Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ring in the New Year: Soba with Shitake Dashi--a Healthy & Lucky Start to 2010

After all of the indulgent excesses of the holidays my body wants something healthy, restorative and balancing, and this recipe for Soba with Shiitake Dashi sounded perfect. It is from "3 Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery" by Seppo Ed Farrey with Myochi Nancy O'Hara. There is an added benefit if you eat this dish on the eve of the new year, as soba noodles are considered lucky because of their shape and length--the longer and unbroken the better. Thought to bring good luck and a "long and lean life" the Japanese practice an old custom on New Year's Eve of eating a special soba noodle dish called "toshikoshi soba" or "passing of the year" soba. Whether you believe in these customs or not, slurping up this healthy bowl of noodles will at least ensure you a healthy and delicious meal and put you on your way to a healthy year.

3 Bowls says: "Soba are thin, delicate noodles made from buckwheat. I serve soba with dashi, a light broth traditionally made from sea vegetables, fish, or shiitake mushroom. All of the components can be prepared in advance: the soba is served at room temperature, and the dashi simply needs to be reheated."

Soba with Shiitake Dashi
"3 Bowls", Seppo Ed Farrey with Myochi Nancy O'Hara
(Makes 4-6 Servings)

Shiitake Dashi:
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
3/4 cup sake
1/2 cup tamari
1 Tbsp mirin
2 pinches sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 lbs soba noodles

2 sheets nori, thinly shredded (see notes)
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (see notes)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted and ground
2 tsp wasabi powder, mixed with just enough water to form a soft paste (see notes)
1 2-inch piece daikon, peeled and grated
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated

Dashi: Bring 2 3/4 cup cups water and the mushrooms to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Transfer the mushrooms to a small bowl with a slotted spoon and reserve for another use. Strain the broth through a fine sieve or a coffee filter placed in a strainer set over a medium saucepan to remove any dirt.

Add the sake, tamari, mirin, and salt to the mushroom broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the alcohol aroma disappears, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, and serve immediately or cover and set aside. If the dashi is too strong for your taste, dilute it with hot water.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water and cook the soba to the desired doneness, 5-8 minutes. Drain, rinse well under cold water, using your hands to gently swish the noodles, and drain again. Repeat. Serve immediately or place in a colander, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside.

Condiments: Divide the soba among 4 to 6 serving bowls, swirling each serving into a mound, and sprinkle with the nori. Place 1/2 to 3/4 cup hot dashi in separate individual bowls alongside each serving of soba. Serve the remaining condiments on a small platter or in little bowls at the center of the table so the diners can help themselves.

Cooking Notes:
To shred nori: Several sheets of nori can be cut at once. With the short side toward you, cut with scissors or a very sharp knife along the length of the long side, making 4 equal strips, about 2-inches wide. Stack the strips and cut through them as thinly as possible to form dainty toothpick-size strips.

To cut scallions on the diagonal: This is a traditional Japanese cut. Slice only 1 scallion at a time. Slice the scallion every 1/8 to 1/4 inch on a very sharp diagonal (at least 45 degrees). Keep the tip of your knife on the cutting board and pull it toward you, sliding it on the cutting board and slicing through the scallion. This will give you a much cleaner cut than chopping down through the scallion.

To make wasabi paste: Mix the wasabi powder with just enough cold water to form a paste. Let stand covered for 10 minutes. The flavor will develop, and the paste will firm up a bit. Prepare as close to serving time as possible and make only as much as you need; its strong punch doesn't last long. Commercial packaged wasabi paste can be used directly from the tube or jar.

To prepare in advance: The dashi can be made a few days in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and reheated just before serving. The soba noodles can be cooked a few hours ahead. Rinse and drain the noodles every 45 minutes or so--whenever they start sticking together. The sesame and nori can be prepared a few days before serving and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. The remaining condiments should be prepared the day of serving and refrigerated. Grate the ginger and make the wasabi paste no more than 1 hour before serving.

