Follow Me on Pinterest

Monday, December 10, 2012

Easy Holiday Tamales, Mole, and Cookie Recipes

It wouldn't be the holidays without cookies, and in some cultures it wouldn't be the holidays without tamales. 

My food blogger group gathered together this past Saturday for our annual (you can call it that after 2 years, right?) cookie exchange and I thought I'd whip up 4 dozen tamales to help balance the sugar rush.

Tamales are a Christmas tradition in Mexican and Latin cuisine, and making "authentic" tamales is a popular occasion for family members to make mass quantities of these bundles of comfort food.  The thing is that if you make them old-school style, from scratch, we're talking about several hours of soaking, mashing, crushing, stirring, wrapping, and steaming, and that doesn't even account for the extra fillings.  But thanks to Melissa's Tamale Kits, you can cut your tamale making time down to about 1 1/2 hours, including roasting the fresh pumpkin and cipolline onions that were the main additions to my batch.

While the veggies roasted in the oven, tossed with vegetable oil, salt & pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika for about 30 minutes, I made the tamale filling by rehydrating the masa mixture with water.  Laying out the pre-soaked (this means they come this way - you don't have to do it) corn husks, I placed a generous amount of the filling in the center, placed some nicely roasted pumpkin and cipolline onion mixture on top along with a couple of leaves of fresh cilantro, wrapped the tamales up nice and snug, then placed them standing upright in a steamer pot.  45 minutes later I had delicious, steaming hot tamales ready for a quick cook mole sauce that came next.

Mole (mo-lay) is another classic dish that can take hours or even days to prepare, hardly practical for my schedule or attention span.  I found a simple recipe online, looked in my pantry and fridge, then came up with a one-hour or so version that got thumbs up from the food blogger group.

Here are the ingredients for my easy mole sauce with simple directions:

Easy Mole Sauce
vegetable oil
1 cup diced onions (I used the same cipolline onions that went in the tamales)
1 fresh yellow chile pepper, seeds removed and diced
1/4 cup diced, roasted Hatch chiles
1 dried guajillo chile, crushed
2 Tbsp. raisins
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups crushed tomato sauce
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Heat a bit of vegetable oil on medium in the bottom of a stockpot until it begins to sizzle.  Add the diced onions and cook until softened and lightly browned.  Add the diced yellow chile, crushed dried chile, and roasted Hatch chiles to the pot and stir.  Add the seeds and spices, stir to combine, and cook until spices release their fragrance or about 3 minutes.  Add the crushed tomato sauce to the pot, stir again, then add the cocoa powder and stir until well blended.  Add about 3/4 cup of water to thin out the consistency to your liking, and continue cooking about 30-40 minutes.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve over tamales or anything else you want to taste even more amazing.

Now back to the cookie exchange.  I tweaked traditional Mexican Wedding Cookies and brought them much further north to New Mexico with the addition of roasted Hatch chiles and cinnamon:

New Mexican Wedding Cookies
2 sticks Earth Balance vegan butter or regular butter
1 cup powdered sugar, divided in half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup diced roasted hatch chiles
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, divided in half

Preheat oven to 350.
Beat butter, vanilla, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar until creamy.
Slowly add flour, beating on low speed until well blended.
Add pecans and blend until well combined.
Shape dough into balls, about 1" in diameter, and place on parchment lined cookie trays about 1 1/2 " apart.  Bake about 15 minutes until bottom of cookies are lightly browned, then cool 5-7 minutes out of the oven..
Mix together the remaining powdered sugar and cinnamon.  Roll warm but not hot cookies in the mixture until evenly coated and place on wire racks until completely cooled.

You might also enjoy this other post about Melissa's Tamale Kits:


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beatles LOVE

My good friend Sue and I kept a promise we made to see the Beatles/Cirque Du Soleil's LOVE, and made it a celebration of both of our recent gigantic birthdays.  Best show ever!

See waiter in rear waiting to deliver bad news about guacamole
Of course where there's a celebration there's food, and dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace, while overlooking the sports book and watching our World Series game bet pay off, was a fine start to the evening.  The only disappointment was that I had my heart set on some guacamole but our waiter sternly explained that Mesa Grill is Southwestern Cuisine, thus no guacamole.  Good churros though.

