Sunday, November 16, 2008

Love, Chaos & Dinner

Teatro Zinzanni is, in simplest terms, a dinner show in San Francisco. However, the term dinner show doesn't remotely do it justice; it's wild, surreal, naughty, and european, with very good food. The teatro is in a tent, specifically an antique spiegeltent from Belgium, and is very cozy. I went to the show several years ago with my friend Vincene (wild horses haven't as yet been able to drag my faithful husband to the show) and we had a wonderful time. This was dinner as theater; the servers were dressed in bizarre costumes, creeping me out a little, which I loved!

There is aways a Madame Zinzanni who entertains us and presides over the show. At that time la Madame was Maria Muldaur (Midnight at the Oasis) and la Madame changes with the show, every few months. When I got an email the week before last Halloween, inviting me to Teatro Zinzombie, I was obsessed! I had to find a partner in Halloween crime. Begging my husband to go with me, to no avail (I even brought out the wild horses), I mentioned Zinzombie to my good friend Robin who immediately said she was in! Robin is my Halloween buddy - we have trick or treated our neighbors, been chased by crazy chain-saw waving maniacs, and just generally love Halloween! Not bad for a couple of dames in our 50's!

This time I didn't even know who the entertainment was going in, but was blown away to hear Madame Z was the great Thelma Houston, disco diva from the 70's! She was in fabulous form as our Madame Zinzombie, along with El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, who rocked our mundo, and Christine Deaver, who makes a vunderful Marlena Dietriech. The show was the current show, Hearts on Fire, with a Halloween twist. Our servers were zombies, with cut throats, great for the appetite, and the band played Halloweeny music before the show started.

Warning - do not arrive really hungry. Seating starts at 6:30 pm and there is small appetizer at your place setting. In this case it was corn flan with marinated red onion and a couple of tortilla chips. We were really hungry and the appetizer was delicious but not very filling. The show starts at 7 pm and then there is a break for the soup course - Egyptian lentil that night. Delicious and complex, with immediate notes of cumin and then lemon. The next act, then la Madame commands us to have the salad! You get the idea. We did get to choose the main course - there was a pork chop, chicken dish and then two vegetarian courses which I dismissed out of hand. Five out of six at our table chose the pork chop - and it was delish! I rarely order pork because I'm afraid it will be tough but this was very nice - not fork tender but tender enough. Dessert was served at about 10 pm when the show was over. Dessert was good but not memorable. The
only thing that displeased me was the coffee! It was awful - as in flavorless and a bit sour. Even if I didn't work for the best coffee company in existence - Peet's - I would have noticed how bad it was. But in the grand scheme, I could live with it.

Because it was Halloween there was a costume contest. The couple next to us were dressed as pirates and the man kept holding up his sword and growling "arrrrrr." Loved it. So if you want to part with lots of cash ($135 that night), sit with total strangers, be entertained by extremely talented apparent lunatics, and have a great meal, you gotta do the Teatro. I will definitely
be going again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Student Chef is Back - Finally!

The Student Chef is the core of the culinary program at San Joaquin Delta College. The chef instructor, the students and the teaching assistants run the restaurant, named The Student Chef. It's been around for over 20 years, and under the supervision of Chef John Britto, they were turning out excellent French cuisine at very reasonable prices. When Chef Britto retired a few different chefs took over as instructor with uneven results, but now with the ascension of Chef Berkner (who co-owns Taste Restaurant in Plymouth with his wife) as instructor, the program seems to be back on track. The students respect and admire him and he knows how to cook!

My friend Vincene and I settled on splitting the tempura prawn appetizer with tomato ginger relish and avocado mousse ($3.75). It arrived hot, with a crisp tempura coating. The relish was hand cut into perfect small dice and flavorful with a little kick. The avocado mousse looked so suspiciously like wasabi that I wanted to reach for the nonexistent soy sauce. However I wasn't fooled for long and polished that off too.

For lunch I ordered the lemongrass salmon ($6.25), which came with Japanese eggplant, grilled squash and Thai coconut broth. My request was for goldilocks salmon - just right! Neither overcooked nor slimy, the cooks delivered the goods. V. ordered the lamb chops ($7 ?) and were they ever perfectly cooked - caramelized yet medium rare and tender. She let me have one and I was in heaven!

We also split the dessert, an mousse trio. Two out of three of the items were excellent, and that ain't bad.

The menu changes every three weeks, which I think is great. The students all get a chance to master new techniques and master the menu. The service in the dining room is a little uneven but it's to be expected. When I had my turn as a server I was a real disaster at first. Luckily I have a since of humor! Once I soaked a tablecloth with a tray of glasses of ice water - luckily the diners mostly escaped. I goofed up royally on this one couple that ate at the Student Chef regularly, so when they came back again I'm sure they hoped to escape me. The look of fear on the man's eyes when he saw me coming was worth it all. However, I took much better care of them that time and all was pretty much well.

Finally, the Student Chef is the best deal in gourmet dining in town. They're open Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 am to 12:30 pm during the semester. Check the delta college website for information. Buon appetito!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fresh Cranberry Beans - Yum!

Paul and I like to go to the farmer's market first thing on Sunday mornings. We head straight for the fruit - Paul for the peaches and nectarines, and I make a beeline for the berries. My favorites are the big three - strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. I like to visit the fig and honey man - last Sunday I bought basket of amazing big, succulent figs that I grazed on for several days. I forgot him yesterday until we were headed out, dang it, but I won't forget again!

Of course we also browse other delights, and now I have discovered fresh cranberry beans. We bought them fresh in the pods, which were really leathery, making shelling them a must. The beans may have been extremely mature; hence the leathery coverings, but they worked out deliciously. They have a nice creamy flavor which marries well with onions and their ilk. It's the end of the fresh season, darn it, but we'll be ready next summer! They are also available dried, if you prefer.

I had an idea rolling around in my head that I wanted to try. Actually, it took two tries, and yesterday's results were delish. Since the beans were tough they took a while to cook. Since I love to cook low and slow this time of year, there were no worries. Just relax and let the food and (gas) flames do their thing.

2 tablespoons chopped pancetta (Italian unsmoked bacon)
olive oil as needed
2 dashes red pepper flakes
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or passed through a press
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound cranberry beans in the pod (yields about 1 1/2 cups after shelling)
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth

If you have a 2 1/2 quart saucier pan, use it. It has a nice shape and is deep enough to work comfortably. Saute pancetta over medium low heat until golden. Remove from pan.

