Sunday, December 27, 2009

Garlic Pork

To be in Trinidad during the holidays is to experience the ultimate fusion of cultures. What started as a predominantly Spanish tradition has now morphed into an amalgam of influences left by the many nationalities that once governed or settled on the islands. And nowhere is it this more evident than in the food. (To my great delight.) There are over fifteen dishes that are specific to the season. The British left their sponge and fruit cakes, the Spanish left their pastelles (similar to arepas), the Africans introduced their paime (a sweetened disk of cornmeal, raisins, and coconut steamed in banana leaves), the Portuguese their garlic pork, just to name some of the more popular ones.

Trinidadians take the holiday season very seriously. We even have our own version of holiday music. Like celebrating christmas itself, this music originated with the Spanish. Called parang, it began as Spanish versions of carols. Today, parang music has diverged into soca parang and chutney parang, the former referring to holiday music with a soca /calypso rhythm and while the latter is the same only with an Indian rhythm. My paternal grandfather was a traditional parandero (parang singer.) And he was good too, having been part of a parang group during his time - the sixties and seventies. When I was growing up in rural Trinidad, these groups would go from house to house in the neighborhood in the same way carolers do here in the United States. The only difference was that they were invited in for food.

Like everywhere else in the world, it is a time for family and freinds. But unlike other places, it is taken to an extreme. Family can show up for days after December 25th, all the way into the first and second weeks of the new year, sometimes unannounced. So it is very important to have food ready. And lots of it. Of the foods mentioned above, fruit cakes and garlic pork can be made in advance, so many home cooks start preparations weeks, even months, before. But spoilage is not a serious issue: our fruit cakes are soaked in so much alcohol that not even the hardiest bacteria could survive. And garlic pork, once properly sealed in airtight containers, can be refrigerated for up to two weeks. (I usually don't go past four days, however.)

While Christmas is over with in the US, the Trinidadian girl in me still feels like celebrating...with food. Here is my version of garlic pork.

Garlic Pork
Serves 4 to 6

2 lbs boneless pork, cut into cubes
2 heads garlic, grated
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 cups white wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Combine all of the ingredients and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least two days. Maximum four days.
2. When ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade. Add to a large stock pot with just enough water to cover, and boil until the meat is cooked through about 10 minutes. Drain.
3. Add a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil to a hot skillet and cook the pork in batches until golden brown on all sides. * Sprinkle with cilantro and serve warm with chutney or in whole wheat rolls.

*Alternatively, the boiled pork can be cooked in the oven at 400 degrees F, for fifteen to twenty minutes until browned. (I prefer the skillet version, though.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Date and Cheese Tarts

"You're not going to put that on the blog, are you?" asked my husband as he sat down for dinner about a week ago. He was referring to the squares of flaky puff pastry, pasted with cream cheese and topped with sweet, fresh dates, almonds and sea salt that I had just prepared and was serving with a healthy heaping of baby lettuce. The same pastry tarts I so hurriedly prepared even after a day skiing at Afton Alps. My first ski lesson, I fell twice, my shins hurt from the pressure against the ski boots; in fact, my entire body hurt. (Skiing is a full body work out. ) And after being stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, caused by the first snow storm of the season, for two hours, when all I wanted was to get home and crawl into bed, I still decided to make dinner.

"What do you mean? Is it not good? Well, I like it and, yes, I am planning on posting it. " This really was not the conversation I wanted to have now.

"I like it too! But I'm not sure that everyone would consider puff pastry healthy. As far as I know, it's made with a lot of butter."

He was right. More than fifty percent of the calories in puff pastry is in the form of fat. Your arteries cringe at the thought, don't they? This is why I have avoided baking with it for a long time, opting instead to make my tart and pie crusts from scratch - so that I can control how much butter goes into them.

But on this day, I had purposefully planned to make pastry tarts for dinner, knowing that we would have spent hours skiing. Although I had not skiied before, everything I heard and read about it prepared me for the workout it was supposed to be. Even for a beginner. Back home that evening, it seemed that my body was just too heavy for me. It wasn't that any particular muscle hurt but the general feeling for being completely exhausted. I couldn't think of a better time to have a rich and buttery dinner: after a vigorous workout. (I deserved it dammit!)

I found these pre- cut, single serving squares of dough on my last grocery trip. Not only are they conveniently packaged and separated with wax paper, it also is a good way to use just the right amount. No more thawing the entire roll just to get enough for one tart then refrezzing the rest, or being inadvertently forced to use up the roll. And if you're counting calories, each square is two hundred and twenty. Maybe I'll make this meal a post-ski tradition.

Date and Cheese Tarts with Almonds
Makes 4 servings

4 squares puff pastry dough (5x5 inches)
1 cup mejdool dates
1/4 cup fat free cream cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
slivered almonds (optional)

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cut the dates in half, discard their seeds, and flatten slightly with your fingers.
3. Place the puff pastry squares on a baking sheet, spacing them evenly. Spread an equal amount of the cream cheese unto each square, top with parmesan and dates, followed by salt and pepper, and the almonds, if using.
3. Bakes for 15 to 20 minutes until the tarts have puffed up and are golden brown.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Homemade Hummus - a low fat recipe

Talk about easy. Making hummus can be summarized in three quick steps: 1) add ingredients to food processor, 2) puree, and 3) eat. But leave it to me to complicate things a little. I thought I'd at least try and lighten up this Middle Eastern staple. Which is not to say that I have anything against the traditional ingredients used in original recipes. The distinctive flavors of chick peas with creamy tahini and fresh parsley, served with warm pieces of pita bread, solicits day dreams of antiquated seaside villages, and brilliant, blue Mediterranean waters, permeated by the actual aromas of sesame, olive oil, and lemons.

