Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Girls' Weekend

I took this photo on my last trip to San Francisco in 2007. On Thursday I'm heading back but this time with my sisters, sister in law, niece, cousin and mom (count - 7 girls and my baby girl is staying home with daddy). I'm sure it won't surprise any of you who know us that most of our plans are revolving around food.

Here are some of the places we're thinking of visiting and eating:

Ferry Building Farmer's Market
Amber Indian Food
Poggio's Italian on Sausilito
The Pork Store Cafe
Top of the Mark (for cocktails)

Thanks to Lisa for some great suggestions and for letting me borrow her travel magazines (sorry fellow travelers - there is required reading if you're on my plane).

Anyone have any suggestions before we leave?

I'll give you a full culinary report when I return.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spanish Rice

For years I've bought packages of spanish rice and made them from the box when I'm cooking Mexican food. I've had favorites over the years (the Farmhouse brand one that was discontinued, the Near East one) but one day I decided that a) it can't be that hard to make myself, b) I wasn't sure about what was in those little seasoning packets, and c) it's probably a lot cheaper.

I've made this three or four times in the last couple of months and it's been a big hit. The first time I made it with regular old white rice and since then I've made it with brown rice. I'll tell you how to make it either way and some ways to spice it up a bit.

Spanish Rice (4 servings)

1 cup white or brown rice
1 T canola oil
1 (14 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (4 oz) can of diced green chiles (or jalapenos)
1 onion, diced
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups water

Saute the onion, bell pepper, and rice in a deep skillet until the onion is soft and the rice is just starting to turn brown. Add the rest of the ingredients (don't drain the can of tomatoes and can of chiles) and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer, covered until the liquid is absorbed. For white rice: cooking time will be about 30 minutes. For brown rice: cooking time will be between 50 minutes and 1:15. Tonight I tripled the recipe using brown rice and let it cook for about an hour and a half.

For spicier rice: Add cayenne and red pepper flakes with the rest of the spices and/or substitute jalapenos for the green chiles.

I think a nice finishing touch is stirring in some chopped cilantro when you're ready to serve it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pre-Race Meal

My husband is racing on his bicycle tomorrow and I made this dinner for him. I don't think he enjoyed it as much as I did (and there's no photo but it looked pretty) but it's nutrient rich with whole grains, leafy greens, and lean protein.

I tend to overcook chicken so lately I'm liking it best when we grill. This marinade is a variation on something I cut out of a magazine 6 or 7 years ago called "Curry Grilled Chicken." The curry flavor is subtle - if you like more curry, double up on it.

For the side dish, I was trying to find a way to use up some barley I bought for soup a few months ago. This worked well and I liked eating something different than rice but the texture is chewier and it's denser. I might try Nicole's suggestion of soaking whole grains next time I make this. I would also eat this as a meatless main dish (probably 2 servings with these proportions). In general, for brown rice, cous cous, quinoa and other grains I have found that using some kind of broth in place of the water makes a big difference in the flavor.

Marinated Grilled Chicken ala Rebecca (4 servings)

1/2 c. vinegar (I usually use white wine vinegar)
1/4 c. ketchup
2 T sugar
1 T worcestershire
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
red pepper flakes to taste (I think I used about 2 tsp+ but I like it spicy)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine all ingredients (except chicken) in a blender and blend for a few seconds. Pour it into a shallow glass container or a large ziplock bag and add the chicken. Refrigerate for 1-3 hours. Discard marinade and grill until the chicken is done.

Pearl Barley with Vegetables (4 side dish servings)

1 tsp. olive oil
3/4 c. chopped onion (about 1 small)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 c. uncooked pearl barley
1 3/4 c. chicken or vegetable broth
1 zucchini, chopped
1 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup of packed fresh spinach leaves, chopped
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic clove and saute for 30 seconds. Add the barley and saute for a minute. Add the broth, bring to a boil then cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 35 minutes. Stir in the zucchini, spinach, tomatoes, parsley, and salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 minutes more.

Variations: You could saute half of a red bell pepper with the onion in the first step, add more vegetables, add various other fresh or dried herbs, sprinkle cheese on top. I had some feta and I liked it on top of the finished barley.

