Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

As you may or may not yet know, I've participated in The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap of 2013, an annual event wherein bloggers bake cookies and send them to each other. It's rather thrilling, if I do say so myself. Don't judge. I mean, really, how many of you get 3 dozen cookies over the course of November from people who cook as their passion? 

I deliberated long and hard about which cookies to make. I received my matches (Miss in the KitchenDaily Cup of Asheejojo & A Kitchen Addiction), read through their bios, and glanced through their recipes. I hoped to make something that not only suited them but also aligned with my blog's style. Whatever that means. Anyway, I'm not opposed to eating cookies that have a pound of butter in them if someone else put their labor and love into them, but I'm generally not the one to make them. (Unless they're snowballs/Russian teacakes/Mexican wedding cookies. More on this later.) 

I love the All About Cookies book by Joy of Cooking and most of the cookies I bake for the holidays come from there. I was intrigued when I came upon Dream/Angel Bars on page 49. The blurb said:

"Many a copy of Joy has been sold on the strength of this recipe, or so we have been told."

How could I ignore that kind of assertion? It would have been heresy to ignore such a mandate. Right now a lot of experienced chefs/bakers are shaking their heads at me. I can feel the raised eyebrows and pursed lips pointed in my direction. They seem to be saying "you really shouldn't test out a recipe on guests". In my head, the logical extension of this common knowledge is that it's even more important to test your recipes before serving them to people you've never met before. Especially if most of them are seasoned cooks. Alright, alright. But it always works out, doesn't it? 

To be honest, I rarely (never?) make test batches. I go all in. And since the deadline for the cookies was still a full week away, there wasn't that much risk. Except for the fact that I might have 3 dozen dysfunctional cookies on my counter at the end of the process. But it wasn't like I was getting it from an unknown source or anything. I trust Joy of Cooking, so that was the end of the story. I dove headfirst into mounds of coconut and chopped walnuts without a backward glance.

Dream Bars
from All About Cookies by Irma S. Rombauer
for the crust
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
for the filling
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
for the crust
1) Line an 11x7 pan (2 quarts) with aluminum foil, allowing it to overhang on all sides about 2 inches.

2) Combine the butter, granulated sugar, egg yolk and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined and somewhat fluffy.

3) Stir in the 3/4 cup of four using a wooden spoon. Switch to using your hands when it become to difficult to handle. Press the dough into the pan so that it's fairly even and reaches all the edges.

4) Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside once finished, but leave the oven on.
 for the filling
5) Spread the coconut and walnuts on separate baking sheets. Place them in the oven, toasting for 2 minutes before stirring both. The coconut will most likely take less than 5 minutes total, so keep a sharp eye on it. The walnuts may take up to 7, but be careful not to burn them either. {I recommend pausing everything else while this process takes place as the coconut got very dark while my back was turned.} Set aside.

6) Combine the whole eggs, brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla in the (clean) bowl of the stand mixer. Beat until smooth on medium speed. 

7) Add the toasted coconut and walnuts to the bowl and stir with a rubber spatula. Pour onto baked crust.

8) Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted is slightly wet and the top has darkened slightly.

9) Once the bars have cooled almost completely in the pan, use the edges of the foil to lift them gently but swiftly from the pan. {They can easily break under their own weight, which makes the bars slightly less even.}

10) Cut the bars into squares, being careful not to perforate the foil so that it will peel off easily in one sheet.

11) Enjoy the dream.

And finally, I'd like to recognize the lovely people who sent cookies to me. 

From Celebrating Sweets, I received Butter Toffee Shortbread Cookies, which had little pieces of butter toffee baked into a crispy, crumbly cookie. Oh yes. 

There were more, but let it suffice to say that they met their fate.
From the CBO (Chief Baking Officer) of Toast Enterprises, otherwise known as Tales from the Crumb Tray, I received Danish Butter Sandwich Cookies with a Chocolate Variation. Yup.
This time the camera caught them
before the fingers did.
From Nickida of Nicki's Random Musings, I received Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chip cookies. The best part about them, other than their taste, of course, was the fact that they were huge, so it's easy to feel good about yourself because you can say you only had one. Ha.

My nighttime photo doesn't do them justice,
but you can at least get the spirit of the party this way.


All three years have been hosted by Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen. For the roundups of previous years' cookies, visit their pages for 2011 (Part 1 & Part 2) and 2012 (Part 1 & Part 2).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Akin to Shortening Days

I know that there are too many of these posts circulating right now, but I have a good recipe to promote, so what other logical path was there? According to this article, I should have just swallowed it instead of harming the world by divulging it as yet another pumpkin-spice-something. Anyway, I'm throwing it out there, and since I've found a bunch of other cooking- and food-related articles recently, I might as well write a post. 

