Archive for April, 2011

FHE and I have a long history with wheat thins.  They were a constant companion in our dorm rooms, at the library, and in the house.  (I remember FHE smuggling them into the no-eating-allowed library on more than one occasion.  Two weeks of finals; twelve quarters.  You can do the math.)  I can’t say I was ready to give up boxed and baged foods, but at some point I became more ingredient-conscious of prepackaged foods.  One day I looked at the nutrition panel of my beloved cracker and noticed a litany of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce and more sodium than I could bear.  I wasn’t surprised; I was just in denial.  And so I slowly weaned myself….

Rice Kernel has yet to meet the authentic wheat thin.  But I bet he’s going to enjoy this copycat.  These crackers are incredibly easy to make and if you’re the type of person that likes to know what goes into your snack foods, this is the recipe for you.  Now all I need is a good recipe for triscuits – the other “staple” in FHE’s college pantry.  Anybody have one they’d like to share?

Homemade Wheat Thins, from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Cookbook


    1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for topping
    1/4 teaspoon paprika
    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (or Earth Balance)
    1/4 cup water
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    Salt (and other seasonings you wish, such as rosemary, cheese, thyme, etc.)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Add the flour, sugar, salt and paprika to a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the bowl.  Then, using a pastry blender, mix the butter into the dry ingredients thoroughly.  Combine the water and vanilla in a small measuring cup.  Add to the butter/flour mixture and mix until a smooth dough forms.  (Add more water as needed.)
  3. Lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin and roll the dough into a large rectangle.  Lift the dough and turn it as you roll to ensure it’s not sticking.  You want to roll the dough as thin as possible, try to make sure it’s 1/16-inch thick at most.  (Mine was a bit too thick; but my little helper insisted it was “fine.”)  Use a pizza cutter to cut the rectangle into squares about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide.  Or take the opportunity to personalize your batch of wheat thins and use a cookie cutter shape of your choice.
  4. Transfer the dough squares to the prepared baking sheets.  Sprinkle the squares lightly with salt or desired seasonings.  Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining scraps
  5. Bake the crackers, one sheet at a time, until crisp and browned, about 5-10 minutes.  Check the crackers at 5 minutes; the crackers can burn quickly so you want to keep a close eye on them. (My stars took 9 minutes.)

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I’m recovering from oral surgery.  Due to years of braces (and genetics?), I have to undergo a series of gum grafts to repair receeding gums.  Yes, it is fairly painful and bloody.  Mostly it’s inconvenient.  Limited activity, 4-5 days of mushy foods, and chewing limited to a small area of your mouth.  Enter the smoothie:  an easy way to ingest my quota of fruits and vegetables during the immediate post-op days.  And now, let’s get to know each other on a happier note.


By the time my husband, FHE, and I were college students in the early 2000s, smoothie love was in full swing.  On the West Coast, people had been lining up at Jamba Juice for years.  At school, I recall friends filling their dormroom fridges with Odwalla and other bottled vegetable and fruit concoctions.  FHE discovered the smoothie station at the student center and enjoyed his share of the “Sunrise Smoothie.”  Now if you’re envisioning an amalgamation of the freshest and finest fruits, think again:  these two words evoke nothing but creamy decadence.  We’ll never know the ingredient list, but I’m pretty sure the Sunrise Smoothie was comprised of passionfruit juice (or some other tropical fruit), canned fruit (pineapple, peach) with syrup, and orange sherbert.

About this time, my mother-in-law, who is a nutritionist by training, began warning us about the smoothie trend: don’t overdo it – it’s all sugar.  Fruit, fruit juice, and fruit sorbet or fruit yogurt.  Sugar, sugar, and more sugar.  Her message was particularly relevant to my husband, since my father-in-law is a lifelong diabetic.  Since the end of college, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve consumed a smoothie.  And then Rice Kernel came along.