PS - This was even better cold the next day . . . I bet it would be great if you served it like pasta salad.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


There are some things I like to make for myself and some things I like someone else to make for me. One of my indulgences is having someone else make coffee for me and I stop for a cup of coffee maybe 3 or 4 times a week but especially when I have to be at work at 6:30am like Tuesday morning. My current favorite coffee shop is Peet's for these reasons: a small espresso drink has 2 shots of espresso, their soy milk is unsweetened, and the wi-fi is free. As you can probably deduce from that, I order a small soy latte.

Honorable mention goes to Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena. They meet the same criteria as above (well, I've never used my laptop there so I don't know about the wi-fi) and their drinks are CHEAP - a cappuccino for under $3 - but parking is a nightmare and it's a little out of the way (537 S. Raymond).

Monday, March 16, 2009

The best laid plans

On Saturday afternoon, three things happened almost simultaneously: I took my beautiful irish cream bundt cake out of the oven, my daughter woke up from her nap, and my neighbor knocked on the door to tell me his wife was in labor and he needed me to watch his daughter. I quickly tried to get my daughter's shoes on, juice cup filled, and then remembered the bundt cake. I frantically tried to shake it out of the pan onto a cooling rack and it all fell to pieces. So sad! The pan was well-greased and it looked like it should have come out with no problem but I wasn't . . . um . . . gentle or patient with it.

So, I salvaged ten pieces of cake (and didn't make the glaze which is the best part) and made some brownies with a mint topping. They were okay - I liked how easy the recipe was but they were more the consistency of fudge than brownies. Does anyone think that there should be baking powder or baking soda in this recipe? I think if I cooked it for ten minutes more, it would have been better. I'm adding some time to the recipe as it is written below.

Mint Brownies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. In a largeish saucepan (I think the one I use is 2 quarts), melt 1 and 1/2 sticks (3/4ths cup) butter and 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate. When melted, remove from heat. Then add 1 1/2 cups of sugar, 3 eggs, 1 cup of flour, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix it all up and put it into the pan and bake for 40 minutes.

As soon as you remove them from the oven, pour a whole bag of mint chocolate chips over the top as evenly as you can. I used Andes Baking Chips Let them sit there a few minutes and then cut the brownies, leaving them in the pan (this is more like scoring - you want to prevent the top coating from breaking as much as it would if you waited until they were all the way cool).

Variations and tips: When you stir in the eggs, make sure the pan is off the heat and stir constantly so you don't scramble the eggs. You could add 1/2 tsp peppermint extract to the batter for mintier brownies. If you have unsweetened chocolate, increase the sugar to 2 cups. I haven't tried it yet but I bet peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, or butterscotch chips would make equally great toppings.

PS - the end of the story is that by the time we walked out of the front door, the neighbor's mom showed up so I didn't need to watch the little girl after all. And, the new baby is named Rosemary - congratulations, neighbors! Oh, and my daughter and I ate way too much of the messed up cake with our hands. It was delicious but I had a headache from too much sugar and baby girl was still going strong at 9pm that night.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Scallops with White Beans & Spinach

Scallops are super easy to cook and end up looking pretty impressive. What attracted me to this recipe was that my husband loves both sauteed spinach and scallops, it was high in protein (34g/serving), and it pulled together in less than 15 minutes.

If you don't cook scallops regularly, they're done when they are firm to the touch and they are beginning to crack and are opaque. Try not to overcook them - the timing in this recipe worked well for me. For best results with searing, pat them dry with paper towels before cooking and only turn them once.

I bought scallops at Costco for the first time (in the fresh seafood section) and I would buy them there again. I bet this recipe would be good with sauteed jumbo shrimp in place of the scallops. I halved the number of scallops but used the same amount of beans and spinach. The original recipe called for 2T of chopped fresh basil stirred in at the end (off the heat) but the basil I was planning to use was all wilty and moldy - gross.