Please don't be scared by the fact that the original recipe was from Weight Watchers. Usually I don't go looking for recipes on "diet" websites, but this one popped up when I searched for pumpkin scones and the ingredient list was entirely real foods, so I went for it. If you're looking for a Starbucks imitation or other saccharine delights, you'll have to look elsewhere, as my version is much more suited to real breakfasts, perhaps paired with an egg or some yogurt with pomegranate seeds.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Cranberry Scones
These scones are fairly not-sweet with a hint of spice. The pumpkin creates the moisture that allows for the reduction of the butter, so don't be alarmed by the amount of either ingredient.

  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or regular whole wheat if that's what you have)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (if you're feeling very healthy, use all whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (the original recommends ginger, but we were out, so do as you please)
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped (I actually accidentally used a quarter cup then, upon consuming the scones, found that they were rather sparse, so I think that this measurement is wiser.)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  1. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. 
  3. Add pumpkin and egg to the large bowl. Mix with a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until combined. Stir in the cranberries. It will be fairly sticky, so don't overmix. 
  4. Sprinkle flour on a clean surface. Turn the dough out and flip it over to coat it with the flour. Divide into two equal portions. 
  5. Flatten each piece of dough into a disk slightly less than an inch thick. Cut each into 6 wedges (for a total of 12 scones).
  6. Place the scones on a baking sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper. 
  7. Bake for 17 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Since it's not too long after Halloween, I thought you might still be interested in the history of trick-or-treating. If not, you should still visit the author's blog, Four Pounds Flour, that discusses historic gastronomy. Also, since it's starting to be that baking time of year in general, a quick reassurance about the coveted corn syrup for the anticipated pecan pies.

Penultimately, I'm excited to note that I'll be participating in the 2013 Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

And now for a "found" poem I wrote using elements from Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. (It's typed out in the manner that it is because it's meant to be hung as art.) The book is worth reading on its own. The descriptions he uses are so dense that they're almost poetry on their own. 

When I look too closely at my life, it’s just bottle caps threaded on a nail.

But I am lucky, standing here on
the eve of independence.
My circumstances are the elusive mountain empire shrouded in mist.

A life powered by powder coffee awaits me, the buds and offshoots of inspiration in position to EXILE me from the dire quay upon which the American Dream has collapsed resolutely.

I will be delivered on a floating packet of misery, intent on avoiding the sheep life at all costs.

I will cast off any and all ill-fitting plastic shoes upon which I might build my reliance.

I will nurse the earlier epochs and obscene talismans of my dissonance.

I am not the least bit impressed by the living donor of the greatness in which I find suffering.

I have rehearsed my lines in my head until I can find no new meaning in my own existence.

Perhaps it’s too late to say all this,

But life is in the end about fixing holes.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Summer Experimentation

Now that I have 2 seconds to breathe after the first explosion that is the first month of school, let me give you some more recipes.

This recipe is a rapidfire chronicle of my cooking adventures this summer outside of any organized vacations. If I had a day ahead without any plans to cramp my languid cooking style, I would try something new. Just to reassure you, all of the recipes below are ones I would recommend. I tried a few that are not noteworthy or I haven't perfected yet and will hopefully come along later (*cough*sourdough*cough*).


I purchased a small bag of chia seeds from because Kath of KERF so highly recommends them for their nutritional properties as well as their gummy texture. I thought I'd go ahead and try this pudding that I found on the Interwebs since I hadn't really found another use for the seeds. Besides, do you really need an excuse for chocolate pudding? 

Bittersweet Chocolate Chia Pudding
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • extra honey for sweetening individual bowls to preference
Mix all ingredients in a large, tight-screwing mason jar. Shake well. Place in refrigerator, shaking every 10 minutes for the first 30 minutes. Allow to sit overnight before serving. (Pudding is not particularly thick.) Shake every day, if there's any leftover, to avoid clumping.


I had to add the "lightly" part because this dish is in distinct contrast to the usual overdone "vegetables" of the south. The okra retains its flavor, texture and color and is paired with fresh tomatoes that don't overwhelm in the least. Next time I'll try other spices, perhaps 21 Seasoning Salute?
Lightly Stewed Okra
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced 
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala 
  • 2 - 3 cups fresh okra, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 - 2 roma tomatoes, washed and diced
1) Heat a splash of olive oil in a medium saute pan. Toss in the onion and cook for a few minutes until it's just starting to become transparent. 

2) Add the spices and cook for another 30 seconds before adding the okra and tomato(es). Add a splash of water and cover, cooking for 5 - 8 minutes or until the okra is fork-tender. 