After his first birthday, I discovered that my fruit-fiend son didn’t enjoy milk.  But if I froze fresh fruit and pureed it with milk, voila!  And for a creamier, thicker texture, Greek nonfat yogurt worked wonders.  Rice Kernel never had a problem downing his share of vegetables, but I’ve been known to sneak in a little spinach or carrot into the mix as well.  Healthy and easy to consume, my cleaned-up smoothie became an ally in the attempt to pump Rice Kernel with the requisite amount of vitamin D and calcium. 

On weekends, Rice Kernel often joins my husband and I at the gym.  He plays in the gym’s “KidsClub” while FHE and I break a sweat and catch up on bad movies and reality TV.  The moment we pick him up he says excitedly (without fail), “I want a smoothie!”  Fortunately, the gym shares my philosophy on smoothie ingredients.  Comprised of lowfat Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, and ice, it is simple, clean, and delicious.  Rice Kernel’s favorite?  TriBerry – blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries – and Tropical (just like his dad) – pineapple, mango, and orange.  For the adults, there’s an array of fruit and vegetable smoothies that incorporate kale, spinach, broccoli, dates, spirulina, etc.  A little too “liquid salad” for me, but I have it on good authority it’s a sweet, complete meal on-the-go.

Next time you’re looking for a way to get your five-a-day, forget the Jamba Juice menu and consider blitzing together some protein-rich (low sugar) yogurt, fruit, and greens.  It’s a complete snack (or meal) and you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll fill your “rainbow” for the day.  Best of all, there’s no worrying about recipes or seasonings.  Just keep blending until you’re pleased with the flavors.

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You’ve heard the proverbs before: “there’s so much more than meets the eye” and “life’s pleasures often lie in the simplest things.”  They collided recently in my daily life and on my dinner table. 

For the past year, a lady named Rebecca and I have been “classmates” at the Bar Method, a ballet-inspired exercise method.  Rebecca walks into class unassumingly – but always with a smile that unfurls to reveal two deep, charming dimples and always in a purple or violet top.  We’ve shared pleasantries many times but never had the opportunity (i.e. time) to “talk.”  Today, she knelt beside me before the start of class and joked that her body was in for some pain – it had been a few weeks since her last class.  We laughed about class and her recent travels and I remarked that she always brought a wonderful energy to class.  Regretfully, she said she would be leaving soon.  With a calm smile, she told me her family had moved from Singapore for the past year so that her almost 3-year-old could receive treatment at Stanford Hospital.  Her voice unwavering, she told me he had developed a malignant tumor so large, his head began tipping over from the weight.  With rounds of chemotherpy behind them and a favorable prognosis, the port that delivered the drugs to her little boy would be removed in two weeks and then they would be back to Singapore.  I was stunned.  I, too, had a little boy nearly the same age as hers.  And, yet, our journey through early motherhood differed so greatly. 

I will miss Rebecca when she moves.  Not only because of her smile and gentle presence.  But because she reminded me of simple, important lessons that her little boy learned too soon – and that my little boy has yet to – but must also – learn. 

Rebecca nourished my soul… as for the belly….

Complex, decadent flavors are exciting but, most days, I desire simple preparations that let the ingredients speak for themselves.  Truthfully, there is really nothing to add to a baked purple yam.  Dull, ragged, and unassuming on the outside, the interior reveals a tie-dye purple that only nature could create.  Wash it well and bake it until fork-tender and candy-sweet.  Once baked, the flesh becomes a deep, royal hue.  Loaded with vitamins, fiber, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants and low is saturated fat and sodium, the purple yam is one of nature’s most beautiful superfoods. 

Baked Purple Yams, found in specialty or Asian markets

Note: These yams are also delicious cubed or cut into fries, tossed with salt, pepper, agave nectar and rosemary, and baked until a crusty, carmelized crust forms around the creamy center.  They can also be mashed and baked into pies and breads.


