Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Shopping

It was overcast at the Hollywood Farmers Market this morning, but boy was it ever crowded. I left 3 knives with Russ to sharpen as we power-shopped. We bought a watermelon at our first stop. Melon season is good for the arm muscles. And the Koda Farms stand was there, so 5 lbs of their heirloom organic brown rice went into our shopping bags. A few melons and pomelos later we were ready to stagger to the car.

This is the organic produce that weighed us down:
corn on the cob, eggs, romaine lettuce, avocados, pomelos, early girl tomatoes, yukon gold potatoes, watermelon, white nectarines, yellow onions, pink lady apples, spaghetti squash, cantaloupe, white Japanese melon, pia solis melon, tiny peaches, brown rice 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Chilled Tamari Asparagus

Asparagus grows almost year-round in nearby Lompoc, and we eat it often. While it is great simply steamed and served with butter and lemon, it's also a great addition to stir-fries. Thinking of this recently, I decided to dress cooked asparagus with an Asian-inspired vinaigrette and serve it as a cold vegetable side to a salad of black rice and meyer lemon vinaigrette.

They looked really pretty on the plate together (much better than in my photographs!) and the asparagus was extra tasty.

Chilled Tamari Asparagus
1 lb asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp grated ginger root
1/4 tsp ground cumin

Cook the asparagus in a small amount of boiling water until tender-crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain well, pat dry, and put in a large bowl. Whisk together the tamari, vegetable oil, vinegar, ginger root and cumin. Pour over the asparagus and gently toss to coat. Chill at least one hour. Drain before serving.

Serves 3-4

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tomato and Avocado Salad

Tomatoes and avocado go surprisingly well together.

The other day I diced an avocado and two tomatoes and served them with some vinaigrette I had left over from the tomato and arugula salad I served when Tracie was visiting.

It was a great side salad to a meal of beans and rice.

Oftentimes, simple is best.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Padron Chiles

We bought some padron chiles from Finley Farm last week, and I served them up as appetizers in the same way I do shisito peppers.

I fried them in a cast-iron skillet until they were browned in places. (I didn't add olive oil this time, although sometimes I do.) Then I tipped them onto a plate and Larry sprinkled them with lemon juice and fleur de sel.

I expected them to be slightly spicy, with the occasional really hot one. That's part of the fun of eating them.

This batch, however, were all spicy!

It was an invigorating appetizer, but we didn't eat many of them. I saved the leftovers to make a Thai curry with coconut milk to tame them a little.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Breakfast Fruit

Our current morning fruit is nectarines and pomelos. Yum.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Shopping

There are times of the year when the sky in LA looks like a non-sky. It's not blue, it's not cloudy — it's a weird grey-ish background to the bright green palm trees. It's most obvious during June gloom, but it was still there today on our drive to the Hollywood Farmers Market — almost ominous in its non-existence.

Fortunately there were no zombies and very few clubbers and homeless people on Cahuenga, maybe because it was already way too hot at 7:40 in the morning. Our shopping experience was sweaty but quick. We bought pupusas for a quick breakfast at home.

Here's a list of the organic produce we brought home:
cremini mushrooms, corn, cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, avocado, pluots, peaches, plums, sundowner apples, tomatoes, eggs, shisito peppers, baby artichokes, carrots, oranges, grapefruit, and 4 muskmelons. 

Yes, 4 muskmelons. Because you can never have too many melons in the summertime.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Warm Fruit Shortcake

I've learned that you can't have Fourth of July without shortcake. Over the years I've made various shortcakes, but this is the one I like the best. It's thin and slightly crisp, which contrasts well with the soft whipping cream and fruit.

Warming the fruit on the barbecue makes it excellent. I warmed a white nectarine and some of our homegrown blueberries with a little butter, sugar and lemon juice in an enameled cast iron skillet on the barbecue. Then I carried the skillet inside (to get away from the noise and smoke).

We cut the thin shortcakes in half, poured some fruit and juice on the bottom layer, slathered on cream (previously whipped with a little icing sugar and vanilla), and topped with the other shortcake half.

We enjoyed the warm fruit, crisp biscuits and luscious whipped cream while watching the never-ending fireworks show through our windows.

1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter
scant 1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup turbinado (or raw) sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In the food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add diced butter and pulse to a coarse meal. Add whipping cream and process until dough holds together when you squeeze it with your hand.