Notes/Results: Flavorful and good. It may seem like a lot of steps and ingredients but this goes together easily. The shiitake broth is very rich and delicious and adds so many layers of flavors. This is a great dish when you want to eat simply and is very nourishing as the buckwheat soba noodles are made from is a great source vitamins B1 and B2, several different minerals, and has nearly twice the amount of proteins found in rice. So slurp and enjoy!

Have a wonderful, healthy and happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nigella's Halloumi Bites--Salty, Chewy, Cheesy Goodness

I know it was just Sunday, but it seems like forever since I have posted and since I have visited all my blogger friends too. I had a lovely Christmas week spent with family and friends enjoying the holiday. Coming back home from a vacation of course my fridge was pretty empty, but I had a package of halloumi that needed to be used, and everything else I needed to make this simple and delicious recipe for Halloumi Bites. (Well almost everything--if you look really closely you'll notice that I subbed cilantro for the parsley as it was what I had, and anyway it went nicely with the lime so I might actually leave it when making this again). Our I Heart Cooking Clubs theme this week is "Small Plates" and these little chunks of salty, garlicky cheese are the perfect appetizer, mezze, pupu or whatever you like to call it. They also work well on top of a green salad as a starter.

You can find the recipe in "Nigella Express" (Page 325) or online at her website (here).

Halloumi Bites
Nigella Lawson
(Serves 10-12 as part of supper, more of a canapé)

1/4 cup garlic oil
2 Tbsp lime juice
good grinding of pepper
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
3 (8-ounce) blocks halloumi cheese, drained

Combine the oil, lime juice, pepper and parsley in a large shallow dish. Slice the drained halloumi into 5mm-wide pieces, and then cut each slice in half again. Don’t worry if bits splinter as you cut. Heat a heavy-based frying pan and dry-fry the slices of cheese, in batches, until golden on both sides – this should take only a minute or so in a hot pan. Put the fried halloumi into the shallow dish containing the other ingredients as you go, and then turn the halloumi about to coat each piece before turning into a serving dish.

Notes/Results: Well really how can you go wrong with garlic, lime, pepper and salty chunks of cheese?! This is a quick and easy appetizer and tastes great. One caveat--serve this soon after making because halloumi is chewy to begin with and gets chewier as it gets cooler. I personally like the chewy texture but this is best served hot from the pan. I cut the recipe down to 1/3, ate some hot and used some on a salad--delicious. This one is a keeper.

You can check out the other "small plates" that the other I Heart Cooking Clubs selected to make by going to the IHCC site here and following the links.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Quick and Easy Black Bean Soup for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Looking for a fast, light dinner after being out and about all day, my Mom pulled out a quick and easy Black Bean Soup recipe she had clipped from a magazine. Unfortunately she doesn't know which magazine so this one will have to go uncredited for now. It is a simple pantry soup and would be a good starting point for adding more spice and other ingredients too

Black Bean Soup
Recipe Origin: Unknown Magazine
(Makes 4-6 Servings)

5 slices bacon, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced (add a couple more cloves)
4 (15.25 oz) cans, black beans, drained
2 (14oz) cans chicken broth
1 tsp ground cumin (use 2 tsps)
1 tsp chili powder (1 & 1/4 tsp or to taste)
Garnish: sour cream, minced chives

In a medium Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, or until just beginning to brown. Add onion and garlic; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until onion is tender. Add beans, broth, cumin, and chili powder. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. In the container of a blender, spoon half of soup; process until almost smooth. Return processed mixture to Dutch oven, stirring to combine. Garnish with sour cream and chives if desired. Serve immediately.

Notes/Results: Pretty good for a quick bowl of soup--not the best black bean soup I have ever eaten but good. The bacon adds a nice bit of smokiness but I would also recommend adding more cumin and garlic than the recipe calls for and also upping the chili powder if you want it to have a kick. (I put the changes in red on the recipe). We garnished with some lite sour cream, a little grated cheddar for color and some green onions. Along with some warm biscuits, It made for a tasty, low-effort dinner.