We took our meager winnings back to the Mirage, and from the moment you walked near the theater, the iconic music of a thousand fantastic memories, playing over loudspeakers, created a great mood for what was to come.  Yes, Sgt. Pepper, we really did enjoy the show.  (Here's a sneak peak -  By the way, Beatle Sir Paul McCartney is the passionate vegetarian who launched the Meat Free Monday campaign with his passionate vegetarian daughters Stella and Mary.) 

The next day we had brunch at the Mirage's Cravings Buffet, and, thank you very much, there was awesome guacamole at the "Latin" station.  There were also really good sauteed plantains, fresh salsa, and roasted potatoes with peppers and onions.  I was very inspired to create a couple of recipes with the plantains sitting on my kitchen counter when I returned home....

1.  In a bit of oil, saute cubed, ripe plantains, red and/or yellow bell peppers, onions, and zucchini until tender and lightly caramelized. Season with your favorite salt and fresh black pepper.  Note: plantains are ripe when the outside skin is blackened. 

Add some black beans, cooked from scratch or canned will be fine, and stir to combine.  Add a pinch or two of Hatch chile powder and stir again.  Sprinkle some fresh cilantro leaves over the top.

You can eat this in a bowl as a quick, fresh chili, or use it as a filling for fresh tortillas.  I really like these green ones that are made from cactus leaves, available at supermarket and farmers' markets.  Garnish the tacos with some guacamole and dig in.

2.  Make a slower-cook vegetable and bean chili, with a single bean of your choice or any combination of beans you like.  I used cooked from scratch black beans and Melissa's Steamed Lentils, which have become a favorite pantry staple from coast to coast.

I began by sauteing diced shallots, carrots, and celery in a stockpot.  Then I added some crushed tomatoes, a few dashes of liquid smoke, the black beans, and a bottle of beer.  Simmer for at least an hour, season to taste, add the lentils, then continue cooking at least 30 minutes.  You can add additional crushed tomatoes, liquid smoke, Hatch chile powder, and s&p until you achieve the taste and consistency you like.  Ladle into bowls, top with a dollop of plain yogurt, garnish with sauteed plantains and fresh cilantro.

Invite over a good friend or two, open more beer, turn on the Beatles, and have a great celebration! 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanks & Giving

Fall in So Cal

Thanks Mother Nature (and Melissa's Produce) for giving us the amazing Korean Pear.  Crisp, sweet, refreshing, and generously sized, Korean pears are very different from other "pears" because I think their unique, exotic flavor is superior and their crunchy texture and bright, white flesh inspire me to get busy in the kitchen on a couple of fall recipes.

Double Duty Ingredients
One of my favorite cooking tricks is to try and use ingredients in more than one way, because not only do you get at least two delicious dishes but you've used everything you've bought and wasted nothing.  Starting with the Korean pears, I selected dried cranberries, Meyer lemons, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pecans, and apple cider as the foundation for both recipes.

Pilgrims Pilaf is a recipe I created a while back and have revised for this Thanksgiving with the addition of diced, fresh, juicy Korean pears.  I used a combination of toasted basmati rice and a wild rice blend as the foundation or to simplify you can easily use Melissa's Basmati with Wild Rice.  To make this a genuine pilaf, you first briefly toast the dry rice in a bit of oil until lightly browned, then proceed according to package directions.  You can use the pilaf on its own as a warm side dish, as a filling for roasted winter squash, or chilled and served on a bed of greens as a fresh, seasonal salad.  Find the base recipe below.

The second recipe is a sweet, flaky strudel inspired by chef Tom Fraker.  Korean pears, dried cranberries, pepitas and pecans are enrobed in filo dough in this versatile recipe that you could proudly place on your Thanksgiving dessert table or enjoy for breakfast the morning after.  Don't make this too far in advance of when you plan to serve it or you will eat it all yourself and there won't be any left for anyone else.  That would make you a bad (but very happy) person, so let's try and keep the giving in Thanksgiving, shall we?