It's interesting how few recipes I can find actually call for field peas. [Please direct me to them if you know of them.] So I figured that they must be at least similar to beans. I've since found a guide to the different varieties, which would have helped immensely to reassure my fears, but all worked out in the end, so no harm done, right? I believe the type I had was Crowder peas, judging solely from their appearance (I got them from my produce box, so there's no way to know for sure). 

Vegetarian Sausage Hoppin' John

  • 1 1/2 cups raw fresh field peas, washed
  • 1 small onion, diced 
  • 1 Tofurky Italian sausage, chopped 
  • 4 medium Roma tomatoes, diced 
  • 1 large ear corn, cut off the cob
  • 2 - 4 cups fresh spinach, lightly chopped
1) Cover field peas with water in a small pot. Boil until tender, about an hour. Once done, drain and set aside.

2) Saute onion in a small amount of oil in a large pan. Feel free to use flavored oil as it will only add to the depth of the dish. Add the sausage once the onions begin to turn translucent. 

3) As soon as you can start to smell the spices of the sausage coming out, add the tomatoes, corn and cooked peas. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes on medium heat.

4) Add spinach and stir. Recover and finish cooking for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with rice, pasta or, as the original recipe suggests, grits.


And, out of interest, a list on Buzzfeed of food words that you may be pronouncing wrong. I learned foie gras, vichyssoisse and bouillabaisse. Also, I like the illustrations of the food.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

{Eat} On, Wisconsin!

Few activities bring me greater joy than riding a bicycle. This euphoria is increased greatly when I'm pedaling into unexplored (by me) territory on a mission (think: grocery store).

A week ago we resurrected my grandmother's hand-me-down bike, vintage 1978. All it needed was new inner tubes and I was able to use the (much more refined) cruiser instead of my cousin's mountain bike, which was a smooth ride, but a little heavy-duty for my purposes. Most days I was been able to speed around the bike-friendly town, letting nothing but the fear of being run over by a train (a real possibility around here) distract me from the freedom of zooming around town and through lightly wooded neighborhoods. 

One of the best rides I've had was going to the farmer's market 3 miles away in the village. I don't know how long it took me to get there and back because I was so thrilled to be carrying a backpack full of produce on my back. I bought peas, beets, green beans, bread and rose-scented soap.

 That particular expedition checked off an item on my bucket list. And, though it was not the particular trip during which I purchased the ingredients for this coming recipe, it was something of the inspiration.

The other piece of inspiration went by the name of PS23. I didn't go to Wisconsin expecting to find farm to table dining opportunities, but that's life for you. I asked what we were doing for dinner one night and they said "PS23. It stands for Public School 23." I thought, "that doesn't answer my question", and some amount of confusion ensued. It turns out the restaurant is called Park Side 23. Anyway, let's get to the point. They claim they're the only restaurant in the area to grow much of the produce they serve on the premise. There's a large garden off to one side where they not only plant vegetables and fruits, but also host Farm Suppers. It was pretty incredible. And the food was amazing. Meat, as you know, is not my main focus when it comes to food, but I'm so, so glad that I stepped out of my range and ordered the Pork Osso Bucco. I'd never had the dish before, but I'm not sure I'll order it again after this experience as nothing will be able to compare. It was flavorful and juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender. Served over creamy polenta with a colorful arrangement of glazed radishes and apples, it was the best thing I could have asked for.

Then I discovered a book by the name of Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson (he also runs a blog) at the library. I'm notorious for flagging recipes in beautiful cookbooks and then never finding time to make the dishes themselves. This time I actually had the opportunity to make a soup and sauce, and furthermore, they were in the spirit of the book: as home-sourced as possible. It's worth getting the cookbook (either purchasing it or renting it from the library), if only to read his page-long commentaries on the different ways to produce and gather food. 

If you have the means, I highly recommend getting your ingredients as locally and freshly as possible. You'll find the taste is outrageously good. All of the produce came from the Farmer's Market and the meat from Angelina's Deli, a small, family-run Italian market. 

I'm not sure how much of a difference this really makes, but I got
non-imported prosciutto to try to cut down on fuel impacts.

Prosciutto Zucchini Soup
from Whole Larder Love
The original recipe for this soup prescribed 2 tablespoons of sour cream to add some richness. First of all, I didn't have any. Second of all, and most importantly, the finished soup was quite thick and smooth, even without the added dairy. One other note made by Rohan is that the prosciutto can simply be omitted if you're cooking for a vegetarian audience.
  • 4 1/2 - 5 ounces prosciutto
  • 3 large zucchini, roughly diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup hot water + 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon 21 Seasoning Salute (from Trader Joe's, or any other spice mix you like)
  • olive oil
1) Cut the prosciutto into small pieces, removing as much of the fat as you like. Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot with a splash of olive oil. Cook the prosciutto to golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

2) Using the same pan, heat a little more oil, if needed. Cook the zucchini, onion, and garlic for about 10 minutes, or until mostly soft. Add liquids (it helps if all of them are warm or hot, as it speeds the cooking process) and spice. I found that I didn't need to add any salt because the prosciutto was quite salty to start with.