With the Christmas holiday this week, it is a bit quiet in the Souper Sunday Kitchen but we have a few hardy souls who popped in to share their soups.

Heather of girlichef made this lovely Fiery Squash & Three-Corn Stew and says, "I think I've begun a new tradition in our home...making soup to celebrate the Solstice! I made a nice, autumn soup for the Autumnal Solstice...and now...a fiery, earthy, hearty stew to ring in the Winter Solstice! My stew uses corn in three forms...sweet kernel corn, yellow hominy and white, its fire comes from the use of those earthy, dried chile peppers...and another Native American staple, squash." Sounds like the perfect tradition to me.

Here with a hybrid dish that has elements of both soup and salad is Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies and her Lasoon Jhinga (Garlic Shrimp with a Coconut Sauce). Natashya says, "This recipe for Garlic Shrimp with a Coconut Sauce is from 660 Curries, a book that has yet to let me down. Big on flavour, the dish wakens your senses and warms your soul. I served it on a bed of brown basmati rice, which was spooned onto a plate of baby spinach."

Finally our sandwich category is represented this week by the Graziana from Erbe in Cucina (Cooking with Herbs) and her Green Sauce Sandwich. She says, "Green Sauce is a traditional Italian recipe, served with capon for Chrismas." A blend of bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, hard boiled egg, anchovy, pine nuts and capers, Graziana says that the green sauce makes a wonderful sandwich spread too--with ham and cheese.

And there we have it, a few very unique and delicious-sounding recipes. Thanks to Heather, Natashya and Graziana for joining in this week. If you have a soup, salad sandwich, or combination of any of the three that you would like to share, click on the Souper Sunday logo on the side bar for all of the details.

*Note: Souper Sundays is posting a few hours before the normal deadline today as I am still in Portland and off for some shopping, a movie and then some dinner. If any additional entries happen to come in, I will add them tonight when I return.

Enjoy your Sunday and your week!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nigella's Mulled Cider--A Perfect Winter Tradition & "Simple Saturday Sipper"

Did everyone have a wonderful holiday? I know I did--lots of fun, family and food, wonderful food. Although I was not as bad as I easily could have been today, I definitely need to get back on track and balanced again next week. Our Christmas dinners tend not to be very traditional--this year we mainly did finger foods or appetizers; turkey and beef meatballs, sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffed red potatoes, taquitos, a variety of dips and spreads, smoked turkey (courtesy of my brother-in-law's new smoker) and ham along with mini breads and sandwich fixings, and fruit and veggie plates. I was too busy drinking a couple of cups of my sister's sangria and having a bite of most everything to take pictures but trust me it was all delicious. For dessert, my sugar limits were pushed with a piece each of a few of my favorites from the many candy plates sitting about--toffee, coconut balls, mint meltaway fudge. There was no shortage of good food at our celebration so I suppose that is what makes up our holiday traditions.

Speaking of "Traditions" it is our theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs this week. When I looked for my Nigella recipe, I was wasn't sure exactly what to look for but I knew I wanted something quick and easy to make before I left on my trip to Portland. I ended up choosing one of my traditional favorite winter beverages, Mulled Cider. Nigella's version is quick, easy and delicious so it is also perfect to do double-duty as this week's "Simple Saturday Sipper" Besides, how could I resist mulled cider with a shot of dark rum in it?!

This recipe can be found at the Food Network site here

Mulled Cider
Nigella Lawson
(Yields 6 Servings)

1 pint (16 fluid ounces) cider
2 fluid ounces dark rum
9 fluid ounces apple and ginger tea, from herbal tea bag (I used Red Zinger tea instead and added about a teaspoon of minced fresh ginger)
1 1/2 ounces soft dark brown sugar
2 clementines
4 cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cardamom pods

Pour the cider, rum and herbal tea into a wide saucepan. Add the sugar and place the saucepan over a low heat. Slice the clementines in half and stick a clove into each half. Add the clementines to the pan. Break the cinnamon sticks in half. Add the cinnamon, bay leaves and cardamom pods to the saucepan. Heat the saucepan until the mixture is almost boiling. Turn down the heat once the pan is near to boiling.