Tip the dough onto a floured board. Press it together and roll into a 1/2 inch rectangle. It will be crumbly. Cut in four pieces. Carefully transfer to a cookie sheet. Brush the tops with a little whipping cream and sprinkle with a little sugar.

Bake 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on rack.

Serves 4

Friday, July 7, 2017

Potato Salad with Pickles

Usually when we barbecue I make my standard potato salad — cooked potatoes with a buttermilk dressing and a roasted poblano for zing.

But this Fourth of July, I tried something a little different. I found a jar of bread and butter pickles in our fridge and decided to add them to the potato salad. These weren't just any old pickles — I made them last year when our zucchinis were out of control.

I had planted seeds of an heirloom zucchini called Trombetta di Albenga from Renee's Garden Seeds. It's a vining zucchini plant that likes to grow up into trees. The zucchini then grow stealthily down among the branches. Fortunately, they are still tender even when they're three feet long.

Needless to say, I gave away a lot of zucchini. People still talk about the zucchini I gifted. And yet, we still had way more than two people can eat. I diced, blanched and froze. And then I made bread and butter pickles.

I am once again growing Trombetta di Albenga. (Really, they are the most entertaining vegetable plants I have ever grown.) They are not flowering yet, but I know what is coming. Emptying a jar of pickles into the potato salad seemed like a prudent move.

And I have to say that the potato salad tasted really good. It was slightly grey from the pickle juice I added to the dressing, but it was yummy. (I would have added a lot of colorful parsley if the birds hadn't eaten it all.) The potatoes were German butterballs from Flora Bella — the first time I've used them in potato salad and they tasted nicely creamy and held their shape well.

It's a good thing I'm growing more zucchini so we'll be able to replenish our pickle supply. This potato salad is one we'll want to make again.

Potato Salad with Pickles
1 1/2 lbs German butterball potatoes (or other waxy potatoes)
2 eggs
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp juice from the pickle jar
2 tsp dijon
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup kefir or buttermilk or yogurt
6-8 radishes, diced
1/2 cup chopped bread and butter pickles

Peel the potatoes and cut in quarters (about 1 inch pieces). Put in a pot, cover with cold water and a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Bring a small pan of salted water to the boil. Pierce a small hole in each egg with a safety pin. Lower into the boiling water, stirring so the eggs rotate a few times after entry. Cover and let simmer 10 minutes. Drain and cover with cold water. When cool, peel the eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Chop the whites and add them to the bowl with the potatoes.

Put the cooked egg yolks in a blender with the vinegar, pickle juice and dijon. Whir together. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil, then the kefir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour most of the dressing over the potatoes and egg whites. Toss to combine. Add the radishes and pickles. Toss again and season to taste.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Serves 4-6

Trombetta zucchini.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fourth of July Burger

Portabello mushroom burger with all the
fixings: grilled red onion, tomato, Irish
 cheddar and dijon mustard.
We had a great cook-out on Fourth of July. Larry barbecued corn and burgers — mine was a portabello mushroom — and we ate potato salad and black beans too.

Then we headed inside to eat dessert (shortcakes with nectarines and homegrown blueberries warmed on the grill) away from the smoke of the ceaseless fireworks. Why 2017 Fourth of July has to feel like a battleground is a little lost on this Canadian, but I really enjoyed the food.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fourth of July Celebrations

Fourth of July corn — cooked on the barbecue,
not incinerated by a rogue firework.
The Fourth of July is a noisy experience here in the 'hood. The fireworks started in April and have been gathering steam daily. Since the Alhambra fireworks' stands opened in mid-June, the daily and nightly explosions have multiplied.

When we first moved here, the loud daytime bangs made us jump. I didn't know that some fireworks are just loud booms that people set off during daylight hours. By the time the Fourth occurred, we could barely eat from the stress of unexpected explosions.

Now, many years later, we rarely jump. And we're able to eat our Fourth of July cookout. But we make sure to have finished dinner by 7 p.m. That's when we move inside with dessert, close the windows, put on the air conditioning, and "enjoy" many hours of fireworks through our living room windows.

This year, when we went to bed at 10:30 p.m., the show was still going on.

Did I mention that fireworks are illegal in the city of Los Angeles?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Red Pepper Hummus

It's too hot to eat a lot at dinner time, but we do need protein to go with the salads and corn on the cob that are the mainstay of summer eating.