Add red pepper flakes and onion and sweat (don't brown) until tender, about 5 minutes. Add a little olive oil if needed. Drop in garlic and cook 1 minute. Pour in wine and reduce until almost dry in pan, about 6 or 7 minutes.

Add 1 cup water, beans and pancetta to pan. Stir, bring to boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cover. Make sure liquid is simmering very gently under that lid. Check back in 15 - 20 minutes. If water is greatly reduced then add 1 cup chicken broth and cover. Simmer until 20 minutes or so and check for tenderness. You may need to add the last half cup of water depending on the tenderness of the beans. The simmering process took me 1 1/2 hours but it could take much less, depending on your beans. You can serve them with the amount of juice that you prefer. I served them up fairly dry, which is perhaps unusual, and delicious. The beans were tender yet "al dente."

I'm nuts for red pepper flakes as well as cayenne. They don't just add heat - they add depth of flavor and they are staples in my spice repetoire. Don't add any salt until close to the end. The pancetta and broth both have salt to spare and that may be sufficient for you. You don't want your lovingly cooked beans to taste like you took a tumble with the salt shaker!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Buttermilk Biscuits & Curry Gravy

I'm going to cut right through it and clear up the curry gravy mystery right now. First off, I don't make gravy for biscuits from scratch. Bacon or sausage grease are best soaked up in a paper towel and tossed, in my humble arteries' opinion. I'm partial to packaged powder like Jimmy Dean brand; just add to cold water, whisk, bring to a simmer and cook till thick. Normally I add
a dash of ground cayenne for flavor. This past Saturday morning I was looking for the cayenne at the last moment and grabbed the turmeric by mistake - and ended up with yellow gravy (I still added a dash of cayenne). Deciding to keep quiet, which I often do when trying to pull a fast one, I waited for Paul's reaction. Of course he noticed; he almost always does; and he loved it! Who'd of thunk? So if you're feeling brave, give turmeric, an important ingredient in curry, a whirl!

For the biscuits, I've tried making them with part butter and part z-trim, but, honestly, cold butter is important for flaky biscuits. However, a couple of modifications are in the recipe. And if you don't have buttermilk, substitute in 1 tablespoon of white vinegar into 1% or 2% milk. Also it is a good idea to use a great quality biscuit cutter. From personal experience I can tell you a sharp cutter will yield higher biscuits. Endurance brand cutters are my fave. Try online like King Arthur Flour site or your local fine kitchen store will have them.

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup HiMaize
1/4 cup wheat germ
3 T organic sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 1/8 cups buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg and milk all at once; mix until dough forms a ball. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead 10 to 12 times. Roll out to ¾” thickness. Cut with floured 2-½” biscuit
cutter. Place biscuits you aren’t immediately baking on ungreased baking sheet and freeze. When biscuits have frozen, they may be stored in a plastic bag in the freezer until needed.

To bake biscuits, place on lightly greased baking sheet, bake at 475° for 12-15 min. or until light brown. Makes 1 dozen.

I do bake a few and freeze the rest. I find that placing frozen biscuits onto a baking sheet and into a cold oven and THEN turning the oven on works very well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Doin' the Wheat Free Mambo

Paul and I got invited to brunch this past Sunday, the kind where we all bring something wonderful. Being an artiste, I prefer to decide on what to bring based on inspiration. Mac and cheese isn't a normal brunch dish, which makes it appealing to me, and I recently saw a recipe for mac and cheese with pancetta! Now that got my motor running! Throw in the fact that Boudin SF is serving mac and cheese with crab and I'm clicking! There's just one glitch - one of our party can't eat wheat. At all. Since nine years ago I was doing the wheat free mambo myself (and man did I get tired of it), it was no problemo.

You will also notice there is no cheddar cheese in this recipe. That is because sharp, aged cheeses are a major migraine trigger for me and many others. Therefore I play around with non-aged cheese like jack, fresh goat, feta, fresh mozzarella. Sonoma pepper jack is a real fave of mine currently.

Here's my wheat free version of mac and cheese for a party. You can reduce the fat by using 2% milk instead of whole, and substituting neufchatel cream cheese for the mascarpone. Goat cheese has fewer fat grams and calories than most cheeses and adds a nice tanginess. This dish serves 10.


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
4 ounces sliced pancetta (Italian bacon), coarsely chopped (sliced 1/8 to 1/4" thick)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup white rice flour
3 1/2 cups (or more) whole milk
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated pepper jack cheese
1 cup fresh goat cheese, broken up into chunks
1 - 8 ounce container mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese)
1/2 cup crab meat (optional)
1 pound brown rice penne pasta or other gluten free pasta such as quinoa

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and brown until crisp, about 6 minutes. Add onion, saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and garlic and stir 1 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter, melt, and add rice flour, stirring 1 minute. Gradually whisk in 3 1/2 cups milk, simmer until thick and coat back ot spoon, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in all 3 cheeses. Whisk in remaining milk - sauce should be pourable but thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I made the sauce the night before and cooled it down fast before refrigerating by scraping sauce into a steel bowl and setting the bowl in a bath of ice water. After cool, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Bring back out when ready to use and let come to room temperature for no longer than an hour.

Preheat oven to 350°, butter a 13x9x2 baking dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender - do not overcook!!! Drain well, pour pasta back in pot and add sauce, stirring to coat thoroughly. Pour mixture into baking dish and if using, press tablespoonsful of crab into the mac mixture - don't mix it in. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and a little crusty.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You Don't Have to be Southern to BBQ Pulled Pork

As a kid in Central California, what I now know to be grilling we used to call barbecue. We used Grandma Brown's charcoal grill; kindling and newspaper was our method for getting the coals going. I was never much good at the process and my firebug brother Steve loved to poke kindling in the coals and get his own little fires going. Sweet. We grilled hamburgers, chicken and steak, a little boring, really. Browning marshmallows over the coals was cool though. I/we were clueless about real barbecue.

