A very subtle but pleasant cookie


I got the October issue of Gourmet during the weekend.  I normally take a quick look at the magazine when I get it, but I don’t often get so excited that I have to run into the kitchen immediately.  This time I did run.  They had a recipe for Ginger Honey Cookies.  I don’t know why, but that combination of flavors sounded really good to me.  Aside from finely chopping the ginger, which took a little time, the preparation of these cookies was pretty effortless. 


I ate a cookie practically out of the oven and it didn’t taste like much to me.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed at first.  Once they cooled, however, these cookies were good.  Not too sweet, and strangely not too gingery.  They are like a really moist soft sugar cookie with bits of ginger.  I stored them in the fridge because I knew I wasn’t going to let myself scarf them all down too quickly and I was worried they would become stale.  I took a couple of them out of the fridge today and the flavors are even better after being chilled and warmed back up and the texture is nice and soft and a bit chewy. 


Since I baked this recipe verbatim, I’ll send you over to Epicurious to retrieve the recipe.  Click here for the Honey Ginger Cookie recipe.  Enjoy!


Spaghetti with Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Mint

This meal has become a standby this summer.  I have an herb pot on my patio that is full of perennial herbs.  I grow two kinds of mint, oregano, parsley, chives and rosemary.  This pot has gone to sleep each winter and come back to provide me with wonderful herbs each spring for the last decade.  The mint grows better than anything else and it is the herb I have the least use for.  I saw this recipe while looking through “Italy al dente” by Biba Caggiano this summer and I knew it would be a good use for my abundance of mint. 


The recipe is actually supposed to be a squid recipe.  Although I am not exactly a Locavore, I do try to be aware of where my food comes from and I try to buy local when I can.  Well, it turns out the squid I always assumed my little gourmet market sold was local, was actually defrosted from a big frozen block that is shipped in from China.  This kind of pissed me off.  The Santa Barbara channel, from what I hear has abundant squid, which we fish, and export all over the world!  So china ships us squid and we are probably shipping squid to China.  Makes a ton of sense.  I am able to sometimes get shrimp at the Farmer’s market, which makes it very local.  If not, the shrimp comes from Mexico at the market so it ends up being a shorter trip from producer to me if I go with shrimp instead of Chinese squid.  Besides, the shrimp tastes like it was made for this dish.  It is simply scrumptious.


If you decide to make this pasta, be sure to use good quality canned plum tomatoes.  The original recipe asks you to run the tomatoes with their juice through a food mill.  I just break them up with a spoon.  Any mint should do, but spearmint would be ideal.

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Mint

Adapted from the spaghetti con Calimari, Pomodori e Menta recipe in Italy al Dente by Biba Caggiano


1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil


2 large cloves garlic, minced


1 small onion, chopped


2 to 3 anchovy fillets (packed in olive oil), chopped


Red pepper flakes to taste


1 28oz can plum tomatoes with juice


Salt to taste


1 lb. Shrimp, peeled and deveined


8 to 10 fresh mint leaves, chopped


¼ cup fresh parsley, minced


1 lb spaghetti or linguine


optional:  garnish with either grated or shaved parmagiano reggiano


Put water on to boil.  Add a couple of teaspoons of salt when the water comes to a boil.  Start cooking the pasta right about the time you are cooking the onions…


Heat the oil in a large skillet (you want a pan big enough to fit the sauce and the pasta).  Add Garlic and sauté for a minute.  Add onion, anchovies, and chili flakes.  Cook, stirring, until the onion is golden, 4-5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and season with salt.  Break up the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.  Cook the tomatoes uncovered, stirring occasionally for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the shrimp, mint and parsley.   Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 4 to 5 minutes until the shrimp are just cooked through.  The pasta should be done right about now. The pasta should be tender but firm to the bite.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.  Toss the pasta over low heat until the pasta and sauce are combined. 


Breakfast on the first day of autumn

Autumn morning

Hooray for fall!  Although this is the first official day of autumn, we really began to feel the autumn crispness in the air a few days ago and we got the first welcome bit of rain a couple of days ago as well.  The reason I am so happy about the cooling of the air and the meager bit of rain is due to experiencing an extremely dry year that culminated with the Zaca fire, which burned for six weeks, eventually becoming the second largest fire in California history.  The Santa Barbara area was covered in soot and smoke for most of this six week period and everyone was on edge wondering if the fire would be contained, burn right past us into Ventura or come roaring down the mountain range into town.  The air was dry and hot.  The stress was palpable in the air and thoughts of lazy summer days were vanquished. After the fire was contained, we got treated to another fire just north of town in Gaviota which burned for a day and kept half of my coworkers home being that they commute from the north side of our county to work.  So I say, after the summer of fire, bring on the rain!  Bring on the cool, sweater weather!  The soups, the roast meat and veggies, the smell of baking bread and desserts.  I am oh so ready!!