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Scrub yams well under running water.  Pat dry.  Using a fork or knife, make several incisions to allow steam to escape during the cooking process.  Wrap yam in foil.
  3. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until knife inserted in the center goes in smoothly.
  4. Serve as is.  Or enjoy with salt, pepper, butter, or agave nectar.

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Swiss Chard.  Perhaps my husband’s favorite vegetable.  This year, when we began planting Fall vegetables I dedicated three rows of space in one of my planter boxes.  Nothing happened.  While my mustard greens, sugar snap peas, spinach and other vegetables flourished time and time again, my swiss chard remained the size of my pinky finger.  My neighbor planted endless rows of beautiful swiss chard with white, red, and yellow stalks.  She referred to them as the “weed” of her garden because they were so prolific and tolerant (to inattention, poor soil, and mild freezes).  Halfway through the planting season, I decided to try again.  I ripped out the lettuce that had bolted and the chard that never took and planted four new rows.  It’s been a month now.  They’ve broken through the soil – two are the size of my ring finger.  Progress.  But good thing I didn’t hold my breath.

Swiss chard seems to me one of the most underappreciated vegetables.  Highly nutritious, the leaves and stalks offer beautiful textural contrast and a sweet, buttery taste.  We enjoy it sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, in frittatas, and in pasta dishes.  Here, it’s paired with flower-like campanelles, which have enough little ridges and curves to hold some mild Italian sausage, roasted cauliflower, and hearty swiss chard.

Campanelle with Swiss Chard and Sausage


    1 tablespoon olive oil
    3/4 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed
    1 pound Swiss chard, cut into thin strips
    1 head cauliflower
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    Salt and pepper
    1 pound campanelle or other short pasta (like gemelli)
    1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (optional)
    1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)


  1. Roast cauliflower.  See here.
  2. In the large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Add sausage, and cook, breaking it up with a fork, until browned, about 5 minutes.  Add chard, garlic, and pepper; cook, tossing, until chard wilts, 2 to 3 minutes.  Toss in roasted cauliflower.  Cover to keep warm.
  3. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions, about 10 minutes.  Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water.
  4. Add pasta to sausage mixture with 1/2 cup reserved cooking water; toss to combine. Add more cooking water if pasta seems dry.  Adjust seasonings as necessary and add optional Parmesan cheese and pine nuts.

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I’ve written about my love for cauliflower.  But this ubiquitous crucipher remains overlooked and misused by cooks everywhere (i.e. my friends and neighbors in Palo Alto, CA.  But I assume many of you elsewhere have maligned, or at least neglected, my favorite white vegetable).  While the internet isn’t exactly buzzing with cauliflower recipes, site after site urges the home cook to submit the vegetable to boiling water or steam.   The result can only be unpalatable, waterlogged mush.   

In less time it takes to boil water to create flaccid cauliflower, consider roasting it and turning it into savory-sweet candy.  Tossed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, then roasted in a blazing oven, cauliflower becomes lusciously sweet and caramel-brown, tender in the middle and crisp around the edges.  Take it a step further and dress it up with some chili flakes, a squirt of lemon, some curry power, crispy pancetta, or some freshly-grated Parmigiano.  In fact, I just discovered a recipe to use-up my leftover capers!  Sicilian roasted cauliflower with raisins and capers.  (Here.)  Any way you decide to dress it up, toast it in some hot heat and use the pot for some pasta!

Plain Carmelized Cauliflower
    1 head cauliflower, washed, trimmed, cored, and sliced into small florets
    1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Spread the cauliflower in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.  Roast until the cauliflower is lightly caramelized, turning once, about 20 minutes.  Serve as is for a plain version or proceed with additional variations.
  2. For my sausage version (or to add any additional seasonings) heat a small pan, add olive oil, garlic, and cook the meat.  Then add the roasted cauliflower and saute for 30 seconds.  Serve immediately.

