Tuesday, April 22, 2014

handcrafted: coconut almond granola

One Saturday morning after the gym, Jules and I stopped at this wonderful coffee shop in Russian Hill - Saint Frank, a sleek and modern cafe that makes the best almond macadamia latte ever.  I noticed their walls were stocked with their branded coffee beans, fancy looking coffee making supplies, and jars of artisanal granola...for $18 a jar.  My eyes went a bit wide because I already have issues paying $8 for 12 oz. of 18 Rabbits Granola.  Was their granola that amazing?  

I never found out because I certainly didn't want to spend that kind of money on something I may be able to just make on my own.

I went home and decided I wanted to learn how to make granola from scratch.  I actually had been holding onto a bag of bulk rolled oats (which I'd previously used to make Karlie's Kookies), and I also had a bit of dried coconut, miscellaneous nuts, and just about 1/2 cup of brown rice syrup that had been hanging out for a while and was just dying to be used.  The thing with granola is, you can add just about whatever you want - just imagine what tastes delicious, and put it together!  This recipe is the simplest version, you can omit and substitute nuts and seeds as you wish.

Easy Homemade Almond Coconut Granola

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup sunflower kernels
1/8 cup flax seeds
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup pure brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon raw coconut nectar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, coconut, almonds, sunflower kernels, flax seeds, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together coconut oil, brown rice syrup, vanilla, and coconut nectar. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are well-coated.

Pour the granola mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, smoothing out into an even layer. Bake for 30 minutes or until granola is golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes. Let granola cool completely and then break up into pieces (keeping it as chunky if you wish).

Store in an air-tight container for up to 1 month.  Enjoy by the handful, or serve with fruit & yogurt, or just your favorite type of milk.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

signs of spring.

As the crispness of a San Francisco winter slowly begins to fade, the first signs of spring appear the the farmers market.  My favorite farmers market in the SF Bay Area thus far is the one at the San Rafael Civic Center - many of the same vendors as the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market minus the tourists.  The weather in San Rafael is also generally warmer and more conducive to walking around without being swaddled in about seven layers of clothing.  The stroller contingent is out in full force by 11am, but if you get there early, the experience is pretty serene and the parking is pretty easy.

My favorite vendor is Tomatero Farms because they always stock beautiful bunches of kale, radishes, leeks, tender heads of cauliflower, at very reasonable prices.  Other highlights include the flower vendor right across from Tomatero Farms' tent, who sells bunches of freesia for about $4, ranunculus for $5, and mixed bouquets for only $8.  I would go to the farmers market in Marin just to buy flowers, that's how much I like them!

After returning home with a bounty of beautiful produce, I wanted to make something delicious, light, and highlighted the seasonal ingredients.  I'd never cooked with dandelion greens before, but I do love bitter greens and pesto so this recipe was just what I needed.  It's also a great transitional soup for when the weather is not quite warm yet - the creaminess of a hearty winter soup without the heaviness of full fat cream.

Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup with Dandelion Pesto
adapted from Treehugger


1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 leeks, cut into rings
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
2 tb olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 medium russet potato, diced
3 c vegetable stock
1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1 tb dry thyme leaves (or 1 tsp fresh)

1/4 c walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c dandelion greens
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tsp smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 425º F. In a large bowl, toss together the cauliflower, leeks, onion, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt, and olive oil. Pour onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes or until golden.

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine the roasted vegetables, potato, vegetable stock, coconut milk, thyme leaves and remaining salt. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from heat.

Using a stick blender or working in batches, puree the vegetables and stock into a smooth consistency.  Set aside.

To make the pesto, gently toast the walnuts in a dry skillet.   Add to a food processor or blender along with the garlic and process until a fine crumble.  Add the chopped dandelion greens, Parmesan, and salt and process again until the greens are well chopped, then drizzle in the olive oil as the food processor or blender is running, and let everything process into a paste. Add more olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, if needed to make it the desired consistency.  You can also add a bit of water to thin it out.

To serve, ladle into soup bowls, top with a dollop of pesto, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

beautiful los angeles.

