Monday, December 19, 2011

Chili Night

Another recipe forged during my foray into cooking with V8. Nothing fancy. Chili night shouldn't be fancy. But there's no reason it can't be healthy. About 350 calories, 18 grams of fiber, 32 grams of protein, almost no fat, and two full servings of vegetables per bowl - with zero loss of flavor and satisfaction. Who needs fancy?

Turkey Chili

I like to use a variety of beans in many combinations: pinto, red, kidney, black... Toss in your favorites or use whatever cans have been hanging around your pantry the last couple years. For the tomatoes, try ones flavored with adobo, chipotle, or green chile for an extra layer of flavor. Any sugar will work, but I like turbinado or brown sugar for slightly deeper sweet; or skip the sugar altogether in favor of a hefty sprinkle of calorie free stevia sweetener. Serves 6.

1lb. lean ground turkey breast
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1-2 Tbsp chili powder, depending on desired spice level
Salt & pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 cups V8
1 Tbsp sugar
4 cans beans, drained

In a pan (or slow cooker bowl if it's removable and stovetop safe) sprayed with Pam, saute turkey, onion, bell pepper, oregano, cumin, and chili powder over medium high heat until turkey is cooked through with no pink. Salt & pepper to taste. Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds or so until fragrant. In slow cooker, combine turkey mixture with tomatoes, V8, sugar, and beans. Cover and cook over low heat for 4-6 hours. Serve alone or topped with sour cream, fresh cilantro, grated cheese, and/or lime slices.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Silky Sweet Potato Soup

Are you sick of soup, yet? Neither am I! Good thing, too, because I got a new toy. Way back in the day when my blog was a fresh little newborn, I discovered a trick that guaranteed a velvety vegetable soup. I cooked the vegetables, whipped them in the KitchenAid mixer, and then "strained" them by pressing them through a mesh sieve. It was time and work intensive. I knew the process would be greatly simplified by a ricer. Well, take a look at the America's Test Kitchen recommended tool my parents gave me as one of my holiday gifts! I couldn't wait to give it a spin and instantly had its inaugural soup in mind.

I've made simplistic sweet potato soup before - stew sweet potato chunks in milk/dairy substitute and butter/butter substitute, mash 'em up, and mix with more liquid to reach the desired consistency. Easy peasy! But I knew I could make it smoother and more delicious with a couple tweaks. The leek and turnip add richness and complexity to balance the slight sweetness. You don't need a ricer to make this soup, but if you can get your hands on one, you'll find that the texture goes beyond even velvety, all the way to silken.

Silky Sweet Potato Soup

Feel free to use milk and butter in place of my vegan non-dairy substitutions. Serves 4.

1 bulb leek, dark greens removed, diced
2 medium white/yellow sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-inch slices
1 medium turnip, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into half-inch slices
4 Tbsp butter substitute (I like Light Smart Balance Buttery Spread)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups light unsweetened soy milk, approximate

1. Spray large pot with Pam and heat to medium. Sautee leek until soft, 5-10 minutes. Add sweet potato, turnips, butter substitute, sugar, salt, and one cup of the milk. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until potatoes fall apart with a fork, about 35-45 minutes.

2. OPTIONAL: Strain and reserve cooking liquid. Press vegetables through ricer using medium-holed plate. Discard tough fibrous parts remaining in the ricer's bowl. Add reserved cooking liquid back to the vegetables.

"Riced" sweet potato mixture.

3. Add about a cup and a half more soy milk to the vegetables. Blend using your preferred method: in the blender (may require two batches), with a hand or stand mixer, or with an immersion blender. Return to stove and slowly add more soy milk until desired consistency is reached, approximately one and half more cups. Heat over medium until hot. Salt to taste if desired. Garnish with a sprinkle of brown or turbinado sugar.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cheater's Cioppino

This is not real cioppino. But it is pretty darn close, and pretty darn good.

Cioppino is a tomato-based seafood stew invented in San Francisco more than a century ago. It can contain clams, mussels, shrimp, white fish, and any other of the day's catch. And crab. Though it doesn't have to by definition, I am here proclaiming that it should always have crab. And I mean ALWAYS. Crab is sort of the point. And guess what - it's Dungeness crab season here in Northern California! 'Tis the season, indeed.