Scallops with White Beans & Spinach (from Cooking Light 3/09) - 4 servings

2 T olive oil (divided)
1 1/2 lbs scallops
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 tsp. red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 c. chicken broth (I used low-sodium fat free)
1 (19 oz) can cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
6 oz fresh baby spinach
1 tsp. dried basil

Heat 1 T of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the scallops with salt. Add them to the pan and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add the rest of the oil and the onion to the pan and saute for 2 minutes. Add pepper and garlic and cook for 20 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in wine and cook for 1 minute (most of the liquid will evaporate). Stir in broth, beans, and basil and cook for 2 minutes. Add spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove from the heat. Serve scallops over the spinach mixture.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What I'm Making for St. Patrick's Day

Most weeks, I get together with three friends for lunch or coffee. One of them hosts a 4th of July party and one of them hosts a St. Patrick's Day party. I think I'm supposed to be the Christmas person but this past year was the first time in awhile I got my act together and actually planned a party. On Saturday, I'm bringing this cake to the St. Patrick's Day Party. My friend who's hosting makes great Corned Beef and Cabbage and I admit, I've NEVER made it (mostly since I have her around to do it for me!). If I was going to make it this year, I'd probably try the recipe from this blog (the baked version with mustard and cloves). Let me know if you make this!

Back to the cake. It's a cheater recipe - look at the first ingredient - but I've made it several times with good results. I especially like it with coffee the next morning. If you're making it for kids, someone who's pregnant, or a teetotaler, don't worry - the alcohol bakes or boils off. If you want an alcohol-free alternative, you could use irish creme flavored syrup (like what you'd put in coffee or espresso drinks).

Irish Cream Bundt Cake

Cake Ingredients:
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup Irish cream liqueur

Glaze Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter
2-4 T. water
1/4 - 1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in eggs, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup oil and 3/4 cup Irish cream liqueur. Beat for 3 minutes at high speed. Pour batter into the pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto a serving dish.

Then, make the glaze, combine butter, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the Irish cream. Use a fork to prick holes in the top and sides of the cake. Spoon the glaze over the top and brush it onto the sides of cake. I use a pastry brush. Allow the cake to absorb the glaze and repeat until all glaze is used up.

Additions: You can sprinkle 1 cup of chopped pecans on the bottom of the bundt pan before pouring in the cake batter. You could also use green food coloring. I think it would taste good as cupcakes (probably would make 2 dozen and you'd halve the cooking time). Then, skip the glaze and color some buttercream frosting green.

PS - St. Patrick's Day is also my sister-in-law's birthday . . . Happy 30th Sonia!

Monday, March 9, 2009


I've been making granola for a couple of years now and my recipe has changed over time. I was initially inspired to make it by some granola my mom made and the fact that most commercially sold granola and most recipes I found online used a significant amount of oil and sugar. My husband and I sort of became addicted and I make it about every other week (did you know that you can buy 9 pound boxes of Quaker oats at Costco?). It's much cheaper and healthier to make your own and so, so easy. In fact, the more you make it and keep the ingredients on hand, the easier it gets.

Recently, I stopped using honey in an effort to make the texture more like the granola I tasted at the South Pasadena Farmer's Market . . . the guy who sells it is probably sick of me tasting it and asking him questions on his granola technique. I'll first give you an older version which is more general with some tips and then the specific, newer version which I'm hoping to enter into a recipe contest soon! Use the older version as a guideline for the ratio of wet ingredients and spices to dry ingredients. Change it to suit your tastes and preferences.

Rebecca's Basic Granola

In a large bowl or container, stir together:
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sliced almonds
4 cups oats
1/2 cup coconut
optional: 1/2 cup bran (I use All-Bran Bran Buds) and 2-3 tablespoons of flax seeds

In a smaller bowl or measuring cup, stir together:
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup honey
1 T. vanilla
1 T. cinnamon

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until coated. If the dry ingredients don’t seem moist enough, you can add a little more applesauce, honey, or a couple of tablespoons of orange juice.

Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees. I set the timer for every 10-12 minutes and stir it (the edges will brown much faster than the middle). It’s done when it’s all golden brown and toasted. Let it cool on the cookie sheet and transfer to an airtight container. It’ll last 2-3 weeks at room temperature.