By now you all know how much I love Los Angeles.  It's my Southern California roots that keep me fiercely loyal to LA and San Diego while San Franciscans love to hate on the lower half of our state.  And yes, while the traffic and triple-digit summer temperatures can be absolutely miserable, the beach, the no-jacket-required January weather, and the room to spread out are three things I love about SoCal.  Here are a few shining moments from our trip this past weekend:

Chaumont Bakery (Beverly Hills)

Recommended to me personally by Chef Ludo Lefebvre (in response to an inquiry about where to get a croquembouche in Los Angeles), this fancy bakery right off of Wilshire was worth the 6 hour drive from San Francisco.  I dragged a tired Jules out of bed bright and early and drove 45 minutes south of our hotel to try it, and it did not disappoint.  He would move to LA for the croissants, they were that good.


This photo was taken at Manhattan Beach.  I grew up in San Diego and Honolulu, and being close to the sea just feels natural to me.  I can't ever imagine growing up somewhere that didn't have easy ocean access.  And, yes, the water can be chilly..but it's still beautiful!

Mexican Food

Before all the Bay Area folks start trying to tell me that San Francisco has awesome Mexican food, I will say that Southern California is about 400+ miles closer to Mexico than we are. And maybe that's why I can't get a satisfactory inexpensive taco around these parts.  Plus, have you had proper rolled tacos or carne asada fries?  No?  We are no longer friends until you do.

Hasta luego, Los Angeles...until next time!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

new year, old traditions.

Let me preface this entry by saying, I'm not Japanese.

Not one single solitary drop of Japanese blood in my veins.  But I grew up in Honolulu, where at one time, 43% of the population was of Japanese heritage.  Without explaining the entire history of how it happened (it involves pineapple plantations and immigrants), I'll just say that Hawai'i is a huge melting pot of ethnic groups, and in some way or another, you end up taking traditions from so many different cultures that they become part of your own.  And thus, o-zōni is one  of my favorite New Year's Day traditions.

O-zōni (or just zōni, as it is sometimes called), is a simple soup of clear broth, vegetables, and most importantly, mochi, or, rice cakes.  There are many variations of this soup by region in Japan, and the ingredients can vary depending on what is available to you.  (For example, my part-Japanese half-sister, who lives in Hawai'i, likes to put knots of kombu in her soup since it's widely available there.)  Not only is it a soup for good luck for the New Year, but it is also perfect for those with sensitive tummies after a night of too much indulgence!

O-zōni (adapted from a recipe by Marc Matsumoto)
1 cup water + 4 cups water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 pound boneless chicken thighs
8 slices carrot, carved into the shape of a cherry blossom
1/4 cup sake
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
handful of baby spinach leaves, blanched
kamaboko (fish cake), sliced
4 mochi

About an hour before you prepare your Ozoni, put 1 cup of water in a bowl along with the dried shiitake mushrooms.

Put the chicken in a colander. Boil a kettle of water and pour it over the chicken, letting the water go down the drain. This removes blood and impurities from the meat, giving you a clear soup.

Put the chicken in a pot along with the remaining 4 cups of water, the carrots, sake, and salt, and then simmer for 20 minutes, skimming to remove any scum that rises to the top. Remove the chicken and set it aside.  Add the soy sauce, along with the soaking liquid from the shiitake mushrooms to the soup and then adjust salt to taste. Slice up the shiitake mushrooms and add them to the soup.

Lay down a sheet of aluminum foil in a toaster oven then toast the mochi until it inflates and turns golden brown along the top.

To serve, place piece of grilled mochi at the bottom of the bowl, then add a few slices of chicken. Add the soup along with some spinach, slices of carrot, a couple of slices of kamaboko, and some shiitake mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

champagne wishes and caviar dreams on new year's eve.

I just recently re-read one of my favorite books from when I was in college.  It's a book entitled "My Sergei" by figure skater Ekaterina "Katia" Gordeeva, about her husband & skating partner, Sergei Grinkov, who passed away unexpectedly at a very young age.  This book introduced me to a more intimate look at family life in Russia in the seventies and eighties, as Katia wrote extensively about her childhood in the Soviet Union - the trips to their dacha to hunt mushrooms, the dishes that her babushka would make for holidays, the celebrations of certain festivals, like New Year's Eve, which apparently was the biggest holiday of the year for Russians.  