I grew up eating this Italian-American soup homemade by my mom from a recipe she procured on Fisherman's Wharf back in the '70s. From stove to table, it is an EXPERIENCE. You make a sauce from scratch in which you boil crab and a variety of other crustaceans and mollusks still in the shell. Meanwhile, cover the table in newsprint, fill it with crusty sourdough bread, giant bowls, soup spoons, crab crackers, tiny fish forks, and rolls of paper towels. Tie dishtowels around your neck, throw another in your lap, and you are ready for a feast. Crack, peel, slurp, and repeat, juices dripping off your elbows all the while. Just toss the shells right into the center to be folded up and tossed out with the stained paper. The kitchen (and your hands) smell like seafood for days. It is truly incredible.

But this ordeal is just not feasible as a regular meal. Is there a way to enjoy cioppino without it becoming a whole day event, or involving a trip to the Wharf? (FYI, we love the cioppino at Alioto's - just in case you are making that trip.) Could I create a facsimile easy and quick enough for a weeknight without losing the classic flavor?

Why yes, yes I could. As you know, I've been using V8 a lot as a soup base. I employed that method again for a rich, flavorful, and nutritious base right out of the bottle. I added the same vegetables and aromatics used in the traditional version, but included much more than the usual skimpy amounts. I knew a lot of delicious seafood flavor would be lost by not stewing shells and fish in the broth. I reclaimed some of this flavor by adding clam juice. Finally, I used fresh crab and shrimp meat and canned clams for the seafood - no messing with shells. What came out was a supremely flavorful dish that tasted a lot like the cioppino I grew up with. Plus, with about 300 calories, three servings of vegetables, and tons of protein in every bowl, there's plenty of nutrition and zero guilt. Sure, it doesn't taste exactly like the original, and the whole spectacle of in-the-shell seafood is a lot of fun on the right night, but I have made this dish easy and fast for anytime.

Cheater's Cioppino

I highly recommend using Snow's brand clam products. I eat a lot of clams and this is my favorite brand when I go canned instead of fresh. Serves 3.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, seeds and white parts removed, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups V8 vegetable juice
1 8oz bottle Snow's clam juice
2 6.5oz cans Snow's chopped clams, juices drained and reserved (should be about 1 cup juices)
1/2lb fresh crab meat, preferably Dungeness
1/4lb fresh cooked bay shrimp
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped

In a large pot, heat oil over medium high. Add onion, pepper, and celery. Sautee for a few minutes until onion is translucent and soft. Add garlic and sautee another 30 seconds or so, until aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, V8, bottled clam juice, and reserved juice from canned clams. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in shrimp, clams, and parsley. Finally, gently fold in crab - show care not to break up lumps of meat too much. Simmer for another 5 minutes, just until seafood is hot. Serve hot with crusty sourdough or baguette, if desired.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Acorn Squash Soup with Yogurt

I first got the idea for this seasonal soup from Google. No, not a Google search, a Google menu. My husband often makes everyone he knows jealous by regaling them with magical culinary tales from this mystical campus in Mountain View. One day he sent me a menu that included a creamy vegetable soup that included yogurt in its ingredients instead of cream. As cream gives me a tummy ache, I got very excited by the prospect. Once Fall and my annual autumn soup cravings came around, I decided to see if yogurt in a squash soup was a winner.

Well, it took a lot of squashes (at least I like the seeds!) and a number of batches - some that went down the drain (even a little turmeric can be too much) - but I think I've finally conquered the squash and yogurt soup. Through trial and error I learned a few things:

1. Less is more when seasoning. Also, I found that warm, sweet flavors worked better than savory herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage.

2. Regular yogurt works better than Greek. Despite really, really wanting to use Greek yogurt, the results were tart in an off-putting way, and adding more sugar just threw off the balance of flavors. So, while Greek yogurt doesn't ruin the soup and will be fine in a pinch, regular yogurt is preferable.

3. Stir in the yogurt at the end, off heat. The instant the yogurt melts into the soup, the color softens and the texture becomes creamier - exactly the results we're looking for. Let it heat in the soup for even a short time and the yogurt separates into white specks, throwing off the color and texture. Stir the yogurt into hot soup just before serving, or divide the yogurt between bowls as a garnish and let people stir it in themselves so they can fully relish the beauty of the experience. I know that sounds cheesy, but it really is pretty.

The final result is sweet, but not cloying, and incredibly smooth and velvety while maintaining the full squash flavor instead of masking it the way cream might. I call success! So here's yet another recipe that lets you make a dish creamy without actually using any cream.