To celebrate the first day of autumn, we decided to make an old standby:  pumpkin pancakes.  I thought I found the original recipe for these in Sunset magazine years ago but I can’t find the recipe online.  In a way these are mine now anyway.  I have made adjustments to the original recipe over the years and I double the recipe to use up the whole can of pumpkin. By doubling the recipe this way, we get around fourteen four-inch pancakes.  We like the leftovers.  The pancakes heat up well in the microwave.  If you are a small family, who doesn’t like leftovers, half the recipe and freeze the other half can of pumpkin puree for a later batch of pancakes.  


Although these pancakes scream out autumn, they are delicious any time of the year so store up a few extra cans of pumpkin, or if you are industrious, make sure you can or freeze some extra homemade pumpkin puree for later.  To tell you the truth, we eat these pancakes all year long just because they are so extremely good.


Just a note before we get to the recipe:  these pancakes and any other pancake that has and will appear on this blog can be made with any kind of white flour.  Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and go get yourself a bag of whole-wheat pastry flour instead.  Whole-wheat pastry flour has all of the same nutritional benefits of stone ground whole-wheat flour including 4 gm of fiber per quarter cup (white flour has less than one gram of fiber per quarter cup).  According to the World’s healthiest food site, whole-wheat flour is good source of manganese, magnesium and tryptophan.  You get these nutrients naturally without the flour having to be fortified with nutrients.


 Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour


3-4 tbsp packed brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like your pancakes)


2 tsp baking powder


1 tsp baking soda


1 tsp cinnamon


1 tsp dried ground ginger


½ tsp nutmeg


½ tsp salt


2 large eggs


1 ½ cups milk


1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree


½ cup plain, nonfat yogurt


4 tbsp olive oil


butter for frying


In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt.  Break up any large clumps of brown sugar with your fingers (although any small remaining clumps will make delicious melted sugar clumps in your pancakes).  In another bowl beat the eggs with a whisk and then whisk in the milk, pumpkin, yogurt and oil until well blended.  Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Let batter sit for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat an electric pancake grill to 325 degrees F.  When the grill is hot, melt the butter onto the grill.  Ladle batter onto the grill and cook the pancakes for two to three minutes until the edges are dry and bubbly.  Turn the pancakes and cook for another one to two minutes.  We have to make these in two batches.  Either serve the first batch of pancakes immediately or store the first batch in a warm (200 degree F.) oven until ready to serve.  Serve with plain yogurt and either maple syrup or applesauce.



The kind of salad Mexican restaurants should serve


Have I told you that I watch a little too much Food Network?  I have to confess that I do.  The worst part is that I have begun to watch Food Network when I am at the gym.  I enjoy it, but I feel self conscious like I am a cliché:  the tubby girl watching Food Network while she works out.  Now the reason why I am making this admission to you is because of Rachel Ray.   For a while there, I was addicted to 30-minute meals.  The thing I noticed after watching scores of episodes was that although Rachel Ray uses such short cuts as bagged pre-cut veggies and bagged pre-shredded cheese, she always takes the time to make salad dressing from scratch.  I tried making a couple of her dressings and they weren’t half bad.  I had made some salad dressings from scratch before watching 30-minute meals, but watching that show made me realize that there was really no reason to buy salad dressing.  A good dressing could be constructed in a few minutes.


I often make Mexican style meals because they are as easy to improvise as pasta.  Do you have a bag of corn tortillas, a jar of salsa, some leftover chicken and some cheese?  Well, my friend, you have enchiladas!  One day when I was tossing things together, I decided a nice crispy green salad would be great to go with our meal.  I didn’t want a regular creamy style dressing and vinaigrette didn’t seem right either.  I hate it when you go out for Mexican food and they can’t give you a salad that seems authentic.  The choices are usually Ranch or Bleu cheese.  I wanted something that felt more like the simple tomato and cucumber salad my friends make but would also be reminiscent of something like ceviche.  I had a lot of citrus fruit and the idea of something tart sounded so good.  I thought about what would compliment the flavor of orange juice and lime juice and chili powder sounded good.  I improvised a dressing and loved the result.  I made it maybe one more time and forgot about it.


