• 26Jul

    Being in the business of feeding people I am acutely aware of what I feed myself and am increasingly aware that what we feed ourselves affects our well being in so many ways. I’ve recently been trying to find new healthier ways to get that ‘sugar’ fix without the sugar and without all those poisonous artificial sweeteners. Did you know saccharine was banned because it was found to cause bladder cancer? It is, however, still allowed as an ‘at the table’ additive.  

    Did you know that there is a government agency that has listed over 160 symptoms and reasons to avoid the consumption of aspartame? Did you know that pre-approval research on sucralose showed shrunken thymus glands and enlarged livers and kidneys?  

    Do browser searches on each sweetener and you will find a wealth of information on why you should avoid the three artificial sweeteners like the plague.  

    So what’s the alternative? For about a year now I have been using Sucanat as much as possible. Sucanat is dehydrated sugar cane juice – that is not refined sugar. While Sucanat is still ‘sugar’ it is not refined so it contains certain vitamins and minerals which offset the deleterious effects of it’s refined form. Still, it’s not quite so good for you but miles better than refined sugar though not a good sub for diabetics. 

    Most recently, I’ve been exploring two alternate sweeteners: Stevia and Xylitol. First I’ll write about Stevia Stevia is an herb native to Paraguay. The leaves are very sweet – in fact it is said to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. You can find it in it’s natural form – ground leaves or in an extract form. I bought a small jar of Stevia extract to try from my local Vitamin Shoppe and also noticed it’s available at Trader Joe’s. So far I’ve used it to sweeten drinks and it has worked great. Not the exact taste of sugar but pretty darn close with no unpleasant after taste. I’ve read that different brands can taste slightly different so try out a few brands as you may prefer one to the other. Next I’ll be experimenting with stevia in baking. So far I’ve concluded that Stevia is a great sugar alternative and is a great alternative for diabetics. Do a browser search and find out about Stevia’s intriguing history and why it hasn’t been readily available until recently – could it have to do with not being able to patent natural substances and a certain corporation convincing the FDA Stevia should be kept out of the country even though places like Japan have been using it safely for over 40 years? The current artificial sweetener market – made up of chemical substances patented by large chemical companies is a multi-billion dollar industry afterall. More later about Xylitol.

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  • 25Jul

    Yesterday while strolling along College Avenue, I passed a couple pushing a stroller with a child – no more than two years old. He sat there like a floppy doll with a big gulp sized soft drink between his legs -straw in his mouth. Yikes! Did you know that last year there were 171 million people worldwide with Diabetes. This statistic is expected to double in the next 30 years. A frightening statistic to be sure, but what can we do to stop this epidemic from growing?   With so much information out there you would think it wouldn’t be too hard to educate ourselves. Unfortunately in this fast paced world where we have barely enough time to even just get a nutritious meal in, it’s difficult to find the time to sift through all the information out there. But with so much at stake don’t we owe it to ourselves and our families to try?   

    Ok, off my soapbox.

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  • 21Jul

    For weeks now I have been struggling with an addiction to kettle corn. I love the light sweet salty crunch – oh so yummy. It started out at a Farmer’s Market months ago with a few samples, then the small bag and then the medium sized bag. I then decided it wasn’t such a good thing to be scarfing with the oil and the sugar and the salt…so I stopped. Just like that…cold turkey. It had been weeks since I munched on those delicious crunchy bites of yummy goodness. Just as my craving was ebbing, the SF Chronicle decided to rate the microwave popcorn versions of Kettle Corn. Safeway brand won out so in a moment of weakness I hopped over to the neighborhood Safeway to buy a box. Straight over to the microwave I went as soon as I got home. I waited in anticipation as the last corn popped. What a disappointment it was to eat…good, I thought, this will cure me at last!  

    Then one fateful night I was channel surfing and flashed pass the Food Network. Oh, back to the Food Network – was that a big kettle I saw. Oh, yes an instructional segment on how kettle corn is made. I fell to sleep dreaming with those little white fluffy orbs popping in my dreams. In the morning I jumped on the web and did a search on Kettle Corn – woo hoo! I can make this stuff at home in a pot on my stove. Off I ran to the neighborhood grocer for my bag of popping corn.  

    Moments later I was sitting on the couch with a big bowl of kettle corn on my lap. Hey, I figure this can replace my addiction to potato chips, yea that’s it.