Hummus is a versatile protein source that keeps fresh in the fridge for a week or so. It can be scooped up with pita or crudités. When thinned with water, olive oil and lemon juice it can be used to dress sturdy salads of romaine or cabbage.

I have a go-to hummus recipe you can find here. Add more garlic, lemon juice or salt to taste, and be aware that it makes a large amount.

The other day I decided to try something different.

I pulled a roasted red pepper from the freezer, cooked 1/3 cup of chickpeas until very tender, and whirled them together in the food processor. I added a little lemon juice, salt and pepper, scooped it into a bowl and sprinkled small basil leaves on top.

It made a light colorful hummus that we spread on whole wheat sourdough flatbreads. I think calling it hummus is a misnomer because it has no tahini or garlic. But Larry recoils when I call something bean dip. Maybe chickpea-red pepper spread would be a better name.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Red lentil sprouts

Homegrown sprouts are great sources of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. I buy many kinds of organic sprouting seeds from Mountain Rose Herbs. A variety of food provides a diversity of nutrients, which I think is important to keep our bodies functioning well.

I'm currently sprouting red lentils. These are packed with protein and will add a yummy crunch to our salads this week.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday Shopping

For some reason it was extra-crowded at the Hollywood Farmers Market this morning. We arrived 20 minutes before opening as we usually do, and the aisles were already swarming with shoppers.

Of course, summer is a fine time for fresh produce. The stalls were piled high with eggplants, zucchini and stone fruit. It was hard to choose, so I bought a little of everything. We will be eating well this week.

Here's a list of the organic produce we bought this week: 1 mini watermelon, 3 tomatoes, 1 cucumber, basil, 1 zucchini, 6 shiitake mushrooms, 1 sweet white onion, 1 red onion, 2 yellow onions, 2 white nectarines, 1 chechon garlic, 2 burgundy plums, a few donut peaches, 1 muskmelon, a few german butterball potatoes, eggs, 2 green plums, feta, 2 sundowner apples, 6 corn, 2 yellow peaches, celery, 1 portabello for my Fourth of July burger, padron chiles, 2 haas avocados, 3 grapefruit, a colorful selection of cherry tomatoes

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kefir Whey (Making Kefir part 3 of 3)

Draining the kefir to make it thicker gives the added benefit of separating out the whey.

Do you buy whey powder to add to your smoothies and protein shakes? Well the whey from kefir is the same as that, only fresher and still alive, so therefore I would assume better.

Whey protein is one of the best protein sources there is, and some research suggests it can help reduce risk factors for neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. It contains amino acids that are easily absorbed by the digestive tract.

More importantly, it's rich in the precursors for N-acetylcholine (NAC). NAC is an immune-boosting amino acid complex that helps the body make glutathione, an antioxidant enzyme that is vital in protecting all the cell membranes in your body from free-radical damage. NAC also chelates mercury and other toxic heavy metals from the body.

Look at that whey, a by-product of making yummy kefir, and be thoroughly impressed by its health benefits.

Larry puts it into smoothies. I just drink it straight. It's tangy but not really flavored. And I imagine how happy it is making all the cells of my body.

It is so cool to be making power foods in my kitchen!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Making Kefir Taste Good (Making Kefir part 2 of 3)

Once the kefir has fermented, I pour it through a strainer to remove the kefir grains that will make the next batch of kefir.

And then I do another step. I line a strainer with an unbleached paper coffee filter (the basket kind) and pour the kefir liquid into it.

This separates out the curds from the whey. As the whey drains through into the bowl underneath, the kefir in the coffee strainer gets thicker and creamier. For yogurt to put in our lunches, I let it drain an hour or so. For a firm cheese I let it drain all day. (For anything longer than a couple of hours I put it in the fridge to drain.)

This simple draining technique lets me determine the thickness of the kefir I want to make. We never drink it. It's always at least a yogurt consistency.

Something Donna Schwenk recommends — and that I've found great — is to re-ferment the kefir with a strip of lemon peel in it. I add the lemon peel when I'm pouring the kefir in the coffee filter. This sweetens the kefir by giving the cultures something to munch on. It's worth trying with store-bought kefir too, to see if it makes it sweeter and more pleasant. (Also, try straining the store-bought one too — see if you can make it yummier.)

In the picture at left you can see I'm pushing the kefir through the top strainer to separate the grains. They will be little lumps in the top strainer. I take them out to start the new batch (see here.)

Under the strainer is another strainer lined with a paper coffee filter. It will separate the curds and whey.