Acorn Squash Soup with Yogurt

Serves 4. This recipe halves well as a way to use squash leftover from a previous meal.

Flesh of one cooked acorn squash, about three cups
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt

In blender, puree squash with 2 cups of the broth until smooth. Remove to pot and stir in remaining half cup of broth as needed for desired consistency. Stir in sugar and spices. Heat until just hot without letting it come to a full simmer. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt until fully incorporated, or divide between four bowls and add a 1 Tbsp dollop of yogurt to each bowl, allowing your guests to stir it together themselves. Garnish with a swirl of maple syrup or a sprinkle of brown sugar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Lighter Creamy Pasta Sauce

Paaaastaaaaa. *drool* If you have the same Pavlovian response that I do to even the mention of creamy pastas, then you might also share my remorse in the carbo fat bomb nature of the dish. I've found a lighter way to create my favorite creamy pasta sauces without sacrificing on flavor or creaminess. In fact, what would you say to a plate of creamy pasta with 12 grams of fiber, 19 grams protein, and 2-3 servings of vegetables, all while staying under 500 calories and 10 grams of fat? I would think you would say, "Yes, please!"

This is my big one people. I use this trick to make creamy clam sauce, creamy garlic "alfredo" sauce, creamy tomato "rose" sauce, and creamy white wine sauces. I've shared this secret with very few people, and now I'm sending it out to my loyal readers (all three of you). To introduce you to my favorite trick, here are a couple versions of creamy, yet much lighter, vegetable farfalle. The unexpected twist: low fat cream cheese. Neither cream nor butter required.

Squash and Vegetable Farfalle in Creamy White Wine Sauce

Do not substitute the non-dairy milk alternatives with regular dairy milk. Milk will curdle when mixed with the wine. 
Serves 2-3.

6oz Whole Wheat Farfalle (I like Mara's Pasta because it has a lot of fiber and protein and stays under 200 calories per serving, but many brands, such as Barilla and Ronzoni, have their own healthier whole grain lines)
1 cob corn, kernels removed
1/2 cup chopped carrots
2 Tbsp shallot, minced
1/2 medium acorn squash, cooked, peeled, and chunked
3 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup unsweetened original flavor almond milk or unsweetened original flavor light soy milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 Tbsp low fat cream cheese
2 1/2 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat pan sprayed generously with Pam over medium-high. Sauté carrots and corn for 6 minutes, or until carrots are nearly tender-crisp. Add shallots and sauté another three minutes, or until shallots start turning translucent and carrots are tender-crisp. Add spinach and squash and continue sautéing another couple minutes until the spinach wilts, salting to taste as you stir. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low and respray empty pan. Add almond milk and wine; bring to an almost simmer. Add cream cheese and heat until melted and fully incorporated, stirring often and salting to taste. Add 2 tablespoons of the parmesan and stir gently and minimally to prevent the cheese from clumping as it melts. Add vegetables and mix thoroughly, yet gently. The squash will melt into the sauce as you stir. Take this final opportunity to add any additional salt or pepper to taste. Toss in pasta and remove from heat to serving dish. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan to garnish.

Vegetable Medley Farfalle in Creamy White Wine Sauce

You can grill vegetables on the George Foreman instead of sautéing, if you prefer. Do not substitute the non-dairy milk alternatives with regular dairy milk. Milk will curdle when mixed with the wine. Serves 2-3.

6oz Whole Wheat Farfalle (I like Mara's Pasta because it has a lot of fiber and protein and stays under 200 calories per serving, but many brands, such as Barilla and Ronzoni, have their own healthier whole grain lines)
1 small bunch asparagus, tough ends removed, chopped on the bias
1 small eggplant, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 a medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup unsweetened original flavor almond milk or unsweetened original flavor light soy milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 Tbsp low fat cream cheese
2 1/2 Tbsp shredded parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste
1/4 cup cashews
Lemon wedges

Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat pan sprayed generously with Pam over medium-high. Sauté asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and onion until tender. Add garlic and tomatoes and saut
é another 30 seconds to one minute until garlic becomes fragrant, salting to taste as you stir. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low and respray empty pan. Add almond milk and wine; bring to an almost simmer. Add cream cheese and heat until melted and fully incorporated, stirring often and salting to taste. Add 2 tablespoons of the parmesan and stir gently and minimally to prevent the cheese from clumping as it melts. Add vegetables and cashews and mix thoroughly, yet gently. Take this final opportunity to add any additional salt or pepper to taste. Toss in pasta and remove from heat to serving dish. Drizzle with juice squeezed from the lemon wedges and sprinkle with remaining parmesan to garnish.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Roasted Squash Seeds

For years and years, I've voiced remorse at dumping a handful of delicious looking seeds in the trash after cleaning out a squash, and always my sadness is met with, "Don't try it. They're not like pumpkin seeds. They won't be what you expect."