To serve, ladle the mulled cider into heatproof glasses with handles.

Notes/Results: Delicious, simple and flavorful. Amazingly, even in my too-large tea collection I had no apple-ginger herbal tea so I substituted Red Zinger tea which gave the drink its dark red color. I also added a bit of minced fresh ginger to the mix. I liked the combination of flavors in the mulled cider and think that the Red Zinger added an extra layer of flavor with its hibiscus, rose hips, peppermint and cherry bark. I will make this one again.

You can check out which dishes are traditions for the other IHCC participants by going to the IHCC site (here) and following the links to their posts.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Little Taste of Christmas...Mom's Fantasy Fudge

It just wouldn't seem like Christmas without my Mom's Fantasy Fudge, the best part of the holiday goodie plate as far as I am concerned. I call it my Mom's Fantasy Fudge because even though the recipe came from the jar of Kraft Marshmallow Creme decades ago, my Mom's version, made with half semi-sweet and half milk chocolate chips is creamier and just better. If you read this blog regularly you may remember that I posted it in February here, (because I missed being in Portland for Christmas last year), but her fudge so good, it deserves an encore posting for the holidays.

And of course it also would not be Christmas without the appearance of "Orville" the good-luck Christmas troll given to my parents by my Swedish grandmother the Christmas before I was born. Family legend is that Orville (named by my Dad), was placed above my parents bed on the bookcase headboard. Supposedly the good luck was that my Mom got pregnant with me and I was born the following October. My parents also insisted that when I was first born I resembled Orville, (no wonder I have self esteem issues today--my parents thought I looked like a troll!) ;-) Orville comes out with all the Christmas decorations each year at my Mom's. He has had a wardrobe change since his original outfit wore out and my Mom had to sew him a new felt troll suit modeled after the first. Orville is a little worn around the edges after all these years but he still retains his charm. It's being together with family and favorite little traditions that make Christmas so special to me.

Fantasy Fudge (My Mom's Version)
Adapted from Kraft Foods
(Makes 3 lbs)

3 cups sugar
3/4 cup margarine
1 can (5 oz) evaporated milk
1 pkg. (12 oz) semisweet chocolate pieces (6 oz semisweet and 6 oz milk chocolate pieces)
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
1 cup chopped nuts (optional--I prefer without)
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine sugar, margarine and milk in heavy 2 to 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. (Mom melts her margarine first, then adds the sugar, salt and milk before bringing it to a boil). Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.

Stir in chocolate pieces until melted. Add marshmallow creme, nuts (if using), and vanilla. Beat until well blended. (I like my fudge creamy so no nuts in mine!) Pour into a greased 13-by-9-inch pan. Cool at room temperature. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Notes/Results: Delicious and worth a little holiday splurge!

Have a wonderful Christmas tomorrow enjoying all of your favorite traditions and holiday fun.

Mele Kalikimaka & Much Aloha!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Things I Am Loving This Week

This “Things I Am Loving This Week” is brought to you from high above the ocean as I fly to Portland for Christmas on what started out as a very nasty, bumpy flight—ugh, but now has calmed down somewhat—at least enough to write this post. I wasn’t going to squeeze a “TIALTW” post in this holiday week but since I did have a couple of food-related things I really do love, I thought I should go ahead and share them.

First up, I have a passion for peppermint bark--there is something about the dark chocolate bottom, covered with a layer of white chocolate and topped with broken pieces of candy cane that makes it feel like Christmas. When I saw that Häagen-Dazs had a Limited Edition Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, I had to try it.