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If you have day-old Bioche, this is the perfect way to enliven the stale, but decadent, bread.  The French created this recipe to use up leftover Brioche by painting it with orange syrup and almond paste and then baking it until golden and crisp.  The combination of almond and orange imparts incredibly bright flavors.  At the San Francisco shop Patisserie Philippe, their bostocks are also topped with beautiful, thinly-sliced apples.  Serve it for breakfast, tea, or for an unexpected dessert.


Patisserie Philippe's rendition.


Bioche bread, thickly sliced (or challah bread)

Almond Cream

    1/2 cup almond paste
    4 tbsp butter (at room temperature)
    1/4 cup flour
    1 egg
    1/4 tsp almond extract
    1/2 tsp fiori di sicilia (orange-flower water), optional


    1/4 cup sugar
    zest from half an orange
    1/2 cup sliced almonds
    1/2 apple, sliced almost paper-thin


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Make the almond cream: cream together the butter, almond paste, flour, egg and almond extract in a food processor until smooth and set aside.
  3. For the topping, combine the sugar, orange zest, and almonds.
  4. Spread the almond cream (about 2 tbsp) on a slice of bread.  Arrange a thin layer of apples atop the cream.  Liberally paint the sugar topping (with a pastry brush) and sprinkle sliced almonds.  Place in oven for 10-15 minutes, until crisp and golden.  Serve warm.


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My husband and I resided in the suburbs of Chicago for several years.  We were content calling it “home,”  but the Second City was noticeably devoid of the fresh sushi we delighted in at home in the Bay Area.  Halfway through our stay, we discovered Akai Hana Restaurant.  Aside from the sudden surge in omega-3s in our diet, Akai Hana also provided us with renegade “Gringo sushi” known as the “Rock-n-Roll” (a deep-fried eel, avocado, and shrimp tempura roll with a diameter the size of a baseball) and, most memorably, a mouth-watering, palette-cleansing bowl of cucumber salad.  It is ironic that the city known for deep dish pizza and steak houses added Japanese cucumber salad to my dinner repertoire.
Cucumber is another of Rice Kernel’s favorite vegetables.  We buy organic mini cucumbers in bags of ten.  He enjoys them that much.  I grabbed a few to make this crunchy tart salad (which Rice Kernel consumed before the rest of us got to it) and paired with an effortless cod glazed with delicate miso paste.  Healthful, clean, and simple.  Now if only I had some Gringo sushi ….
Miso-Glazed Cod, adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Feel free to substitute sea bass, salmon, or other firm-fleshed fish.
    2 tbsp white miso (fermented soybean paste)
    1 tsp sugar
    1 tsp fresh lemon juice
    1/2 tsp water
    1/8 tsp black pepper
    4 (5- to 6-oz) cod fillets (1 inch thick)


  1. Whisk together miso, sugar, lemon juice, water, and pepper in a bowl.  Spread miso mixture evenly on top fillets.
  2. Oven preparation:  Preheat broiler and lightly oil a shallow baking dish.  Place fish in baking pan.  Broil 5 to 6 inches from heat until fish is just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stovetop preparation:  Add a few teaspoons of oil to a frying pan set over medium-high heat.  Place fish miso-side down and sear for 1-2 minutes.  Flip once and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until fish is just cooked through.


Japanese Cucumber Salad, adapted from Gourmet Magazine


    1 lb Japanese or English cucumber, sliced (optional: seed and peel)
    1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more, to taste
    3 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 tsp sugar
    scant dash of sesame oil
    2 tbsp scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
    1 tsp sesame seeds
    Freshly ground pepper, to taste


  1. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, cut the cucumber into 1/8-inch slices.  Transfer to a colander, sprinkle with the 1/2 tsp salt and let stand for 10 minutes to drain excess liquid.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar and sesame oil.  In another bowl, combine the cucumber and scallions.  Add the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.  Serve the salad at room temperature or chilled.

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