Sunday, August 30, 2009

Miracle Whip is for Simpletons

Miracle Whip, for god's sake. What a repulsive condiment.

Miracle Whip's new, Youthy McHipster television ad campaign exhorts us, "Don't be boring!" That's like Jessica Simpson telling us not to be vacuous nitwits.

We're also urged to follow Miracle Whip on Twitter. And become a fan of Miracle Whip on Facebook. Oh yes... I'll get right on that. With Miracle Whip in my social network, I will be tearin' it up every night for the rest of my life.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Breakfast, Importance of. Blah, blah, blah.

In my thinking, the most important meal of day is whichever one I'm eating. Or anticipating. That said, I like breakfast and I function better when I've had it. But doing the Complete Breakfast routine is spotty during the week.

Now that school is back in session, I no longer have the luxury of ambling into the kitchen to scramble a casual egg and enjoy a leisurely repast. These days it's more like shove food in my face while shoving books and files and computer and workout gear into the backpack, then gallop out the door, sprint to the BART station, and puff gently until my heart rate drops back to normal.

So... what to eat Monday through Friday?

The fast-and-easy stuff is always very carb-heavy (cereal, nutrition bars, toast, bagel), which presents two problems: 1) I can eat a wheelbarrowful of carbs and be hungry again in 45 minutes and 2), I'm not crazy about any of that stuff anyway.

So at 9:00 this morning - Saturday - I took action. I made a batch of breakfast burritos, wrapped them for nuking in microwave-safe plastic, tucked them into the fridge for next week, and patted myself on the back for my foresight.

The fruits of my labor lasted until 11:26am. This is what happens when one leaves one's burritos unattended in a house with two other human beings, one of whom is a high school senior recovering from soccer practice.

So I'll repeat the make-ahead process tomorrow, this time disguising the burritos in protective camouflage, perhaps inside a hollowed out eggplant.

Breakfast Burritos (makes 6)

These are high protein, high fiber, low carb, and tip the scales at a mere 300 calories. They're vegetarian, although not vegan. Best of all, they're portable and super tasty - make sure you get good cheese and salsa for best results.
  • 3 cups egg whites (the kind in a carton)
  • 1 -12 ounce package Soyrizo (soy chorizo)
  • 3 ounces reduced-fat sharp cheddar, grated
  • 6 Tortilla Factory low carb/high fiber whole wheat tortillas
  • 6 tablespoons salsa
  • 3 green onions
  • Microwave-safe plastic wrap (like Press and Seal)
Grate the cheese. Chop the green onions. Cut the chorizo into 6, 2-ounce sections. Spread the tortillas out on the counter. Squeeze each soyrizo section out of its casing onto a tortilla. Divvy up the cheese between each, then top each with 1 tablespoon of salsa.

Heat a large skillet to medium, coat with cooking spray, and add the green onions. Saute for a minute, then add the eggwhites. Let the eggs cook, moving them around the pan occasionally with a wooden spoon, until they're cooked through.

Divide the the eggs between the six loaded tortillas.

Tear off a roughly square-shaped piece of plastic wrap. Put the as-yet-unrolled-tortilla on top. Fold up the tortilla, and then wrap it tightly in the plastic wrap. Mark the end of the plastic wrap on the burrito by folding over 1/2 an inch of wrap to make a little easy-grab tab. That way you can find the unwrapping point easily when it's time to eat. (You will thank me for this tip in the pre-coffee dawn, trust me.)

Each burrito has 300 calories, 14g fat, 25g carbs, 35g protein, and 15g fiber.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Breakfast al Fresco

Ah, August. Saturday was a rare sunny day, with the temperature high enough that we dared venture outdoors without jackets and scarves.

I put the grill to work - even baking the biscuits on the top rack, a happily successful experiment - and we broke our fast out on the deck. The side-burner is a much-neglected component for such undertakings as scrambling eggs. Some day we'll live in a warmer microclimate where we can have an outdoor kitchen and cook everything on the grill. C'mon, California Lottery!

Fresh mint and basil came from the garden; goat cheese from a local Sonoma farmer, tomatoes from the farmers' market. God only knows where the Costco biscuit product came from.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

12 Bucks

This is what 12 bucks gets you at the farmers' market:
  • Pluots
  • Nectarines
  • Corn
  • Yellow raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
and a melon that smells like ass.

Scallops on the Grill

Just back from some sun 'n swim action, the last thing I wanted to do was get all complicated with dinner. So:

Grilled Scallops and Asparagus
  • 1 lb. asparagus
  • 1 lb. scallops
  • 1/2 bottle Soy Vey marinade
  • 1/8 c. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Whisk the last five ingredients together in a small bowl. Rinse the asparagus and snap off the tough ends. Rinse the scallops and pat dry.

Put the scallops and some of the marinade in a ziplock bag. Put the asparagus and the rest of the marinade in another ziplock bag. Put both bags in the fridge to marinade for 30 - 60 minutes.

When you're ready to cook, heat the grill to high and cook the asparagus for three minutes on one side, then turn them over. Place the scallops on the hottest part of the grill (if you have a "sear" option, use it) for 2 minutes. Turn them over and sear from another 2 minutes. Pull everything off the grill and tent it with foil; allow it to stand about 5 minutes.

Serves three (with some half-hearted whining about not enough scallops). With a cup of brown rice on the side, this dinner rolls in at about 400 calories with a not-bad 5 grams of fiber.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Family Dinner

The ideal pre-game meal for Scrabble: lamb steak, grilled polenta, and sauteed raab. Although we probably should have laid off the Shannon Ridge Zinfandel, considering how thoroughly the milk-drinking Boy walloped us, two games in a row.