For this New Year's Eve, Jules and I didn't make any big plans.  We said we were just going to have a big bottle of champagne and maybe some caviar (a "grande bouffe" of sorts).  Of course, I couldn't help myself and I started researching menus that included champagne and caviar, and ended up preparing a Russian-themed feast of golubtsy, blini, caviar, smoked fish, pickles, and mushrooms in sour cream.  (Jules also wanted steak, so we prepared a small ribeye to share.)  Of course, we accompanied everything with vodka and eventually champagne!  Here are two of my favorite recipes from this evening's menu, cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice, and buckwheat pancakes that can be topped with virtually anything.  

Happy 2014, everyone!! 

Quick Buckwheat Blini 
recipe by Anya von Brezmen

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup seltzer or club soda

Canola oil, for brushing

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the seltzer and canola oil and puree until smooth. Scrape the batter into a large bowl and let stand for 15 minutes.

Whisk 1/3 cup of the seltzer into the batter; it should have the consistency of pancake batter; add a bit more seltzer if the batter is too thick.

Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over moderate heat until very hot. Brush with oil. Spoon tablespoon-size mounds of batter into the hot skillet and cook until bubbles form on the surface and the blini are browned on the bottom, about 1 minute. Flip the blini and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer the blini to a baking sheet. Brush the skillet with oil as needed and repeat with the remaining batter, layering the cooked blini on the baking sheet. Serve the blini warm or at room temperature.

We serve ours two ways - either with sour cream & caviar, or sour cream and smoked fish.  Jules' favorite is smoked trout, but any smoked fish will do.  You can use a gravadlax style salmon too, which is really lovely.  Top with chopped chives, scallions, or flat-leaf parsley for a bit of color.

Golubtsy (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
1 cup white rice, cooked
2 medium sized cabbages
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 pound ground beef
2 eggs
4 medium carrots, grated
1 onion, chopped fine
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I used Whole Foods 365 Mushroom Sauce)
2-3 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp butter
a few dashes of allspice, paprika, and cumin
freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream or Greek yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 350F.

To make filling, heat clarified butter or oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and fry until soft, about 7 minutes. Add carrots, and fry for another minute or so.  Remove from heat, let cool.  Place mixture in a bowl with meat, rice, eggs, and spices. Mix well to combine.  At this point, you want to taste your mixture to make sure it's seasoned enough - take a small spoonful and put on a plate, and microwave until it is cooked.  Taste and season accordingly.

Core cabbages and place whole in a large pot of boiling salted water (you will probably have to do this one head at a time). You should be able to begin pulling the cabbage leaves off by layers.  Put into a colander to drain.  Cut thick ribs from larger leaves, then halve the leaves; keep smaller leaves intact. You will need 14-16 leaves. Use leaves and trimmings to line a casserole pan or large dutch oven.

To make the rolls, place a generous spoonful of meat filling at base of each leaf, roll one turn and tuck in sides to contain filling. Roll firmly to end of leaf.

Arrange the rolls in a large pot, pour the spaghetti sauce over the top. Place in a oven for about 45-50 minutes.

Serve the rolls hot or warm. Serve with yogurt or sour cream.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Alfajores are a delicious, delicate cookie from South America.  Filled with an unctuous dollop of dulce de leche, they are lightweight and seem to melt in your mouth.  When I worked at Williams-Sonoma HQ, we got to taste a few versions of these, one that was dipped entirely in chocolate (so sinfully delicious).  This recipe is a fairly basic one, feel free to play around with the fillings if you like!

1 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pisco or brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Dulce de Leche, at room temperature (you can do premade, or make your own)
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Place the cornstarch, measured flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk briefly to combine; set aside.  In another bowl, (you can use a hand mixer if you like) cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light & fluffy. Add the egg yolks, brandy, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Gradually add the reserved flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a smooth disk, and wrap it tightly. Place in the refrigerator until firm, at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it, and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness (the dough will crack but can be easily patched back together). Stamp out 24 rounds using a plain or fluted 2-inch round cutter, re-rolling the dough as necessary until all of it is gone.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, 12 per sheet and at least 1/2 inch apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies are firm and pale golden on the bottom, about 12 to 14 minutes. (The cookies will remain pale on top.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Flip half of the cookies upside down and gently spread about 2 teaspoons of the dulce de leche on each. Place a second cookie on top and gently press to create a sandwich. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving.