Tonight, I decided to use some leftover chicken to make quesadillas.  As I was making guacamole, I realized I had plenty of limes left over and a bowl of oranges.  I made the citrus chili dressing from earlier in the summer, adding ground cumin to the recipe.  I scavenged in the fridge and found all sorts of yummies to make salad with.  In a stroke of insight, I decided to add fresh cilantro and chunks of cantaloupe to the salad.  Those two additions to the salad complimented the dressing well. 


Salad is a lot of work but I felt really good about balancing out a cheesy meal with something really healthy.  I hope you like the result of my improvised salad.  As a suggestion, add tomatoes and avocado if you have them.  I had to use mine up for the guacamole but they would add even more flavor to the salad.

Cilantro and cantaloupe green salad with citrus chili dressing



½ cup olive oil


juice of 1 orange


juice of 1 lime


1 tsp chili powder


½ tsp ground cumin


salt to taste




½ head of red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces


½ large cucumber, peeled and chopped


6 radishes, sliced


1 small red pepper, sliced


¼ – ½ cantaloupe, chopped


½ red onion, thinly sliced


2 handfuls chopped cilantro


Mix together citrus juices, chili powder, cumin and salt.  Slowly pour oil into citrus mixture as you whisk with a fork or small whisk.  Set dressing aside.  Chop and slice all of your salad ingredients and add them to a large bowl.  Add as much dressing as you like to the salad and toss.  This makes close to a cup of dressing and the dressing is pretty thin.  I use it all but you may want to add less, toss and taste.  If you feel like you need it all, add it all.

Chicken-Basil Sausage Pizza with Sourdough Crust


I love pizza.  Oh my god do I love it!  Even when it is bad it is good.  It is bread.  It is melted cheese.  It is an amazing concoction of textures and flavors.  If I could be allowed to eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would have to be pizza!  I now make pizza.  My pizza is better than any pizza I have ever had.  Hands down.  The only problem with my pizza is that it takes all day to make and it can be an exhausting pain.  But ooooooh.  It is soooo worth the time and effort.


On Sunday, I decided that Herbert hadn’t been shown any love in too many weeks.  He had been sitting in the fridge, neglected, belching up hooch for way too long.  Our grocery trip was imminent and I had leftover homemade spaghetti sauce and leftover homemade pesto both needing to be used up in the fridge.  Pizza was the logical conclusion to how to deal with these situations.  I grabbed Herbert and fed him warm water and flour.  Within an hour, Herbert was awake and bubbling away in his crock.  We took off for the grocery store and the farmer’s market.  I would comb the market for yummy things.  I tend to like a pizza with lots and lots of toppings.  This tendency is often my undoing.  I end up locked in the kitchen, slave to pizza and the perfection it can be.


When we got back, I made the sponge for the pizza dough.  I went for a walk and dilly-dallied until an hour and a half went by.  The sponge looked good, so I added the rest of the bread ingredients and used my mixer to mix and knead the dough.  Now, bread baking and sourdough in particular can be finicky.  Bread dough will either come together well or it won’t.  I’m not really sure why.  It could be temperature, humidity, the phases of the moon, a leap year, Friday the thirteenth or just karma, but every once in a while, you have dough that just won’t cooperate.  My dough decided to be wet, wet, wet.  When this happens, add flour to your dough one tablespoon at a time until it finally wants to play nice and form a ball in the mixing bowl.  I added flour, added flour and repeated and repeated.  I got it to ball up but it was still very wet.  What a pain.  I wasn’t too worried.  Wet dough can be nice because the dough will get airy and form holes when it rises and bakes, it can just be challenging to work with. 


I left the dough to rise for an hour.  It should have doubled.  It didn’t.  Ok.  I figured I could go to the gym and come back.  I came back an hour and half later and it looked very similar to when I left.  Sigh.  I wasn’t worried.  Pizza is flat bread.  My Pita’s don’t rise the way bread should either and they turn out fine.  If I was really making bread, I would have been more concerned.  I dumped the dough onto the counter and added more flour while gently folding the dough hoping to dry it out a little but not deflate it.  I cut the dough in half.  The recipe I use is the Alton Brown Country bread recipe from the Herbert post with a tweak or two.  It makes amazing Pizza dough.  Absolutely delicious!  It is crunchy yet chewy with a flavor that is nutty and wheaty.  Yum.  The good thing is that it makes enough dough for two pizzas.  One for the  red sauce and one for the pesto.  Anyway, I digress.  After cutting the dough in half, I went to roll it out.  Sticky, sticky, ew!  I had to dust the board, the dough and the rolling pin liberally with flour.  Roll. Scrape.  Move to a liberally corn meal doused pizza peel.  Repeat.  The dough could now rest and continue to rise because after so many hours, the work would just begin.