Frozen Pizza That Doesn't Suck

I have had a difficult time accepting what Californians refer to as "pizza." It can be a very tasty food, but it's not pizza. The crust is wrong, the sauce is wrong, and more than anything else, the toppings are wrong. Figs and goat cheese? Please. Like I said: very tasty... but not pizza.

Once I accepted that I would never, ever get a decent slice from any so-called pizzeria anywhere in the Golden State, I began exploring options.

First I tried making my own. I had some success, but the results were never like the Star Tavern (Orange NJ) or Pete and Elda's (Neptune City NJ). And really, what could be? Those two joints are as close as I've ever come to pizza heaven.

Despondent at thelukewarm results of my efforts, I did the unthinkable. I started sampling frozen pizza. And predictably enough, most of it was awful. Even with added toppings (which are mandatory), the vast majority of these flabby pies were getting a D+ at best.

Then, on a whim (read: on sale for $3.99) I tried Safeway Select Ultra Thin Crust pizza. And it was actually pretty good. The Garlic Chicken version (while not what I would call pizza) was good enough to eat with only a scattering of grated parm as an add-on. But the real workhorse of this product family is the Margherita: just crust, cheese, fresh tomatoes, and a shred of basil. It's a great base for whatever you want to throw on it. Top it with pepperoni and a shake of parm. Or saute up some fresh mushrooms with basil and garlic for a veggie option. Grated Asiago and sun-dried tomatoes. Etc.

I'm pretty sure the Safeway Select pizzas are simply California Pizza Kitchen pies, repackaged. So if you don't have a Safeway in the neighborhood, look for the yellow CPK box in the freezer (even though it'll set you back eight bucks instead of four).

Sausage and Raab Pizza

  • One Safeway Select Ultra Thin Crust Margherita Pizza
  • 2 links of Italian sausage
  • 1/2 a bunch of broccoli raab
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth (or water)
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 450. Chop the garlic. Chop the raab.

Coat a saute pan or wok with cooking spray or a light film of olive oil. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings and saute over high heat, crumbling with a wooden spoon until it's just slightly browned. Drain on a paper towel.

Take the pie out of its packaging and slide it into the oven (directly on the rack, not on a pan) for about 7 minutes, which is as long as it will take you to cook the raab, as follows:

Pour most of the fat out of the pan, leaving a tablespoon or so. Add the garlic and saute over medium heat for one minute. Add the chopped raab and the broth, turn the heat to high, cover, and let it steam down for 5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel.

Pull the pizza out of the oven. Scatter the crumbled sausage and sauteed raab over the top. Sprinkle with the grated parm. Put the pie back in the oven (still directly on the rack) and dial the heat down to 400. Bake for about 8 -10 more minutes, or until the parm is golden.

One sausage and raab pizza will feed two people (or one teenage boy). Half a pie is about 700 calories - even so, it's a caloric steal compared to, say, a Round Table Italian Garlic Supreme (medium) at 1200 calories for the same serving size.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quick Lunch

Thursday means farmers' market day, which in turn means something reeeaaallly good for lunch. Today I bought this baguette thingie from the French baker: it's topped with bleu cheese, sliced pears, and walnuts. I ran it under the broiler for a minute while I chopped up some heirloom tomato and a little romaine for a side. My only regret was not having a glass of wine with it; but had I indulged, my afternoon would have been more nap, less gym. Self-discipline is its own reward. Or not.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Word to the Vegan Peeps

Some comedian or other has a shtick about vegans: it's cheap to have them over for dinner because all they can do is chew on the furniture. Oh ha ha. Not. Listen up, vegan-mockers: you've been eating vegan for years - you just haven't noticed. Truth is, you've undoubtedly mowed into many extremely tasty dishes without feeling compelled to shout, "Ah-HA! No butter! This sucks!"

For example: who wouldn't love this oh-by-the-way-it's vegan menu?

Coincidentally Vegan Dinner Party

Fresh bruschetta on toasted baguette slices
Olives with lemon zest and rosemary
Warm Marcona almonds with kosher salt

Arugula, peaches, and pan-toasted walnuts drizzled with honey vinaigrette (honey, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper)

Orecchiette with cannellini beans and arugula

Balsamic summer fruit with biscotti

Not so bad, huh? And it's easy, too:

Orecchiette with Cannellini Beans and Arugula
  • 1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of cannellini beans
  • 1 lb. fresh arugula
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh rosemary
  • 2/3 cup vegetable broth, or white wine, or a combo
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pignoli (pine nuts)

Set the water to boil. Chop the garlic. Snip the rosemary (use kitchen shears – ways easier than chopping). Dump the beans into a colander, rinse, and drain.

When the water comes to a boil, throw in the pasta and cook until it’s tender, about 10 minutes +/-. Drain it and set it aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan or wok to high and pour in the olive oil. Add the garlic, turn the heat down to medium, and shake the pan for 45 seconds so the garlic gets just the teeniest bit golden and crisp. Add the beans and sauté for 5 or 6 minutes, until they start to brown up in spots. Throw in the rosemary and sauté for another minute or so. Add the arugula and 1/3 cup of the broth, cover the pan and let it steam down for about 3 minutes. When the arugula is bright green and tender, add the pasta and the other 1/3 cup of broth. Toss everything to combine it. Add more broth if you like.

Serve in bowls topped with the toasted pignoli.

If you're feeling ambitious, grind the pignoli to the consistency of grated Parmesan and see if you can fool your meat-eating buds.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Autumn Comfort Food. In July.