In the bottom right picture, you can see the strained kefir in the top — ready to eat. In the bowl below is the whey (more on that tomorrow), and in the jar in the background is the next batch of kefir starting to ferment.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Making Kefir (part 1 of 3)

Kefir is easy to make at home. You don't need to keep it warm like you do yogurt so no special equipment is required, just a glass quart jar and some bowls and strainers.

The first step is to get some kefir "grains." These tiny white-ish transparent capsules are cultures of live bacteria and yeasts that ferment milk into the kefir we eat and drink.

I bought my grains from Donna Schwenk, and she and her team got me through the nervous first stages of being sure I was doing everything wrong. (I've since learned it's hard to screw this up.)

The grains reproduce as they enjoy the sugars in the milk. With each batch you get more grains.

If you decide you want to embark on the homemade kefir journey and are coming to my office, give me a couple of days notice and I will bring you kefir grains. Otherwise the extra ones end up on my compost (I'm sure the soil loves the infusion of beneficial yeasts and bacteria). Some people eat the extra grains, but I feel that would be too much for my system.

The picture above right shows the grains I've removed from a fermented batch of kefir and am preparing to put in a jar to start a new batch.

Some people's grains grow like little cauliflowers. Mine tend to be more like tapioca pudding. I do bash them a bit when I'm straining them out of the kefir. But they don't seem to mind. As I say, they reproduce rapidly.

I make kefir using whole organic milk from grass-fed cows. Kefir grains feed on the sugars in the milk. While you can make kefir from non-dairy milks, you need to add some sweetener to feed the grains. I've not done this, but you can get more info on Donna Schwenk's website or from her book, Cultured Food for Health, which I borrowed from our library and highly recommend.

To make kefir, put the grains in a clean quart jar. Pour in about 3 cups of milk — leaving room at the top for expansion while it ferments — cover and leave on the counter, out of direct sunlight — for 24-48 hours.

Kefir ready to be strained.
When it's separated into curds and whey, strain out the kefir grains. The liquid that is left is the kefir, ready to eat or drink. (More on that tomorrow.) Put the grains into a clean jar, pour in milk and repeat.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Kefir fermenting next to sprouts and
sourdough - my kitchen is full of life!
At the end of last year, I read a book called Cultured Food for Health by Donna Schwenk. She described how kefir, kombucha and cultured vegetables had healed her family's allergies, digestive problems, immune problems etc. by creating a healthy bacterial environment in their bodies.

I'm a firm believer in food as medicine, and I like growing things, so I ordered some kefir grains from her and embarked on a journey of fermentation.

Kefir is similar to yogurt but has far more beneficial bacteria per tablespoon than yogurt does. It also has beneficial yeasts that scavenge bad yeasts. Both the good bacteria and good yeasts colonize your intestines, creating the optimal environment for absorption of nutrients from the food you eat.

The kefir you get at the store is probably runny and sour. The kefir I make at home is rich and creamy with a tang (sometimes more tang than others - making kefir is an art, not a science). I think because kefir is a living food, the long storage and transportation times required to get it to market make it deteriorate a little, leading to the sour taste. (Think of the difference between a supermarket tomato and a homegrown tomato.)

Some people say the good bacteria in store-bought kefir has all died because it's pasteurized. I don't know. I do know that the kefir I make is a living food, and takes care and tending. In return it gives us a lovely yogurt that has replaced the St. Benoit yogurt in Larry's lunch box. And kefir cheese is simple to make into a fabulous healthy appetizer that amazed Tracie when she visited last week.

Tomorrow, I'll take you step by step through how I make our kefir.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Yummy Potatoes

Sometimes, when I feel Larry has eaten enough weird healthy vegetable dishes for a while, I serve him some yummy potatoes. Potatoes are happy food, pretty much any way they're served.

Of course, he helps by going to the library and getting books  like Smashed, Mashed, Boiled and Baked: A Celebration of Potatoes in 75 Irresistible Recipes by Raghavan Iyer.

Iyer's previous book was 660 Curries, so you know he likes flavorful food.

The other night I made his recipe for Moroccan Potato Stew with Saffron Biscuits. I think it would have been delicious without the biscuits, but heck, why not go all out on potato night.