Since my goal was to reduce calories, the first ingredient I manipulated was tahini. Tahini is simply toasted sesame seeds which have been ground into a paste. Sesame seeds are also used to make sesame oil so it follows that tahini would contain a good amount of fat. I decided to substitute it for greek yogurt. Low fat greek yogurt, in particular, because it contains just enough fat to lend a creamy texture to the dip but, at the same time, is not as high in calories as tahini. (One hundred and twenty calories per cup of low fat yogurt compared to eighty eight per tablespoon of tahini.)

Next came the lemon juice. I discovered Moroccan preserved lemons last spring and have been using it in most of my seafood dishes and stews, so I always keep some in my refrigerator. The preserving solution also comes in handy but not in a calorie-specific way. It simply imparts a strong, tangy flavor and can be used in most savory dishes that call for fresh lemon juice. But where can one find Moroccan preserved lemons, besides Morocco? They are not as elusive as the name might suggest. I know that Whole Foods carries it as do many imported food stores. But if you can't find them at all, go ahead and use the juice of fresh lemons - the fact that your hummus is fresh and homemade will eclipse any minor ingredient substitution.

Homemade Hummus
Makes approximately 2 cups

1 can chick peas
2 garlic cloves
1/4 plain greek yogurt*
2 tbsp preserved lemon juice **
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Drain the chick peas from the can and add to a pot with just enough water to cover them. Boil for ten minutes. Drain and add to food processor with the garlic, yogurt, and lemon juice. Puree until smooth.
2. Fold in the parsley, and transfer to a serving bowl. Just before serving, drizzle with the olive oil and garnish with pickled peppers (optional.) Serve with pieces of pita bread or whole grain crackers.

* Here I used low fat greek yogurt for a lower calorie hummus but for the traditional version, simply use the same amount of tahini instead.

** If you can't find preserved lemon juice, use the juice of fresh lemons.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Caramelized Pears

Pears are perfect just as they are; when fully ripened, they are sweet, juicy, and full of fiber. But ever since I made the recipe for Caramelized Apples with Almond Topping this past fall, I've been waiting to do the same with pears. Instead of cooking all sides of the fruit as I did with the apples, I found that caramelizing only the cut side leaves the rest of the fruit somewhat crunchy but still maintains a soft center. Cream topping optional.

Caramelized Pears
Makes 2 servings

2 ripe barlett pears
2 tbps brown sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Cut each pear in half and remove the core and stem.
2. Add butter and sugar to a large skillet over medium heat. As soon as the sugar bubbles and lightens in color, add cinnamon and the pears, cut side down. Allow each pear half to caramelize for two minutes without turning. Transfer to serving plate, cut side up, and serve with greek yogurt or whipped cream.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Easy Sweet Potato Pancakes

With the holidays just around the corner, it seems that everyone has two things on their mind: holiday gatherings, and how to avoid all of the bingeing and excess calories that are synonymous with these gatherings. Some recent conversations I've had proved that one recurring concern about healthy eating is white carbohydrates: white flour, white sugar, white rice and white potatoes. With that in mind, I started to think about ways to pump up the nutrition content of one of the season's popular dishes: potato pancakes.

Traditionally made with some variety of white potatoes, these small, flat cakes are delicious. Especially when served warm with apple sauce or sour cream. While regular potatoes - russets, yukon golds, and reds - have been given a bad reputation beginning with the low carb trend a few years ago, they are high in vitamin C and are fat free. But why stop there? For this version, I combined equals amounts of russet and sweet potatoes, and in so doing enhanced both the fiber and vitamin C content. Sweet potatoes also contain significant amounts of vitamins A and B6, potassium, and iron.

I called these "Easy Sweet Potato Pancakes" because the potatoes were cooked prior to forming the cakes. This way, the cakes cook quicker and are less messy in the skillet. And I am all for less cleaning up after dinner.

Easy Sweet Potato Pancakes
Makes 10 to 12 cakes

1/2 pound russet potatoes
1/2 pound sweet potatoes
1 medium onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, grated
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 tbsp corn starch
salt and pepper

1. Peel and cut the potatoes into cubes. Roast at 400 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until fork tender. Remove from the oven and transfer to a mixing bowl. Mash until almost smooth.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and combine well.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet.
4. To form the pancakes, scoop approximately two tablespoons of the potato mixture into the palm of your hand and form into a ball. Flatten lightly to a round, 1/2 inch disc.
5. Cook pancakes evenly spaced for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until brown. Transfer to a dish lined with paper towels to wick away any excess oil before serving.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Learning About Coffee on Hawaii's Big Island

My kitchen counter is scattered with one-pound bags of one hundred percent Kona coffee, jars of real Hawaiian honey, and packets of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. In other words, my kitchen is a mess and I am too tired to do anything about it. But I have an excuse: jet lag. We spent the last twelve days exploring Hawaii's Big Island (the last of the four major islands I had yet to visit) starting with three days in Hilo, two days in Volcano Village and summing up the final seven days on the Kona side.( Yes, we enjoy the islands so much that we decided to do a second trip this year. ) This trip was supposed to be different from the others, and rightly so, since the big island itself is unlike the other islands. The youngest, the largest, home of the tallest mountain in the world (measured from its sea base), home of a flowing volcano, and home of the world's best coffee - hence the bags of beans on my counter.

The Kona coast is known for having the ideal combination of environmental factors for growing coffee. So clearly there would be numerous coffee plantations along this side of the island. Touring one of these plantations has become a part of the tourism industry. We decided to tour Greenwell Farms for a couple reasons: 1) it was recommended by Big Island Revealed (remember, this series is my holy grail for everything Hawaii), and 2) they are a family run business, started in the late 1800's and still functions today as a pesticide free production.