Cold weather calls for comfort food, and creamy polenta with rosemary-spiked mushrooms is just the thing. Perfect for summer in San Francisco, where yesterday's daytime high topped out at 53 degrees west of Twin Peaks. Invigorating!

Polenta and Mushrooms

This is a super-easy, one-pot meal in two steps: first cook the topping, then keep it warm under a foil tent while you cook the polenta. This dish will take less than 30 minutes, prep to plate.

  • 1 pound mushrooms (any kind), sliced
  • 1 small leek, tender bottom 6" only, sliced thin
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, snipped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt
Prep the mushrooms, leek, garlic, and rosemary. Heat the olive oil to medium-high in a saute pan or wok. Add the garlic and leeks and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and saute until they start to get soft. Add the butter and rosemary, sprinkle with a little salt, and continue to saute until the mushrooms just begin to get some nice golden-brown spots. (At this point I threw in some leftover grilled chicken breast. Why not?) Spoon the mushroom mixture into a bowl and cover it with a foil tent. Leave the oil and any leftover bits in the pan.

  • 1 cup quick-cooking polenta
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons half and half
  • 2 tablespoons shredded asiago (or other very sharp cheese)
Pour the broth and water into the (unwashed) pan. Bring it to a boil, then pour in the polenta in a stream, whisking the hell out of it the whole time. Lower the heat to medium-low, whisk in the half and half, and continue to whisk it until the polenta thickens (about 4 minutes, more or less). Whisk in the cheese.

Plate the polenta and top it with the mushrooms. In a concession to summer, we added a salad; sauteed greens are an excellent side in fall or winter.

And for anyone keeping track, this was day four of five planned meals. Success!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

No-Carb Noodle Night Nixed

No-Carb Noodle Night was postponed due to a lack of no-carb noodles. I subbed in Korean vermicelli (yam noodles) instead. Turns out no-carb shirataki noodles are harder to come by locally than I anticipated.

Here in the Bay area, Asian supermarkets are everywhere. So when I planned to prepare a dish with shirataki noodles, I assumed (yeah, yeah, I know) that I could roll in to my local market and roll out with the appropriate noodles.


Even so, no trip to Pacific Supermarket is wasted. It's always an adventure, especially if you're looking for a specific product. If the item is where you think it should be (and it usually is), no problem. But sometimes products are in oddball places, and you have to ask for help.

Pacific Grocery is huge, and cheap, and almost entirely devoid of employees. There are two fish guys (they have several huge tanks of live fish), one bun guy, and one cashier - in a store the size of a large Safeway. None of these folks speak a lot of English, and I don't speak anything else, so any sort of Q & A (for example "Do you carry shirataki noodles?") tends to be equal parts hilarious and unproductive.

After I prowled the coolers and frozen food bins for 15 minutes with no shirataki noodles to be found, I knew I'd have to ask. Both the fish guys, when asked about noodles, shook their heads and and serenely ignored me. The bun guy was AWOL. Luckily, I found the cashier at her register (this is far less common than one might anticipate).

"Excuse me, do you carry shirataki noodles?" I asked her.
"Noodles?" she asked.
"Noodles," I confirmed.
"Noodles," she said, pointing at the noodle aisle.
"I need shirataki noodles," I elaborated. "The kind with no carbs."
"Noodles," she reiterated, jerking her head at the aisle.
"Shirataki noodles?" I asked, one palm upraised.

A thin crease appeared between her brows.

"ALL noodles," she said pointedly, snapping open her newspaper.

Duly chastised, I settled for Korean Vermicelli, a clear noodle made from yams. The cashier consented to take my $1.19, and I was on my way.

It should be noted that the astonishingly unhelpful staff at Pacific Grocery is near-legendary in these parts. Infuriated reviews of all races, creeds and colors are a testament to PG's utter indifference to their customers. On the other hand, $1.19 for a 2 pound bag of noodles makes up for a lot of indifference.

As to the shirataki noodles, stay tuned. After dinner, I found an online resource: I put in my order; I'll report on the results when FedEx delivers the goods.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Toasted Garbanzos. Who Knew?

Day Two of the Great Plan-Ahead Meal Week was a success: lamb steaks with a nice side of tomatoes and feta tossed with pan-toasted garbanzos.

Garbanzos (known to the east-coasters as chick peas) are innocuous legumes, usually tossed into salads or pasta for some fiber, or made into hummus, or left in the can in the pantry gathering dust for say, 12 years. So I was intrigued to see a recipe to dress them up a bit.

Drain and rinse a can of garbanzos and pat them dry with paper towels. Heat a skillet to medium high, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and toss in the garbanzos. Saute them (or "toast," whatevs) about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until they're crispy. Stir in half a cup of chopped tomatoes, a handful of snipped cilantro, and the juice from half a lemon. Salt generously, dust with feta, and grind some pepper on top. Amazing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Planned Dinners: One Down, Four to Go.

The tabbouleh salad with grilled chicken was great last night. We quaffed a summery dry rose and munched pita chips with cilantro-jalapeno hummus and tried to pretend it wasn't 53 degrees and foggy outside. San Francisco is a such a treat in July.

Tabbouleh and Grilled Chicken Salad

This recipe involves more prep than in most of my recipes simply because it has more ingredients than I usually use. But since you can do some or all of the prep ahead of time - in fact, tabbouleh tastes better if you make it up early in the day (or the night before) and let the flavors blend in the fridge - you don't have to get all stressed about doing everything all at once.

For the tabbouleh:

  • 3/4 cup bulgur (or a prefab box of tabbouleh mix, if you can't find plain bulgur)
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the chicken:

  • 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Montreal steak seasoning

First, the chicken. Put all the ingredients in a ziplock bag and squash it around so the chicken is coated. Let it marinate for at least an hour and up to 24 hours. (You can also make up a bunch of these bags o' chicken and freeze them in marinade so they're ready to roll at some later date.)