Off and on I get a yen for a real smoker, not our gas grill, and I almost bought a medium sized one this summer. Then the fires started raging across California and I decided to stay with our safe, less polluting, old and delapidated gas grill. You see, for the last five years, occasionally I have been smoking pork shoulder for get togethers and you can't really get a good smoke on with a gas grill. I get hickory chips, soak them overnight, then place then in foil packets which are placed on the hot rack. They eventually get hot enough to burn and preferably smoke, and transfer smoke flavor to the meat. It's really not a great solution, but so far it's what I've got. This pulled pork recipe is from Cuisine at Home, a magazine to which I used to subscribe. I'm overrun with magazines and it was time to thin the herd so I cut this one out. It's a good one, though, with lots o' pictures! Here's my version; I've only changed it a little from the original. A warning: this pork is so good your guests will squeal for more!

Get a nice pork shoulder, about 8 pounds, preferably bone-in (also known as Boston butt). DO NOT BUY an expensive cut like pork loin! It will be a disaster, as in dried out and awful. You need the tough, fatty shoulder to slowly cook, render out the fat and melt the connective tissue. Yum! Now that we've settled that, rub all over with the following ingredients that you have just mixed together:

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup chili powder (I use Grandma's, but if you have a preference, go for it)
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
1 T smoked hot Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne

Just so you know, I don't want to spend the money for dried oregano and thyme - the bottled herbs lose their "poop" after a while. I go out to my herb garden and cut off a bunch and mince the leaves. And no I don't measure. Ok, how about a small handful in total?

The night before, take a bag of hickory chips and dump the them in a big bucket of water. Wet wood smokes, which is what you want!

Heat up both sides of your gas grill nice and hot and work the hot grates over with the metal bristle grill brush I'm positive you have hanging in your garage! Make up two foil packets with a couple of pieces of foil big enough to accomodate piles of chips, say 12 x 12". Partially close the packets to hold in the chips than place them on one end of your grill. Keep that end lit, turned to about medium-low, and turn off the burner on the other side.

Place your lovingly dry-rubbed, beautiful pork shoulder on the unlit side of the grill. Close the lid and let the indirect heat and smoke do their work. Turn the meat once every hour, letting it cook for about 3 1/2 hours. Replenish packets with more chips as needed. Now here's where we really deviate from smoke purists again: WRAP THE PORK IN FOIL. Yes, I mean it. This keeps the juices in so the meat is moist. Let it cook 2 more hours over indirect heat then bring it inside and let it sit, still foil wrapped, for 30 minutes. Unwrap and pull the meat apart into chunks and strips; I use a couple of forks until it's cool enough to just use my hands. I also scrape off any fat that didn't melt away and discard it. Note: the crunchy caramelized bits on the outside of the pork are to almost die for (don't want to die yet)!

Now, what is barbecue without sauce??? I have always used the Root Beer BBQ Sauce that was in the article. It's so good I can't bear to use anything else. So here goes:

While the pork is smoking, reduce 2 liters of root beer in a large sauce pan over medium heat. It always takes me over an hour. And you want to reduce it down to one cup, so when you start getting close, really keep an eye on it. I just pour the root beer into a pyrex measuring cup to check, if still to much, pour it back in the pan and keep cookin'!

Add the following to the root beer and simmer for 20 minutes:

1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T Tabasco
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper

After simmering, stir in 2 T unsalted butter, to just plain make it better.

Before I bid you farewell, permit me a rant. For heaven's sake don't use an off the shelf two liter plastic bottle of root beer, which I used to do. That and other sodas are sweetened with the evil HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, an ubiquitous evil in our processed food supply. It's basically addictive because it doesn't satisfy the urge for something sweet, it stokes it. It is much more closely linked to diabetes than cane sugar. In my most recent batch I used a six pack of Thomas Kemper root beer, which is sweetened with cane sugar. Yes, it's more expensive, and I choked on it, but I used it anyway. By the way, it's really delicious. One last thing, ketchup has the deadly HFCS also; but the organic version doesn't, so I use the organic. Enough ranting - wow your friends and enjoy this amazing dish!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Good Sharp Knives and A Big Night

I used to brandish the dullest knives; you know, the steel ones with wooden handles that you can't keep sharp. Frankly, I didn't think I could afford good knives and was under the misapprehension that buying a whole set was mandatory. Man, I was wrong. You only need 3 knives, 4 if you want to go nuts. These are my picks: a chef's knife, at least 8 inches long, a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife. The fourth would be either a boning knife, which has a slender blade for slithering around bones, or a serrated tomato knife (one of my husband's faves) for slicing through tough tomato skins.

Quality is very important; a super cheap, light weight knife is a pain to work with. A chef's knife needs to be heavy enough to give you some leverage; I like the carbon steel knives by Wusthof and Henckels. Again, they have, last time I checked, a cheaper line. Run away!!! When I was still in school, the big buzz was on the Shun knives. I didn't get a chance to try one, but learned that you have to send your knife to Shun for sharpening when it gets dull. I learned this when some nitwits used another student's Shun to try to cut a stainless counter and dulled his knife. Why did he allow this? I can only shake my head. The lesson here is don't let nitwits touch your good knives.

Try not to spend too much on a bread knife; let me impart my experience. I bought a Wusthof serrated bread knife - a real beauty. Cut through crusty bread like hot butter, to be not too original. Eventually it became so dull it was maddening. YOU CAN'T SHARPEN A SERRATED KNIFE! Honing it with a steel helped some. I took it in to have new teeth put on, whatever that means, but it didn't help much. The moral of the story: don't buy a really expensive knife, it will only eventually break your heart and leave you high and dry (and dull).

To keep my knives sharp I use a honing steel (not as often as I should) and a Wusthof hand held sharpener (more often than I should). The sharpener was only about $20 and is really easy to use. I doubt it would help much with old steel knives which need to be retired anyway.

On to the Big Night - one of my favorite food movies. It's about two brothers from Italy, in what appears to be the 1950's. They have a failing restaurant, because the American idea of Italian food back then was spaghetti and meatballs. Period. Primo, the chef, is a fabulous cook who won't sacrifice his ideals. Secondo, the younger brother, wants to prosper, which would mean giving the public what it wants (spaghetti and meatballs). They get talked into a scheme to get the attention they need to bring in customers - which turns into a fabulous party, or Big Night. The story unfolds at its own leisurely pace. The food preparation scenes are inspiring as well as mouthwatering. The party, well, I just wanted to be there. Right in the middle, doing the mambo Italiano. Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub and the incomparable Ian Holm - need I say more, other than as Pascal so aptly put it to Primo: "your food is so good I want to kill you!" Rent it, then maybe buy it (like I did!).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Deflatulating the Musical Fruit

Most of us have a love/fear relationship with beans. They taste great, especially cooked up slow with a nice ham hock or as chili beans and other endless variations. However, the inevitable trumpet calls later on make us back off from these nutritional powerhouses. The reason for the gas is we humans can't fully digest the carbs while they're in the small intestine, so when they are pushed on to the large intestine our friendly flora go to work, causing fermentation. Fermentation makes gas, kind of like beer and champagne, only not in a good way.