2 wire hangers + mesh produce bags + seasonal embellishments
Usually the Thanksgiving meal is filled with wonderful, tried and true family favorites.  That's all good, but if there's room to fit in something new why not get your own creative juices flowing.  While you and yours enjoy a delicious holiday, please remember to also give thanks for what you're grateful for and give what you can to help others.  It will make everything even better.  Try it, it really works.

(P.S.  Some diced fresh Persimmons would add even more fall fabulousness to both recipes.)

Pilgrims Pilaf
1 1/2 cups wild and basmati rice blend
1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Korean pear, diced and sprinkled with Meyer lemon juice
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
Pilgrims waiting for Pilaf
2 green onions, diced
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup grape seed oil 
1/4 cup apple cider
1 tsp. Meyer lemon zest
fresh ground pepper & Kosher or sea salt to taste

In a medium pan heat the vegetable oil, add the rice, and saute about 5 minutes until lightly toasted.  Add water according to package directions and cook until done.  Fluff with a fork.

Add the remaining ingredients, toss to combine, and serve as a side dish.  You can also use this as a filled for a cut half or quarter of a winter squash, drizzled with a little oil and roasted at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.

To serve the pilaf as a salad, let the rice cool to room temperature.  Add the other ingredients to the rice, whisk the dressing ingredients together and drizzle over the rice, toss, and serve on a bed of mixed greens.


Seasonal Strudel
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup apple cider
6 sheets filo dough
1/3 cup Earth Balance (or butter), melted
1 Korean pear, diced
1 tsp. Meyer lemon juice
1 tsp. Meyer lemon zest
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. five spice  
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup pecans

confectioner's sugar for dusting 

Soak the dried cranberries in heated apple cider for at least 20 minutes.  

On a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, lay out one sheet of filo dough and brush with melted butter.  Place a second sheet of filo dough on the first sheet, brush with butter, and then repeat with the remaining sheets.

In a medium sized bowl, toss the diced pear, lemon, brown sugar, spices, pepitas and pecans together.  Place the mixture along the length of the filo stack, leaving at least a 2 inch edge where you'll start rolling the strudel as tightly as possible.  After rolling, pinch the ends or fold the ends under the strudel.  Brush the remaining butter over the outside of the strudel.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes until golden brown.  

Remove from oven, let cool slightly, dust with confectioners sugar, and enjoy.

                    Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chicago - It's My Kind of Town

Chicago is my kind of town.  Amazing architecture, a beautiful lakefront, iconic food, fascinating neighborhoods, world-class museums, and especially, my kind of people too, people who, smile at you.

Yes, I was born and raised in this city, second to none in my opinion, a great place to visit and a great place to be from. Recently I took a trip back there to revisit special places and to spend time with special friends and family.  Food of course played a key role in my excellent Chicago adventure....

Breakfast day 1 was at a place called Hash House A Go Go, a rustic yet modern diner located in the fancy yet friendly Gold Coast neighborhood.  Nearly every time a waitperson delivered a customer's order cameras were flashing photos of the "twisted farm food" placed in front of them.  My Apple Cinnamon Flapjack was no exception, and no, I didn't finish the whole thing but I wanted to.  HHAGG's are in San Diego and Las Vegas too.

One must-eat iconic Chicago food is the deep dish pizza and my bff Sheila and I ate at Lou Malnati's on Rush Street twice because 1) it's her favorite and 2) I insisted we go a second time.  Honestly I would have gone again but there were just too many other must-eat, must-go places.  P.S. Lou's will also ship their awesome pizza directly to your home anywhere on the U.S. mainland.

The Chicago Diner on North Halsted is not-your-mama's classic vegetarian restaurant, with a modern yet cozy diner ambiance, an expansive menu of standbys, re imagined veg favorites, and original creations, plus the added bonus of knowing what you eat there is not only full of flavor but full of compassion.  I had to order their popular Reuben sandwich because it's one of the dishes I measure vegetarian restaurant excellence with, and it was excellent.

Another night Sheila and I were joined by our bff Joyce for a trip down memory lane dinner at Hackney's in Glenview.  Best known for their old school atmosphere (founded 1939), fried onion ring loaves, and more standard meat + potatoes fare, I'm happy to report that the large pile of fried onions I ate were accompanied by an excellent veggie burger with all the trimmings.  Thank you Hackney's for coming into the 21st century.