When you're ready, grill the chicken breasts over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes on each side, depending on how thick they are. Pull them off the grill, cover them in foil, and let them sit for about 10 minutes.

Next, the tabbouleh. Pour the bulgur into a medium bowl and pour a cup of boiling water over it. Stir it up, cover it, and put it to one side for half an hour or so until it absorbs all the water.

Meanwhile, prep all your veggies and garlic and herbs and throw them all in one big bowl. Toss them with the lemon oil and cumin.

When the bulgur is ready, stir it into the veggie mixture. Add the olive oil and feta cheese and mix gently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When you're ready to serve, thinly slice the chicken and place it on top of a mound of tabbouleh.

This stuff keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, unless your teenager mows it all in a single sitting. One way to avoid this behavior is to point out to the child that the dish is extremely healthy: Divided into three servings, it's about 300 calories per plate, with 28g protein, 25g carbs, 9g fat, and 6g fiber.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mystery Spinach Update. Plus! Planning Ahead

It was pointed out to me (by the Man, my best friend and harshest editor) that I left everyone hanging after the Mystery Spinach post.

"Look, you don't want anyone else actually cooking that godawful crap and thinking it's their fault it sucks," he pointed out helpfully. "You owe your five and a half readers that much, at least."

Point taken.

Mystery Spinach - which turned out to be some sort of green greatly favored in Asian cooking, but not as a stand-alone vegetable - was, in fact, godawful. It had the muddy nastiness of beets (I hate beets) and grassy undertones of... grass. Despite my best efforts (garlic and chicken broth and olive oil, and even butter and salt) it remained assertively ghastly.

I apologize to anyone who let my gastronomic optimism ruin their dinner, too.

Planning Ahead. No, Really.

Moving along, I'm trying something kooky this week: planning ahead. My stock-in-trade has always been keeping staples on hand, buying whatever fresh stuff looks good at the market, and pulling something together at random when I start getting hungry. I'm pretty sure this isn't the way Julia Child did it.

Further, my half-hearted pursuit of magazine articles - I have written magazine articles, so I have a pretty good idea of how much effort and expertise goes into them, ha ha - informs me that I should be Planning a Month of Easy Meals for Pennies a Serving!!!!

In the spirit of compromise, I've planned five dinners for this week (listed below). Now all that remains is whether or not I manage to stick to the plan. I will remind you that wagering is unseemly, and illegal in some states and provinces.

Five Dinners
  • Tabbouleh and Grilled Chicken Salad
  • Lamb Steaks with Tomato-Feta Salad
  • No-Carb Noodle Bowl with Grilled Cod
  • Polenta with Shiitakes and Leeks
  • Frozen Pizza That Doesn't Suck
Stay tuned for results of this planny madness.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shrimp, Meet Rosemary.

Here's a simple recipe that yields complex, delectable results, in a hurry, for not much money. It's also low-carb and high protein, with a good dose of fiber to boot. What more do you want for a Sunday night?

Panko-Rosemary Shrimp with Cannelli Beans and Arugula
  • 1 lb shrimp, shelled, tails off
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, snipped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup panko crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine (or broth)
  • 1 can cannelli (white kidney) beans
  • 4 cups fresh arugula
First, the prep: Chop the garlic, snip the rosemary, and set them aside. Peel and rinse the shrimp and drain on a paper towel. Rinse and drain the beans in a colander. Heat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with foil and wipe it with a thin film of olive oil (or hit it with cooking spray).

Next, measure 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a bowl. Add the rosemary, one tablespoon of the chopped garlic, and the shrimp. Grind a little sea salt and black pepper over the top. (If you want, you can do this part ahead of time and let the shrimp marinate in the fridge until you're ready to start cooking).

When the oven hits 400, add the panko crumbs to the shrimp mixture and toss to bread the shrimp (very lightly). Spread the breaded shrimp on the baking sheet and bake for 10 - 12 minutes, until the panko is crispy and a little golden.

While the shrimp are baking, put the last tablespoon of olive oil in a pot and heat it to medium. Add the rest of the garlic and saute for a minute or two until it starts to soften. Add the beans and wine,lower the heat and simmer for about 8 minutes. Add the arugula, cover the pot, and let it steam down for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir the wilted arugula into the beans.

Plate the beans and arugula alongside the shrimp, grind a little pepper on top, and chow down.

This recipe will feed three people (or two with leftovers). You could even stretch it to four servings if you add a salad and some bread. The whole dish comes in at about 470 calories per serving. I figured the per-plate cost at about $3 (with the shrimp on sale for $4.99/lb). Take that, economic downturn.

Make it Quick, Baby.

Make it Quick: Gnocchi with fresh tomatoes and Italian sausage, broccoli raab on the side.

This meal took 20 minutes from prep to plate. The shortcut this time is store-bought fresh bruschetta.
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, hot or sweet
  • 1 16-ounce tub fresh bruschetta
  • 1 lb. vacuum-pack gnocchi
  • 1 head broccoli raab
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • A few leaves of fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • Grated cheese for sprinkling

First, set a pot of water to boil. While it's getting hot, peel and roughly chop your garlic and set it aside. Roughly slice the basil and set it aside, too. Dump the tub of bruschetta into a medium-size bowl and let it come up to room temperature.