All those years everyone who said that to me were wrong! Acorn squash seeds are DELICIOUS roasted. I can't believe I just listened and didn't check for myself. All those seeds over the years, wasted. Well, never again! Throughout the fall and winter I'll try roasting the seeds of other squashes and let you know if they are equally tasty.

Roasted Squash Seeds

This recipe works great with seeds from multiple squashes for a larger batch. Just up the amount of the other ingredients - exact quantities aren't such a big deal here.

Seeds from one squash
Soy sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Pick the seeds from guts scooped out of one squash. Do not rinse - the slimy coating actually adds flavor. Toss with a splash of soy sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce (and other seasonings, if desired.) Spread seeds on a baking sheet sprayed with Pam. Dot with a small amount of butter, maybe 1/2 a teaspoon. Roast for 12-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Immediately season to taste with salt, pepper, and even cayenne - get creative! I like using popcorn salt for an even coating with less. They are best and crispiest warm, straight from the oven, but they are delicious cooled, too, though slightly tougher than pumpkin seeds. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Hearty Soup

And thus continues my experiments with using V8 as a base for soup. This time just a cup gives a rich twist to a classic beef barley soup, just in time for a nasty head cold. I've been trying so many home remedies, but nothing works like homemade soup and a steaming mug of ginger tea with honey and lemon.

Again, I used vegetables I had on hand in the crisper, but this would be equally as good with peas, corn, green beans, or zucchini in any combination instead of, or along with, kale and broccoli.

Tomatoey Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

America's Test Kitchen asserts that whole sirloin tip steaks make the best beef for soup, or alternately blade or flank steak. I used very affordable chuck stew beef and it turned out terrifically. This makes a large pot of soup, enough for about 8 large servings. It could be easily halved.

1lb beef, trimmed of fat and gristle and chopped into half-inch pieces
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery heart, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 cup V8
1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid 

3 packed cups kale, prepared*
2 cups small broccoli florets
4 1/2 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup barley

Marinate beef in soy sauce for 15 minutes. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Saute onion, carrots, and celery for 5 minutes or until onion starts to turn translucent. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Add beef, with marinade, to pot and brown, stirring often, for 6 minutes. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add red wine vinegar plus 1 Tbs of the V8 and cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly. Combine all ingredients in pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a strong simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes or until barley is soft and vegetables are tender. 

As with most soups, this is great leftover after all the flavors have had time to meld. The barley will continue to soak up moisture overnight and get puffier, which makes it even better. Keep extra beef broth on hand to add to leftovers to replace lost liquid. 

*To prep a head of kale, remove and discard the toughest stems and ribs and coarsely chop remaining leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Harvest Tomato Soup

I have been CRAVING autumn vegetable soups like CRAZY, but San Francisco's Indian Summer weather has just not been cooperating. Temps in the 80s put a damper on hovering over the stove or crock-pot or roasting vegetables in the oven. We'll occasionally get a break in the heat, just enough to get my hopes up and start planning a grocery list, but every time it turns out it's just teasing me. Well, yesterday did not get nearly as hot as forecasted, and it even cooled off after the sun went down, so I decided to wait no longer and pounced, making a quick, simple vegetable soup to take advantage of this window of opportunity, however brief. I dare to hope that Fall is really here, because now my head is swimming with all the soups I want to make and I don't want to stop now I've started.

I took the inspiration for this soup from the nerdiest of places, which makes me even happier about it. Wil Wheaton of Star Trek and Internet fame recently posted the recipe for a soup he made to combat a nasty case of sinusitis. It fit all the qualifications I desired for last night's meal: quick, full of whatever vegetables looked good in the market and that I had in the crisper, and with something different from my usual recipes to inspire me. The difference that caught my eye: he used tomato juice as the base. Of course I tweaked the recipe and made it my own, and I encourage you to do the same. This soup can be extremely versatile. I already have big plans for other ways I can use V8 (which I used instead of tomato juice for added flavor and nutrition) to pump up other soups.