My bff Julie took me to Green Zebra on West Chicago Avenue for a wonderful belated birthday dinner.  Green Zebra's contemporary vegetarian cuisine definitely does not include Reuben sandwiches, but does dazzle with dishes like Smoked Salsify Risotto, Crimson Lentil Croquettes, and Carrot Spaetzle. We shared several small plates, a bottle of bubbly, and lots of laughs for my idea of an excellent celebration. 

Two nights later I met my two business bff's Brenda and Patty at RPM Italian in River North.  I'm a big fan of co-owners Guiliana and Bill Rancic and followed the development and opening of the restaurant on their Style network show.  Our dinner was amazeballs (a Guiliana created word which literally translated means excellent), especially these two desserts that we shared.
Pistachio Cake & Gelato with Roasted Grapes, above.

Bill's Chocolate Budino with Salted Caramel &
Cocoa Nibs, left.  Double amazeballs!

View from the Hancock

Sheila in front of the Baha'i Temple
Those were some of the food highlights of my trip.  Other highlights included a memorable visitor tour of the city, drinks on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building, a walking tour of the Kenwood/Hyde Park neighborhood (including President Obama's street and house), the magnificent Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, and especially a meaningful drive through the old neighborhood in Rogers Park with bff Sheila.

 As delicious as the food was, and as fantastic as the sights were, the real highlight of my visit was spending time with the aforementioned bff's Sheila, Julie, Joyce and their families, plus Aunt Pearl (age 97), Cousins Gail and Michael, Brenda, Patty, and Shadowcat Baley Michelle too.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you'll never take the city out of the girl.  Thanks everyone for a very memorable and excellent adventure.  Chicago is one town that won't let you down - it's my kind of town.  (

Love, Nancy

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Treats + A Trick or Two

Sunday the weather was like an undecided voter - sunny/warm then cloudy/cool then sunny/warm, then cloudy/cool; I think you get the picture.  Just when you've got a nice cup of hot jasmine green tea in hand, the thermometer shoots up and you're reaching for a tall glass of something cool.  Salad sounded good, then a chill blew through the window, and I eyed the stockpot and started brainstorming soup recipes.

Inspiration came from Saturday's monthly FBLA potluck where the featured ingredient was pumpkin.  No, I didn't make pumpkin soup but there were two versions on the buffet, along with a pumpkin vinaigrette dressed salad, a pumpkin hummus with toasted pita, a savory pumpkin crostini, and numerous sweet pumpkin treats.  I also opted to bring something sweet, and took liberty with the featured ingredient by making Pumpkin Spiced Caramel Lady Apples with Toasted Pepitas, aka pumpkin seeds.  Caramel apples are my idea of the quintessential Halloween treat, therefore perfect for a late October food event.  

And now back to the soup.  Rather than pumpkin (been there, ate that) I did stay with the Halloween color theme and decided on a orange-ish yellow split pea soup, with a tricky carrot and black olive garnish.  The process was simple and the results were delicious, pleasantly surprising me because I tried white miso paste as the flavor base and it was perfect.  Here's the recipe for the soup, followed by a recipe for the caramel apples just in case you love caramel apples for Halloween too.

Halloween Smokey Split Pea Soup

2 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup minced carrots

1/2 cup minced celery
red lentils + yellow split peas = orange soup?
1 cup dried yellow split peas, rinsed of debris
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
6 cups of water
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. liquid smoke
2 Tbsp. white miso paste
 black olive slices
shredded carrots

1,  Add the oil to the bottom of a stockpot and after the oil is hot add the shallots, carrots, and celery.   Saute' about 5 minutes, stirring a few times.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper
2.  Add the rinsed split peas and stir into the veggies for a couple of minutes.  Then add in the water and bring to a boil.
3.  Add the smoked paprika, liquid smoke, and miso paste, stir to combine, reduce heat to simmer, cover the pot, and cook about 40 minutes until the split peas are tender.
4.  Let the soup cool to room temperature then puree.  Reheat and then ladle into soup bowls.
5.  Garnish with shredded carrots and black olive slices (this is the tricky part).