Next, heat a skillet or wok to high. Split the sausage casings and squeeze the sausage meat into the skillet and poke at it with a spatula or wooden spoon until it crumbles. Cook until the fat releases and then drain. Return to the heat and brown it slightly. Remove it from the heat and stir it into the bruschetta. Add the fresh basil and toss to combine. Let it sit, covered, while you cook the gnocchi and raab.

By now your pot of water is boiling merrily. Drop in the gnocchi and cook until they rise to the top of the water, usually about 5 minutes +/-. One they rise, cook one more minute and then drain in a colander.

While the gnocchi are (is?) boiling, pour the olive oil into the still-sausage-y skillet. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or two over medium heat. Add the broccoli raab and chicken broth and turn the heat up to high. Let the raab steam down, stirring occasionally, until it's bright green and tender. Add the butter, let it melt, and toss to coat.

Top the gnocchi with the bruschetta-sausage mixture, plate broccoli raab alongside. Top with grated parm or asiago and fresh ground pepper.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mozzarella Throwdown

I just got back from summer vacation in New Jersey. The Italian food there is to DIE for, and I ate my own weight in it - including fresh mozzarella.

Here's the deal with fresh mozz: I simply cannot find the real deal in the Bay area. I've found many cheeses claiming to be fresh mozzarella, but they're in hermetically-sealed, commercially-branded packages with smeary purple "best by"dates stamped on them. Worst of all, most of them include vinegar as a primary ingredient. I can understand pickling your so-called mozzarella if you were, say, making a transoceanic voyage on a tallship. 400 years ago. But in the 21st century? What the hell.

So imagine my delight when I spied this tub of real fresh mozzarella at the Montclair, NJ Farmers' Market. There they were, creamy-white rondures of actual fresh mozz, packaged haphazardly in plastic wrap, bobbing happily in their ice water bath. Taken home and unwrapped, this mozz is so fresh it squirts a little fresh milk when you slice into it with a knife. Try to find that in North Beach.

There were other things at the market - I bought a jar of fresh raspberry preserves that made me weep with happiness, that I was subsequently unable to smuggle aboard the return flight, damn it - but the fresh mozz really exemplified what I miss about living in New Jersey, foodwise. (There are many other reasons to miss NJ, including but not limited to Cindy, Dave, Matt, Beth, Margo, Ocean Grove, Frank's Deli in Asbury Park, and Sausage Giambotta. Also: Torino North.)

San Francisco has a lot going for it, but any place where I can't find real fresh mozzarella EVER, and getting my hands on broccoli raab (which is grown in California, hello) is a major challenge, and when I do find it it's like, $3.50 a bunch... well, the Golden Gate Bridge can suck it. I'll take the Pulaski Skyway.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Yams have been drenched in gooey syrupy marshmallowy crap in so many loathsome Thanksgiving casseroles that many of us suffer near-catastrophic blood sugar spikes just thinking about them. Swoon no more, fellow yam doubters. Your grill is here to save a much-maligned tuber.

You'll need one yam (about 3" in diameter by 6" long) per person, some olive oil, and Montreal steak seasoning. Scrub but don't peel the yams. Slice them into 1/4" rounds and put them into a bowl with 1/8 cup of water; sprinkle with salt. Microwave on high heat for 5 minutes. Stir gently and nuke for another 5 minutes. Meanwhile heat the grill to high.

Drain the yams and spread them on a platter in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per 3 yams) and sprinkle with steak seasoning. Turn them over a couple of times so both sides are oiled and seasoned.

Grill the yams directly on the grill grate over high heat, about 4-5 minutes per side. (You can certainly skip the microwave altogether and grill the yams from the start, but you'll need a much lower heat and a much longer cook time or you'll get yams that are scorched outside and solid wood inside. Just sayin'.)

Serve with malt vinegar, or ketchup, or both. Awesome.

Seasonal note: this recipe works just as well under a broiler and makes a great side for any autumn feast - including Thanksgiving. Your guests (and glucose level) will thank you.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mushroom Risotto is a Cakewalk

Mushroom risotto looks very fancy and tastes amazing and takes about 15 minutes. And yes, I cheat.

Here's the deal. Risotto is a great food and can be loads of fun to play around with when you have time. But when you want to get dinner on the table quickly, take a shortcut. If I did this risotto from scratch it would require broth and butter and olive oil and onions and cream and herbs and cheese lots and lots of stirring and adding liquid a bit at a time until it's absorbed and blah blah blah. It's Monday, for god's sake. I will not be doing that.

Instead, I use Trader Joe's Mushroom Ristotto, which quite frankly would suck if it were eaten prepared as directed, unaugmented. But as a base, it's great. Cook it with white wine instead of water, top it with fresh mushrooms sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and rosemary, and you have a keeper.

For two servings you'll need about:
  • 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms (I used shiitakes)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, snipped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Heat the oil in a saute pan. While it comes up to heat, slice the mushrooms, then throw them in the pan. Sprinkle with salt. Add the garlic and rosemary and saute over high heat until the mushrooms give up their juices and turn golden brown (about 7 - 9 minutes). Remove from the heat and set aside in a dish; cover it with foil.

Prepare the risotto mix as directed (use white wine, or broth if you prefer, instead of the water called for). Spoon the prepared risotto onto plates and top with your mushroom mixture. Toss a scant handful of grated parm on top and add a grind of fresh pepper. Serve it with a green salad.

Niiiiiice. And easy.

Photos by the Man.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Best Grilled Chicken, Ever.

Take one whole chicken, butterfly it, marinate it overnight, and cook it long and slow on the grill (about 20 - 25 minutes per side). Hack it into pieces and serve. Result: Awesomeness on a plate.