Fresh coffee beans removed from outer shell.

On the day we visited, we were immediately greeted by one of the tour guides and offered cups of freshly brewed coffee; not a bad way to start any tour. While the tour lasted a mere thirty minutes or so, we were able to follow the coffee bean from the tree to all the way to the drying process. I have a special fondness and respect for the agrarian lifestyle. In fact, my grandmother worked on a coffee plantation in Trinidad for many years. Even so, I never knew that ripe coffee beans, called coffee cherries, were actually very sweet with a gelatinous texture, somewhat similar to a grape. And that the bean itself is surrounded by three outer layers: the exocarp (the skin itself), the mesocarp (the soft, sweet layer beneath that) and the endocarp (the last, parchment-like layer covering the bean itself.) The ripe coffee cherries are gathered into a pulping mill where the first two layers are removed. Now, the product is called "wet parchment." Once the final layer is removed, the beans are then dried on large, flat beds with movable roof-like tops. Now called "dry parchment", the beans are then allowed to rest for up to thirty days to allow their natural moisture to evenly distribute which allows for uniform roasting. We weren't allowed into Greenwell's roasting facility but we did get to sample their various roasts, along with macadamia nuts and local honey.

Coffee beans are dried manually on large flat beds with movable roof tops.

After only thirty minutes in the sun, even with a hat and sunglasses, I will never again complain about handing over twenty plus dollars for a pound of good coffee. For even though Greenwell has adopted modern farming practices, every coffee cherry is hand picked! Yes, hand-picked by men and women in eighty degree heat. Added to that, the beans are not mechanically dried on those flat beds; it again takes human labor to spread them out into an even layer and to constantly re-mix and re-spread each batch to allow even drying. That's a lot of hard work! Greenwell's beans are only available for purchase at the plantation and on their website.

Branches of a coffee tree weighed down with green coffee cherries.

This tour was definitely one of the highlights of our trip but not the only one. Below are some photos from our hike across Kilauea Iki Crater, a two hour trek through rain forest, a volcanic crater, with views of the active side of this same volcano, and glimpses of endemic flora and fauna.

Made it out of the rain forest and about to trek across Kilauea Iki Crater.

There once was a road here.

In Thurston Lava Tube.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cooking for my father: a recipe for butternut squash curry

My father's visit, October 2009.

I'm a little late with posting because we had a visitor recently: my father. He was here for one very short, but lovely week. I don't see my family very often so, whenever it happens, I try to spend every minute that I can with them.

My father is the most emotionally collected person I know. He brings a sense of reason to every situation; nothing seems to faze him. And he always seems to be content with whatever he has and wherever he is at any given moment. Consequently, he is not the most adventurous type, preferring instead to keep his life simple and the way he has known it for years, in such ways as vacationing close to home, buying the same make of vehicle, and in his choice of clothing. It is the same with food. Trying to cook for him has always been a nervous endeavor on my part. My siblings and I think of him as a picky eater partly because he has always preferred the foods he grew up on. I think my mother and grandmother were the only people who got it right in his opinion. Or maybe he was just all too cautious about my sister's and my kitchen experiments. During my last trip to Trinidad, I remember preparing him a cup of tea the way he likes it: with sugar and milk (a legacy of the British) and yet, it wasn't good enough. And this was only tea, for crying out loud. Who gets tea wrong?

Needless to say, he took everyone by surprise with his recent interest in travel. Even more surprising was his changing attitude towards non-Caribbean food. His favorites are now Malaysian and Egyptian. Didn't see that coming. So, when he called to say that he would be visiting us this month, I was less nervous about cooking for him and more excited about having him try some of my new recipes and for him to understand and hopefully appreciate, my new approach to food. I had a couple recipes in mind - one I've made before (Maple Anise Braised Country Ribs) and a new one.

During the radio interview I had a couple weeks ago, Susan Berkson asked, "What would you cook with the vegetables available at the farmers' market this week?" I didn't hesitate for a second because I already had a plan for the season's most popular vegetable: squash. In particular, butternut squash - my favorite. Last year, I made Butternut Squash Creme Brulee practically every weekend for about two months. It has a smooth texture and is sweeter than most other squashes which worked well in that preparation. But this time, I was planning to make it into a curry, incorporating the flavors of onions, chili peppers and low fat coconut milk. More than that, however, I was planning to serve it to my father! Brave girl, that's me. I was thrilled that he enjoyed it and now that I know he is broadening his culinary horizons, I can't wait for his next visit to make some new recipes for him.

Butternut Squash Curry
Serves 4 to 5

1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into chunks)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp curry powder*
1 1/2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup low fat coconut milk
4 -5 jalepenos, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped

1. Place a large dutch oven or other deep pot over medium heat and add the olive oil, followed by onion, garlic, and half of the jalepenos. Cook for about five minutes until the vegetables soften. Stir often to prevent burning. Add the curry powder, stir to combine, and cook for an additional minute.
2. Add the chunks of butternut squash and turn to coat thoroughly with curry mixture. Add the vegetable broth and coconut milk, cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until the squash is soft but not mushy and the broth and coconut milk have made a thick sauce. Top with any leftover jalepenos and the green onions before serving.

*I use a curry powder blend common to the Caribbean, called Madras Curry. Other curry powders can also be used, such as the yellow curry blend sold in most spice or grocery stores.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My radio interview and cooking presentation

With Susan Berkson (center) and Bonnie Dehn (right.)