The husband man said it was probably the healthiest thing he's eaten in 5 years, yet he still enjoyed it. Of course, he said it would be better with barley (his response to any barley-less soup) and pork (his response to any porkless dish of any sort). I do think some ham, pancetta, or bacon would be great in this, but I was in the mood for a veggie-only soup. I also have an idea brewing for a slightly less tomatoey beef barley version I'm sure will please him. Big plans, my friends, big plans.

Harvest Tomato Soup

Wil's version was completely vegan. Omit broth and replace with water or vegetable broth to take it back to vegan status. Serves 4 as an entree, 6 as a starter.

1 Tbsp oil
1 med onion, chopped
4 stalks celery hearts, chopped
3 carrots, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, pressed
2 cups small broccoli florets
2 cobs corn, kernels removed
3 packed cups prepared* kale
1 can tomatoes, with liquid
1 can kidney beans, with liquid
3 cups V8
2 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Saute onions, celery, and carrots for 4 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. 

Bring to a boil. Reduce to a strong simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chile Cilantro Snapper Tacos with Broccoli Lime Slaw

Tomorrow is the last day of the 500 Taco Summer, otherwise known as the Taconox. Can I make it to 150? That would be 50% more than my original goal. Seventeen tacos in less than a day and a half is a real stretch for me, but I think I'm going to go for it.

Anyway, the three at lunch that brought my count to 133 look impressive, but were ridiculously easy - my favorite kind of recipe. Plus they are quite healthy. I recommend these for a quick weeknight meal or a night with friends. The recipe is easy to double and they only took me about 10-15 minutes start to finish.

By the way, the George Foreman grill is a miracle machine, I tell you, and their suggested recipes can get you going in the right direction. I tweaked the Cajun Rubbed Red Snapper recipe to make these delights.

Chile Cilantro Snapper Tacos with Broccoli Lime Slaw

For the Chile Cilantro Snapper:
2 large Pacific snapper filets, about 3/4-1lb, or similar (your butcher can help you choose the right fresh fish and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide can help you pick the most sustainable option - there's an app for that!)
1 tsp chile powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro

Preheat George Foreman grill to 300, no need to spray. Mix chile powder, paprika, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper. Coat filets evenly, pressing the rub into the fish. Sprinkle evenly with cilantro and press in. Grill for 3-5 minutes, start checking at 3 minutes to see if the fish is done.

For the Easy Broccoli Lime Slaw:
1 bag broccoli slaw
1-2 Tbsp cole slaw dressing (try Marzetti or Kraft)
Juice of 1/2 a lime

Toss ingredients until well combined. Also great with cabbage cole slaw mix, but the broccoli is so healthy and gives it a nice crunch and more elegant appearance.

For the tacos:
Chile Cilantro Snapper
Lime wedges
6 taco shells (I'm addicted to Whole Grain Ortega Taco Shells - 55 calories and 3 grams of fiber each with plenty of crunch)
Pico de gallo OR mango salsa (I used pico, but I think mango would have been even better)
Easy Broccoli Lime Slaw

Flake the fish into large chunks and squeeze lime juice over the top. Layer shells with fish, salsa, and slaw. Yes, it's that easy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mushroom Tacos

Only three weeks left in the 500 Taco Summer. Here's another delicious way to up your numbers.*

Mushroom Tacos

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 Tbsp oil
1 8oz package sliced mushrooms
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp salsa, drained of excess liquid
2 cloves garlic, pressed
6 corn tortillas
Cotija cheese and salsa to top

Heat 1 Tbsp oil. Add carrot and celery and saute a few minutes on medium high until tender. Set aside. Heat second Tbsp of oil and add mushrooms. Saute a few minutes until just moist and tender, using a wooden spoon to break up large pieces into smaller pieces. Add soy sauce and 1 Tbsp salsa (I used Casa Chica's medium roasted salsa). Saute/simmer for a few more minutes. Add carrots and celery to mushrooms and continue to saute until combined. Add pressed garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. For a drier filling, drain excess liquid (I happen to like all that flavorful drippiness). Warm  tortillas in a dry pan and top with mushroom mixture, salsa, and crumbled cotija. You can also use crispy taco shells, if you prefer.  Makes 6 tacos.