Their version has a white chocolate base with small pieces of peppermint bark and candy canes mixed in. Delicious—the balance of the white chocolate and peppermint really works and it is neither too sweet nor too sharply peppermint. In fact it is the kind of creamy, zingy ice cream I could learn to love—luckily it is only available for a limited time. My only complaint is that it needs just a bit more peppermint bark, or bigger pieces of it. If you are a fan of peppermint or peppermint bark, I recommend finding a pint to try and enjoy.

Speaking of the peppermint bark that I love so much, it is not a good thing for me when I am trying to eat healthy as it usually comes in big tins that I could easily plow through, self-imposed sugar restrictions be damned! But since I do need just a bit for the holidays I was happy to find these individual packets of Jo’s Candies Natural Peppermint Bark at Whole Foods.

One square is 150 calories and it is a nice smooth chocolate with good flavor too. The good-sized piece more than satisfies my craving (actually half of it does with the other half saved for later), without all the damage that a whole tin would bring. Love them!

Finally, I’m not sure it’s a true love, but I have a need to travel with healthy snacks at all times as the thought of being stranded somewhere hungry makes me nervous. Hungry means low blood sugar and low blood sugar makes me grumpy. Put it this way, you wouldn’t like me when I am hungry—trust me in this. Also hungry means bad choices, like fast food and other bad airport selections. To combat this I put together little travel snack packs or survival kits in Ziploc bags that go on the plane with me so I thought I would show you one. Mind you it is a five-hour flight to Portland so all of this does not necessarily get consumed, I just like to have options.

What’s in it? Well, of course a Lara Bar (PB&J my new fave), a Kind Fruit & Nut Bar (this one is Macadamia & Apricot), a Sahale Snacks Almond PB & J (almonds and peanuts coated in dried strawberries and raspberries). I also like to take my own tea and just ask for hot water on the plane—in this case I have little “Travelers Tins” of The Republic of Tea’s Pomegranate Vanilla Red Tea (rooibos, hibiscus, pomegranate juice) and Get Charged (rooibos, ginseng, hibiscus, peppermint, blueberry and other good stuff). I like rooibos (an herbal tea or tisane that originated in South Africa), because of all the antioxidants and I try to stay away from caffeine on flights. A couple of Emergen-C packs—this is the Acai Berry flavor, to throw into the bottle of water that I buy once I get in the airport, assorted sanitizing wipes—to wipe down me, the tray tables, etc., mini single-use tooth brushes that are flavored with peppermint, and finally mini Ricola cough drops just in case. So what actually got consumed? Well I was blessed to get upgraded and had a pretty decent meal, (a mini cheese plate, salad and fish) so I used two tea bags, both Emergen-C packs, the Sahale Snacks (in lieu of the pumpkin mousse-thing they were serving on the plane for dessert), plus I used a mini toothbrush and a few sanitizer wipes. For me it is all about loving the feeling of being prepared if I end up delayed or stuck somewhere.

So those are the “Things I Am Loving This Week.” How about you?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fast & Easy Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Almonds for Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammie) Sundays

Busy getting ready to head to Portland for Christmas on Monday the last thing I want to do is spend hours making a big pot of soup. I wanted something quick and simple so I looked to my go-to book for fast and delicious recipes, "Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express" to find the perfect soup. This Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Almonds goes together in about 20 minutes (although I recommend 30 minutes to let the flavors blend a little longer). It also used items I had in my pantry, always a bonus.

Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Almonds
"Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express"
(Makes about 4 1/2 cups)

Bittman says, "Try adding some diced chorizo with the onions and garlic."

In a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, cook a thinly sliced small onion, some smashed garlic, about a half cup of slivered almonds, salt, pepper, and a pinch of saffron for about five minutes. Add a can of chickpeas (or your own cooked; either with their liquid) and four cups of chicken broth or water; use a potato masher or wooden spoon to break down some of the chickpeas. Cook and stir until warmed through and serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley if you like.