Needless to say, the dish was a hit. In fact, it was even a hit on the 3rd night of leftovers. The seasonings were robust and the vegetables blended beautifully with them. The simple biscuits were delicious, even without the saffron. (I remember using the last of my saffron and deciding it was time to start growing my own saffron crocus. While I still want to do that, in the meantime I think I'd better just buy some more to last until the fall harvest. I'm sure the biscuits would have been even better with a little included.)

This is really a healthy recipe. Chickpeas and spinach, sweet potatoes as well as white — it's not that different to the food we usually eat. Maybe that's why I made the biscuits — it's important to be a little decadent on yummy potato night.

I did alter Iyer's recipe a little to suit what I had in the house. I hope you do the same thing when you cook the recipes on this blog. After all, half the fun of cooking is experimenting.

Here's what I did:

Moroccan Potato Stew with Biscuits
2/3 cup chickpeas
1 lb potatoes
1/2 lb sweet potatoes
1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp smoked chili flakes
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
14oz can diced tomatoes
1 bunch spinach

Cook the chickpeas in simmering water until tender, 2-3 hours depending on the age of the beans. Or cook them in a pressure cooker for 22 minutes and let the pressure come down on its own. (Or use 2 15-oz cans chickpeas.) Drain and set aside.

Peel the white and sweet potatoes; cut into 1-inch cubes. Put in a bowl and cover with water so they don't turn grey before you need them.

Grind the coriander, cumin and cinnamon in a spice grinder (or coffee maker reserved for spices) until they are a fine powder. Pour into a small bowl and stir in the paprika, chili flakes, salt and turmeric.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. When it begins to shimmer, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until they start to brown around the edges. Stir in the spice blend and stir for about 15 seconds until wonderfully fragrant. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes (including the liquid),  2 cups water, cooked chickpeas and drained potatoes. Stir it all together well so the vegetables are coated with the spices. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender.

Wash the spinach and remove any tough stems. Stir into the pot. Cover and let steam until cooked, about 3-5 minutes.

You can eat this excellent stew now, or you can go wild and put biscuits on top.

2 cups white flour (plus extra for dusting)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
4 tbsp butter, cut in slices and chilled
1 cup keffir or buttermilk
1/2 cup whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Pour the cooked stew into an ovenproof casserole.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add chilled butter and break it up into pea-size pieces with your fingers as you mix it in.

Stir in the keffir and whipping cream to make a wet batter.

Mound a half cup of flour on a large board or surface. Cover your hands with flour too. Scoop up 1/3 cup batter with your well-floured hands and drop it into the mound of flour. Gently roll it around to coat it completely with flour, then shape it into a biscuit and put it on the stew. Repeat with all the dough — you'll have 6-7 biscuits.

Place the casserole, uncovered, into the oven and bake until the biscuits are browned on top, about 25 minutes.

Serves 6

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Shopping

I did not feel like buying food or planning menus this morning. We have a new fridge — which is a whole other story — and I can't figure out how to store vegetables in it. (I think this new generation of fridges is built for people who eat out of boxes.)

However, we needed organic fruit and eggs. And going to the Hollywood Farmers Market means I can skip Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

And when we got to the market, boy were we glad we made the effort. Finley Farms had the first corn of the year.  Organic, fresh on the cob — it will make for happy meals this week no matter what we excavate from our fridge.

And Flora Bella was there with shisito peppers. This will be a good week of eating.

Here's a list of the organic food we came home with: eggs, celery, shisito peppers, corn on the cob, small beets with their greens, peaches, nectarines, avocados, santa rosa plums, tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, red gold potatoes, orin apples, sundowner apples, pink lady apples, grapefruit, pomelos, romaine lettuce, gold dust peaches, red onion, yellow onion, cucumber, cherry tomatoes.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kefir Cheese with Flowers

As an appetizer on Sunday, I served kefir cheese with herbs and flowers. It was great on rye crisps as well as on carrot and celery sticks.

To make it, I stirred nasturtium petals, Egyptian walking onion leaves, mint and dill (along with a little sea salt) into homemade kefir cheese.

The cheese was made by spooning kefir into a coffee filter-lined strainer and letting it drain for a couple of hours. A creamy cheese formed in the strainer, and nutritious watery whey drained into the bowl underneath.

A lot of people have told me that drinking probiotic-full kefir is tough because it is so sour. Somehow, making it into cheese takes away the sourness but none of the beneficial bacteria. (Putting a strip of lemon peel in the kefir while you strain it helps too.) And it makes a wonderful creamy dip when you add your favorite seasonings.