*By the way, I'm at 111!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rotisserie and Wine

I'm a huge fan of PBS cooking shows, but Food Network shows are hugely lost on me. I find them more about the star than the food, and I have trouble trusting many of the stars after disappointing experiences at restaurants they gave raves and attempting recipes they've created.* So I had no clue who Tyler Florence was when someone suggested his new restaurant when we asked for a dinner recommendation in Napa.

Well, I know who he is now and have complete confidence in his abilities. Wow. I say again, wow.

Tyler Florence's Rotisserie & Wine is about a year old and is right next door to another favorite Napa eatery, Morimoto.** My takeaway - fresh, simple ingredients perfectly prepared. I repeat, perfection. And totally reasonably priced considering this was a completely 5 star experience. Allow me to share with you this perfection as best I can without you tasting it yourself.

Complimentary Cornbread Sticks with salted honey butter: Warm, soft on the inside, just crisp on the outside, salty, sweet, and buttery. I mean, they left no stone unturned, nailing every aspect of such a dish you could want. Quite possibly my favorite item of a night filled with fantastic items. My southern family would weep from the beauty and simplicity.

$4 Happy Hour Deviled Eggs: Smooth yolk filling topped with chives and red onions for flavor and crunch. Very good, but possibly my least favorite dish simply relative to it's stellar neighbors. But I may just be spoiled by the crab deviled eggs with housemade Old Bay seasoning at Nettie's. The husband man loved these.

$4 Happy Hour Spiced Snap Peas: Warm in temperature and seasonings. The first snap peas to make me doubt my own sesame soy recipe. How can something so simple be so delicious, and so difficult to recreate? I have no idea how to even begin to crack this recipe. But I will try.

Heirloom Tomatoes with pickled red onions and basil in vinagraitte: Perfection. I can't say it enough. Such ripe tomatoes need little help, and this dish managed to compliment them without overpowering. The ultimate in summer freshness.

Mac & local cheeses: Do you all know of my deep, abiding love for a well-created mac & cheese? I am a snoot of the highest order on this point. It's not about fancy cheeses or oils, it's about balance. Fancy cheese and oils can add a lot, but only if wielded properly. Other than being the only dish on the table that required the addition of a sprinkling of salt, this mac accomplished that balance. Creamy cheese sauce that hasn't separated, coating the noodles with CHEESE instead of OIL. And it remained a sauce rather than turning into a loaf. The local cheeses chosen for the sauce also hit the right flavor balance - not too simple, nor too complex. The pasta not overcooked. Even the breadcrumbs were just right, adding crisp texture without adding too much flavor or starch to overwhelm what should be at center stage - the CHEESE, and the pasta.

Roasted Duck: The husband man and I have both eaten a lot of duck in our lifetimes. We started at a young age, with his father studying classic French culinary arts and my dad shooting many a waterfowl straight out of the sky. We both agree this dish is one of the best, if not THE best we've ever had. The seared breast so exceptional it even stood up to the tender yet charred confit leg. The lentils had me again lamenting my own attempts at similar dishes which pale in comparison. Savory, salty, cooked through without becoming mush. Such a concentration of pure, earthy flavor. Nothing in this dish muddled - the ingredients each highlighted individually. I almost want to cry thinking about it.

Peanut Butter Crisp: So not my usual dessert order, but a conversation about peanut butter had sparked a craving, and there this was on the menu. Oh, how thankful I am for that random craving. The husband man delighted in the wafery, chocolate covered "crisp" portion, but I found myself in utter disbelief over the housemade peanut butter ice cream. Never in my life has such a frozen dessert crossed my lips. A texture unbelievably creamy, and yet somehow at the same time chewy. It was like they creamed and then froze peanut butter fudge. Any preconceptions I've had about what makes a good ice cream have been shattered.

And, according to Wikipedia, this is Tyler Florence's fast food restaurant? I can't even begin to grasp the conceptualization that makes that statement possible. But if it's true, I can't wait to try his San Francisco slow food joint, Wayfare Tavern. Heck, even if it's untrue. I just want more of his food. In my mouth. Now.

*I've had successes, too, especially from Giada di Laurentiis and Ina Garten. Maybe it's more of a production style preference. 

**Do we count Morimoto as a PBS food guy from the original Iron Chef showings or as a Food Network guy from the Iron Chef America showings? Or as neither since the original predates showings on any American network? Or am I over thinking this?