The pizza stone was warming in the oven and I set about to make the toppings.  Pizza #1:  Red sauce, mozzarella, four cheese blend, spinach, red onions, kalamata olives, red peppers, sautéed shitake mushrooms, chopped fresh garlic and chicken basil sausage.  Pizza #2:  Same as #1 to help with sanity except substitute zucchini for spinach, and pesto for red sauce.  Normally, pizza #1 and #2 will have some similarities but other huge glaring differences.  Maybe a salmon pizza and a kielbasa pizza this time, with a combo of different veggies.  Shrimp pizza with a Canadian bacon pizza next time with different sauces and combos of veggies.  Whatever will cause me the most headaches but the most bang for my buck.  So I start chopping onions, olives, peppers, garlic, and zucchini.  The kitchen is becoming hell because the oven has been on for a good half hour and the temperature is getting awful.  Chop shitakes, sauté in olive oil, garlic and red wine.  Transfer to a bowl.  Spinach has been simultaneously rinsing.  As the mushrooms are removed from the pan, chopped spinach goes in.  When it is cooked down, I remove it and in goes the sausage.  The heat in the kitchen is becoming stifling but I have ingredients coming together now. 


By now my boyfriend is getting the kind of post gym hunger that encourages him to help the process go faster.  He starts to open packages of cheese while I start to lovingly spread pesto on one pizza and red sauce on the other.  I squeeze the liquid out of the spinach and add it to the red sauce pizza.  We add cheese to both.  Next we just start tossing ingredients on both pies.  Once they are groaning under the weight of too many toppings, we decide the red sauce pizza looks perkiest so we toss it in the oven.  This is a two-person operation.  The dough is sticky and immobile.  I shake the peel, he uses a large wooden spatula to coax the pizza off of the peel and onto the stone.  Success.  The pizza bakes for thirteen minutes and we are ready to start eating.  We repeat the two-person operation and get pizza two in.  Did I mention that I made salad sometime after the bread dough and before the toppings?  I did!  Aren’t you impressed with me?  I quickly dress the salad with oil, vinegar and herbs.  We open a nice bottle of wine and flop down at the table exhausted but happy and eat the best pizza we have ever had.



Sourdough Pizza


Crust adapted from Alton Brown’s Country bread recipe on Epicurious.com, Makes 2 pizzas




1 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)

3/4 cup sourdough starter


1/4 cup buttermilk


2 cups unbleached white flour

1 1/3 cups (or more) stone ground whole wheat flour


2 teaspoons salt

Nonstick vegetable oil spray





Spaghetti sauce or pesto sauce (or both) about a quarter cup for each pizza


8 oz mozzerella cheese


4 oz Quatro Fromaggio (4 cheese blend from Trader Joes)


3 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced and sautéed in olive oil, garlic and wine


2 small red peppers sliced


1 small red onion, thinly sliced


about 20 pitted kalamata olives, chopped


One large head of Spinach, sautéed, cooled and liquid squeezed out


4-5 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped


4 chicken basil sausages, removed from casings and sautéed in olive oil 15 minutes.


Mix first 3 crust ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups unbleached white flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Using dough hook, mix in 1 1/3 cups stone ground whole-wheat flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat a rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten (be careful not to press too hard and deflate the dough). Divide in half. Roll each half of the dough into a ¼” thick round and transfer each round to a pizza peel or baking sheet coated in cornmeal.   Cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise for at least a half hour.

An hour before making pizza, place a baking stone in your oven and preheat to 500°F.

Spread sauce on pizzas.  Add spinach to top of sauce (one or both pizzas).  Sprinkle mozzarella and four-cheese blend onto pizzas.  Add remaining toppings.  Bake pizzas one at a time for 13 minutes each.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving. 