Notes/Results: A really delicious soup with little effort and a nice combination of flavors and textures. I added the chorizo as Bittman suggests and would recommend it as it adds a wonderful lightly spicy flavor to the soup. Rather than mashing some of the chickpeas, I ran my immersion blender through the soup a few times to break some of the chickpeas down. This one is a keeper recipe for me.

We have some old friends in the Souper Sunday Kitchen this week--let's take a look:

It is a pleasure to welcome back my friend Ivy from Greek Hospitality this week. Ivy very generously created the Souper Sunday logo last year so it is a treat to have her with us. Her Cypriot Trahanas Soup is made with a traditional Greek and Cypriot ingredient, trahanas, which Ivy says "is mainly prepared from cracked wheat flour and a curd that is fermented. It is then formed into small oval patties and dried whereas in Greece they usually sieve it into tiny pellets." You can read more about this interesting ingredient and soup on Ivy's post.

Graiziana is here from Erbe in Cucina with a Kale Soup with Turmeric. Graiziana says this soup is a "compromise between 'healthy' and 'tasty' food" to satisfy her mother (who has a very different style of cooking) for lunch. Made with kale, red onion, fontina cheese, butter, milk and a key ingredient turmeric which she says "plays a fundamental role in this soup, it can't be omitted." And if you were wondering, her mother enjoyed the lunch! ;-)

Here trying out the BloggerAid Cookbook with a delicious Oxtail Stew is Heather from girlichef. She says, "While going through my book, I came across a recipe from Giz & Psychgrad of Equal Opportunity Kitchen for Oxtail Stew...and thought it looked and sounded so dreamy and comforting...and then I found a couple pounds of oxtail at the store a day or so later...fate. Let me tell you, if you've never tried must! It is rich and silky and absolutely delicious!" And check out the BloggerAid Cookbook here--it is for a good cause and although I have not cooked out of mine yet--there are some wonderful recipes.

Donna from My Tasty Treasures is here with a Roasted Red Pepper Soup she found in the classic cookbook "The Joy of Cooking." Besides the roasted red peppers this one has veggies, herbs, rice, heavy cream and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Donna says that this creamy soup is "simple and delicious."

A gorgeous bowl of Puree of Celery Root & Yukon Gold Potato Soup made a light, delicious dinner for Debby from A Feast for the Eyes. Debby says this is "A simple, "clean" soup-- mild tasting, yet flavorful-- with notes of celery and the thickness of the potatoes. I always add some fresh lemon juice to my cream or pureed soups. We both loved this light supper-- especially with a glass of white wine and a salad."

Finding herself caught up in "pierogi madness," Lissaloo from One Step At A Time brought a warm, comforting bowl of Pierogi Chowder she found on a blog called 1000 Soups. Lissaloo says, "I had to make this, it was WONDERFUL. And it got 4 kid thumb ups from the critics. The soup was very very good and will be made many more times in my house."

Wonton Soup from Emeril was on the menu for Natashya at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies this week. Natashya says, "This is a simple and tasty wonton soup that can easily be adapted to whatever vegetables you have on hand. The chicken stock is a little mild, I recommend that you serve the soup with a small shake each of soy sauce and rice vinegar. The wontons themselves are bursting with flavour and a joy to eat."

Faith from Thought 4 Food is here with the perfect for the season Elizabeth's Three Squash Soup. It's her Mom's recipe and Elizabeth says, "She makes the best squash soup I’ve ever had (including any that I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant). Her recipe has the perfect touch of sweetness, and all the warm spices really highlight the earthiness of the squash." Her Mom was even shown on the local news once for this soup--picking out the squash at the farmer's market. This one looks like a must try!

Lovely soups, just perfect to chase away that winter chill this week! Thanks to everyone who participated. If you have a soup (or sandwich or salad), that you would like to send along, click on the logo on the side bar for all of the details.