My interview with Susan Berskon and her co-host Bonnie Dehn on "Fresh and Local" on AM950 The Voice of Minnesota was scheduled to begin at 8 am on Saturday morning, but I woke up at 4:30 am even though it going to make me only fifteen minutes to get there. Such was my anxiety. Thankfully, all of that anxiety was unfounded as they were extremely welcoming and made me feel quite comfortable. "Just like a bunch of friends talking about something they like: food, " Susan said, before going on air. And so it was. After the initial couple minutes of nerves, I could have continued for maybe an hour talking about my approach to cooking, my attempts at maintaining a healthy lifestyle, my journey to Minnesota, my Trinidadian roots, and the farmers' market. Although the broadcast was live, you can still listen to it by clicking here; scroll down on the left, my segments are in parts three and four on October 3rd.

Preparing jalepenos and onions for cumin potatoes.

The following day, I was the featured cook at the live cooking show "Sunday Cooks" produced by Sandy Hill in the Farmers' Market. "Sunday Cooks" is an hour long presentation featuring local cooks who create a couple of relatively simple dishes utilizing mostly local and seasonal foods. I opted to make Cumin Potatoes, and Caramelized Apples with Almond Topping.

Once again, my day began in a bundle of nerves, not knowing what to expect, how well my dishes would be received and worried about the rapidly plummeting temperature. But once I met Sandy, all of my worries were allayed. Just like Susan and Bonnie the day before, she assured me that this would be similar to cooking for my friends at home. The format was informal, allowing the audience members to approach the cooking station, look at the prep work and ask questions. There were some questions. About the cumin potatoes: can any type of potato be used (yes), and why use whole cumin as opposed to ground cumin (whole cumin stays fresher for longer but ground cumin can also be used); about the caramelized apples: what apples would be recommended here (any variety) and what is almond powder (simply, ground almonds with a small amounts of sugar mixed in to prevent caking.)

The entire show went by so quickly and smoothly. Sharing my thoughts on food and cooking, and actually cooking for a crowd are the two experiences I am thrilled to have had. Afterwards, I was able to meet and chat with Tou Vang and his wife who are known throughout the market for their garlic and shallots. I learned that the Vangs are exceptionally receptive to the needs of their customers and are happy to try to grow a new vegetable if asked. This is part of the beauty of the market: farmers listen and respond to the needs of the community. And as the days get colder, I am grateful for those farmers who come out in spite of the weather; such is their commitment to what they do. This was the first year that I got to truly appreciate the market; more than that however, I was privileged to meet some of the people that make the market the attraction and Minneapolis establishment that it is.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I'm going to be on the radio.

I have some exciting news: local food advocate Susan Berkson, host of the show "Fresh and Local" on AM950 The Voice of Minnesota, will be interviewing me on Saturday at 8 am. (Actually, my segment will start some time after 8:30) Every week, Berkson and her co-host Bonnie Dehn (a.k.a. the Minnesota Herb Lady) explore the lcoal food scene and culinary culture of Minnesota. And this week I am the guest!! What an honor! And a thrill!

I must admit, though, that in spite of my excitement, I am extremely nervous. It's not everyday I get to be on the radio, and not everyday I get to converse with such well informed advocates of Minnesota foods. Berkson and Dehn are passionate about food, cooking and fresh ingredients in general. I am most looking forward to talking about my journey towards healthy living and explaining the ways in which I approach cooking.

On another note, here is a simple yogurt dressing made with some of that greek yogurt I got from Stonyfield Farms. I added tons of scallions for a little kick mellowed out by small amounts of honey and balsamic vinegar. It is served here with cucumbers but last night, we had it on oven-baked fish in pita bread.

Scallion Yogurt Dressing

1 cup plain fat free greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped scallion (green and white ends)
2 tsp honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients, mix well, and serve with fresh vegetables or in sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Caramelized Apples with Almond Topping

Apples are in season now and I am proud to be living in Minnesota . Two of my favorite varieties were created at the University of Minnesota: the Honeycrisp and the Zestar. The zestar is an early season apple which ripens in late August, so last month I picked up some at the farmers' market and made the best apple pie to come out of my kitchen, EVER! It absolutely maintains its structure yet is sweet, crisp and soft, all at the same time. Needless to say, that pie didn't last more than forty eight hours; embarrassing, considering there are only two of us. I'm pretty sure I ate most of it. If only I could eat apple pie every day....Unfortunately I can 't - my metabolism just will not allow it, darn, boring metabolism - so I've opted for this simple recipe for caramelized apples to supplement my apple pie fix, until thanksgiving that is! This recipe has all of the flavors of an apple pie, is not as time consuming, and definitely not as heavy in calories. Apples cook very quickly on the stove top so it's an easy middle-of-the week dessert. Any variety of apple you happen to get your hands on works well here, even pears will be good. Coming to think of it, caramelized anything is delicious.

Caramelized Apples
Serves four

4 to 6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup almond powder
fat free vanilla greek yogurt

1. Add half of the sugar and all of the butter to a large skillet over medium heat in an even layer.
2. Once the sugar begins to melt to a light brown color, add half of the spices followed by the apples. Stir constantly for four to five minutes until all of the apple slices acquire a rich brown color and they soften slightly. Remove from heat.
3. To make the almond topping, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and almond powder. Sprinkle over apple slices and top with yogurt to serve.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stuffed Eggplant

For the past month or so, eggplants are in abundance at the farmer's market's in the twin cities. They come in many different shapes, colors and sizes. And it follows that each variety works best in certain dishes. Most are some shade of purple but you can now find green and even white varieties. For roasting and making dips, I prefer the larger Italian and purple bell varieties. And for stuffing, I find that the small, dark purple, egg-shaped Indian variety, also known as baby eggplant, works best. Because of their size, they cook faster and throughly without being over done and make serving more manageable.