Mimi’s Fantasy Quiche


Look at that picture.  Isn’t that quiche just gorgeous?  Don’tcha just wanna cut a huge slice of that and chow down?   Unfortunately, it is all smoke and mirrors.  I could tell you that everything in my kitchen comes out perfect and that we eat picture perfect food every day.  I have to say, if I religiously follow a recipe, we probably will eat reasonably decent food.  There are the times that I am tired or spacing out while cooking and things get burned or some important ingredient gets left out (case in point, the blackberry muffins I made earlier in the summer that accidentally ended up sugar free.  They looked great and were still quite edible, but something was definitely wrong, very wrong).


Anyway, today started out like any day off.  I slept in late and sat around reading things on the Internet in my pajamas when I remembered that I really wanted to make quiche before the feta cheese and the milk in my fridge got too scary to use.  Quiche for lunch, yum!  Grandiose ideas started to swirl in my head and that is when the problems began.  Visions of pesto and tomatoes and roasted red peppers were swimming in my head.  Was it brilliance or was it just the fact that I have been hitting the gym way to regularly and I hadn’t eaten a thing all morning and I was starting to get loopy?  I headed to the kitchen with a formula not a recipe.


I have been making quiche since the mid 80’s.  “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen has been my guide for over twenty years.  Mollie created a quiche formula so that you could use any of half a dozen crust recipes she created.  You pick a cheese. You pick a combination of veggies and herbs for the filling or make up your own.  You decide if you want to use an 8” or 9” pie pan and use the prescribed amount of eggs and milk for the custard.  It’s easy stuff that has rarely failed me before.


One of my masterpieces in the past has been a tomato/zucchini quiche with cheddar cheese.  Another masterpiece was a Greek quiche made with feta, spinach, and roasted red peppers.  Both of these pies come off without a hitch.  I had wonderful produce from Saturday’s Farmer’s market.  Heirloom tomatoes, a big gorgeous red pepper and a huge mass of basil with the roots still attached, sitting in water for ultimate freshness.  I would create my ultimate quiche!  A pesto, feta, tomato, roasted red pepper quiche! 


I started this ordeal by roasting my red pepper.  No problem.  Fifteen minutes rotating the pepper under the broiler in a cast iron pan and I had a perfectly blistered pepper, which I popped into a bowl.  I popped another bowl over it clamshell style so the pepper could steam.  So far, so good…


Next I made the crust.  The “Moosewood book of desserts” has a great recipe for all butter pie dough.  I adapt the recipe to stone ground whole wheat.  Today, as I inserted the flour and the pats of cold butter into my food processor, I started to add tablespoons of ice water, one, two, and three.   The dough did not want to stick together.  The problem is you don’t want to process too much because the dough needs to keep bits of butter in it and you don’t want to form gluten.  I add water, four.  Pulse. Pulse.  Five. Pulse. Pulse.  I take the barely sticking together dough out of the processor and…ugh.  Too wet.  I roll it out anyway but it is sticking to everything.  That’s ok.  I have made this mistake before and it actually makes a light, flaky dough if you are careful.  The only problem is that it is a bitch to work with.  I scrape the dough off of my floured wooden board and then plop it into the pie pan.  It is ragged and torn.  I patch up holes.  I patch things up so that there are edges where none existed before.  I somehow end up with a nice looking crust.  I store it in the fridge.


Next.  I make pesto.  Yes.  I make pesto.  “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” also contains an amazing recipe for Pesto.  The basil with the roots on it looks like it is two different plants tied together with a twist tie.  I think it is a purple Thai variety and sweet basil.  I untie the twist tie and the most astonishing thing happens.  The thing looks like it is all one plant.  It is definitely coming off of the same rootstock.  How did they do that??  I grind the bi-colored basil together with a most amazing Parmigiano-Reggiano, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and salt and come up with the best pesto I have made to date.  I still have several stems of basil left even after using it in sandwiches a couple of days ago.  The $2.50 a bunch I was scoffing at on Saturday turned out to be a bargain.  Things have turned around.  This quiche will be amazing! 


I grab my crust and spoon a thin layer of pesto into the crust.  I grab my feta.  I think this is where things started to go terribly wrong…


I buy feta from Costco.  They have Valbreso feta, which is a high quality French feta.  Like all Costco food, they sell it in mass quantities.  I used to wrap the overflow in wax paper and store it in the fridge.  The feta would dry out (which was good for some recipes) but it would also go bad in less than a week.  Recently, I learned how to make brine for Feta.  Now my feta lasts s couple of weeks in brine.  The problem is that my feta is quite moist.  I dumped a bunch of moist feta on top of my oily wet pesto. 