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  • 15Jul

    In our melting pot called America, comfort food can mean so many different things to so many different people. No matter what ‘the’ dish happens to be, we seek solice not just through our stomachs but the feelings that the dish evokes…our sense of taste and smell trigger memories that warm our souls bringing us back to times of less distress. For some it can be a bowl of chicken soup – bringing back memories of being nurtured when one wasn’t feeling so well. Or of foods that bring back memories of happy times – family gathered together for big platters of meatloaf and mashed potatoes or maybe even naan and curry! There are people out there though, like me, where the list of comfort foods can be as long and varied as the thickest cookbook. Food was so emeshed in my everyday living as I was growing up that just about anything that ever passed my lips brings back fond memories and feelings of comfort. Being Chinese American I can draw on tomato beef chow mein or a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs…tiny dim sum sized custard tarts or banana cream pie…minced squab in lettuce cups or carnitas tacos…rice porridge with thousand year old eggs or matzo ball soup. MMMMMmmmm, isn’t America Great!?  

    I was writing a menu today and was called upon to offer comfort foods…so we had the roast chicken, the meatloaf, the mashed potatoes, the beef stew, the enchilada casserole, and then I hit a mind block. Argh, what else? I already had a side of pasta with cheese sauce so didn’t want to do mac and cheese…then it hit me…Tomato Mac and Cheese. I loved that dish as a kid…I remember standing on the stool at the stove over the pot browning the ground beef, adding the ketchup and slices of american cheese; then tossing in the elbow macaroni…what’s not to love? 

    These days I have a hard time using ketchup as a main ingredient in a sauce let alone plastic wrapped american slices so we upscaled a bit with grass fed ground beef, organic tomato sauce, medium tillamook cheddar, and an imported macaroni. I was kind of skeptical with my substitutes, thinking I would not be able to bring back those comfort feelings not just because I was too tall now to stand on that stool over the stove but I didn’t stay true to the original ingredients. I’m happy to report that after digging into the finished product, I did indeed get those warm fuzzy feelings of comfort. Here’s the recipe:  

    2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
    2 cups tomato sauce
    1/2 onion, diced
    1 lb ground beef
    2 cups grated cheddar
    1/2 cup grated cheddar  

    Preheat oven to 350F. Cook the elbow macaroni until slightly less than al dente.  

    In a medium skillet, brown onions in a bit of oil. Add beef and brown. Add tomato sauce. Heat to a boil. Add 2 cups grated cheddar and stir until melted. Take off heat. Mix in macaroni and pour into a buttered 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle the 1/2 c grated cheddar on top. Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes or until heated through.

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  • 14Jul

    I’m constantly thinking of food…today it is biscuits. I searched and searched for the perfect biscuit recipe…and just what is the perfect biscuit? This is a highly personal thing to be sure so I can only speak for myself. I like my biscuits with a tender crumb, light as air and buttery with a slight tang from buttermilk or sour cream. The best recipe hands down is Nicole Plue’s –  Chive Biscuits. I usually leave out the chives and I sub some of the cream with buttermilk…ok, and sometimes I cut the butter down by an ounce (got to watch that waistline.)  And…instead of cutting out cute little circles of dough I just form the dough into a giant rectangle and cut into 12 squares…quick and no waste :) Hot out of the oven with a big heaping spoonful of jam…any kind of jam will do but I do dream of Apple Farm’s Apricot Jam. Now that’s comfort food…at least for this moment today…

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  • 13Jul

    I’m taking some time off during the next few weeks and am finally getting to spend some time out in the garden. So far the pruning shears have had quite the work out. The lemon tree looks like it had a nice flat top hair cut (sorry to the pro’s – I’m sure my pruning job would generate more than a few grimaces). A few planting beds are getting reworked for fresh plantings of beans, lettuce and beets.  

    On the harvesting front, so far we’ve had a few meals of pole beans, salads with cucumbers and the first of the glorious home grown tomatoes, and the one of many zucchini’s to come.