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Caramel Lady Apples with Toasted Pepitas
9-10 cute Lady or Crimson Gold Apples or
4-5 Honey Crisp or Green Dragon or Ambrosia Apples 
wooden chop sticks or Popsicle sticks
1 pkg. (12/16 oz.) caramels
a splash of soy milk or regular milk
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
1 pkg. pepitas, toasted and crushed
parchment paper lined pan

1.  Wash and thoroughly dry the apples.  Trim off the apple stems and impale a stick into each apple.
2.  Melt the caramels according to package directions - basically, either over a double boiler or in a micro-safe dish on high for 1 minute then stir and reheat for 30 seconds at half heat until melted.  Add the spice mix and stir.  If the caramel is too thick then add a splash of milk and stir again.
3.  Dip each apple into the caramel and cover as much as you'd like, letting excess caramel drip off.
4.  Roll immediately in the crushed pepitas and then set each apple onto the parchment paper.
5.  Cool slightly until the caramel is set, then grab one and enjoy!

*If you don't have pumpkin pie spice make your own with 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves (all ground).

Links to more devilish delights from FBLA Potluck:  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Farmer's Chop Suey

The culinary connection between the Chinese and Jewish cultures is well established.  In our family, Sunday night dinner at Pekin House on Devon Avenue in Chicago was a tradition, maybe not every week but often enough.  I'm certain many of you have similar Chinese restaurant dine-in and/or take-out stories.  (Sadly, Pekin House closed its doors in March of this year -

In fact my friend Bonnie and her family still have "Chinese" at least once a week.  She also is a lapsed mah jongg player, so she was happy to go with me to the Skirball Museum to see the current exhibit "Project Mah Jongg".  The exhibit, open thru 9/2, is a colorful, fun, and fascinating look at this American Jewish tradition, which was adapted from the ancient Chinese game.

While the culinary connection between the two cultures mainly consists of Jewish people eating Chinese food, there's a classic cross-cultural recipe that also was a tradition in our Chicago home.  On nearly brutally hot summer days my mother would whip up a cool, refreshing dish called "Farmer's Chop Suey", consisting of fresh vegetables cut into chunks and covered with sour cream.

                                                                                                                                                                                            For this month's Food Bloggers Los Angeles potluck, with tomatoes and zucchini as the featured ingredients, my version of Farmers' Chop Suey, garnished with fried noodles and served with chopsticks in little take-out containers,  was a refreshing way to honor both the theme and tradition.

Farmers' Chop Suey
2 mini cucumbers, cubed
1 1/2 cups baby heirloom tomatoes
6 radishes, cubed
1 medium zucchini, cubed
1 cup carrots, cubed
1 cup celery, chopped
2 green onions, diced
2 cups Greek yogurt, plain or sour cream
1/2 cup fresh dill
1 garlic clove, minced
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
Chinese fried noodles

1.  Mix the yogurt, dill, and garlic together and set aside.
2.  Put all the veggies in a bowl and toss to combine.
3.  Add the yogurt mixture to the veggies and toss until well coated.
4.  Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
5.  Portion into take-out containers, garnish with Chinese fried noodles, and dig in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Champagne Grape Cheesecake

Grape season is here and there are more varieties than ever to enjoy. There's the Thomcord (a marriage between a Concord and a Thompson), Green Muscato crisp, firm, richly sweet), Black Muscato (plum-like in flavor), Niabell (earthy and similar to the classic Concord), Red Muscato (sweet and crunchy), and "the toast of the produce aisle" the Champagne Grape (like a lightly sweet, refreshing, and very drinkable wine).

The delicious flavor and darn-right cuteness of the Champagne Grapes inspired me to go into the pantry and bring out the two darn-right cute 6 1/4" spring form pans that I found at a charity rummage sale a few years ago. Then all I needed was to refer to my favorite tofu cheesecake recipe from Patricia Greenberg's The Whole Soy Cookbook   With an adjustment or 2 for the amount of filling I needed for the diminutive pans,  and some fresh lemon zest for pizazz, here's the perfect results:

Champagne Grape Tofu Cheesecake

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbsp. Earth Balance soy margarine
1 pkg. (12 oz.) firm silken tofu
1/2 cup organic sugar
8 oz. Tofutti brand Better Than Cream Cheese
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest

1 1/2 cups Melissa's Champagne Grapes (de-clustered)                 
about 1/3 cup jam (whatever flavor you like)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

To make the crust, process the graham cracker crumbs until finely ground.  Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs.  Pat the mixture in a layer about 1/4-1/3" deep on the bottom of each darn-right cute spring form pan.  (If you only have an 8" spring form pan then adjust the recipe to 2 cups cracker crumbs and 6 Tbsp. soy margarine.)