The stuffing in this recipe is essentially mashed cumin potatoes from the post Cumin (Geera) Potatoes. However, since potatoes take on the flavor of whatever is added to it so well, you can probably substitute garlic or sun-dried tomatoes for the scallions here.

Stuffed Baby Eggplant
Serves 4 to 5

8 to 10 baby eggplant
1 1/2 to 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground chili peppers (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped scallions

1. Using a damp paper towel, wipe the eggplants clean. Place one eggplant on a cutting board and cut horizontally down the middle stopping half inch before the stem. Rotate the eggplant ninety degrees and make another horizontal cut down the middle. What you have now is a criss-cross cut down the eggplant, separating it into four segments connected at the base. Repeat this step for the remaining eggplants. Lightly brush the insides of each with olive oil. Set aside until ready to stuff.
2. Boil the potatoes in enough water to cover them, until fork tender. Drain and mash until smooth. Set aside
3. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the minced garlic and cook for a minute or two until light golden. Add the cumin and cook for additional two minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the mashed potatoes, stirring well to combine the seasonings. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped scallions.
4. Fill each eggplant with two tablespoons of the potato mixture, cleaning up any that sticks on the outside.
5. Return the skillet or another large pot to medium high heat, add three tablespoon of olive oil to the bottom, and place the eggplant in single layer. If they can't fit in a single layer, do two batches. Cook on each side for three minutes.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Peach Tart

Late year, we attended a wedding in Georgia in which, at both the rehearsal and reception dinners, peaches were incorporated in some form or the other. I remember it well because I liked the idea that the couple (although neither of them was from Georgia) included a memorable aspect of the state in their wedding details: Georgia peaches.

I do not think there is a dish that isn't made better by adding peaches. In this tart recipe, very ripe peaches are used for two main reasons: the sweetness and the texture. Since the pie isn't baked long enough to soften half ripened peaches, soft ripe peaches allow you to cut into it easily and serve immediately after assembling. Of course, other soft fruit can be substituted here, such as raspberries and nectarines.

Peach Tart
Serves 4 to 5

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
5 tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup low fat milk
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe peaches, sliced
2 tbsp peach preserve (or other fruit preserve)

To make the crust:
Combine flour, sugar and salt, then cut in the butter until crumbly. Press unto the bottom and an inch up the sides of an 8 inch spring form pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack until ready to use.

To make the filling:
1. Add the milk and half of the sugar in a sauce pan, over medium heat, and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs together with the rest of the sugar and the corn starch until the corn starch completely dissolves.
3. Once the milk begins to boil, remove a third cup and temper the egg mixture. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the rest of the milk. Continue to whisk over medium heat, bringing the mixture back up to a boil. The cream should begin to thicken very quickly. Once you notice that it's not getting any thicker, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use; this prevents a skin from forming on the top.

To assemble the pie:
1. Pour the prepared cream unto crust, and arrange the peach slices decoratively on the top.
2. Melt the peach preserve in the microwave to a syrup-like consistency. Using a pastry brush, gently brush onto the peach slices.
3. Using a torch, scorch the tops of the peaches lightly. Alternatively, this can be done under the broiler for no more than three minutes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I learned from Michael Pollan (plus a recipe for Corn Mango Salsa)

On Thursdays, the farmer's market extends to Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Although there are less vendors than the Lyndale location, there is still plenty of variety among the stalls. Last week, corn was on my mind. I figured better pick some up before the season's over.

Whenever I think of corn, I can 't help but be reminded of Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food. Pollan describes in depth how corn rose from a weed to become one of the most successful species in the plant kingdom, with the help of industrial technology. He also provides good support for organic farming, highlighting that depending on the earth and the sun instead of synthetic fertilizers benefits not only our natural biologies but helps improve the condition of so many places on the planet that have been destroyed by industrial farming, or I should say ruthless industrial farming practices.

But the one point that really resonated with me was the comparison between Mexicans and North Americans. According to him, the descendants of the traditional Mayans today still refer to themselves as the corn people because of how dependent their diets were on corn. The startling fact, he pointed out, was that while the North American diet is not corn centric (in the sense that the real corn - kernels and cobs - don't typically play a featuring role on our dinner tables as it still does in Mexican meals) we have a much higher carbon thirteen (C-13) isotope concentration is our bodies which means that we consume more corn that the Mayans.

Let me attempt to paraphrase Pollan's explanation: Scientists are able to determine this by analyzing a small piece of our hair or a fingernail. Humans get carbon from the food we eat. In nature, there are two isotopes (different atoms of the same element having the same number of protons and electrons but a different number of neutrons) of carbon: carbon 12 and carbon 13. Most plants, through photosynthesis, use carbon 12, transforming it into food, in particular compounds that, at the molecular level, contain three carbon atoms. These plants are called C-3 plants. Corn, on the other hand, is a C-4 plant: it creates compounds with four atoms of carbon. While corn does use some C-12, it takes in more of the C-13 isotope. Hence, the higher concentration of c-13 to c-12 in a person's body is indicative of the amount of corn in his/her diet. (Whew! Hope that made sense.)

How can it be that North Americans consume more C-13 than Mexicans whose diets are more reflective of a relationship with corn? Don't we eat more wheat, more potatoes, more meat? The answer lies in corn's industrial role as the basis for most processed foods, as food for livestock, in most cereals, in high fructose corn syrup. While we have mostly moved away from corn in its natural state, we have simply moved towards corn-based products. Traces of corn can be found in the most unlikely of foods. Take crackers for example, the ones advertised as thin, whole grain and comes in a variety of flavors. They contain at least three ingredients derived, through highly complex chemical procedures, from corn. The most notable: high fructose corn syrup (I'll save my wrath on this most harmful of sweeteners for another post.)