- You can substitute any combination of nuts for the pecans and almonds. Raw nuts work better than toasted nuts
- You can substitute other fruit purees for the applesauce (Trader Joe’s sells mango sauce, I’ve used canned pumpkin and orange juice before). You can also add other spices (nutmeg, cloves, etc.)
- If you like dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, etc.) in your granola, add it AFTER baking.

Orange Clove Granola

1/4 c. agave sweetener
1/4 c. frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
1 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 c. pine nuts
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1/4 c. sliced almonds
3 1/2 c. old fashioned oats

Combine the agave sweetener and next four ingredients (through cinnamon) in a small bowl or measuring cup.

Stir the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl or container.

Spread evenly on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until the granola is golden brown and toasty. Let it cool on the cookie sheet and transfer to an airtight container.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Soup for meat again

One of the things I love about winter cooking is making soup and when the weather is too warm for it, I feel like my cooking repertoire is limited. I've had sort of the opposite experience of black bean soup with butternut squash soup - I have 2 or 3 recipes that I love. This one probably comes in first place. You only really need a couple of ingredients and it comes together easily. The hardest part is cutting the butternut squash. Of course, you could buy it peeled and pre-sliced, but after reading this, I realized how easy it can be. (Check out Elise's recipe for butternut squash with browned butter - amazing).

Anyone else a fan of fennel? I've put it in stuffing for thanksgiving, batches of roasted vegetables, made fennel ice cream and I really like what it adds to this soup. If you have a recipe to share with fennel, please feel free to email it to me.

Butternut squash and fennel soup (makes 8 cups)

1 large fennel bulb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 lbs of butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
2 T unsalted butter
5 c. water
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt the butter and add the fennel, squash, onion, and fennel seeds. Cook for 15 minutes on medium heat with the lid on, stirring it occasionally. Add the water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender (or use an immersible hand blender) to blend it until it's smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Black bean and chicken soup

Recently, Paula and I were talking about black bean soup. I'm a fan in general but have tried many recipes that I thought were just mediocre. I've never made it in a slow cooker or with chicken so that might be why this turned out better than most of my previous attempts.

All day our house smelled great while this was cooking. I rarely cook with dried beans but this is an easy way to do it. I learned in the cooking class that I took last month that there's not a great advantage to soaking dried beans but I did and I noticed that they sucked up a lot of the water by the next morning. I also think they cooked faster that way. Because I didn't want to end up with a bag of dried beans in my cupboard, I just bought a cup in the bulk foods section at Whole Foods (for about 30 cents or something). If you want to use canned black beans, see the end of the recipe.

I put the chicken in the crock pot frozen since it was going to cook a long time and it still was a little dried out at the end so I definitely recommend blending it up a little bit. When I was dishing it up, I didn't have very high hopes but my husband and brother in law and I ate almost the whole amount that I made, along with some corn bread. If you like spicier food, add some canned or fresh jalapenos and some hot sauce (or pick hot salsa). I used medium salsa and it wasn't hot enough for our taste.

Black bean and chicken soup (4-6 servings)

1 pound chicken (I used boneless, skinless breasts)
1 cup dried black beans
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn
1 16oz jar of salsa
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup sour cream
avocado and cilantro (optional)

Put the black beans in a bowl, cover with water and let them soak overnight. Drain and rinse them. Put them in the bottom of your crock pot. Put the chicken on top and add the broth, salsa, corn, and cumin. Stir a little but try to keep the beans on the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook for 5-7 hours on high or 7-9 hours on low (my beans were tender in 6 hours - might depend on your crock pot).

At this point, you can either leave it the way it is (thinner broth and chunks of chicken), stir in the sour cream and top with sliced avocado and chopped cilantro or you can thicken the broth. I used my immersible hand blender and blended up the soup until it was thick but not smooth. You can do this with a traditional blender by taking a couple of cups out, blending it, and adding it back to the pot. After the blending, stir in the sour cream and top with sliced avocado and chopped cilantro.

If you want to use canned black beans, drain and rinse them and make the recipe like it is above but reduce your cooking time to 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.