To make the filling, blend the tofu in a processor until smooth.  Add the sugar, "cream cheese", vanilla, and lemon zest and process again until smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pan(s) and bake for 50 minutes until slightly browned.  Turn the oven off and leave the cake(s) in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove and cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate overnight.

Melt the jam in the microwave on in a saucepan until smooth.  Let cool slightly then spread on the top of the cakes.  Place the champagne grapes on the top of the jam to cover.  Chill again for about 1 hour.  Serve.

The season's tastiest table grapes are harvested by hand from California's San Joaquin valley and delivered by Melissa's Produce Company to stores all over the country.  Be sure to go out and get some, ok?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Inspiration - Where Are You?

It's been a while, hasn't it?  Sorry about that.  

Inspiration - where are you? 

Can't let more time go by so I'm going to post a few pictures of semi-recent dishes I've made that I hope you find inspiring.

When Kumquats were still in season I made a batch of these cute orbs, half enrobed in dark chocolate and the other half in white chocolate.  Kumquats from Melissa's will be
available again around December, just in time for those holiday dessert buffets.

This jar of zesty, pickled veggies made an appearance at the 13th Annual Summer Solstice picnic at Emerald Isle Park.  The theme was "fiesta" so these slightly spicy, colorful, fresh carrots, radishes, celery, and yellow chile peppers fit right in.  They only need to marinate overnight to be ready to go.  Easy.

This Italian Pressed Sandwich was my potluck picnic dish for a recent gathering of Food Bloggers Los Angeles.  Everyone was surprised (except me) at how delicious this all-vegan and very tasty sandwich was, perfect for picnics or anytime.  Ciabatta bread from Whole Foods (2 loaves for $3.99), vegan salami and turkey, vegan mozzarella, Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers from Melissa's, arugula, sliced red onion, and Vegenaise. 

I recently received a care package from Robert Schueller at Melissa's, filled with fantastic, unique varieties of seasonal stone fruit.  The varieties were Black Velvet Apricots, Mango Nectarines, Peach Pie Peaches, and Plumogranate Plumcots.   As I'm sure you can imagine, any of these would be scrumptious "as-is", but I got it in my head to make a pie so that's what I did.  Store bought crust, 6 cups of mixed stone fruit including some fresh raspberries  just because, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup minute tapioca. and a teaspoon of cinnamon.  Super simple - mix the fruit together with the sugar, tapioca, and cinnamon and let sit 15 minutes.  Pour into the bottom crust; top with the other crust.  Vent and bake.  Top with Soy Delicious Coconut Milk Vanilla Bean "ice cream" and drizzle with Melissa's Raspberry Dessert Sauce.

Please enjoy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

National Strawberry Shortcake (Stackcake) Day

June 14 is National Strawberry Shortcake Day.  To some people, a shortcake is a biscuit, made from scratch.  At our house, strawberry shortcake was made with either sponge, pound, or angel food cake, from the grocery store.  Although I've made biscuits  I'm not a true baker, and usually say "why bake if you can buy"?

What I do enjoy is taking delicious ingredients (like Driscoll strawberries) and creating my own tribute to the strawberry shortcake.  I went into my closet of fantastic cooking aids that have never been used and found a truly oldie but a goodie.  Stacks-The Kit, The Art of Vertical Food - Why cook a meal when you can create a sensation?  Creator, entertaining expert, interior designer, and entrepreneur Deborah Fabricant said "Stack-it", pack it, and attack it".  Thanks Deborah, I think I will.

