit more.   From there, you can either make freezer pesto or full pesto, both recipes follow. And this freezing method works for most any herb. I have done both parsley and cilantro (without the garlic). They stay quite bright green and tasty.

Freezer Pesto:

2 - 4 cloves of garlic
Enough fresh basil leaves to fill food processor bowl, washed and patted dry 
Or about 2 cups packed fairly tightly
½ cup olive oil

Turn on food processor fitted with blade and drop the garlic through the feed bowl.  Let process until most of it is stuck to the sides. Scrape down, add the basil.  Process w/ pulse on/off until basil is chopped.

Turn the motor on, and add olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  

Immediately (so that it does not get dark) put the mixture in a 1 quart freezer bag. Press out the air and seal.  Then draw into quarters, and fold the bag to keep separate.  Alternately, put mixture into a container and press plastic wrap onto surface.  Freeze until ready to use.

Pesto: The full fledged recipe.
Makes 2 cups.

4 oz. Parmesan cheese (can use part Romano)
3 - 4 cloves of garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry (packed fairly tightly)
½ to 1 cup walnuts or pine nuts 
~ 3/4 cup olive oil 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cut the cheese into chunks, and process with blade in food processor until finely grated.  Pour out of food processor and set aside.

Put bowl with blade back on base (don’t need to clean the bowl), turn on and drop the garlic through the feed bowl.  Let process until most of it is stuck to the sides.  Scrape down; add the basil and nuts.  Process w/ pulse on/off until basil is chopped.

Turn the motor on, and add olive oil in a slow, steady stream.  

Shut the motor off; add the cheese, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process briefly to combine, the scrap out into a bowl and cover until ready to use (press a piece of plastic wrap right onto the surface to keep from turning dark.  Will keep for several days. 

How to use: 

Pasta with Pesto:   Cook 1 lb. of Linguine.  Meanwhile, mix 2 tablespoons pasta water, ¼ cup cream (or milk or greek yogurt), and 1 cup pesto in large bowl.  Drain pasta, return to bowl and toss (add a bit more pasta water if its too thick), add a good grind of pepper. Sometimes I make the pesto without any nuts, and serve this with toasted pine nuts on top.  

Rice with Pesto:  Add a big spoon full of pesto to cooked rice. 

Pesto bread: Spread pesto on slices of French bread, broil/toast until bubbly.

What to do with freezer pesto:
Thaw, mix with cheese, etc. to get full pesto.
Throw a frozen chunk into a batch of spaghetti sauce.
Thaw, mix with a can of tomato sauce and use for pizza sauce.
Thaw, mix with a little more olive oil and use for pizza sauce
Throw a frozen chunk into rice that’s almost done, finish with a bit of grated cheese.
Throw a frozen chunk to a big pot of soup that’s almost done.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fruit Crisp

We have been getting some nice fruit this summer.  Today at the farmers market, there were some late season peaches and first of the season apples (both from Wilcox).  Plus,  we have been getting good blueberries from Safeway and Trader Joes (big boxes – that cost what the small boxes normally cost).  Last week Roy picked up some wonderful white peaches at Trader Joes.  Add to that some local melons, and we have certainly been getting our daily requirement of fruit… plus. 

And sometimes we get a bit overloaded, especially when you need to buy large boxes. That’s when it’s time to start the oven.  There are all sorts of fruit with a crust desserts, starting with pie but also including cobblers, slumps, crisps, crumbles, and buckles.    Pie crust is the most simple it terms of ingredients  – just flour and butter (or other shortening), crisps and crumbles get sugar added, the cobblers and buckles get milk or cream added.    My favorite is the crisps – they are very quick to put together (much easier than pie), you can scale from individual servings to a family size pan, and the topping can be frozen. 

Normally for two of us, I make crisps in oval gratin dishes (sized for an individual casserole).  One of these is the perfect amount.   I make a full recipe of the crisp topping, and use about half.  The other half goes in the freezer, to be used at a later time (no need to thaw, just crumble and use).   I have also make them in individual size ramekins, and occasionally make a full size one.  The same crisp mixture can be used for all different fruit.

Generally, I through these together as I’m cooking dinner, then pop it into the oven as we sit down.  They will be done and still warm for desert (although they are good at room temperature too).  But warm is best for ice cream.

Use the below recipe as a guide.  I did one last week with the above mentioned peaches and a handful of blueberries.  It was real pretty as well as tasty. (did I think to take a picture? no) Sometimes I throw some slivered almonds into the crisp topping.  Or dry cranberries into an apple crisp. Often I cook them in the toaster oven (just a note – in mine, I need to drop the temperature to 325F or they brown too quickly).  Adjust the amount of fruit and thickener for the size pan (and this is not too critical, worst case is it’s a bit runny or thick), use more or less topping.   If using a smaller pan, shorten the cooking time.   You will get a feel how long to cook, just wait until they are bubbly and browned, and in the case of apples, the fruit is tender.   All in all, this is a very tolerant recipe. 
Fruit Crisp:

Serves 4

Crisp Part:
¾ cup sugar
½ cup flour
¼ cup butter, cut into chunks

Mix sugar and flour in a small bowl, and work in the butter to make a crumbly mixture. 