Here's a method for cooking our dried beans which greatly decreases the gas factor, using baking soda. First soak your dried beans. There are two methods: pour the beans in a pot and cover with cold water plus an extra inch, cover, and let sit over night. Alternatively, bring the beans and water to a boil, and simmer for 3 - 5 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and let sit 1 hour.

Second, drain the beans and rinse in a colander or other strainer. Cover with water again, bring to a full boil and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda or enough to make the water foam up. Simmer well for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit uncovered until beans and liquid are completely cool. Allow 1 to 2 hours as needed. Drain and rinse well.

Add water again and cook at a simmer. They will be tender in about 20 minutes, depending on the type of bean used. At this point you can add your beans to whatever extravaganza you have percolating and hopefully can give them plenty of time to absorb flavors. My mom, who is a whiz at learning new tidbits gave me this method. She insists that adding any seasoning, especially salt, to these gems before they are tender will toughen the skins. I have read many contradictory declarations on this subject; I will say I used the above method and my beans came out tender.

While my 1 pound of pinto beans were being degassed on Sunday I used my crock pot to cook a nice all natural ham hock I picked up at Whole Foods. I threw half a chopped onion, 1 chopped clove garlic, a dash of cayenne, about 4 cups chicken broth, a teaspoon each soy and Worcestershire sauces and the hock in the crock and set it on high. By the time the beans had been worked over the hock was starting to get tender. I let them cook another 2 or more hours; my preference is that the meat is falling off the bone. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Using a crock pot in the summer is handy, it doesn't heat up your kitchen, plus it's hands-off. Pretty easy, right?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Salad I Get Excited About

I've always thought of salad as boring. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, etc. Blah, blah, blah!!! And don't get me started on the dinner side salads in those restaurants that consider a baked potato a vegetable. Ok, it is a vegetable but it's not green or even orange.

Lately I've come around on salad eating on my own terms. My terms involve flavor, texture and nutrition. I like lots of good stuff on my greens - they're filling but don't make feel bogged down, especially with this summer heat. Sourdough bread has a relatively low glycemic index. Nuts and seeds are beneficial and of course veggies are the bomb! Here's what I'm doing:

Gently heat up a good quality nonstick pan over medium heat after spraying lightly with olive oil (NOT cooking spray). See if you can find a bottle with a pump that works well - it is a challenge, I know. Slice up some onion and add to pan. Cube up some sourdough bread (I used 1/2 a large slice per serving) and add to pan, along with 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds. Spray olive oil over ingredients and saute until toasted - 5 to 10 minutes. Use your eyeballs and your judgment. You want some nice caramelization.

Meanwhile, cut up some red pepper, slice some carrot, green onion, thaw out some frozen petite peas. Take some oil cured olives, like Moroccan, and smash with the flat side of your good quality chef knife. Remove pits. Open a can of garbanzo beans (reduced sodium!?), break out the salad greens. Add feta - and I'm talking about the good stuff, made from goat or sheep's milk. Trader Joe's, if you're lucky enough to have one nearby, has the good stuff. I'm partial to organic spring mix and most currently machĂȘ (lamb's lettuce). So, here are the amounts - ok so I'm not writing in normal recipe format. This isn't a normal recipe!

1/2 cup sliced onion
1/2 slice sourdough bread
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
extra virgin olive oil spray
Saute as above

1/4 cup coarsely chopped red pepper
2 tablespoons sliced carrot
1 sliced green onion
1 tablespoon frozen petite peas, thawed
6 oil cured olives
2 tablespoons garbanzos
2 cups greens of your choice
1 oz crumbled feta - only the good stuff!
anything else you want

Dress with more extra virgin olive oil spray and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice or whatever else tickles your fancy. This is often my dinner and I like a big, filling salad. If you're on weight watchers, I count 7 points. This is just a guideline, do whatever you want. Using good ingredients will make this a satisfying experience. I just hope I got you inspired!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ga Ga Over Ginger Limeade

I really enjoy drinking an occasional cocktail; I do it about once a month, maybe every two months. It almost always happens on a special occasion and always with friends. I'm particularly fond of those big full-bodied over priced cabernets from theNapa valley. And I love Cosmopolitans; a straight martini is too hard for me to get down - unless it's dirty! But my new love is the Ginger Limeade.

Something you should know is I only drink the good stuff; I don't want to spend a single moment feeling awful after a couple of drinks. Since I rarely imbibe the cost is not a big problem. In fact I have a large bottle of Ketel One in my cupboard; I bought it over a year ago and it's still over half full!

A few months ago I had lunch with my good friend Carol at the Slanted Door in San Francisco.It's located in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, which is a very cool place to go if you're a foodie. There is a farmer's market outside and inside there are restaurants, food stores, including a chocolate store, as well as a mushroom store and much more. It's really fun and only one block from the BART train station. So - the Slanted Door is Pan-Asian, trendy, busy (reservations are a must) and the food is very good and not ridiculously expensive. Ah, and the bar... I had a ginger limeade and was wowed! Ginger and lime go incredibly well together, and already being a fan of that flavor combination, I was immediately hooked. Nothing less than two more would do, and Carol and I had lots of fun being happy silly drunks (I didn't fall down or drop a single thing, and I didn't drive until much later in the day).

We asked the bartender how to make this elixir of the asian gods and she graciously shared. She also garnished our drinks with crystallized ginger candy, a very tasty tidbit.

1 oz fresh lime juice (equiv one lime)
1/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz ginger syrup
1 1/2 oz Hangarone lime vodka

Use only excellent ingredients. You'll thank me. You will need a martini shaker, plus a glass mini shot measure is way helpful. Cointreau is an orange liqueur; I'm sure Gran Marnier, an equally quality liqueur would be fine.