When I have used tomatoes in quiche before, I would sauté them several minutes in pan with herbs.  This tends to make them release their liquid.  Today, I just sliced the tomatoes and gave them a quick squeeze over the sink, which I thought squeezed out a lot of seeds and liquid. I added more dollops of pesto and a little Parmesan on the tomatoes.  I then peeled my pepper, tearing it into moist strips that I topped my moist tomatoes with.  I think everything looks wonderful so I mix up my eggs and milk.  Dust the top of my creation with Hungarian paprika and pop it into a 375-degree F. oven. 


The quiche is to cook for 35 to 40 minutes.  I go to get it at 35 minutes.  Things are still wet.  Okay.  No big deal. This has happened before; it just needs a few more minutes.  I go back to check at 40 minutes.  The quiche still has the jiggles.  I give it 5 more minutes.  Looks great.  I take it out and let it cool a few minutes before we cut into it.  My boyfriend cuts into it and this perfect looking quiche that feels solid on the surface conceals a subterranean lake.  Oh no!  Lunch will be delayed.  I pop it back into the oven for 10 more minutes before I decide it’s had enough!  I’ve had enough!  My boyfriend has had enough!  We pull the quiche out of the oven and cut pieces from it.  They fall apart in a pool of soft runny custard.  The quiche tastes good; it just has a terrible, terrible consistency.  So dear reader:  no recipe for you.  Not yet anyway.  The quiche was perfect from the crust to the pesto.  It was jut the cheese layer on up that sucked.  I am sure it was a moisture thing so I will trade out the cheese, precook the tomato and maybe drain the roasted pepper after I shred it.  I will not be defeated!  The fantasy quiche will become a reality!!


Drop that bag of microwave popcorn now!!


Did the title of my post get your attention?  I sure hope so.  I have never been fond of the smell of microwave popcorn, so I don’t eat it.  The smell of the butter flavor is kind of disgusting to me.  I hate it when someone at work pops popcorn for a snack because the smell travels through our entire air conditioning system and gets into every room in our building.  The smell does not seem wholesome to me.  


A few days ago, I started noticing news articles about four major popcorn makers dropping a toxic chemical from their brands of popcorn.  It turns out that the butter flavor used in microwave popcorn is made with compound called diaceytl.  Diacetyl is a natural chemical compound responsible for that yummy buttery finish in a nice Chardonnay wine.  When diaceytl is heated such as when we pop microwave popcorn, toxic fumes are formed.  If these fumes are inhaled in large quantities, a person could get a rare form of bronchitis.  This has been happening for some time to workers who make microwave popcorn.  The disease has thus been named “popcorn lung”.   Although popcorn factory workers have been adversely affected by popcorn lung for some time, it was generally thought that consumers would not be exposed to diacetyl fumes in high enough concentrations to harm us.   Well, like all good food scares; someone found a gentleman who got popcorn lung because he was an excessive lover of microwave popcorn.  Here is what caught my attention in the article about the man who got popcorn lung in his home:  “Doctors tested Watson’s home for levels of diaceytl fumes and found that while popcorn was microwaved in the kitchen, peak levels of the fumes were similar to those measured in factories.”  This statement is bad.  Pollution in homes has been shown to be elevated to the pollution outside of our homes.  This is probably because our homes are enclosed so there is not a lot of air flowing in and out to remove toxins.  If we microwave popcorn in the house, those fumes are going to stay right were we will breath them in.


So, now you are probably thinking “Thanks a lot Mimi, what the $^@# do you want me to do now that I’m scared to eat microwave popcorn?”  Well, I’ve got you covered.  At least for popcorn noshing at home.  When I was really little, we had the kind of popcorn maker that used oil to pop corn.  It made great popcorn.  You could also pop corn in a large pot, but that always yielded a mess of burnt corn for me.  When I was sort of little, air popcorn machines were invented.  Air popped corn was super healthy and low fat, but the corn always seemed stale.  A couple of years ago I got a microwave popper thinking I could emulate the crunchiness of the stuff in the bag, but the popcorn still came out stale and you had to use a paper disk with the popper, what a waste!  Awhile back, I bought “How to cook Everything” by Mark Bittman.  It turns out, I always burned popcorn in a pan because I used too high of heat!  His method is fool proof.  I created a spicy-garlic butter to flavor the popcorn.  With a little improvisation, you could make other flavorings like Parmesan butter.  The point is, once again, homemade is superior, healthier, cheaper and tastier.