Friday, July 8, 2011


I've loved tuna since I was kid brown bagging tuna sammies for lunch at school. But as an adult worrying about mercury (females of childbearing years beware!) and sustainable fishing practices (endangering giant fish and dolphins alike), the tuna aisle makes my head swim. This kind of tuna is low in mercury but only if fished from these waters, but it's endangered in one of the oceans, and who knows if it's been line or troll caught or what. Not to mention "light" means skipjack and "white" means albacore and... and.. and... AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!

Then I discovered Wild Planet.

All of their canned fish is sustainably caught. According to their website:
In order to adhere to the highest standards of sustainability possible, each product in our line is carefully researched according to the reports generated by leading environmental organizations.
Plus they are all high in omega 3s (brain power and healthy skin, thank you) and low in mercury. Phew! They even clearly label each variety so you can find the ones with the lowest mercury or highest omega 3s, depending on your priorities. And they call things by their name - no more light vs white. Best of all, it tastes good - like fresh fish, not fishy mush. And it only costs a dollar or two more a can than the other stuff - way worth it for my health and the planet's. The only ones not loving this find are my cats - you don't drain these cans, so they miss out on their bowls of tuna juice. Oh well, they have other treats.

I'm betting, like me, none of you eat your tuna straight from the can. Regular tuna salad can be ho-hum mayo-soaked gunk. But with a little creativity, it can be full of flavor as well as nutrition. Here are some of my favorite tuna salad recipes.

Apple Classic Tuna Salad

This is the tuna salad I grew up on and it is still my favorite to this day. The combination of apple and tuna is wonderful. I recommend using Smart Balance mayo, but your favorite brand will work as well. Also experiment with the type of relish: sweet, dill, green tomato, or (my personal favorite) Wickles. Whatever you like, it will work great in this recipe.

1 5oz. can tuna
1 Tbsp mayo
1 tsp mild yellow mustard
1 Tbsp relish
1/2 crisp apple, chopped

Mix together all ingredients. Eat on crackers or in a cold or hot sandwich or wrap. I love this on traditional crackers, like Saltines, Ritz, or Wheat Thins. Pairs well with cheddar or American cheese.

Savory Celery Tuna Salad

This salad has a much deeper, more complex flavor palate. I recommend using Smart Balance mayo, but your favorite brand will work as well.

1 5oz. can tuna
1 Tbsp mayo
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/3 cup chopped celery stalk

Mix together all ingredients. Eat on crackers or in a cold or hot sandwich or wrap. I like this version in a grilled melt on rye with swiss or provolone.

Pesto Tuna Salad

1 5oz. can tuna
1 Tbsp basil pesto, drain off much of the oil

Mix tuna and pesto. Eat on crackers or in a cold or hot sandwich or wrap. I like brushing a crusty french bread with pesto olive oil or spreading a sandwich thin with pesto mixed with mayo to make an aioli. Top with fresh mozzarella and fancy greens or heirloom tomatoes for a very adult sandwich.

Salmon Salad with Lime Crema

I used some of my leftover Lime Crema from yesterday's sweet potato tacos to make this fresh tasting salad. For a change, I used a can of Wild Planet salmon - a great substitution in any of these recipes.

For the Lime Crema:

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tbspn fresh lime juice
2 tsp fresh lime zest
2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp salt

Blend all crema ingredients together in a medium bowl. Makes a full cup of crema. Refrigerate leftovers.

For the salmon salad:
1 5oz. can salmon
1 Tbsp lime crema

Mix salmon and crema. Eat on crackers or in a cold or hot sandwich or wrap. Today I sprayed a skillet with olive oil PAM and, on medium-high, crisped a tortilla topped with salmon salad. To finish, I sprinkled it with crumbled cotija for an easy fish taco, perfect for this season of the 500 Taco Summer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potato Tacos with Lime Crema

I'm just pleased as punch with myself right now. It's kind of disgusting how proud of myself I am over this recipe. These are just about the best darn tacos I've ever made, and I would put them up against just about any restaurant's.

As you may know, I'm participating in a 500 Taco Summer (though I'm expecting my number to be just upwards of 100). Tacos can be surprisingly cheap, easy, and healthy to make at home, so I've prepared most of the 30 I've eaten so far myself. I wanted to experiment with more vegetable varieties and remembered some yam tacos I loved at a Seattle Mexican joint, Agua Verde. They may have been the only decent thing on the menu, but they were very good. I figured I could make my own version. And boy did I ever!