Ginger syrup is simple syrup infused with fresh ginger: simmer equal parts organic sugar and pure water, ie. 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, with at least 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger. Simmer 5 minutes, remove from heat. Let cool completely, strain into a container such as a squeeze bottle or anything suitable for pouring. You can make it the day before. Hangarone is a fine vodka; however I have oodles of Ketel One. So I poured vodka (no I didn't measure, about 2 cups I guess) into a quart jar and added the zest (just the "green" not the bitter "white") of two limes and covered. Make this a couple days in advance to get the lime essence into the spirits.

Finally, agave nectar is becoming a popular syrup for mixed drinks. I've been reading up on infusing it with herbs, ginger, etc. so I'm going to play around with it. Using agave nectar could bring down the calorie count a bit as well as the glycemic index, but still not acceptable for diabetics.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Like many of us I enjoy watching cooking shows; I often pick up some great info. Recently I was watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS and they had a program on Lightening Up Chocolate Desserts. Being intrigued by their fudgy low-fat brownies, the decision was made to do them one better (or two?). They really did a nice job of reducing the fat, but I wanted to ditch the butter first off. Substituting Ztrim for the butter was a no brainer (see my blarticle). Next, while shopping for ingredients I read the label for chocolate syrup, and recoiled in horror! Up front and center is the first ingredient - high fructose corn syrup!

In changing a couple of other things I was really taking a leap. No chocolate syrup for fudginess; ok add agave nectar instead for moisture, and add a half teaspoon of instant espresso powder for richness. Coffee intensifies chocolate flavor and is a great addition to choco desserts. Subbing in a little
Hi-Maize for flour adds fiber, and lowers the calorie and glycemic index a little.

Unfortunately, there's no getting away from real sugar. I've experimented with agave nectar and it's no substitute for sugar in baking. It's the texture of the baked good that's at stake here. I'm not at all impressed with sugar substitutes so far so I'm sticking with organic sugar. What resulted was an intensely fudgy, soft brownie. No one who tried it could tell it was a really low fat recipe! I'm thinking about trying it out with chopped walnuts for those beneficial oils; meanwhile, give it a try.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Incanto Good!

First off, this is not about healthy cooking; indeed it's so far opposite that, well, you can't go much further. However, once in a while, what the heck!

I used to watch Check Please! Bay Area (basically restaurant reviews by real people, not critics) on public television and over a year ago there was an episode where Incanto was featured. The opinions were so uniformly good that I put it in my Palm and resolved to go one day. Since Paul and I were celebrating our 21st anniversary this weekend and as he suggested we wander around San Francisco before dinner, I put in for dining at Incanto.

Incanto is a restaurant in the Noe Valley area of San Francisco, a tidy looking residentially neighborhood with a certain charm. My husband Paul couldn't get over how clean the streets and buildings looked. Inside the joint is clean and comfortable, with a beer and wine bar, which is fitting, because the menu is rustic. In fact, when over dinner I mentioned that the food is rustic,
Paul thought I was being insulting, but I wasn't. There is no fussy plating, this is real food, from fresh ingredients, well prepared. And no fat is spared!

When looking at the menu, Paul went for the marinated olives as a starter (delicious), although he won't eat olives at home. Maybe I should marinate some!? I was drawn to the appetizer of pig's trotter and foie gras on a piece of very special toast with a little sweet jam. (Honestly, I didn't record everything so I'm relying on memory from yesterday.) For those who don't know, foie gras is literally, fat liver. Here it's almost always from ducks who have been happily (I hear) fattened up. They love to get fat, and in the wild it's imperative to their survival. So here is this large appetizer with sauteed bits from a pig's trotter, a good sized piece of seared foie gras, all draped over toast and jam, and a slice of bacon laid over, with lots of sauce all round. Unbelievably decadent, kind of messy looking and really really delicious. I enlisted Paul's help in eating it and had to leave some on the plate. My recommendation: if you order it, get it to share with at least 3 or 4 of you. It's so darned rich you don't need much to be satisfied.

Let me explain something about Incanto before going on; the chef, Chris Cosentino, is really into offal. Just go to his website and read all about it. Offal is not only organs but trotters, heads, etc. You can get a nice piece of fish there, as well as other "safe" options, but why would you do that when braised lamb's neck is on the menu? After a little deliberation I went straight for the neck, and after finding out they don't always have it, well what else could I do? The meat on the bones was beautifully caramelized and tender. There was horseradish aioli (mayonnaise) on the side along with spring vegetables. The veggies were chewy and a little hard to eat. I normally eat my veggies first to make sure I get them in, and I dutifully ate some of these but I can only eat so much food and it came down to choosing between lamb and veges. The lamb won. I can't help but mention that necks are fairly round, and when the server set my plate down in front of me, well, my neck rolled around on the plate. Entertaining, really.

Paul had bucatini, a pasta dish, which he enjoyed. He was surprised by the raw egg yolk sitting on top, but I'm sure it added wonderful richness. I didn't bother to try his pasta, as even though I kept sharing my lamb with him, I had plenty on my plate.

Against my better judgment we had dessert. Paul's taste buds were set on the flourless chocolate cake, which was indeed fudgy and scrumptious. I went for the stonefruit (peach/nectarine?) and blueberry fool, which was whipped cream with the above mentioned fruit in it and a shortbread cookie on the side. I couldn't eat all of that either, but it was delish, washed down with
a cappuccino which I hoped would keep me awake on the way home (no dice).

Ok, do I recommend Incanto? Absolutely, and go with friends so you can share impossibly decadent appetizers and desserts. Arrive with an appetite and an open mind. Try something new - pig's trotters were new to me. So were necks. The service was wonderful, the atmosphere comfortable. Price wise, expect to spend about $50 per person plus alcohol. I did get to say hi
to the chef - he competed a few months ago on The Next Iron Chef. I talked with him about it and he was very friendly and a pleasure to meet. And of course, I liked his food! P.S. visit Incanto's website for more info.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Peach Pie-Oh My-Oh

Last month I made a quick trip to Seattle with a free plane ticket burning a hole in my pocket. Seattle is known for its great food, especially fish, and I was glad to go back. On Saturday Paul, my mother and I decided to take a drive to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula north and west of Seattle. We decided to have pie (yes, pie!) for lunch after walking into Lehani's Coffee and Deli on Taylor St., at Water St., the main drag and tourist area. Lehani's has turn of the last century charm and a friendly staff. Paul and my mom chose the peach pie, I opted for the chocolate caramel cheesecake. The cheesecake was good, but after tasting their slices of peach pie I wished I had been a sheep and ordered peach pie too. The filling had a definite, but not overpowering, taste of ginger. The crust was a little cakey, indicating a butter dough with egg in it. The combination was heavenly, and Paul naturally put in a request that I make it too, which I was all too happy to do almost as soon as we got home.