While this post might give the impression that I am against the continued propagation of corn, I'm not. I like corn. Especially sweet, boiled, Minnesota corn. But the perception that this grain is so entrenched in the vast majority of foods found on supermarkets shelves makes me nauseated. Of course, corn's new role has much to do with economics and this will not change until there is concerted effort to move away from processed towards whole and natural foods. How about simply learning to enjoy foods in their natural state? In trying to do so, I am finding that some of my best meals are those simple ones.

Corn Mango Salsa
Serves 3 to 4

2 boiled ears of corn
1 large mango
1 large cucumber
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground chilies
salt to taste

1. Carefully cut the corn kernels off the cob. Peel the mango and carefully slice off the flesh into cubes. Discard the seed. Peel and cube the cucumber. Place corn, mango, and cucumber in a large bowl along with the chopped onion, and cilantro.
2. Mix the lime juice, sugar, ground chilies, and salt. Pour unto the corn mixture. Toss well and serve.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fresh Mango Cheesecake

We received two cases of mangoes last week. A generous gesture from family in New York, except most of them were bruised. Not bruised to the point that they were completely ruined but bruised to the point where it was impossible to just sink your teeth into it the way a mango is meant to be eaten. But I just could not bare to throw them away; even the thought felt wrong. So I decided to extract the pulp and save it for cooking and baking. Here's the best of it.

Fresh Mango Cheesecake
Serves 6 to 8

3 large, very ripe mangoes (or a cup of store-bought puree)
2 tsp cornstarch
8 oz low fat or fat free cream cheese
1 egg plus 1 egg white
2 tbsp plus 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Flaxseed Crust
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp light brown sugar

1. Peel the mangoes and slice off the flesh (discard seed) and transfer to a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour the puree in a saucepan over medium heat, whisk in cornstarch and 2 tablespoon of confectioner's sugar. Allow to thicken, about 10 to 12 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Blend the remaining ingredients plus half of the puree until smooth.
3. Pour into the prepared crust, followed by the remainder of the mango puree. Run a table knife vertically down, through both the cheesecake and mango layers, to create a swirl pattern on the top.
4. Bake in a water bath at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, bring to room temperature and refrigerate for at least five hours or overnight before serving.

To make the crust:
Combine all the crust ingredients in a food processor until crumby. Evenly press along the bottom of an 8" spring form pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 2 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove and set on wire rack to cool before adding filling.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Farmers Market Yellow Bean Coconut Soup

There are may aspects of the Minneapolis farmer's market that I enjoy. The variety, of course. Stall after stall of fresh sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and all manner and shades of greens and herbs. My first experience in an American farmers market was not here but in St Joseph, Minnesota where I attended college. A little background: this was a small college town with a couple bars, couple churches, one coffee shop and one grocery so you can guess that the options for fresh produce were minimal. Until summer came around and the farmers came out. It was as though I was tasting fresh food again for the first time. The Minneapolis version is like that for me but on a much larger scale. There is always something new and interesting to try and, consequently, some new inspiration. Last weekend, it was yellow string beans. (See recipe below for Yellow Bean Coconut Soup.)

Oddly enough, it is the size of the market that also attracts me. The sheer volume of people who throng the Lyndale location is unlike much of the city during the rest of the year, with the exception of the State Fair. Saturday morning crowds turn that part of town into a scene more characteristic to uber metropolises like New York City and Los Angeles. Maybe it's the fact that for most of the year nothing comes close to the the noise and outdoor energy that I just savor the congestion while it's here. Or the the notion that everyone there, at that one moment, is connected by the same purpose: searching our wholesome food, for themselves or to feed their families.

There are many more reasons we should try to eat locally, especially during the summer when it's more convenient. My feeling is that, more than anything, it bridges the gap between producers and consumers by allowing for direct contact between the two. These farmers bring high quality, wholesome, fresh foods to an area or population that otherwise would have had to pay more than almost twice the price in conventional grocery stores. Of course for many people, including myself, it is not always convenient to shop locally but when there's all of that fresh food and endless variety just a quick three and a half miles away, I just can't help myself.

Jennifer Wilkins of Cornell University makes a good case for eating locally. Click here to read her opinion piece. And here to find a farmers market close to you.

Yellow Bean and Coconut Soup
Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 dried red chillies (optional)
4 basil leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb fresh yellow string beans
3 cup low sodium vegetable stock
1 1/2 coconut milk (reduced fat)
salt and pepper

1. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, and garlic. Saute for ten minutes until onions soften then add basil, turmeric and two thirds of the beans (chopped). Saute an additional eight to ten minutes to slightly soften the beans.
2. Add the vegetable broth and coconut milk, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for eight to ten minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toss the remaining beans with two tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in a 500 degree F oven until brown on the edges, about six to eight minutes Set aside until ready to serve soup.
4. To serve: puree the coconut-yellow bean soup base to desired consistency (I like it almost smooth and silky) and serve over a handful of the roasted beans.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blackberry Pie

Of all summer fruit, I might not have given blackberries enough homage. Peach melba I have tried. An assortment of strawberry tarts and pies, rhubard crisp, pineapple upside down cake recipes I know almost by heart. Yet, in all my summers here I hadn't made one dessert that focused soley on the fruit. Shame on me. Blackberries have long been part of my fruit repertoire - had them in parfatis, in fruit salads, in preserves and smoothies - but never made them stand alone in a dish. Until now.

Naturally ripened blackberries do not need much else to enhance their favors. A tablespoon of vanilla, maybe a pinch of all spice, and perhaps a splash of deep red wine are all it takes. For baking, it is important to get the very ripe ones; the riper they are less sugar is needed. Look for almost even coloration (although the color changes when baked) and those without the hulls, since younger berries hang on to the hulls stronger than riper ones.