The Man is the author of this super chicken, which varies slightly every time he cooks it. In this house we're very much about using whatever is on hand, which means that the marinade is practically guaranteed to have different ingredients each time it's pulled together. The base ingredients are oil, vinegar (or citrus juice), soy sauce, and whatever else strikes the fancy: rosemary, cilantro, peppers, fish sauce, mustard, Worcestershire sauce... whatever.

Here are rule of thumb proportions:
  • 1/4 cup acidic (e.g., citrus juice, vinegar, or wine)
  • 1/2 cup oil (olive is my favorite, but sesame or nut oils are good, too)
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons flavor punch (e.g. soy sauce, Worcestershire, mustard, chili sauce)
  • 2 -3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs (whatever's on hand)
Of course you can always use prepared marinade; I like Trader Joe's Soyaki and Lawry's Mesquite Lime (with a little extra lime juice and some chopped fresh garlic). Another quick marinade is any kind of oil-and-vinegar-based salad dressing - excellent when griling asparagus or other veggies.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Any Given Sunday Breakfast

I love breakfast.

I don't know exactly when I decided breakfast was a good-every-morning idea; for years, breaking my fast meant one of two things: A) coffee, period. Or B) corned beef hash and poached eggs, home fries, rye toast, and a hangover, all enjoyed in the comfort of my favorite diner.

Somewhere along the line I realized that breakfast could be knocked out at home in very short order, and it was almost always worth the effort. Don't get me wrong. I don't cook breakfast every morning (unless you count toast as cooking). Weekdays it's usually Greek yogurt with some fruit and a bit of cereal for crunch, or maybe an English muffin with peanut butter and a handful of grapes or berries.

On weekends, we enjoy something a little more substantial, often some sort of omelette or scrambled eggs topped with something or other, determined by what's in the fridge. Generally speaking, if you have a bit of cheese and a bit of meat or veggie (or both) you're good to go.

This morning I did scrambled eggs topped with chopped fresh basil and goat cheese. On the side I served grilled Italian sausage, sliced heirloom tomatoes, a sourdough English muffin (me) and corn tortillas (the Man). I also chopped up a fresh orange, tossed it with sliced strawberries, and drizzled it all with cinnamon honey.

Breakfast Sanity Check:

Breakfast becomes cumbersome when you're trying to do 47 things simultaneously in a desperate effort to have everything ready at the same time.

Don't do that. Instead, think it through before you start:
  1. Fruit? Yeah, you can do that first and let it sit on the counter.
  2. Prep the stuff you'll need. (In this case, slice the basil, crumble the goat cheese. Put it aside on a paper towel.)
  3. What on your menu will "hold"? That is, what will be better after it sits a bit? Or at least won't get gross? In this case, it's the the sausage. Indeed, most meat can sit under an aluminum foil tent for 5 - 15 minutes and be just fine, often getting juicer in the process. Yay!
  4. Conscription is good. Who else can you rope into helping? Grab your partner or child or other innocent bystander and have them do something simple like nuking tortillas or making toast.
  5. What needs attention and cooks quickly? A-ha. The eggs. Save them for last.
Now that you have a battle plan, you can be chill while you pull everything together. In most cases, breakfast will take about 15 or 20 minutes to prep and cook. Not bad! And you don't even have to get out of your pajamas. Try that at the diner.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When Salads Go Bad

Bad salads. They give good salads a bad name. They turn children against vegetables, often for decades. They bring hungry women to tears. They make strong men turn to deep-fried bacon-wrapped cheese-sauced triple-beef burgers on garlic toast. With extra butter. Bad salads ruin lives.

A few candidates for Worst Salad Ever:
  • The Jersey Diner Salad. Flabby lettuce, a mealy pink tomato slice, a single, limp carrot curl, three fancy-sliced radishes, and a half gallon of neon orange dressing.
  • The Ubiquitous 80s Caesar. Remember when this awful pretender first emerged in the 1980s? Its ghastly omnipresence still lingers today. And don't get me started on Caesar spelled Ceasar.
  • Anything on a Field of Anything. X on Field of Baby Greens. Y on a Field of Arugula. Z on a Field of Organic Spinach. I got your Field right here.
  • Salad bars that, as the Man so eloquently describes, "smell like a three-day-old bag of lawn clippings on a hot day."
  • ABC Salads with No Discernible ABC. Nothing says "@#*&%!!" like dropping $15 on lunch and getting a steak salad that consists of a bale of romaine and a chiffon-sheer hint of beef that tips the scales at a slender 22 grams, max. I'm lookin' at you, Mixt Greens.
  • Salads served on a pipin' hot plate, fresh from the dishwasher's Sanitize Cycle.
But the worst salad I've ever encountered, EVER, was on the menu virtually every day at my junior high school. It consisted of iceberg lettuce, apparently marinated for several hours in a mixture of 10 parts motor oil, 1 part white vinegar, and 5 parts salt. It was slopped into - er, served on - on a little paper plate thingie that looked sort of like an inverted coffee filter that had been trimmed down to create a short bowl. Sadly, the plate lacked the absorbency of a coffee filter, so the salad sloshed helplessly from side to side like a kelp bed on an oil slick.

Have you had an awful salad? Tell me!

Meanwhile, guidelines for a good salad:
  • Clean, dark, leafy greens - or a mix of green and red
  • Good tomatoes, or no tomatoes
  • Radishes, or cukes, or something with crunch
  • A sprinkle of crumbled cheese (gorgonzola, feta, something with a kick)
  • Olives (mmmm, calamatas)
  • Nuts (dry roasted almonds, or toasted pignolis)
  • Just a drizzle of dressing - whisk together olive oil, vinegar (or lemon juice) salt and pepper. You'll need a tablespoonful or less per two cups of salad.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lousy Monday? Try Lobster.