I forgot to take a picture of the pureed soup at the end.
I will admit that most of the would-be-eaters were not entirely thrilled about the idea of zucchini soup. I made the mistake of not heating it up thoroughly before serving, which put off some of the others. (The problem was that I was serving it at a barbecue, which has a distinct chaotic quality in my mind because I never know when the grilled food will be done.) Most of those who tried it were pleased, and I think the meatiness of the prosciutto appeased the more carnivorous members of our company.


The sauce I made was quite an adventure. It wasn't difficult at all, except for one step, that I'm sure will be a lot easier for you than for me. My grandmother doesn't have a food processor and the push-it-through-the-sieve-with-a-wooden-spoon method prescribed by the cookbook wasn't working all that well for me. It may have been that the sieve was too fine. Anyway, we whipped out the good old-fashioned food mill, given to Oma by her mother. If you've never used one, it's a saucepan-shaped container with a perforated bottom and a spinning (not sharp) blade that crushes the food against the holes, forcing it through as a paste. It works quite well and is very easy to wash compared with the dangerous blade of the food processor. The only problem it had was with the tomato skins, which are fairly tough and mostly refused to go through, which was fine, since I didn't need a lot of sauce. 

Now let's take a quick look at cost. We all think that eating fresh food is more expensive, and, unfortunately, it seems like it is in this case. The box of 5 pounds of tomatoes from the farmer's market was $5, labelled for soup because some had some small blemishes and soft spots. The basil was $1 and the garlic was $0.66 per head. The total yield was approximately 3 cups of sauce, which is about the amount that you'll find in a normal 1 1/2 pound jar of store-bought sauce. I had definitely expected a larger amount of sauce for the number of tomatoes that were involved, but they really cooked down. So that means that it cost me about $6.33 (I didn't use the entire head of garlic) to make a jar of sauce versus $3-$4 to buy one. On the other hand, you're entirely in charge of what goes into the food and can control the wholeness of the ingredients you're using. It's all a tradeoff when it comes to food, after all. 

Roasted Tomato Passata
from Whole Larder Love
  • 5 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bunch basil
  • olive oil
1) Wash, core and thickly slice the tomatoes. Lay out on a large baking sheet (I had to use two). Peel the garlic, leaving as whole as possible and scatter among the tomatoes. Rinse half the basil and roughly chop, sprinkling over the tomatoes. 

2) Roast in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until there are a few blackened edges. If you're using two pans, rotate them every 15 minutes to ensure even roasting. I recommend stirring the tomatoes every 15 minutes, regardless of rotation, to prevent sticking.

3) Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Place the tomatoes in a food processor, sieve or food mill to crush into a sauce. When you've achieved desired consistency, add the rest of the washed and chopped basil. Place in a glass container and refrigerate until use. 

I used mine for a quick, simple pasta salad. I used about 3/4 cup of sauce for half a pound of dry pasta and tossed in the rest of the chopped basil then (rather than adding it to the sauce itself). I added half a 15-ounce can of large black olives, roughly sliced. I considered adding artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, but decided not to because I don't really like vinegary pasta salads. 


Earlier I mentioned the Village Farmer's Market, which takes place on Thursday afternoons. The market that my grandparents more often frequent is the one that takes place next to the civic center and near the library. It's quite a bit closer to their house and much larger. While we're there, at least, my grandmother purchases a good amount of our produce at this market. My grandfather is quite content with his weekly morning bun from Wild Flour Bakery. 

This summer there was a new (to me) vendor present. Her stall was called Aleka's Kitchen. The first Saturday I bought tyropita, a feta cheese-filled triangle and the second Saturday of my visit I purchased a square of flaky spanakopita. While at her stand, I tried a garlicky raw walnut dip called skordalia, which was delicious. When I was presented a few days later with some rather sad-looking eggplants, I decided to make a dip that incorporated those walnuts I had so enjoyed. I also added feta cheese, as you will see below in the picture, but it was rather unappetizing after it had been sitting in the dip overnight and didn't end up adding that much flavor.

Paprika Eggplant Dip

  • 3 large Japanese eggplants
  • 1 heaping cup button mushrooms, stemmed and brushed clean
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 2 heaping teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika, divided
  • 1/4 heaping cup walnuts, lightly crushed/chopped (you probably could use more, I couldn't taste them very much)
  • broth, to thin out the dip a bit
1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash eggplants, removing any brown spots. Place on roasting pan in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, checking occasionally with a fork. The eggplant should be completely tender when you remove it from the oven. Once cooled, peel off the skin and set aside the eggplants.