Recipe adapted from CHOW.com.

Friday, December 13, 2013

{gift ideas} for the celebrity chef stalker.

My aunt showed me "NOMA", the first book by René Redzepi, which is essentially a stunning pictorial of the food as created by the restaurant of the same name.  As far as I could tell, there are about fifty people on this planet that could possibly cook from that book, twenty-five of them who already work at NOMA. 

That type of book is great for inspiration, but strikes fear into the heart of most home cooks.  Most of the ingredients are sourced from right near the restaurant in Denmark anyway, so one wouldn't be able to cook from the NOMA book based on that principle alone.

His second release, "A Work in Progress", is a three-part collection from PHAIDON that contains Chef René's journal, plus a small book of photos, and a collection of more "doable" recipes arranged by season.  The photos are still stunning, the ingredient lists a little more familiar.  The journal is a great candid peek inside Redzepi's head, filled with hilarious anecdotes and written exactly as he speaks.  I'm still reading it, but I highly recommend it to anyone who is passionate about food and cooking!

Selling for $59.95.  More info here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

quince: the golden apple of antiquity

A month or so ago, I was invited down to my aunt's property in Ben Lomond, California, where she and her husband keep a beautiful garden and orchard.  She is a food stylist by trade, and was someone who (unbeknownst to her) was very influential in my being interested in cooking.  Long story short, we have a lot in common, and she knew that I was just the person to gift with a bag full of quince and a recipe for membrillo, or quince paste.  This was literally the first time I'd ever seen quince that weren't cooked - they just looked to me like fuzzy pears.  When they aren't cooked, they are virtually inedible.  When you poach them, or make them into preserves, they take on a lovely dark red color and soften up, opening up with sweet and floral aromas that happen to be one of Jules' favorite things to eat ever

I'd bought quince paste before, usually to eat with slightly salty queso fresco, or with slices of Manchego cheese.  I'd never made it.  In fact, my only experience with fruit preservation thus far was the one batch of grapefruit marmalade that I'd made on a whim when we got back from France in September of this year.  But I was willing to try.  Patience is a key thing when making quince paste, because I found that when you get to the point you think that it's ready to set, you should probably keep cooking for another hour or so. 

Membrillo (Quince Paste)
4 pounds quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 vanilla pod, split
2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
About 4 cups of granulated sugar, exact amount will be determined during cooking

Place quince pieces in a large, heavy bottomed pot, like a Dutch oven (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender (30-40 minutes).

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince. Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée. Whatever amount of quince purée you have, that's how much sugar you will need. So if you have 4 cups of purée, you'll need 4 cups of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan. Heat to medium-low. Add the sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice.

Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1.5-2 hours, until the quince paste is very thick and has a deep orange pink color.

This next part is tricky.  If you're like me and you have a gas oven whose lowest point is 200 degrees, then you have to cook the paste a little longer and then pour into the baking pan and let set in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, you can preheat your oven to a low 125°F (52°C). Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (do not use wax paper, it will melt!). Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter. Pour the cooked quince paste into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the oven for about an hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool.

To serve, cut into squares or wedges and present with Manchego cheese. To eat, take a small slice of the membrillo and spread it on top of a slice of the cheese. Store by wrapping in foil or plastic wrap, and keeping in the refrigerator.

Friday, December 6, 2013

{gift ideas} for the food lover in your life (besides you, that is)

"Touche Pas Mon Foie Gras" shirt by Flavour Gallery

How adorable is this shirt?

I first saw it via an Instagram post by Krissy Lefebvre, wife of famed Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  Being a resident of California, where delicious foie gras is now a rare good, I wanted one immediately!  Enter the Flavour Gallery, a specialty online retailer that creates the shirts for LA Food & Wine Festival, Pebble Beach Food & Wine, James Beard, and also did a handful of collaborations with chefs such as Monsieur Lefebvre of "LudoBites" and Chris Cosentino of Incanto, to name a few of their projects.