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  • 12Jul

    I have had naan bread on my mind for a few weeks…now it is on the kitchen counter. Finally had a chance to try out the latest recipe I found on the internet. Internet searches for recipes can be quite overwhelming. You can end up with so many versions of one thing that you never get a chance to try any of them. That’s what’s happened with my Chicken Tikka Masala search but I do plan on getting to one of them this week.
    Naan bread is traditionally cooked in a tandoor oven. This is a clay oven with an opening on the top. The hot burning coals go in the bottom creating temperatures of up to 500 to 600F and even higher. The bread dough is cooked by sticking your arm into the oven and slapping the dough onto the inside wall of said hot oven. I used to work a tandoor oven back in LA – it literally singes the hair off your arms. I did find a site on the internet that shows you how to make a tandoor in your very own backyard but I figured that project will have to wait another day. I can see it now, the neighbors poppping over and asking what I am up to while I am mixing a bag of cement in the wheel barrel. “Oh, I’m making bread…”
    The recipe I settled on had yogurt, yeast and baking powder…of course it had the other typical bread ingredients too. Not able to follow a recipe exactly, I subbed 1/4 c of all purpose flour with gluten flour to give the bread a bit more chewiness and as I was mixing the dough noticed that it was going to be awfully dry so I added a half cup of water. I would have used milk but we didn’t have any. 

     

    The texture was almost what I was looking for: chewy yet tender with large air bubbles. Taste wise they were a bit tart for my buds so next time I will cut back on the yogurt – maybe even sub with an egg. I think I’ll stick with using water instead of milk just because it’s one less thing I have to buy special since I don’t usually have milk around. 

     

    Wish I had some Chicken Tikka Masala to go with this bread. Hmm, I think there’s some Aloo Gobi in the freezer. Off I go…  

    Oh, by the way, you can leave comments now so please do if you are so inclined. Just click on the green colored “Comments” at the end of each post. 

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  • 11Jul

    Got a call from my mom the other day…it was time to pick apricots off of the tree in my mom’s backyard. I get excited and dread it at the same time…fresh picked apricots are the best – since they are so delicate and easy to bruise you rarely find tree ripen apricots in the stores. The dread comes when I look up at the tree and realize I’m not quite so nibble and brave anymore…climbing up a tree that might not necessarily support my weight, twigs scratching out my eyes, the possiblity of spiders, or worse yet broken bones. I voice my apprehension hoping my mom, as she so often did when we were kids, worried for my well being and let me off the hook. But, my mom replies, “Oh, just use the ladder and climb up there – we can’t let those apricots go to waste.” Now I picture myself precariously perched atop a rickety ladder at the top of a slope on uneven ground – the ladder rocking back and forth. I’m flying through the air, apricots landing everywhere…my mom yelling, “Watch out, don’t fall on the apricots. Oh, now look you’ve mashed all those nice ripe apricots…how clumsy of you!”  

    As I snap back to the task at hand…Ok, I say sheepishly. Luckily my sister was there to help. She climbs up first to get the ones she can reach and then I hop up to get the rest. Phew, I survived another year. And it was worth it – there just isn’t anything like a well earned bowl of tree ripen apricots.  

    I guess this year we were a bit rougher than usual plucking the fruit off the tree…guess I was feeling the stress of being on top of that wobbly ladder…many of the apricots had thumb sized bruises. No matter – perfect for an Apricot Crisp…  

    Here’s my favorite Crisp Topping Recipe:  

    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup old fashion oats
    3/4 cup flour
    1/4 cup almond meal (I get this at Trader Joe’s)
    1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or more if you’re feeling spicy
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    4 ounces butter, unsalted (slightly chilled)  

    Mix the dry ingredients together then cut in the butter. The mix should be dry and crumbly but also able to form nice pea and almond size pieces when you squeeze the mixture together in your fist. Sometimes I add in a little bit more flour if the topping is too moist – I try to get it as dry as possible so the topping stays crisp after it has baked with the fruit under it. It’s important though that the mix is still able to form those pea and almond size ‘chunks.’ The topping should be randomly and haphazardly ‘chunky.’ The topping freezes really well too so sometimes I make a big batch and have it ready to go when I want a quick dessert. This recipe makes enough to top 2 – 9×9 crisps.  

    For the fruit – you can use apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums or combinations like apples and cherries; peaches and blueberries; or toss in some dried fruit with the fresh stuff like cranberries or raisins…be creative, most fruit would be great in a crisp. I mix about 4 or 5 cups of cut up fruit with a 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (depends on how sweet the fruit is to begin with) and about 2 tablespoons of minute tapioca. For apples, I’ll mix in some cinnamon too. Put this into a 9? x 9? baking dish. Scatter the crisp topping over the fruit and bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes or until the fruit is soft and bubbly.  

    Yum Yum. Had to make a vanilla ice cream run this evening…the perfect side for the warm apricot crisp. 