It's tough to stay in a bad mood when you come home from work and get a face full of martinis, followed by grilled lobster.

Martinis have a bad rap as a daunting cocktail to prepare and serve. As a former bartender, let me assure you it doesn't have to be that way. I keep a pair of martini glasses in the freezer, along with a bottle of gin and and a bottle of vodka. I also keep a bottle of vermouth and jar of queen olives in the fridge. When it's martini time, I pull out the glasses and drop in an olive (or three). I use the cap of the vermouth bottle as a measure: half a capful into each glass. Top it with the vodka (me) or gin (the Man). Presto: Martinis in under three minutes, no shaker required.

Now, about dinner.

Lobster tails are quick and easy on the grill (and extra-tasty when they're on sale for $7.99 each). Preheat the grill to high for about 10 minutes. While it heats up, use a pair of kitchen shears (or whatever crappy scissors are handy) to cut away the membrane on the underside of the tail. Drizzle the exposed meat with a little olive oil. Poke a skewer lengthwise through the tail to keep it from curling up as it cooks.

At this point, pull together your side: yellow tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil (one of my summer standards). Top a slice of tomato with a chunk of mozz wrapped in basil. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a teeny-tiny bit of balsamic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper over the top. Serve with chunks of Italian bread, or in a pinch (as in tonight) a handful of quality crackers. One of my pantry staples is Trader Joe's Pita Bite Crackers -- highly recommended.

Back to the lobster. Lay the tails on the grill, shell-side down, for about 4 minutes. Turn them over and grill for another 3 - 4 minutes. (This is assuming the tails are about 5-6 ounces. Adjust your time if you have much larger or smaller tails.) Pull the tails off the grill, tent with foil, and let them stand for 2 or 3 minutes. Plate with a pot of melted butter, or sliced lemon, or both.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dads Will Grill Anything

Happy Father's Day!

In honor of Dads who grill anything, anywhere, anytime, a short post. I cranked up the grill this morning at 9:00. Daring!

I grilled some polenta (which did not look anywhere as nice as the photo to the left) and served it alongside an omelette stuffed with last night's grilled peppers, onions, and Italian sausage. Fresh pineapple and coffee to finish.

Grilling polenta is easy but takes much longer over the heat than you would think. Cut precooked polenta (the kind that comes in a tube) into 1/2" thick slices. Brush them lightly with olive oil and season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Cook over a high grill for a ridiculously long time - about ten minutes each side.

My work here is done.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Breakfast of Champignons

Saturday morning breakfast requirements: can be executed while still partially asleep; goes well with coffee; doesn't require anything exotic; quick clean-up. Ergo, scrambled eggs on toasted baguette with mushrooms, bacon, and cheddar.
  • Cooking spray (olive oil version, if you have it)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup egg whites-in-a-carton (or four eggs, whipped with a whisk)
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced or roughly chopped
  • 1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) grated cheddar
  • 4 slices turkey bacon (or regular, if you're a purist), chopped into 1/4 pieces
  • 2, 6" lengths of baguette, cut in half lengthwise (or whatever bread you have laying around the house)
Note: This sounds vastly more complicated than it is. The whole process, including prep, should take maybe 15 minutes, less if you can press an assistant into service. Good luck with that if your assistant is a teenage boy and you want to serve breakfast before 2pm.

Okay. Preheat the broiler so it cranks up while you cook the eggs and whatnot.

Coat the pan with cooking spray and crank it up to high heat. Throw in the chopped bacon, and fry it until it's nice and crisp, stirring occasionally so it cooks evenly. Scoop it out of the pan and set it aside on a plate. (If you use regular bacon, drain it on a paper towel.)

Lightly wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Re-spray with the cooking spray, dial the heat down to medium, and saute the mushrooms until they're browned in spots and thoroughly cooked (about 5 - 7 minutes). Scoop those out of the pan and let them sit on the plate with the bacon.

Wipe out the pan again, and drop the butter in to melt over medium heat. Pour in the eggs and move them around with a wooden spoon until they firm up. Turn the heat off and ignore them while you do the bread.

Lightly spray (or drizzle) the bread with olive oil. Put the slices on a piece of aluminum foil and toast them under the broiler for maybe 30 seconds (watch carefully so you don't set off the smoke alarm, terrify the cats, piss off the neighbors, and fill the house with the delightful scent of burnt bread).

Pull the bread out of the broiler and top with the eggs and grated cheddar. Put it back under the broiler until the cheese starts to bubble. (Tip: if you want it to get some nice golden-brown bits on top, sprinkle a few grains of dry grated Parmesan on top of the cheddar before you broil it.)

When the cheese is hot and bubbly, take the bread/egg/cheese thingies out of the broiler and put them on two plates. Top with the bacon and mushrooms.

Chow down!

Friday, June 19, 2009

At the other extreme, Costco.

If Jean-Paul Sartre were alive and writing today, the room in No Exit would be Costco. Everyone who works there is dead-eyed and listless. "Delicious pizza here," one food-sample-lady groans. "Try some yogurt today?" another pleads despondently. Employees with forklifts lumber after customers like angry elephants in pursuit of ivory poachers. Cashiers radiate resentful disdain. Receipt checkers eye departing shoppers like human traffickers. I'm pretty sure cheerfulness is a firing offense at Costco.

Yet once a month or so I visit Costco to buy coffee. You can get three pounds of excellent, organic, fair trade beans for about 12 bucks. (This as compared to say, Whole Foods, where you might get half a pound of the same for 12 bucks, not including the cost of therapy required to recover your self-esteem after parking your sensibly-priced car in a lot teeming with German engineering.)