2) Heat a splash of olive oil in a small saute pan. Slice the mushrooms into thick slices. Saute with the cumin and coriander until tender. Remove from heat.

3) Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until only small pieces remain. Add the eggplant and mushrooms and continue to blend until it has reached your desired consistency. I was using a blender, which was much more difficult for pureeing something this thick, so I had to constantly add more broth to keep it from clogging. If you're looking for a  more spread-like consistency (like a loose veggie pate), don't add broth and see how it goes. Overall, I probably added between 1/4 and 1/3 cups of broth, which was not my original intention, but it turned out well anyway.

4) Place in a serving bowl and stir in the paprika, garnishing the top with another sprinkle of paprika for color.


Inspired by Kath of KERF, I'm making a list of some other interesting experiences I had while in Wisconsin. I'm trying this format because I've already spent a few hours writing this post and I'd love to get this out on the Interwebs a little faster so I can start working on the next one. 

Notable Consumables, Products & Events
  • Wisconsin State Fair - the only place worth eating a solid meal is in the Wisconsin Product building. Plus the Cream Puff Pavilion, obviously.
My grandfather's favorite place to eat.

Just an example of why America is overweight.

Sky glider provides a great view of fallen flipflops.

A must-drink at the Fair. More in the vein of shake than milk.

The Starry Night as interpreted by a talented icing worker. 

I can only see the oxymoron here.
  • Mulberries - my grandmother has a mulberry tree on the side of the house that gives up just the right amount of fruit to make one batch of jam. This year I was lucky in that there were some berries leftover that I got to sample.

  • Pizza - we took a whirlwind trip to Chicago for one night in the middle of our stay and ate at Roots for dinner. This is probably my favorite pizza place in the world. Not that I've been to Italy or anything. What makes this place so unique is that it defies tradition, throwing out decades of labels that now define the Chicago deep dish vs thin crust rivalry. Instead, it's a medium-thick MALT crust with various specialty themes, such as cheeseburger, taco and BLT. Oh, and don't forget the mozzarella stick appetizer. No pictures. It was too delicious to wait.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

America the Beautiful & Bountiful

It's started to get to me when people print in recipes for baked substitutions that "it tastes just like fried." Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn't. Most often, it's the latter. Not only do I avoid deep frying for the health benefits, I also am always concerned (with meat in particular) that the final result will either be a bacteria-laden, undercooked mess or that it will be throat-cloggingly dry. I've only had success with this rather tedious method of cooking once. It was making vegetable tempura and "shrimp-flavored" puffs with my grandmother at least 5 years ago. My great uncle is an absolute pro at it; he can execute anything from tonkatsu (flattened, breadcrumbed pork) to mushroom tempura with perfection. Personally, I’d rather leave the indulgent foods for when he visits (and cooks for) my family.

In general, I try to steer clear of the imitations for fear of their deception.  Sometimes, though, when I’m sick of cooking a particular ingredient in a manner that is thoroughly exhausted, I’ll let go of my tendencies. I’ll find a dish that I know I like and look for a recipe that suits me, meaning no excessive fat, sugar or salt. {I know I’m difficult.} When our friends came over and said they’d be bringing 2 medium eggplants with them because they had received five (you’re not reading that wrong) between their two (you’re not reading that wrong, either) produce boxes, I knew I had to come up with something good. Something classic that even my non-eggplant-eating brother wouldn’t mind, because goodness gracious, we needed to eat those eggplants. {I know I’m overzealous.}

Luckily, I had kept this recipe in my to-cook list. I was quite dubious of it: it’s a taste-alike and terribly simple. Could this recipe really yield an eggplant parmesan comparable to its batter-and-boiling-oil-dipped parent? The answer is yes. I’m even saying that it tastes better than its greasy progenitor. But you’ll just have to try it out for yourself.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan
adapted from
I'd say it's perfectly balanced with saltiness, crunchiness, softness and acidity. Just don't scrimp on the baking time: the eggplant must be completely done in the center to pull off the dish. 


  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 cup marinara sauce, or however much you need to cover the bottom of the pan
  • 1 medium tomato, cored and diced
  • 3 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, grated, optional
1) Crack the egg into a flat bowl or pan and beat. Pour the breadcrumbs into a similar dish. Slice the eggplant into 8-12 slices. Dredge each piece in egg before coating in breadcrumbs and placing on a greased baking sheet. Cook for 10 minutes on each side in a 400-degree oven. 