While I have included a crust recipe, store bought crust works just as well. However, I would suggest using a pastry crust rather than a graham cracker crust. The flaky pastry crust provides a noticable textural contrast to the soft berries.

Blackberry Pie
Makes one 9" pie

2 pints blackberries (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp dark red wine e.g. cabernet (optional)
1 nine inch prepared pie crust (recipe below)

1. Set oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Combine the first five ingredients being careful not to crush the berries; pour into the prepared pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350 degrees F and continue baking for an additional 20 to 45 minutes until the juices thicken. (*See note below.) If the crust browns too quickly, cover with foil.
3. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.

Cookie Crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F.
2.Combine the first four ingredients. Mix in the butter until a crumbly dough forms, then mix in the egg until it all comes together in a soft ball.
3. Using the back of a spoon or the tips of your fingers, evenly spread this dough unto a well greased nine inch pie dish, along the bottom and up the sides.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly golden brown.

*Note: If you prefer a softer, more homogenized filling, allow the pie to bake up to forty five to minutes to an hour at 350 degrees F. The photo above show how it would look after 30 minutes at this temperature; the berries still have most of their structure and can be picked off the top without fally apart, just the way I like it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fish Burgers with Avocado Sauce

For fish burgers, I prefer to use whole fish steaks rather than the traditional method of combining crumbled fish with breadcrumbs and eggs. Fish steaks just taste better in my opinion, and they provide more of that characteristic "juicy burger bite" than a soft fish patty can offer. Also, by using a marinade of a few simple ingredeints, you have a burger that is lighter in calories.
While this is an easy recipe, choosing the right type of fish is essential. Here, I opted for scarlet snapper steaks with the skin on. Snapper in general maintains its structure to high heat but, if unavailable, you can substitute other meaty fish such as swordfish or tuna; basically any fish you would grill.

Fish Burgers with Avocado Sauce
Serves four

1 whole Hass avocado, halved, seeded and peeled
1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
salt to taste

4 snapper steaks about 1" thick (1 lb total)
6 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
salt and pepper
4 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted
baby lettuce

To make the avocado sauce:
Combine avocado, yogurt, tomato, shallot, cilantro and salt in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the burgers:
1. Using a microplane or the fine side of a box grater, grate the garlic cloves. Combine grated garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, chilli flakes, salt and pepper. Coat each side of the fish steaks well with this mixture. Refrigerate for at least half and hour.
2. Set a skillet over medium high heat and, once hot, add just enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom. Place the fillets, two at a time depending on the size of the skillet, skin side down and cook for four minutes. Flip and finish cooking on the other side for another three to four minutes or opaque throughout. Remove to a paper towel.
3. To arrange the burgers, place a handful of baby lettuces on the bottom half of a burger bun. Top with one fish steak, a generous dollop of the avocado sauce, and the top half of the bun.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Road to Hana

Ke'anae Coastline.

The above picture was taken at the Ke'anae coast and shows the coastline of that low-lying town has not changed much as compared to a thousand years ago. The one below shows a road seemingly cutting a densely forested peninsular in half. Both pictures were taken on the road to Hana in Maui. Last week I returned home after spending two idyllic weeks in Hawaii: five days in Oahu and nine days in Maui. Idyllic because the weather was perfect, it was off peak season so lines everywhere were short, and, for the first time, we did the drive to that quaint, quintessentially tropical town of Hana. The Road to Hana, as the entire endeavor is sometimes referred to, i.e. the drive, the many stops along the way, the distinctive foods- home made banana bread, lilikoi, papayas, mangoes, steamed breadfruit- that must be bought, the town itself, and the drive back can be a day long trip. We, on the other hand, decided to make it three days and two nights. And wisely so. After hearing stories and reading about the constant turns and downhills maneuvers on the Hana highway coupled with the fact that just the thought of all the curves is designed to give me notion sickness, I know we made a wise decision.

Hana Highway along east Maui.

We arrived in Kahului after four activity packed days on Oahu: kayaking, touring the LOST sights, snorkeling, touring the north coast. So by this time, we were ready for the laid back scene that is most of Maui. Kahului is a small port city and an airport town; consequently it is very commercialized and there aren't many good beaches, although some are within driving distance. This is not to say that I would overlook the town. In fact, I am always srtuck at the view of the West Maui mountains from here, its grandeur and yet its peacefulness. This time, however, Kahului served as our first pit stop before Hana. We'd have dinner and spend the night there, awaking refreshed and ready for the long drive ahead.

We started our drive the following morning after stopping for coffee at Maui Coffee Roasters, touted as the best coffee in west Maui, and I will have to agree. As with my previous trips to the islands, I relied on Maui Revealed, part of a series of guide books by Andrew Doughty which has now become my holy grail for everything Hawaii. His Maui edition has indepth descriptions of every must-see spot along the way, and those which can be overlooked. Since the highway sits between the edge of the mountain and the ocean, many of these sites include gorgeous waterfalls and gulches. And it wasn't long until we reached the first of the must-sees: Lower Puohokamoa Falls. If you don't know where to stop you'd probably pass the access point: nothing more than a small dirt pullout on the left side of the road, followed by a barded wire face, a short, very precarious trail, and you're at the viewing point directly across from the falls. This one was breathtaking, not because it was the first waterfall we encountered but its one hundred plus drop into the river below is simply majestic.... and frightening. It set the tone for the many other waterfalls we would see as we continued. Some even more majestic, some not as lofty but charming nonetheless.