Have a happy holiday week!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ginger Tea--A Warming "Simple Saturday Sipper" for Winter

Want to stay well this winter? Thai healing traditions promote staying in sync with the seasons by cooking with seasonal ingredients and "eating to balance the four basic elements of life; earth, water, wind and fire," says Vegetarian Times Magazine. "Winter is dominated by the earth element, so foods that heal right now include "earth" items: buttery root vegetables and warming root seasonings, such as onion, ginger and garlic. Citrus and greens enhance benefits by helping prevent respiratory illnesses." This spicy Ginger Tea is from the January 2010 Vegetarian Times. Ginger is a warming rootstalk with multiple health benefits such as soothing and aiding the digestive system, having anti-inflammatory properties, boosting the immune system, improving circulation and calming the mind. Honey stimulates antibody production, soothes the throat and calms coughs. Together it makes for a "Simple Saturday Sipper" that is both preventative and restorative, as well as delicious.

Vegetarian Times says: "Ginger is Mother Nature's protective cloak, shielding us from sickness on winter days. This tea is very spicy--if it tastes too strong, dilute it with more hot water and honey. Traditional advice is not to drink more than 2 cups of ginger tea a day unless you are using it as a treatment for a bad chest cold."

Ginger Tea
Vegetarian Times January 2010
(Makes 2 Cups)

12 thin slices fresh ginger, pounded with mortar or rolling pin
1 Tbsp honey

Put ginger and 3 cups water in a small saucepan, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20-25 minutes. Strain out ginger slices and discard. Stir in honey, and serve hot. Tea can be reheated if necessary.

Notes/Results: Spicy and good, this is the perfect drink for a cold day or night. It is blanket weather at night here right now and this drink warms from the inside out. I used local ginger and my favorite local honey from Big Island Bees,‘Ohi’a Lehua Blossom. I like the spiciness of the ginger but it can be diluted down easily if you want something milder. A bonus--when cooled down and mixed with club soda and a little lemon, this "tea" makes a wonderful ginger ale drink.

What foods make you feel in balance this season?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookbook Review: "My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur"--A Gorgeous Book to be Savored

To me the ultimate test for any book is to be immediately swept away when you open it, being pulled into whatever world that book portrays and to feel like you are actually a part of it. I had the pleasure of taking such a journey with the enchanting "My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family and Big Sur" written by Romney Steele" as a copy was recently sent to me by the publisher to review. This is one of those cookbooks that from the start begs to be picked up, savored and soaked in, thick and gorgeous with its bright jewel-toned colors and amazing photos. With most cookbooks I review I do a quick read through of some of the key chapters, scanning the rest and going immediately to the recipes, with "My Nepenthe" I found myself keeping it on my nightstand and reading it page by page, chapter by chapter, each night until I finished it. It is not just a collection of recipes, although there are plenty of them, it is really the story of a magical place, Nepenthe--a restaurant and gathering spot on the cliffs of Big Sur in California.

Nepenthe (derived from the Greek and meaning "no sorrows"), was started by the author's grandparents, Bill and Lolly Fassett who bought the land and cabin from Rita Hayworth, who received it as a wedding present from Orson Wells who she was in the process of divorcing. They moved their five children into the cabin and set about building the restaurant which opened in 1949 and then later on a shop below the restaurant and a rooftop cafe were opened. Romney Steele is a writer, cook and food stylist and the daughter of Bill and Lolly's youngest daughter, Kim. She grew up in this unique place and opened Cafe Kevah on the grounds of the restaurant. In "My Nepenthe" she offers her memories and stories of the restaurant, her family and the many "rugged individualists" as her grandmother called the guests and travelers who came to soak in the beauty and the bohemian lifestyle Nepenthe offered. A hang out for writers, artists movie stars, Nepenthe became a cultural icon and a place that featured poetry readings, folk dancing, fashion shows, concerts and even a movie (scenes of The Sandpiper with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were filmed on the terrace in 1964). Steele takes us to her Nepenthe through its history, family stories, the beautiful photos illustrating the book and of course the food.