2) Pour tomato sauce across the bottom of the pan, shaking gently to cover evenly. Arrange eggplant in a layer. Place sliced tomatoes on top of the eggplant. If there’re more slices of eggplant, place those on now. If not, simply sprinkle with half of the cheese in an even crust. Reduce oven to 35o and bake for 20 minutes before adding the cheese. At this point check on the eggplant with a fork and judge further cooking time (the total could be anywhere from 30-45 minutes).


I really like corn and, not necessarily a logical extension, cornmeal. You may have seen the previous post containing a casserole with a polenta layer or the one with my favorite cornbread {scroll past the chili recipes} in it, which is far more relevant to the next recipe.

One of my friends once made a citrus-scented olive oil cornmeal cake that was so lovely that I have since been obsessed with the idea of cornmeal as a dessert ingredient. When I found this cake and saw that it was mildly healthy, I figured I should go for it. There was no event or occasion, it was just a “let’s celebrate summer and life” kind of cake. Plus, I hadn’t had any good treats in a while.

Since cornmeal can require extra moisture to avoid grittiness, I figured it was a natural progression to make it an applesauce-eque cake. Unfortunately, I was in too much of a hurry and pulled it out before it was completely done. The center was runny (which my brother enjoyed), and I really should have put it back in the oven, but (a) it was terribly tantalizing sitting there on the counter and (b) I didn’t want to dry out the edges. I would recommend covering the pan with foil for the first 20 minutes or so of baking so that it can steam a bit. This may yield a different texture, but then, I am a fan of Asian-style steamed buns and cakes.

Blueberry Peach Cornmeal Cake
You can use any stone fruits you’d like as far as I can tell. I added a few berries for color and because they were pretty flavorless on their own.
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 ripe peach

1) Thinly slice the peach and arrange in the bottom of a sprayed 9-inch cake pan (I used 8-inch but then had to pour the extra batter into another container to bake because it wouldn't all fit). 

2) Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium large bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Add wet to dry, stirring to combine thoroughly but not overmixing. Add blueberries and stir gently. 

3) Pour cake batter over the peaches, filling the pan only to within a half inch of the rim. If there's extra batter, pour into another small pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for ~40 minutes. It's important to check the doneness all the way down to the bottom as it will be wetter down there due to the peaches. 

P.S. If you've ever wondered why peaches have an almond-shaped kernel in their center if you crack open the pit, here's your answer (it turns out it's not just Mother Nature playing a prank on us). As far as I know, that's actually an almond in there. Here's an abreviated version of the Food Lover's Companion's definition of almond: "There are two main types of almonds--sweet and bitter...The more strongly flavored bitter almonds contain traces of lethal prussic acid when raw. Though the acid's toxicity is destroyed when the nuts are heated, the sale of bitter almonds in illegal in the United States. Processed bitter almonds are used to flavor extracts, liqueurs and orgeat syrup. The kernels of apricot and peach pits have a similar flavor and the same toxic effect (destroyed by heating) as bitter almonds..."


For the past few days I've been reading through the November 2012 mega-issue of Cooking Light. I rarely have the opportunity to actually read entire articles, instead skimming the pictures, pop-out words and captions in an entirely unfulfilling manner. There are two substancial pieces that stand out from the trendy desserts and healthy cooking techniques. They're quite long in comparison with much of the journalism that we have come to accept in the concise news channels of the Internet, but they're well worth your time; think of them as short stories if you need to.

Mississipi Chinese Lady Goes Home to Korea is a mildly introspective essay from Ann Taylor Pittman, the food editor for Cooking Light magazine. It recounts her culinary and familial adventures when she journeyed to Korea, her mother's homeland. Hearing about all of the communal food resonates with me because of my own mother's Japanese heritage. I'm lucky enough to know many of them and have most of them living here in the United States (far flung as they may be). I visited them in California and was reminded of how comfortable (a term Pittman mentions) we are together, without judgement. Everyone's happy to share their food, inviting the others to experience a bite of their own pleasure. 

This article is a good segway into a peek at my trip to San Francisco last week. I'm only highlighting the food adventures here: we did do other things besides eat, I promise!

Friday - an exciting adventure into what could be called the new Asiatown where authentic restaurants thrive. I ate at Pho Phu Quoc (aka PPQ), my cousin's favorite restaurant. I had never had pho (pronounced fuh) before because our local place is always packed at dinner time. I loved that the basin-sized steaming bowl were brought to the table accompanied with an array of bean sprouts, lime wedges, Thai basil leaves and jalapeños--customizable is my cup of tea. Plus, that's not even talking about the coconut drink. I'm pretty sure it's just Cream of Coconut, tapioca pearls and cubes of steamed taro. And that, folks, is all you need to hear.