Summer Fruit Crisp:
Blueberries, Peaches, Apricots, and / or Raspberries
enough fruit to fill 9x9 pan an 1 – 1 ½ inches deep
~ 2 teaspoons corn starch
~ 2 tablespoons Amaretto, Grand Marnier, or orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Peaches or apricots should be pitted and sliced (no need to peel).  Berries should be rinsed and reasonably dry.   Place into pan.  Mix corn starch and liqueur, then pour evenly over the fruit.    Sprinkle crisp mixture over top.  

Bake at 350F for 35 – 45 minutes. The fruit should be tender, filling bubbly, and crust  lightly browned.   Serve warm or room temperature, ice cream is a nice extra.

Apple Crisp:
4 large granny smith apples or other baking apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
½ cup water

Preheat oven to 350F.

Core and slice the apples into a 9x9 baking dish (optional – peel the apples, or partially peel the apples).  Sprinkle with the spices, and add the lemon juice and water. Sprinkle crisp mixture over the top. 

Bake at 350F for 40 – 45 minutes. The fruit should be tender, filling bubbly, and crust is lightly browned.   Serve warm, ice cream is a nice extra.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American

First, I have to say that The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite is the most highly hyped book I have read in a long time.  I heard about it on some blogs and twitter, bought it, and since then have heard the author at least three times on NPR (considering how little I drive, that seems impossible… maybe NPR has some stock in the publisher).

The book gives a credible story about the explosion of obesity it the US.  Basically, the problem is a combination of 4 things:

1. The food companies have optimized the sugar-salt-fat ratios in food to have the most appeal to our basic instincts (using sophisticated design of experiments and chemicals… seems I could have made better use of my ChemE degree than semiconductors.)

2. The above mentioned foods are cheap and easily available, heavily advertised, and easy to eat.
3. It is acceptable by society to eat anywhere, anytime – no need to stick to strict breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal times

4. The above factors have resulted in conditioned overeating, where the body is no longer able to give the brain credible input as to whether its hungry or full, rather, eating is triggered by the same biological factors as smoking, drug addiction, or alcoholism.

The author (a former head of the FDA) takes it a step further to recommend how to fix the problem of cue induced automatic eating. 

1. Understand that we are being manipulated by Big Food.
2. Become conscious of the cues that lead to over eating and avoid situations that lead to overeating.
3. Exercise – mostly as a substitute award, not just for calorie burning.
4. Develop a structured eating plan: have rules about when, what and how much to eat. Avoid highly processed food.

The content of the book is good – there are a lot of interesting studies cited.  It provides some understanding why the simple solution – eat less and exercise more – is so profanely difficult for some people.  Unfortunately, the book itself is not a great read. The writing style is choppy and redundant.
Basically – food is new cigarette, and the solutions aren’t much different – except that you have to eat.  I think it also gives some insight on how difficult a problem this will be. There probably cannot be enough hype.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I didn’t tell a lot of people, but one of the things I got for Christmas was a composter (you get really strange looks).  But I finally have a finished batch of compost, which I mixed into my herb garden last week, including around my new basil plants.

I got a barrel composter, a relatively neat (as in tidy) solution for our yard.  I have been putting all of the kitchen vegetable scraps (including a lot of citrus rind) plus paper towels and coffee grounds in it, along with some trimmings from the herb garden since January.  I have a plastic square container (which I think was originally intended for washing dishes) that I fill up ~ 3 times a week and dump in (then rotate to mix, it’s on a little stand that makes this easy to do).  I quit putting anything new in before we went to Hawaii to let it finish.  I have to say, nature is pretty amazing.   There has been a succession of bugs, starting with fungus gnats, then a type of small fly and assorted beetles, and ending with a whole bunch of worms – including a whole bunch of baby worms that appeared the day before I unloaded it.  All of this is good according to my friend the retired etymology professor.  The only time it got nasty was at the end –  it was too wet, so I had the lid off to let it dry out, which the only time it was a bit stinky and attracted house flies.   It mixed into the garden dirt just fine (it would just kind of disappear as you mixed).   Also amazing is volume reduction – when I was done, the amount of compost would have fit into the container that I dumped probably 50 times into the barrel.

This should result in some good basil this year (and if you are having Pesto Pizza at the house, remember, you don’t want to know how the sausage was made either).  Meanwhile, I am hoping the worms are happy in the garden, and I have started another batch.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spring... really

Yes, it is still technically spring, no matter how many days in a row it’s been over 100F.