Growing up, my Grandma Brown was known for her pie making skills, especially the crust. Her dough was always made with Crisco shortening, no butter, and it was wonderfully flaky. It was mandatory that the leftover dough be baked too, and eaten while still hot. Our poor arteries! In the last few years I've avoided piemaking because I refuse to use shortening and an all butter crust just doesn't turn out as good and is harder to work with as well. There are organic shortenings available which are not partially hydrogenated, but they are still get the hydrogen workout, and I'm highly suspicious of them. There are many rich butter and egg tart dough recipes around, all very similar; I tried Patty Pinner's Sweet Tart Crust from her wonderful cookbook, Sweety Pies. It is good, but very challenging to work with; I recommend refrigerating it for more than an hour. My version is here.

For the filling, I found a Spiced Peach Pie recipe on It called for ground ginger, but I wanted a more zesty ginger taste, so crystallized ginger slices from Trader Joe's were used. I finely diced 4 slices, but I want more flavor, so will use 8 slices next time, weighing about 2 1/2 ounces (don't forget your digital scale!). Since local peaches aren't in season until summer, I bought frozen fruit, which in my opinion has much better texture than canned. It worked out very well. On the sugar subject, I have been using organic for several years now. It is just as fattening for all of us and taboo for diabetics as non-organic sugar, but nutritionally it is supposed to be better. Based on what I've read, normal white sugar has all nutrients stripped out, and robs our bodies of vitamins. Supposedly organic sugar doesn't do that, so I'm sticking with organic.

Now, is this a "health pie?" No, not with all that butter in the crust, and you can't eat it all the time without facing the music! But do as I did and take it to a birthday party, or any other party, along with ginger ice cream (make vanilla ice cream, dice in chunks of crystallized ginger during the last 5 minutes of the churn)! Leave the leftovers with the host! And enjoy!

As a last note, I highly recommend Sweety Pies; it's a mouth watering collection of pies, along with stories about the ladies who baked them. Patty Pinner is a wonderful writer; this is a cookbook you will want to sit and read. My fave shopping spot is ecookbooks, here is the link in case you want to try it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It Practically Makes Itself

There's a lot of backoff on making bread these days. It's too time consuming, too hard, yada yada. Actually, the dough does most of the work. What really gives bread flavor is allowing plenty of fermentation time. When yeasts are turned loose on a nice meal like water and flour, they eat up the sugars. As we know from beer and wine making, well fed yeast makes gas. In bread, the gas expands the dough so it puffs up nicely. Another important component is gluten, which is formed from two proteins in flour. The addition of liquid and vigorous kneading develops the gluten, which is very elastic. It gives the dough the strength to stay risen after the yeast has done its thing.

My personal preference is to make sourdough bread. My current recipe takes about 36 hours to complete; I personally spend less than an hour working on it. There are only a few steps: 1) make a sponge, which consists of a little sourdough starter, water and flour. Mix it up, cover and let sit 12 hours. 2) mix the sponge with remaining ingredients in a stand mixer with a dough hook, kneading until smooth and elastic. 3) turn into a container, cover and let sit at least 8 hours. 4) pull dough out of container, gently press out gases, put back in container and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. 5) take out dough, divide into loaves and shape or use baskets, let sit for 2 hours. 6) bake. There's a lot of sitting around here; although even when it's sitting, the
dough is working. I must mention if you want to make this kind of artisan bread you really must invest in a baking stone. It will make a real difference in your crust, and of course it's a must for pizza.

If you are interested in baking your own bread, there are two books I personally own, use and recommend. The first is Breads from the La Brea Bakery, by Nancy Silverton. This book is mainly all about sourdough. She even tells you how to make your own starter. That's a recipe for misery; I bought mine from King Arthur Flour, but if you and I are on a first name basis I'll give
you some if you want to bring a jar. The other book I love is The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Both books have lots of detailed explanations which are especially helpful if you haven't been to baking school. E-cookbooks has great prices on cookbooks and they have all kinds of giveaways, based on your order size.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconut Oil

What image does coconut oil conjure up? For most people that would be clogged arteries. And yet, evidently it's possible it ain't so. A few years ago I took a little impromptu nutrition class given by an retired nurse. Besides insisting that we cut out the sugars (duh) she introduced us to the coconut oil solution. At first the above mentioned clogged artery visions were dancing in my head. But she laid out various health benefits; the clincher was her husband, who had had a heart attack years before. But not after getting on the coconut oil train. At least I was clinched into giving the subject a further look.

I went to to get the skinny (it's an informational site, not retail). Coconut oil is +90% saturated fat; however, it is a medium chain fatty acid that is turned into fast energy. It doesn't stick to our hips or veins. Animal fats have long fatty acid chains, and do make us fat and
clogged. In countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India coconut is a staple. Their heart disease rates are much lower than ours. In addition, coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, an important component in mother's milk. It is also antifungal and antibiotic. Sounds great, huh?

I did use coconut oil for some time. I even ordered it from Tropical Traditions; their oil is extra virgin and organic. It's great for sauteeing and baking. The oil I have has a mildly sweet taste, which I like. Forget about using it in pie crust, however, it was too hard to work with. I stopped using it after a while; I was still haunted by visions of clogged arteries.

In a recent issue of my beloved Environmental Nutrition newsletter, almost a half page was devoted to coconut oil. The jury is still out on the health claims, but the recommendation was to "treat it as a neutral player" and to read your labels. Stay away from partially hydrogenated oils as always. My recommendation, should you wish to try it, is to buy an organic product, preferably extra virgin. It is carried in natural food stores. And be sure to consult your physician before trying anything like this.

My next batch of cornbread will have some coconut oil in it. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


When I was a kid my Grandma Brown made the best hash. What I remember was bits of leftover roast beef, sliced potatoes and a sauciness with plenty of salt and pepper. It was pure heaven, and it epitomizes the time honored practice of dragging out what you have in the refrigerator and making a great meal. She made it look easy, and it really is. It just took me till recently to give it a try. So in case you'd like to make a tasty hash for lunch with what you have lying around, here's what we had for lunch today and how I made it.