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  • 10Jul

    Wow, it’s been a busy week! I’ve got some blogging to catch up with…  I’ve still got Indian food on my mind. Recently, a new Indian restaurant opened in the Rockridge neighborhood – ok, almost…it’s in Elmwood. A nice 20 minute walk so it’s not too far…better to work off the naan with the walk home. Anyway, it’s about time! I’ve been wishing for an Indian restaurant for the 7 years we’ve lived here. Unfortunately it took over the space of our favorite Chinese restaurant but alas, the restaurant business is tough and there were so many other Chinese restaurants to choose from within a few blocks. So, the new Indian place is called Naan n’ Curry. We’d been to the original in the Tenderloin in San Francisco – this outlet is considerably more upscale! The food I remembered from the Tenderloin outlet was tasty and cheap…though I do recall battling a bit of indigestion…authentic Indian food is not light fare, that’s for sure! Of course it had nothing to do with being a complete pig.  So, you ask? How is the food at the Elmwood Naan n’ Curry? Very tasty and cheap! We’ve been twice now and each dish was great though a tad on the rich side but like I said authentic Indian food is rich – it’s the ghee (butter that has the solids and water separated out – so pure butter fat). The naan bread is the best – light and airy with a nice chewiness too it – great for dipping into the curries. We’ve tried the garlic naan which had the perfect amount of garlic and the potato naan – yum. Of the curries we’ve had, we like the Aloo Gobi (cauliflower & potato), the Lamb Vindaloo and the Chicken Tikka Masala. Next time we’ll try the saag paneer and maybe some thing with eggplant. Every dish is pretty spicy so we just get naan and some plain rice to dampen the heat. The Biryani’s, as I recall are pretty darn hot. There are specials too that are listed at the front. We did try a fish dish but I thought it was a bit too fishy. Also, try the complementary Chai tea – it’s self serve in tall silver airpots in the front. The service is fast (order at the counter and they bring you the food) and ambience casual with lots of room for the kid’s strollers. Give Naan n’ Curry a try if you like spicy no nonsense Indian food.  Rumor has it that another Indian restaurant is on the way to Rockridge – going into the space where the liquor store use to be. Khana Peena is currently in the permitting process. Other favorite Indian Restaurants nearby:  Chaat Café on University and Martin Luther King in Berkeley. This has great tasting small dishes and the food is less greasy than most places.  

    Udupi Palace across the street from Chaat Café. This is my new favorite – a vegetarian South Indian place specializing in Indian pancakes called Dosas. I love the steamed rice cakes with the coconut chutney. Try it – you won’t be disappointed!  Vik’s Chaat House on Addison and Fourth in South Berkeley. This is in a warehouse space – very casual and a great cross section of people dining there at lunch time. There is also a store next door so you can stock up on all things Indian. Umm, now I am getting hungry. 

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  • 05Jul

    Oh, that magical miso. It’s another product made from soy – this of Japanese origin. The magic is that something that’s been mashed up with salt and mold, then fermented in cedar vats for a year or two or three is edible. Who thought that up? They say many foods are discovered by ‘accident’ – wow, imagine finding something in the back of your frig that may not smell too good and is totally unidentifiable – then taking a taste. I found something like that yesterday. At first, I was mesmorized by the unique pattern of growth – it kind of reminded me of a coral reef…little clown fish darting in and out of the folds… but as the hairs in my nostrils began to curl, I quickly slammed the lid back on before all the paint peeled off the kitchen walls and tossed it. You have to hand it to those intrepid folks who dared taste what most of us would toss our cookies over.  

    Miso really is magical though in that it has many health benefits. There have been studies that show miso chelates heavy metals in the body so can help prevent radiation poisoning and that miso contains compounds that help prevent some forms of cancer. One of the anti carcinogens found naturally in soy is genistein. In miso, some studies have shown genistein is up to 25 times higher than in other soy products. There are also many other heath benefits associated with eating miso. Among the benefits – contains beneficial enzymes and bacteria to aid in better digestion; the presence of choline helps liver functions (miso soup is a purported hangover cure); and saponin in miso helps control cholesterol. So move over chicken soup – how about a nice steamy bowl of miso soup instead? 

    We had some dear friends over for dinner tonight and for a quick little sauce for the cedar smoked salmon, I made my favorite Miso Salad Dressing: 

    4 T Miso, light (non-GMO!)
    4 T Sucanat (dehyrated sugar cane juice) or a light Honey
    3 T Apple Cider Vinegar (Bragg’s is best)
    2 T Dijon Mustard  

     

    Whisk it all up and serve. I also like this on a green salad with lots of veggies – cucumber, tomatoes, avocadoes, mushrooms and sprouts.

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