I can hardly believe that I have not yet posted one of my long time favorite recipes, Shrimp and Asparagus.  There is still some good California asparagus in the markets, use that if you can.  The asparagus from Mexico is usually OK, and skip it if you can only get asparagus from Peru.  During the fall and winter months, you can substitute sugar or snap peas.  And as long as I am being a snob on food sources, I would also like to suggest skipping any non – American (or Canadian) shrimp.  There are lots of problems with farm raised shrimp from Asia (both environmental and health issues), as well as environmental issues with non-North American wild shrimp.  Unfortunately, the only place I have been able to buy US-sourced shrimp is Whole Foods.  Buy frozen raw shrimp (medium to large size) in the shell.  Thaw in a colander by running some water over them (on and off, takes about 15 minutes).  Or, if you are the type to plan ahead, you can thaw in the refrigerator.

Back to the goodness of this dish…. It’s great to serve for company – a very nice looking dish, and except for the 5 minutes it takes to cook, you can do all the prep work ahead of time.  I generally serve with rice. 

Sesame Shrimp and Asparagus

4 - 6 servings
Time: 20 minutes

1 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/4 cup oil
2 small onions, sliced
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and cleaned
4 teaspoons soy sauce

Trim asparagus and cut into 2-inch pieces.  Set aside.  In large skillet, toast sesame seeds over medium heat until golden, stirring and shake occasionally.  Remove seeds and set aside.  Add oil to skillet.  Over medium heat, stir-fry asparagus, onions, and shrimp until shrimp turn pink and vegetables are tender-crisp, about 5 minutes.  Stir in seeds and soy sauce. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Hawaii Trip

View from house at Puekea Ranch
We are back from the Big Island (Hawaii), were we had a fabulous time eating, snorkeling, hiking, and reading.  We rented a house in Hawi, a bit off the beaten path – not everywhere can you go to the annual “Trash Bash” to celebrate Earth Day. We will certainly consider the rental path on any future trips, especially where you have such an abundance of good markets with local food. Our house was really nice; it is part of an old property called Puakea Ranch (which was part of the Parker Ranch for a while). There are 3 rental houses plus the ranch manager’s home.  Emily the cow wonders around and provided almost daily entertainment. 

Bounty from orgainic farm visits
I posted a long review on Chowhound about our food adventures, including having Ashley Lueders with Safari Chefs set up 2 tours at organic farms in Hawi, then come to our house and do a cooking lesson us (what a treat!).

Snorkeling was quite fantastic; we ended up going out 3 times Kohala Divers.  The first time in, a pod of dolphins swam up just as got into the water.  There were lots of fish (including big schools of reef fish), and one little turtle.  The next time, we saw lots of turtles (at a spot called the turtle cleaning station, where turtles come and fish eat the algae off their shells), plus Moray eels (2 kinds – zebra stripe and the normal one) on both stops! 

Zebra strip morray eel
We also saw a big reef shark – we were following a turtle, kind of heading back to the boat, and about 30 feet down was a 5 foot reef shark.  The divers were just coming back, so we had a good reference on size.  On our 3rd trip (our last day there), we *only*  saw turtles, plus lots of fish, and some cool coral.  When we win the lottery, I want to move to Puako Bay, near where the turtle cleaning station is, so I could snorkel and sea kayak from my house.   Meanwhile, I will just try to recommend Kohala Divers , everyone on the staff was really nice, understood the local spots, and took care of you (including double counting to make sure everyone was back on the boat).

Beach at end of Pololu Valley
Our first hike was Pololu Valley. The trail head is at the end of the road (same one that Hawi is on), where we hiked down to a beach.

Beach at Waipio Valley, view from trailhead

We also hiked Waipio Valley (1000 feet up/down in a mile) which is where the road picks up at the other end.  Call us wimps, but we did not hike between them (our neighbor, who runs 10 hour Ironmans and used to live on the big island, said “it’s a tough hike”).  We also did the nature loop Kalopa State Park, a rain forest they are trying to return to native plants, plus a couple of other historic parks on the coast.

Ferns, moss, and other in the rain forest

Reading: its been a lot time since I have read so many books in a couple of weeks. But in addition to the long (but no stops!) flight, we had a few rainy days. Reads included The Lovely Bones, Asta in the Wings (this month’s book club book), and Daemon. Plus I am most of the way through another LONG book.  I’ll try to do some book blogs soon!

We "twittered" throughout the vacation, you can see more of a day-by-day view from both Roy and me (Firecooked).  I even posted a youtube (for the first time) of the cow trying to get into the hammock.
Too quickly I’m back in the normal routine (well, I quit working at 4:45 for a glass of wine and macadamia nuts!), but I do appreciate how nice it is where we live (and glad the cool weather is holding for a bit).  But its surprising how bright the light is here with 1-digit humidity!   Check out more pictures here    Aloha!