Saturday - I baked banana bread for my uncle and cousin at their house for breakfast. Midmorning we explored Petaluma, a relatively small town about an hour outside of San Francisco and sampled cheese and ice cream at Petaluma Creamery. The piña colada ice cream is some of the best I've ever had, and that's coming from a chocoholic. When we arrived at my great aunt and uncle's house we had onigiri (Japanese rice balls), inarizushi (some people say the rice inside the tofu wrapper looks like a football), roasted chicken and burritos from La Azteca, the taquería my cousin Derek visits every time he comes to the West Coast. The evening brought us even more delicacies in the form of the Bon Odori Festival (a Buddhist festival honoring one's ancestors, usually shorted to 'Obon'). The temple we attended the celebration at serves hundreds of styrofoam bowls overflowing with udon noodles and topped with kamaboko (fish cake, the pink-edged pieces), braised beef (already consumed) and fresh scallions. For dessert, the traditional imagawayaki is served. It's two pancakes filled with a dollop of an, sugared red bean paste, and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds embedded in one side. Even if you don't like the idea of a normally savory ingredient--beans--being used in a sweet application, you must try it anyway.

Sunday - after a quick tour of Sonoma city and the Solano Mission contained in its borders, we returned to Auntie and Uncle's house for lunch again with many of the same components of Saturday's spread. For dinner, Auntie served smoked salmon caught a mere six hours before serving by a friend. For the sides she had green beans, tomatoes and beets fresh from the garden as well as her homemade kimchi and a slaw-like cabbage salad. Even after such a filling meal we indulged a little in her delicious minty chocolate cake leftover from the previous day.

Monday - perhaps the day best representative of San Francisco. A morning at the California Academy of Sciences was followed by lunch in the same Asian-dominated district from my first night. Our first choice of Korean barbecue was closed, so we headed up the street a block to Hahn's Hibachi. One item in particular on their menu stood out: the Pile O' Beef, which Derek ordered and consumed with gusto. We also ordered a chewy clear-noodle salad to share. The only thing I wouldn't recommend is the "tempura", which is a completely different style from the Japanese. Basically, you just have to order some sort of meat, whether chicken or beef and it will come with the appropriate seasonings and a delicious side of bean sprout salad. We wandered a ways into the now-touristy Chinatown and eventually came to what many people consider to be the best Dim Sum restaurant in the city. I have no reason to dispute this claim. We ate egg custards still scorching from the oven, balancing the wobbling center on the flaky crust while we stood out on the gusty sidewalk. A while later we ended up at the Ferry Building, a classy farm-to-table-centered indoor market containing stalls selling everything from scented olive oil to artisan cheese and charcuterie. There was more than one Whole Foods-esque mini store selling colorful ribbon pasta and off-the-beaten-track pressed juices. From there we walked 39 piers down to Ghirardelli Square. That day they were sampling milk chocolate with caramel, which was a bit too sweet for my palate, but still too much to resist. The evening ended at Fisherman's Wharf where we ate at one of the many seafood-devoted restaurants fronted by small street-side shacks. I would not recommend Nick's Lighthouse for anything but the crab chowder, a brown-sauce-based variety, as everything else was dumbed down for the tourist industry.

Tuesday - Point Reyes looks like how I image the moors of Scotland. It probably is nothing like them, but since I've only ever read about them in Laura Ingalls Wilder's ancestors' books...anyway, the day started out with fresh citrus from Auntie's garden and then moved on to more onigiri and kimchi for lunch. We hiked out 3 miles or so on the trail to the tip of Point Reyes, seeing two herds of elk in the process. For dinner, Derek cooked us some lovely Wagyu (American Kobe) burgers that was given to my Uncle Marcus by a friend of his, a small beef farmer. I'm not a big meat person, as you might have figured out, but this particular beef had such a rich flavor that it was hard not to be intrigued. Of course all of this was complimented by more fresh produce, including a bright heirloom tomato salsa made by Auntie.

Wednesday - an early morning headed to work with Uncle so that I could be dropped off back in Tiburon. Before I left their house, I had one last glass of Auntie's fresh-squeezed blackberry lemonade, made almost entirely from ingredients in her garden. I also took half of the loaf of bread that Uncle and I had made in the bread machine the night before. It was a dense oatmeal loaf with a hint of molasses and definitely my kind of bread. For the trip down to Monterey Bay with Uncle Marcus and his son, I packed egg salad/pesto and hummus/pesto sandwiches (using Uncle's bread). Once we arrived, we tasted four varieties of clam chowder on Fisherman's Wharf (a second one) that afternoon. Each of the seafood restaurants was very similar, so they tried to lure people in with their samples. There were also two crepe places, one of which was closed, so we had some from the other. They were quite good, though it was clear that the shop was much more accustomed to serving sweet crepes to savory because the batter was slightly sugared even though we ordered tomato/avocado/spinach and turkey/egg/cheese. From there we went on a 3-hour whale watching tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watching, a scientifically crewed boat. After sighting between 8 and 10 blue whales and at least half a dozen humpback whales, we headed to Ambrosia, a fairly highly rated (on Yelp) Indian restaurant nearby. Overall it was quite good, especially a fish curry we ordered. I loved that we were expected to eat family style and thus served a trough of rice alongside small cauldrons of each of the three dishes we ordered. 