According to Steele, "food was never the point at Nepenthe, but it was always good and presented with care." Her grandparents believed in serving the best that was available and the menu was simple and limited so it could work within the locations and resources. The book includes 85 recipes and I easily tagged a couple of dozen that I wanted to make but narrowed it down to six dishes to "road test" for this review.

Let's start out with a little cocktail. I made the Moscow Mule, vodka (Smirnoff), ginger beer, a squeeze of lime and garnished with a slice of cucumber, because although I had heard of this drink, I had never tried it. My loss because it was refreshing and delicious, especially with some lemon vodka. The book says, "This sharp gingery drink was served for a time in a copper metal cup with a kicking mule insignia, a marketing scheme by the creators of the drink and popularized in Hollywood. It became a Nepenthe classic." I will be making this drink again and again.

Nepenthe's house salad, The Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing turned out to be very flavorful and delicious. It's a simple salad of torn romaine and green leaf lettuce, a cherry tomato, and topped with a oil and vinegar style dressing with chunks of tangy Roquefort cheese. Since I had a container of local cherry and grape tomatoes, I upped the amount of them in the salad. Besides the cheese, the dressing is full of dried herbs and spices which give it great flavor. A nice salad to start a meal with.

I knew I had to make was the Grilled Swordfish with Sour Cream-Caper Sauce (Need you ask why? It was the capers of course!). The book says "Nepenthe first served grilled swordfish in the '50s or '60s as a special and my grandmother topped it with a savory sour cream-caper sauce. We used to brush the swordfish with butter while grilling, but I prefer to drizzle with olive oil beforehand as they do in Italy, where I imagine my grandmother first enjoyed this meaty Mediterranean fish." I used some local shutome (Hawaiian swordfish) and cooked it in my grill pan on the stove. The steaks are served over arugula or baby spinach so that the greens wilt a bit from the heat and are topped with the creamy sauce. I used a low-fat sour cream but with the capers, hot mustard, horseradish and other ingredients you can't tell the difference. A quick and easy dish with wonderful flavor.

I served the fish with a simple Oven-Baked Rice, the book describes as "Perfect rice every time with no attention." I used a long-grain brown rice, and for the fish, added a topping of some gomashio, a Japanese condiment made of toasted sesame seeds and salt. It turned out well and was nice and moist after about an hour in the oven.

Since I already had the rice and was craving curry, I gave Lola's Lamb Curry a try. The book says, "My grandmother's sweet and tangy curry was a family favorite and originally published in Recipes for Living in Big Sur. I have given it a slight update, included measurements, and added chile for spice. Serve with Lolly's Oven Baked Rice." With green apple, fresh pineapple, raisins and shredded unsweetened coconut, it was a bit different and sweeter than most of the curries I make but very good. The chunks of lamb shoulder were tender, the coconut milk made it creamy and the chile added a slight kick. I topped it with chopped cilantro, mint and toasted almonds and enjoyed it even more reheated the next day.

Finally I love a good carrot cake and really wanted to try Kim's Loaf Carrot Cake which was a recipe from the author's mother, baked in loaf pans and "sold in thick slices right out of the pans" in the juice bar. The cake is made with equal amounts of unbleached white flour and whole-wheat flour and is very moist with a tender crumb and wonderful flavor.

I ended up making the cakes into both mini and regular size cupcakes to take to a holiday lunch and cookie/cupcake tasting and exchange where it won "Best Cupcake" over some delicious competition including red velvet and strawberry lime cupcakes, so you know it had to be good! ;-)

I really enjoyed everything I tried from the book and I still have many recipes tagged to make such as Sour Cream-Apple Coffee Cake, the Ambrosia Burger, Lolly's Famous Hotcakes, Lolly's Roast Chicken with Sage Stuffing, and Cafe Kevah Granola to name a few. "My Nepenthe" will have a place of pride in my cookbook collection--if I ever take it off my nightstand. It is a perfect choice for anyone who loves great food and a great story--a truly special book.