I started with some tips from Cook's Country on successfully roasting sweet potatoes and tweaked it for my needs. They suggest double roasting sweet potato wedges - first on a rack at a lower temperature, then on a preheated cookie sheet at a high temperature. I adjusted the time for smaller pieces better to fill tacos and created my own seasoning mix. Then I threw together a lime crema that is so slurpilicious you'll want to eat it out of the bowl with a spoon.

As for the cheese, I tried mine with both queso fresco and cotija. Both were excellent, but I liked the salty squeak of the cotija a little better with the sweetness of the potatoes. If you can't find cotija at your local grocer, try substituting queso fresco, feta, ricotta salata, or cheese curd crumbles. This recipe makes four tacos, enough for two people. It doubles easily.

Roasted Sweet Potato Tacos with Lime Crema

Roasted Cumin Sweet Potato filling:
2 small sweet potatoes (about a pound), any color, peeled
1  1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/8 tsp black pepper

 3/4 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chile powder, mild

Preheat oven to 325 with rack set to middle position. Chop sweet potatoes into chunks just larger than bite-sized (they will shrink upon roasting). Arrange chunks on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet.

I used one yellow sweet potato and one orange. Purple would work great, too.

Bake until just tender, about 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, combine sugar, seasoned salt, black pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and chile powder in a small bowl. Remove potatoes from oven and increase heat to 425. Wipe off baking sheet and return, empty, to oven to preheat. Cool potatoes on wire rack for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, gently toss potatoes with oil and seasoning mix until evenly coated. Remove heated baking sheet from the oven and arrange potatoes in a single layer. Roast, flipping once, until browned, about 12 minutes.

Lime Crema:
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tbspn fresh lime juice
2 tsp fresh lime zest
2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp salt

Blend all crema ingredients together in a medium bowl. Makes a full cup of crema. Refrigerate leftovers.

For the tacos:
4 corn tortillas
Roasted Cumin Sweet Potato filling
2 ounces cotija cheese
4 Tblsp Lime Crema

Front taco topped with crumbled cotija. Back taco topped with chopped queso fresco.

Heat tortillas on both sides in a dry skillet over medium heat. Divide sweet potato filling evenly between tortillas. Top with crumbled cotija cheese and lime crema.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ocean Beach Sunset

Tonight we watched the sun set over the Pacific from Ocean Beach. Until tonight, I'd managed to miss out on this San Francisco experience, but not for lack of trying. On previous attempts, the fog always seemed to roll in while I bused across the city, meaning I heard fog horns through the dense mist and smelled the smoke from bon fires, but saw nothing other than gray and white. On this clear night (clear enough to see the Barbers!), the husband man humored me after dinner in a nearby neighborhood, even though having grown up here (his childhood home is blocks away and he even got drunk for the first time on this very beach), this wasn't as special for him. Or maybe this time was more special than ever because he shared it with me. #cheeseball Bear with me while I chronicle the memory.

The dashing husband man.

The vhamster herself, very excited to enjoy her peach colored meringue from the Russian Bakery.

Beach dog in front of the Cliff House. He liked to dig trenches.

Feetsies in the sand.

Seal Rock

Put a bird on it! 

Ships criss-crossed the horizon. 

Ghostly barge.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pizza Taco: A Surprising Success

The spicy-marinariness of the Papalote salsa gave me an idea. On my first taste, I casually mentioned that it would be good on a pizza, if diluted a little so it wasn't so spicy. With 2/3 of a jar left in my fridge and more than half of a very large grilled chicken breast marinated in the stuff and shredded, I thought I might as well give that off-hand idea a go.

You know what? It worked! And the salsa added a warm heat, rather than being too spicy as I'd expected. Classic taco ingredients, just layered with the salsa underneath instead of on the top. It's truly a taco borrowing from the world of pizza, not merely a pizza with taco flavors - which lets me count it in my 500 Taco Summer total. I'm excited to explore the possibilities contained within this new method. Maybe this disappointing salsa has some potential after all. This meal was seriously tasty.

Pizza Taco

Corn tortilla
Papalote salsa, or other salsa
Shredded mozzarella
Desired toppings: I used the chicken from my Disappointment Tacos and sliced black olives.
Olive oil PAM spray

Reheat chicken. Spoon a small dollop of salsa on top of the tortilla and spread around.

Top with cheese and other toppings. Generously spray skillet with PAM. Preheat on high. Reduce heat to medium high and griddle pizza taco until cheese has thoroughly melted and bottom of tortilla has browned and crisped.

Eat sliced like a pizza or folded like a taco.