Thursday - breakfast at the Embassy Suites is usually a treat, but this time it was overly crowded and not entirely enjoyable. We headed to Monterey Bay Aquarium and toured the exhibits until lunch time. Despite the long lines in the cafeteria, everything moved fairly quickly as they had many staff members positioned around the room with walkie talkies directing the flow. The lunch was quite good with a complete salad bar and a few interesting choices on the hot menu, including a "cobbler" that was remarkably like chicken pot pie with a crumb topping. That evening was one of the highlights of my trip. We drove home as quickly as we legally could to get to the Upper Haight neighborhood for an Off the Grid event. It was 13 food trucks and I was ecstatic. Maybe you don't know this about me, but I'm kind of a street food junkie. I eat at this type of vendor every opportunity I get. Especially if the trucks are as diverse as they were that night. For those of you in the Bay Area or looking to go there, these trucks were phenomenal. I tried Señor Sisig (Filipino), An the Go (garlic noodles),  Curry Up Now (Indian), Sanguchon (Peruvian) and Whip Out (BBQ), which may sound like a lot of dishes, but all six of us shared around to get a bite of everything. The veggie curry burritos from both Curry Up Now and Sanguchon were very different from what you're probably used to. The Peruvian-style curry in particular was a whole new flavor profile compared with traditional Indian fare. If you eat meat (even just once in a while), you must, must, must get the nachos from Señor Sisig. They are fully loaded and capable of feeding a large army, endowed with spices and layers of flavor that we just don't seem to get in our everyday diet. Noodle fanatics be warned: you may end up eating the entire carbo-load of An the Go garlic noodles if you're not careful. They're very simple, served only with a little broccoli and carrots on top, but the dry seasoning imparting the flavor on the pasta is more than enough to satisfy. Whip Out was Derek and my younger cousin's favorite, as they really enjoyed the brisket sliders. {Besides those there were Onigilly (sushi), Cheese Gone Wild (grilled cheese), Hapa (modern Filipino), The Chairman Truck (Chinese), Sajj (felafel/shawarma), Phat Thai (Thai), The Rib Whip (Midwest BBQ) and Cupkates (cupcakes).} Though it was already 9:15 or so, we walked around the neighborhood so that I could see where the hippie movement was born. I think it's changed quite a bit, but the streets are still lined with vintage boutiques, thrift stores, record shops and booksellers. Somehow, we ended up at Ben & Jerry's. Let me just intercede here and let you know that I was stuffed to the gills. I had bought my own burrito from Sanguchon before I realized that I was expected to finish everyone else's dinners. Luckily I understood this before I had gotten more than 3 bites into my burrito, but still, after doused sweet potato fries and beefy nachos and spicy chickpeas and buttery noodles and brisket fringes, I was near to bursting. But one does not simply pass on B&J's. Especially if one is standing in front of the B&J's scoop shop at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. And I'll just say that I could probably fit a kid-sized scoop of Passion Fruit Pineapple sorbet in after any meal.

Friday - not much time left in San Francisco at this point. By the time that everyone was up in the house (all three of us, that is) and in the car, it was 11:30 and we only had an hour and a half before I needed to get to the airport. So where did we go? Trader Joe's. We had to pick up some 21 Seasoning Salute (my younger cousin's favorite condiment), some Maple Leaf Cookies and some Raisin Rosemary Crisps (which proceded to not fit in my luggage). From there we stopped by the nearby Boudin to buy a loaf of sourdough to bring back to my dad, who had expressly requested it. When we finally got up to the front of the line (it was approximately lunch time and Boudin serves sandwiches and soups), I saw sourdough baby turtles. I couldn't refuse. 

Overall, I had an amazing time and I don't feel like I wasted one second of the trip, which is extremely important to me. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see my family and try so much great food. I hope it won't take me five years to get back out there again!

Now I'll share the second article. Welcome to the Golden Age of American Food by Scott Mowbray delves into the foodie era that we have entered as we move away from the nutrient-depleted factory products of the late 20th century and into the slow-food movement of the 2000s. You may think that this is over-generalized, that many Americans live in food desserts, lacking basic sustenance, but Mowbray paints a convincingly bright picture of the heyday that we are coming to embrace.