Beyond coffee, I have a short list of staples that I pick up at Costco: olive oil, frozen fish, biscotti, Progresso soups, lunch meat for the Man (I mean really - where else can you get 2 1/2 pounds of turkey breast for $8?), and unsalted peanuts (for squirrels. We all know humans should never eat unsalted nuts). And that's it. I'm kind of a kook about comparison shopping (!) and I find that most of the stuff you can get at Costco you can get cheaper at Target or Walgreens or Trader Joe's or even Safeway or Lucky if you see it on sale. And given that my household consists of me, the Man, and the Boy, we've never really needed 100 pounds of rice. Or twelve, 1.5 liter jugs of one-off vodka. The Boy is not of drinking age, after all.

Those few staples pay off nicely. Here's a simple lunch or light dinner that tastes great, takes about 5 minutes to pull together, and comes in under 400 calories. Lots of iron and vitamin C, a decent helping of protein, and even some calcium. All ingredients available at Costco, god help me.

1 can Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup
2 or 3 handfuls of baby spinach (from a bag)
5 or 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ounce grated sharp cheddar

Throw the tomatoes and spinach in a 2-quart saucepan. Pour the soup over the top. Crank the heat up to high and let it cook, stirring and pushing the spinach into the broth until the spinach has wilted and turned bright green (about 3 - 4 minutes). Pour the soup into a bowl and top it with the grated cheddar and a grind or two of black pepper. Put a handful of pita chips or crackers on the side for crunch. This will serve two people with light appetites (about 200 calories each) or one person who just got home from the gym and is freaking starving (400 calories).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mystery Spinach

Thursdays are great for me. I have a ukulele class in the morning, and then I roll right down to the Daly City farmers' market. I love this market because it's not in San Francisco, which means everything is cheaper, and there's less chance of being elbowed out of the way for the best basket of mushrooms. The market is held in the Serramonte Mall parking lot, which is a little surreal. I'm sure half the people in the mall have no idea why there are tents set up outside.

Today's market was good: three full rows of vendors with everything from duck sausage to purple yams. The oyster dudes were there, and the fish lady, and chicken guy A (raw) shooting stink eye at chicken guy B (rotisserie). And, of course, all manner of folks with produce and flowers and breads and honey and olives and so on.

Today's haul:
  • Navel oranges (for years I thought this was "naval" as in, anti-scurvy)
  • White nectarines
  • "Ugly" shiitakes - $3 instead of $8 since they're not pretty
  • Cherries, Bing and Rainier
  • Radishes (for salad), onions (for grilling), and yams (for oven fries)
  • Peppers (red, green, yellow, and Poblano)
  • A gorgeous baguette from the grumpy French baker at Brioche. His un-sunny disposition is nicely offset by his amazing bread and croissant.
  • Mystery Leafy Green Vegetable, possibly Indian or Chinese Spinach
So yeah. About this spinach-y thing. It's a lovely variegated dark green and purple, and the leaves do indeed look a lot like spinach. (I'm modeling it in the photo, clutching it to my chest like Miss California with her roses before she got canned by The Donald.)

The guy I bought it from didn't speak English, so he couldn't tell me what it was called. But one of my fellow shoppers said she thought it was called Indian Spinach. Another said, "No, no, no. Chinese!" A third looked dismayed: "This isn't basil? [expletive!] NOW what do I do with it?"

I assumed it was a rhetorical question, so I didn't offer any advice. But what I'm going to do with it is heat some olive oil in a wok, saute five cloves of garlic, toss in the whatever-it-is-spinach with a splash of chicken broth, and let it steam down for three minutes. Then toss it with the olive oil and garlic in the bottom of the wok. Give it a quick grind of sea salt and see how it is.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hooray, Food!

And hooray for my inaugural Eaterrific post. Oh, boy!

I've been issuing food updates to my long-suffering Facebook friends and Twitter followers for a few months now, to the point where people think I do nothing at all except cook, eat, and cruise farmers' markets looking for loose produce.

I really do have a life beyond food: a fab spouse, a darling stepson, a ukulele, three cats, and a writing career. More on this in future posts. For now, since Eaterrific's raison d'être is food, let's get on with it.

The thing is, I really, really love food. And as luck would have it, I'm a pretty good cook. This is due largely to my Dad, who taught me many things about cooking, and my Mum, who taught me many things about eating (such as: what, how much, and when - not to mention which utensil).

I've always been comfortable chucking stuff into a pot and seeing what happens, but over the last two years my husband and I have - dramatic pause - Turned Over a New Leaf. A common affliction in one's 40s, I believe. So these days I still chuck stuff into a pot and see what happens, but it's a better caliber of stuff (same pot, though). This is not to say that I'm a card-carrying Whole Foods Ho - far from it. I'm more of a Trader Joe's Tramp, if it comes to that. But I do believe in eating healthy stuff that tastes terrific.

And I don't think cooking healthy stuff that tastes terrific should be a huge pain in the ass. Rather, it should mainly be quick and easy and not involve a billion pots and pans and food processors and gadgets and steps and taking crap in and out of goddamn ovens and brown this and chill that and blah blah blah until you want to retire weeping in a corner dreaming of cocktails and fried chicken that someone else made.

Sure there are times when it's fun to make some over the top extravaganza, but that is definitely the exception, not the rule. What you'll see here - usually - will be what I found at the market and what I threw together for dinner, along with an ingredient list and a recipe. And I'll talk about ways to simplify cooking at home, and get great results.

I'll get on it tomorrow... right after the farmers' market.