Spicy Garlic Popcorn


Popping method from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  The natural Popcorn flavor by me.


2 tbsp Safflower oil or other neutral oil


½ cup popping corn


3 tbsp unsalted butter


½ tsp salt


1 ½ tsp garlic powder


1 tsp *nanami togarishi (Japanese chili powder) or any chili powder blend that has heat


Place the oil in the bottom of a large, deep saucepan (6 quarts or so) that can be covered and turn heat to medium.  Add three kernels of corn and cover.  When the three kernels pop, remove the cover and add the remaining corn.  Cover and shake the pot, holding the lid as you do so.  Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until you hear the popping stop, about 5 minutes.  Be careful to listen to what is going on in your pot, even at this low heat, it will still burn if you don’t catch it soon enough. 


Meanwhile, melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave or in a small pan on the stove.  Mix in the salt, garlic powder and nanami togarishi.  Pour the butter mixture into the pan with the just popped popcorn and shake the pan, covered, to coat the popcorn with the butter mixture.  Pour popcorn into a large bowl to serve.


*Nanami togarishi can be found in the Asian food section of well-stocked supermarkets or specialty Asian markets.  This Japanese chili powder contains: chili pepper, orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed.  It is traditionally used as a condiment for Soba noodle soup but I use it on broiled fish, on baked potatoes and now on popcorn.


Purity on a stick


Look at that picture.  We have been going through a heat wave.  Imagine living in a house with no air conditioning and 95 degree F. weather.  You open the freezer and pull out the orange Popsicle.  So fresh and sweet like a bit of summer only it’s as cold as winter.  Yum. I wish you were here so that you can taste it.  This was nothing but the best Valencia oranges.  No sugar.  No added water.  Pure.

Orange Popsicles

2 of the sweetest most perfect fresh oranges per Popsicle, squeezed.  I used ¼ cup capacity Popsicle molds and had molds for 8 popsicles so this will set you back 16 small oranges.  Freeze juice in molds until solid.  Turn molds upside down and run warm water over them to release Popsicles.

A Yummy way to get your vegetables


Today, I would like to talk about the concept of the bonus meal.  Each week, I plan out two meals that will definitely make leftovers and sometimes make ingredients that can be used for another meal (the concept of “chicken evolution” which was introduced in yesterday’s post).  Even though my two cooking days usually make plenty of food for the week if we go out to lunch once or twice, I sometimes find that by the end of the week we need something else.  I keep a pretty stocked pantry so even though we are done eating meat by the end of the week, I can usually count on pantry staples plus leftover veggies for another meal or two. 


If you have been reading my fledgling blog, you will know I have been on vacation for the past couple of weeks and therefore cooking and blogging like a madwoman.  We ate full breakfasts at home so much that we actually got tired of breakfast food as of yesterday.  I scoured the fridge, the pantry and my cookbooks and found a recipe I wanted to try.  I didn’t have all of the ingredients but I was sure I could try this.  Sometimes that has to happen when you make a bonus meal, you have to be flexible with ingredients. 


The recipe came out of “The Herbal Palate Cookbook” by Maggie Oster and Sal Gilbertie.  The original recipe is called Couscous-Thyme Crust with Vegetable-Parsley filling.  I didn’t have the full two tablespoons of fresh thyme called for in the recipe so a quick run to the herb pot in my back yard and a look in the crisper yielded a two tablespoon mixture of fresh thyme, oregano, cilantro, mint and rosemary.  I didn’t have mushrooms and we were too lazy to run to the store so we used cauliflower instead. I used whole eggs instead of egg whites.  I didn’t have pepper jack so I used an aged sharp cheddar then added fresh jalapeno and garlic to the filling to help out with the flavor since I was missing so many flavor packed ingredients.  Altogether, the pie was good.  I won’t say it was perfect but it tasted really healthy and my boyfriend loved it.

Vegetable Pie with Couscous herb crust

Adapted from The Herbal Palate Cookbook


1 cup vegetable stock


1 cup whole-wheat couscous


2 large eggs


2 tbsp minced fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano cilantro, rosemary and mint


2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes


2 cups total thinly sliced zucchini and yellow squash


1 ½ cups chopped cauliflower


½ cup diced onion


1 or 2 cloves minced garlic


1 large jalapeno, diced


1 15 oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained


¼ cup minced fresh parsley


½ cup packed shredded sharp cheddar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 9” deep-dish pie pan with non-stick cooking spray.  In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.  Stir in the couscous, cover and remove from the heat.  Let the couscous stand for five minutes.  Lightly fluff the couscous with a fork.  Beat the eggs and then stir them into the couscous with the fresh herbs.  Pour the couscous mixture into your pie pan.  Press the mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with the back of a spoon.