Use a decent nonstick saute pan. Heat over medium heat with 3 or 4 teaspoons of oil. I had a about 6 ounces of baby potatoes - cut into about 1 inch pieces. Toss in the pan and add some salt and pepper and a little cayenne. Chop up about half a large onion and add to the potatoes. Red pepper, large dice, about 1/2 cup or so. I had some chicken tenderloins in the freezer so I cut them into bitesize pieces and they joined the gang. Add a little more salt (I used Kosher). To really add flavor, pour in some reduced sodium chicken broth (about 1/3 cup), cover, reduce heat, and cook until liquid is absorbed. My potatoes weren't tender enough so I added more broth, covered again and finished cooking. I topped the hash with a little pepper jack, you can add it at the end of cooking and cover so it will quickly melt. This served 2 moderate portions.
I really didn't measure a single ingredient. I just added what looked good. If you'd like a little pan sauce, after cooking, remove the hash. There will be lots of brown bits in the pan. Add some more broth, say half a cup or so, and over medium low heat stir to dissolve the bits. Let simmer to thicken then pour on hash.

Using chicken keeps the fat content down. Small potatoes reduce the glycemic index. Reducing the chicken broth in the hash intensified the flavor. This is comfort food that won't fatten you up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hold the Mayo

I really enjoy "salad" sandwiches; that is, egg, tuna, chicken, any others? For months I've been using Best Foods light mayonnaise to dress the salad, then I discovered Ztrim (go to March blogs for info) and started reducing the mayo and adding Ztrim for a creamier texture. Last week I decided to try using Dijon mustard without the mayo, with Ztrim to round it out. I really like it; Dijon is my favorite mustard but of course you can try any one you like. I like to add sliced green onions, diced red pepper and celery to the mix.

For egg salad I place my egg in a pan of cold water, bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover for 12 minutes. Cover with ice water to cool down fast, peel and mash. I have a potato ricer just like the one pictured at right I like to use - it works great. Mix in your veggies, mustard and Ztrim (if desired) and you're good to go. I don't measure - I prefer to cook to taste as much as possible. Ok, I always taste what
I'm cooking, on some dishes I measure too!

Regarding tuna salad, if you're concerned about mercury as I am, you can get minimal mercury, troll caught, sustainably harvested, even unsalted tuna from Wild Planet. I really like it. It's only cooked once, after canning, unlike other canned tuna, and is packed in its own juice. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Eat Your Eggs!

I'm an egg lover, have been all my life. Growing up, breakfast was a given. And eggs were generally part of the equation. There was a period when my mother was buying eggs from some special place where the eggs often had double yolks - yum!!! In my opinion the yolk is the best part, and I stand by that statement despite the controversy that has raged over the years.

According to the Environmental Nutrition newsletter, egg yolks contain some pretty significant nutrients. They contain lutein naturally, and some hens are raised on lutein-fortified feed. Lutein is good for your eyes and may help ward off the age related blindness caused by macular degeneration. The lutein in egg yolks is more easily absorbed than in many other foods.

Here in the U.S. hens are also fed flaxseed and algae to supply Omega-3's. I'd like to find the eggs with algae based omega-3's, they're labelled DHA and are a better source than flaxseed.

Yolks are also rich in choline and betaine. In a large study it was found that those with highest intakes of choline and betaine had the lowest levels of inflammatory markers, which are linked to heart disease as well as other issues. These nutrients are also found in other foods. Go to to find more information, because I'm talking about eggs here!

My ideal egg is gently fried in a little olive oil, just until the white sets up. Turn it over, cook for about 2 seconds and then slide onto your plate. The yolk must be soft and unbroken. Heaven. I'd rather have one perfectly cooked egg than a plateful of egg whites anyday. You see, it's about quality, not quantity.

For a nice scramble try what we had this morning: thinnishly slice up an asparagus stalk, medium dice some red bell pepper, and slice up a green onion. Gently saute your veggies in a little olive oil, say 1/2 to 1 teaspoon. Beat up 2 eggs with a whisk, season with a sprinkle of cayenne and pour into your good quality nonstick pan that is already laden with veges. Keep the eggs moving with a wooden spoon until they are cooked to the desired doneness; this will make them fluffy. I like hot sauce on my eggs but you may not. Serves 2.

The moral of my story is eggs are good for you. In moderation - just like everything else. Remember, 'tis better to eat one perfectly cooked whole egg than a plate of bland egg whites. Kathy Ackerman

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Saul's Deli

I'm not nuts about deli food but yesterday I got my head turned around. A couple of years ago my husband was listening to a radio talk show out of San Francisco. They were making restaurant talk. Saul's Deli in Berkeley was promoted as a great place and Paul had me enter it in my Palm for future use. Fast forward to yesterday; during a ride to Oakland we decided to try Saul's. I was reluctant but decided to give it a whirl.

Saul's is on Shattuck, a major artery in Berzerkley. There are beau coup restaurants; the variety is astonishing. We miraculously parked smack in front. The place has decent curb appeal, considering how old and dingy Shattuck Ave is. But ah, when you step in the joint is roomy, bright and clean. When we first walked in I spied the Niman Ranch sign on the cold case and was happy. The servers were friendly and efficient; the vibrations were good. And... the bathrooms were clean!

Instead of a bread basket the bus person brought us a ramekin of delicious kosher pickles. Not too sour, a little garlicky, just right. I ordered the Armenian lamb sandwich - ground lamb in a pocket bread with hummus, tahini, romaine and chopped veggies. I had a choice of fries or salad. I ordered the salad, which was a nice bunch of spring greens with a simple vinaigrette. The lamb was not at all greasy and the sandwich was delicious. I confess I ate it all because it was so good. (Normally when I order a burger I can only eat about half, probably because the buns are so thick.) Cost was about $10.50.

Paul had the pastrami sandwich with green salad. It looked very good, plenty of pastrami and he pronounced it wonderful. Price: $9.95.