Strawberry Stackcake
Driscoll Strawberries, sliced
brown sugar
pound cake, cut into stack shaped 1/4-1/3" slices
softened cream cheese (I use Tofutti brand) 
kiwis, sliced
dry toasted sliced almonds
strawberry sauce*
fresh lime
whipped cream

*Make strawberry sauce by pureeing fresh strawberries with a splash of fresh lime juice and a pinch of brown sugar.

Take a Stack mold and spray the inside lightly with cooking oil.  Put a piece of parchment paper on a plate and put the stack on this, or use a cookie sheet covered in parchment if you plan to make multiple stacks.

Slice the strawberries, sprinkle with some brown sugar, stir and set aside.

Schmear a little softened cream cheese on a slice of pound cake and place it in the mold.  Lay sliced strawberries to cover the layer.  Repeat with another schmeared pound cake slice with a layer of sliced kiwi.  Repeat with a strawberry layer, then repeat with a kiwi layer, and if you have some juice accumulated from the macerated strawberries drizzle some on the stack as you go along.

Top the last piece of plain pound cake with a layer of sliced strawberries.  Cover the stack and refrigerate at least one hour, but I did it overnight. 

Remove the stack from the refrigerator and put it on a serving plate.  Carefully remove the mold to reveal an amazing structure of colorful strawberry goodness.  Garnish with the strawberry sauce, whipped cream, and almonds.

This is definitely a wow presentation and really delicious too.  I'm sure it has you wondering about all the stacking possibilities, sweet and savory.  What would you stack?

(For more about National Strawberry Shortcake Day:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Japanese Garden Inspiration
Inspiration for creativity, solutions for problems small and large, and opportunities for adventures are all around us.  A recent bout of anxiety over some of life's challenges was perfectly counter balanced with my first visit to The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, California.  This 6 1/2 acre "Garden of Water and Fragrance" is remarkably freeway close (405 at Burbank Blvd.) while at the same time a world away from the noise, bustle, and pressures of city living.  Positive energy trumping negative energy, smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando Valley.

Authentic dry gardens, lakes, stone lanterns, plants, trees, flowers, and a beautiful Japanese tea house provide the perfect meditative environment to refocus and reflect on life and nature's simple pleasures.  Dr. Koichi Kawana, the garden's creator, succeeded in adapting this oasis to be true in Japanese detail while still compatible with the adjoining water reclamation plant and administration facility, "thus achieving what he termed mystic profundity".  Yin and Yang, so glad to see you again.

The garden provided many things, especially a much needed sense of peace, and of course a little culinary inspiration as well.  My favorite, easy, Japanese recipe is tempura veggies (and fruits) so I made up a batch using Veggie Sweet Mini Peppers and sweet potatoes.  Since I've been working on creating a homemade veggie burger recipe I thought it would be fun to take some of the same vividly purple Okinawa Sweet Potatoes from Melissa's I used in the first recipe and make them into Tempura Fries to accompany some mini burgers.  (Until my own burger recipe is ready to publish, please choose any of the very good veggie burgers available at your supermarket to recreate this dish.)

Purple Okinawa Tempura Fries 
2 large Okinawa sweet potatoes
2 large regular sweet potatoes
tempura batter mix
vegetable oil
teriyaki sauce + ketchup

Fill a bowl with cold water.  Peel the potatoes, cut them into traditional fry shapes or rounds if you prefer, and place them into the cold water.

Make the tempura batter according to instructions on the box and set aside while oil heats.   In the meantime, drain the potato pieces on paper towels and thoroughly pat dry.

In a heavy pot heat the vegetable oil, at least 2 inches deep, until a drop of batter sizzles.  Dip each potato piece into the batter, let some drip off, then gently drop into the hot oil.  Repeat with more pieces but don't overcrowd the pot.  Cook 2-3 minutes per side, remove finished pieces to a pan lined with parchment paper, and repeat until all the potatoes are cooked.

Allow the fries to cool slightly then serve with both teriyaki sauce and ketchup, alongside your veggie burgers.   

More Japanese and American yin/yang synchronicity:
Last week while getting my 18 year old Volvo repainted I explored the Mitsuwa Marketplace on Western in Torrance and found these amazing Egg Salad Donuts.  The donut isn't sweet, more like a fried bread filled with super delicious egg salad.  Amazing!