We bought two of the foie gras shirts (one for me, one for Jules), and we wear them proudly.  The shirt material is really lovely, soft, comfy cotton with a high quality print - one of the best looking t-shirts in my wardrobe.  And btw, Flavour Gallery is NOT paying me to say this!

In addition to a slew of cheeky shirts, FG sells a few other non-t-shirt items, such as the kitchen print scarf below, tote bags, and aprons perfect for those who love to cook (and eat).

Scarf by Flavour Gallery

Marc Murphy "Go Shuck Yourself" by Flavour Gallery

Chris Cosentino "Rooter 2 Tooter" shirt by Flavour Gallery

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

a basic thanksgiving feast begins with turkey.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, mostly because it marks the beginning of the holiday season here in the US!   The weather around the end of November is usually cold enough where I crave spicy hot chocolate and pumpkin lattes, and then get into serious cooking mode.  For the past few years, Jules and I have been invited to other people's houses for Thanksgiving, usually just as guests, but last year we cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people (we bought a pre-brined turkey!) at our friends' home out in Richmond.  This year, our original plans to cook dinner again fell through and we ended up being invited to our friend's house in Oakland and partaking in a non-traditional (yet delicious) dinner of crab, roast duck, and an assortment of side dishes.  As much as I love to be in the kitchen, I really love when my friends cook for me - especially ones that go all out like our friend Luis does!

Dungeness Crab, in a white wine butter sauce

Well, Jules happens to love turkey with cranberry sauce, so I figured it couldn't hurt to make a small "traditional" Thanksigiving dinner for the both of us.  Besides, leftovers are the best part - I envisioned making a Ross Gellar-style Thanksgiving Sandwich with a slice of gravy-soaked bread in the middle.  We found a 7-pound turkey at Whole Foods, and I started brining our bird at around 10:30pm.

Brining, as I discovered, is not hard at all.  I took a look at a few brining recipes (bravo to those of you who can follow Alton Brown's recipe - it's a doozy).  Ultimately, I ended up making my own version of brine, and it came out beautifully.

Thanksgiving Turkey

4 quarts (16 cups) water
3/4 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 bay leaves
1 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon dried juniper berries
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, cracked gently
2 or more cups of good beer
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1-2 sprigs of rosemary

In a large stockpot, put in 8 cups of water, salt, sugar, and spices, and bring to a boil.  Let boil for about five minutes, and then cool the mixture (I stuck it in the freezer for a little bit).  In a vessel big enough to hold your turkey plus brine, add the cooled mixture, and the rest of the ingredients.  Be sure that your turkey is fully submerged.  Some people recommend flipping the turkey once during the brining process, which I didn't do, but it certainly can't hurt!  Let the bird marinate for at least 12 hours.  Brining is not an exact science, so you can add additional spices, leave some out (i.e. some people don't like cinnamon on their poultry), brine it for 24-48 hours, etc.  It's really up to you!  Once you're done brining, take the turkey out, rinse it with cold water, and discard the brine.

To cook the turkey, I took a cue from Alton Brown.  I stuffed the cavity with some aromatics before roasting.

1 apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 cup water

Microwave the apple, onion, cinnamon, and water together in a small bowl for 5 minutes.  Take the steeped aromatics and stuff into the bird's cavity.  I also added a sprig of rosemary, sage, and a few sprigs of thyme for good measure (I love rosemary & thyme on poultry).

Pat the turkey skin dry and then massage with a good dose of olive oil or softened butter - this will help crisp up the skin and give your turkey a beautiful color.  Salt and pepper the turkey liberally, and then you are ready to start cooking.

Next, put the turkey into a preheated 425 degree oven and roast for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350 and keep roasting until the turkey is cooked.  Depending on how large the turkey is, you will want to baste the skin with the drippings every 8-15 minutes. My ~7 lb. bird was ready in 90 minutes - you will want to calculate 13 minutes per pound.

For an in-depth look on the proper way to roast a turkey, click here!

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