We both heartily endorse Saul's Deli. Visit the site for location and menu. To see the menu select the order online button and all will be revealed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wing Talk

The best part of the chicken is its wings. There, I've said it. A friend recently put forth the idea that there isn't much meat on chicken wings. She was quickly disabused. There is meat and it has lots of flavor. Witness the popularity of buffalo wings. However, restaurants tend to deep-fry wings, which I prefer to avoid. (I do confess to a certain weakness for onion rings, which I give in to once or twice a year.) I like my wings roasted in a hot oven with a little seasoning. Strong men and women have swooned over them. Here's how I make them.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Season whole wings (I use the whole wing, tip and all) with seasoning of choice. I use Blue Star all purpose seasoning, which contains salt, garlic, onion and natural flavorings. Place wings on a cooling rack in a sheet pan. This allows rendered fat to run off. Bake for about 40 minutes, turning over half way through. You want your wings nice and golden brown with crisp skin. If you have a convection oven, use it; you won't even have to turn them. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ztrim - Hot New Ingredients - Part 3

Butter is wonderful. It has a incomparably rich flavor. It also feels good in your mouth; that is, it has a wonderful mouthfeel. Butter is about 85% fat, much of it saturated. It has oodles of calories and can really help us pack on the pounds. What can we do?

There is a product out there called Ztrim Fat Replacement, which has no flavor, but has the mouthfeel of butter. It has no calories, no fat, and little fiber. It is derived from insoluble fiber and is available in gel form as well as powder. Currently I'm using the gel form packed in squeeze bottles.

You can't saute with it but baking works well. I do wish it had the butter effect that we prize in our biscuits, crusts, croissants and other flaky doughs. Cold butter makes steam in these doughs while in the oven, puffing them up and putting the flakiness on. So far I haven't had great luck with that, but I'll be investigating further.

I like egg salad sandwiches, as well as tuna and chicken salad. I was already using light mayonnaise sparingly; now I get a much more luxurious effect by adding Ztrim into the mix.

So far I'm liking Ztrim in pan sauces. Pan sauces are made with the carmelized bits of protein that stick to the pan after a nice saute. Generally broth or wine are added and stirred to dissolve the delicious bits. The magic ingredient is butter, and plenty of it. For my chicken marsala, I whisked in a little butter and more Ztrim. It came out really nice.

You can read up on Ztrim at their site,, as well as place an order. When I ordered I was lured by the 30 day return guarantee. I ordered several bottles so that the shipping costs made sense. I won't be returning them. Ever.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Resistant Starch - Hot New Ingredients, Part 2

A few months ago I read about resistant starch in the Environmental Nutrition journal, so-called because it resists digestion in the small intestine. Why is that good, you might ask. It's good because the small intestine is most of your digestion takes place. It's where carbohydrates are turned into glucose. If you are consuming large amounts of refined carbs your small intestine is dumping a lot of glucose into your blood, which of course jacks up your blood glucose level. This is turn jacks up your insulin level, which makes you hungry for more carbs and also triggers the packing on of belly fat and probably, untimately obesity. A combination of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle leads to insulin resistance, which means excess glucose damaging your organs, and then diabetes if the cycle isn't broken. Read The New Glucose Revolution for a more indepth discussion.

Back to resistant starch - when you substitute part of the flour in baked goods with resistant starch you effectively slow down the digestion of those carbohydrates. Go to for wealth of information on what it means to your health. There is evidence that it may help you burn fat, regulate blood glucose levels, feed the good bacteria in your gut, and more.

Resistant starch occurs naturally in foods such as beans and grains. It is available for cooking and baking as Natural HiMaize, a cornstarch which is low in calories and extremely high in fiber. I personally have substituted up to 30% of the flour in my bread recipes with excellent results. I buy if from Honeyville
in 5 lb. bags because I bake a lot and it's more cost effective. It's also available from King
Arthur Flour
in 10 oz. bags so you can just stick your toe in.
Here's my Potato Gnocchi recipe to get you started. I substituted in 1/3 Hi-Maize with great results. Absolutely delicious!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Agave Nectar - Hot New Ingredients - Part 1

I got interested in the glycemic index last summer, when I realized I needed to eat lots of carbs to feel good; that is, the preferred carbs that digest more slowly. I found a book called The New Glucose Revolution, by Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller, et al. I highly recommend it, as it explains the role carbohydrates play in our health as well as what the glycemic index is. Briefly, it is a measure of how quickly carbs are turned into glucose and dumped into our bloodstream. Eating high GI foods triggers large amounts of insulin, which in triggers hunger and belly fat and someday, possibly diabetes. You can go to to look up the GI for many foods.
This leads me to agave nectar, a nonrefined sweetener. The nectar comes from the agave plant, yes, where tequila comes from! It's about 25% sweeter than sugar and the taste ranges from neutral to honeylike, depending on its color - clear to amber. It is runnier than honey and doesn't crystallize; it can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. I've been using it on my oatmeal, and in baked goods, like my Skinny Pizzelles.
I've seen it for sale in stores, it's getting more available. However, apparently all agave nectar is not equal. Supposedly some brands may have high fructose corn syrup added, which is an extreme no-no! I have found one brand online which has had it tested and certified with a GI of 27, which is excellent. They claim it is from the blue agave plant. The nectar is amber colored and has a mild honey taste. I have been using it and am very happy with the results. Go to Volcanic Nectar and read their information and order if you desire.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Skinny Meatballs

I'm here to talk about food. Yes, food. Real food that you make yourself; you know what's in it because you put it there. I don't like to settle for packaged foods with all those additives and sodium, so either we have a really simple meal like a roasted yam, veggies and some protein or I really cook a meal.
I came up with Skinny Meatballs after being inspired by the Barefoot Contessa's full fat, delicious, highly indulgent meatballs. She really is my hero because she is so creative, and I love her show, but I'm determined to get rid of my excess weight. So I started by using the lowest fat beef I could get, 96% lean. Very lean meat gets dry, and dry, hard meatballs would be unsatisfying. Therefore, gelatin that has been bloomed (soaked in water) is added, which gives a moister texture.
If you use canned tomatoes for the sauce, be sure to check the label for sodium and get the lowest amount possible. In fact, always check the label. The sodium levels are usually extremely high; you can add more salt - but you can't take it out. Adding the diced carrots is a nice touch; it adds nutrition and sweetens the sauce. And it's molto Italiano! This recipe, as are all recipes, is a guideline. It can be doubled, but taste for seasoning to suit yourself. Enjoy!