In a large saucepan, combine tomatoes, squash, cauliflower, onion, garlic and jalapeno.  Cook the veggies over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes or until veggies are tender.  Remove from the heat and then stir in the beans, parsley and ¼ cup of the cheese.


Spoon the veggie mixture into the couscous crust.  Bake 25 minutes or until the crust and veggies start to turn golden.  Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of cheese over the top of the pie and bake another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  After removing the pie from the oven, let it sit for several minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

Purposeful leftovers


One of my first jobs was as a PABX (switchboard) operator for a Marriott hotel. One of the benefits of this job for a starving student was that they provided a free meal to all of their employees. The cafeteria either offered food that didn’t cosmetically look good enough to serve to our guests or we got hot food from a cafeteria-style lineup or if none of that looked very appealing, there were hamburgers, hotdogs, salad and fresh soup. We worked the swing shift so our meal was essentially a dinner meal although we really got the same choices that our coworkers got at lunch. After working there awhile, we got to realize that the cafeteria-style food might have been planned to frugally use the week’s ingredients as well as possible. It seemed to us that one day we would get roast chicken. The next day, some suspiciously familiar chicken pieces would be served in a creamy style sauce. The next day, we would get some sort of pasta or rice dish with a creamy style sauce and chicken chunks. One of my coworkers was very uncomfortable with this and dubbed this “chicken evolution”. My coworker would grill the daytime coworkers about what was for lunch and decide from there if it was going to be a soup and salad day.

I have to admit, now that I am a full time worker who has to cook for my household; I am guilty of “chicken evolution”. When we made the pork sirloin chops a few days ago, I made sure to buy more than we would need for one meal. A nice chunk of boneless meat or boneless chicken breast can easily be reused later in the week to add protein to another meal. I often make too much of a chicken dish so that I can add chicken chunks to pasta or salad. I look at this habit as being frugal with my time. It is just as easy for me to cook one pound of meat, as it is to cook two or three pounds and we can eat that food a second time without being bored. I really think this habit is a working girls healthy eating best friend. If I can whip up a healthy, made from scratch meal on a weeknight, I am less apt to eat junk.

I am a little behind on this post; I should have posted this a couple of days ago because we really made this meal the next day after our barbeque. What we did is we made the Spicy broccoli soba sauté recipe from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics and added reheated, leftover sliced pork on top. I have one tip about this recipe. I have made it several times. The recipe calls for one half pound of soba noodles. Soba noodles are expensive everywhere I shop for them and I have difficulty finding them. It seems like the stores I like to go to run out. Soba is quick cooking and thin in texture so it is really quite nice to use in this recipe. I have decided I really don’t mind a thicker textured noodle. Whole-wheat spaghetti makes a fine substitution. It has a similar nutty whole grain flavor. If you can find a whole grain angel hair, it would work well too. Whole grain pasta is definitely better on your pocket book than the soba. Also, since I don’t like to have a half-pound bag of pasta lying around, I double the recipe to use the whole pound since we like the leftovers for lunch.

Spicy broccoli “soba” sauté with barbequed pork

Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook by the Moosewood Collective

½ of a leftover barbeque pork sirloin chop per person, sliced

½ cup soy sauce

4 tsp sugar

4 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp cornstarch

2 tbsp brown rice vinegar (available in health stores) or rice wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti

2 tbsp safflower oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp cayenne

8 cups bite sized broccoli florets

½ cup water

1 cup sake

2 large carrots, peeled and grated

In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, cornstarch, and brown rice vinegar until smooth. Set the sauce aside. When the water boils, add the spaghetti and boil according to package directions. While the noodles cook, warm the oil in a large saucepan or wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and cayenne and cook one minute or less until golden, stirring constantly. Don’t let the garlic burn. Stir in broccoli, water and sake. Cover and cook 3 to 4 minutes until the broccoli is tender but still bright green. Stir in the carrots and reserved sauce. Cook for a minute or two, until the sauce thickens. Drain the pasta and then add the pasta to the broccoli mixture, tossing until the pasta is coated with the sauce. Serve the pasta in bowls and top the pasta with the warm sliced pork.

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