Just when it seemed that the highway followed a distinct sequence - road, ocean view, tropical forest, waterfall, road, ocean view, forest, waterfall- we came upon the exit for Ke'anae, the quaint coastal town which, in 1946, was almost destroyed by a tsunami. The exit leads directly to Aunty Sandy's Banana Bread stand, in my opinion the best banana bread from Kahului all the way to Hana. (Yes, I tried them all; there was just no other way to make an informed opinion.) Their bread is made fresh, right then and there. Aunty Sandy somehow coincides her baking with each onslaught of visitors because the bread is still warm when you buy it. Having had our fill of warm banana bread and coconut candy, we drove past the stand and into the village itself. The further in you get, the magnitude of the unspoilt coastline begins to emerge. This is a prime example of what the islands looked like thousands of years ago, when hot lava met the ocean.

The sign in front of Aunty Sandy's Banana Bread stand.

Black Sand Beach at Wainapanapa State Park.

Back on the highway, it took us a little over an hour to finally get to Hana. Beautiful, mysterious, heavenly Hana. Never had I envisioned such a place existed in the United States. Most striking to me was the silence. No matter where we were, all we could here was either the ocean waves or the sound of the wind, and it's easy to understand why. With the exception of a general store which closes at seven pm, the two main hotels, a single gas station, and couple restaurants , commerce is almost nonexistent. And I am sure the prospect of the long drive from the main tourist center (central and west of the island) unofficially regulates the number of visitors there at any one time.

In spite of its remoteness, there is a lot to see and do in Hana. The famous Honokalani Black Sand Beach, picture-postcard-gorgeous Ohea Gulch, and family friendly Hana Bay. Then there is a visit to Ono Organic Farms, one of the highlights of the entire trip for me. Ono is hawaiian for delicious and everything is ono on this farm. From the welcoming cup of coffee to the very last piece of fruit. For thirty five dollars per person, owner Lily Boerner takes you on a tour through her tropical fruit tree paradise. Being an island girl myself, and having grown up on a similar style estate, this was like revisiting my childhood. Guavas, papayas, caimito (what I knew as caimet), soursop, passion fruit. I also had the opportunity to try news ones such as cheromoya, sweet passionfruit and a couple different varieties of bananas. As if that weren't enough, the farm sells organic coffee beans, jams, jellies, and spice rubs.

Standing in Oheo Gulch.

Fresh organic fruit from Ono Organic Farm. Clockwise from top right: papaya, lychee, guava, caimito, and pineapple.

Lily Boerner, owner of Ono Organic Farms, cutting into caimito and soursop.

For me, Hana was more than just another tourist attraction in Maui. It was a sanctuary, the ultimate hidden paradise. From its breathtaking natural formations, to its solitude, to the soothing sounds all around, to its fresh organic foods. It was a place where nothing else but the person you're with, and the moment you're in, mattered because everything else seems to be taken care of.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pearl Cous Cous Salad with Fresh Mango and Cucumber

I came across an interesting article on the BBC which I thought would be an appropriate prelude to today's entry. Eat Less while Eating More talks about a new study by scientists of the British Nutrition Foundation who found that meals consisting of high water content foods tend to keep us feeling fuller for longer. The finding is that foods such as whole grains, yogurt, and those good old fruits and vegetables are digested slowly when compared to calorie dense, low water content foods such as peanuts, processed food products and candy. In addition, by replacing what's on our plate with mostly fruits and vegetables, we would consume a larger volume of food but less calories.

Sounds familiar, no? It is the age old advice for healthy living: eat more fruit and vegetables. An easy way to do so is to slip a couple extra servings into everyday meals. Such as this salad. It is teeming with cucumbers, red peppers and sweet, fresh mango. Like most salads, you can substitute whatever you happen to have on hand. Pineapple or chunks of peaches would definitely work, as would diced carrots or even fresh tomato wedges.

Pearl Cous Cous Salad with Fresh Mango and Cucumbers
Serves 4 to 5

1 1/2 cups pearl (israeli) cous cous
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 shallots, minced
2 star anise pods
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
1 large cucumber, slices (about 2 cups)
2 cups fresh mango chunks ( about 2 average sized mangoes)
1 cup diced red pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Turmeric dressing
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 cup fat free or low fat sour cream
1 tbsp dijon mustard

1. Set a large pot over medium heat. Add vegetable oil, ginger, shallots, and star anise. Saute until shallots soften, about three minutes.
2. Add the cous cous and stir well to thoroughly coat each bead with the shallot mixture. Cook for an additional two minutes, until the cous cous browns slightly. Pour in the vegetable broth, stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer until all of the liquid as been absorbed, an additional seven to eight minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the turmeric dressing by combining all of the ingredients. Refrigerate until read to use.
4. Once the cous cous has cooked, discard the start anise pods. Toss cooked cous cous with cucumber, mango, red pepper, cilantro and turmeric dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Share Our Strength Minneapolis

Last Friday, Share our Strength held its Taste of the Nation benefit in Minneapolis. All proceeds went towards helping eradicate childhood hunger in America. Statistics show that approximately 700 00 thousand children in the United States experience hunger while more than 12 million live in homes where the concept of stable meals is not the norm but a daily battle for these families. (Progressive Policy Institute) Share our Strength is hoping to totally end this affliction by 2015. Visit their website for future events and other ways you can help this cause.

At Friday's event, restaurants from in and around the Minneapolis metro area offered samples of some of their signature dishes, as well as ones created specifically for the event. A couple of the highlights were the giant pot of paella served by Kitchen Window, and the passion fruit petits fours created by pastry chef Christina Kaelberer of Chambers.

I was also one of the judges at the mixology competition between Johnny Michaels from La Belle Vie and Birk Gruden from the Bradstreet Crafthouse. A tough job but someone had to do it. No, seriously, it was a tough job considering that they both are the top mixologists in the area. It was a close duel but at the end of the night, and after fervent taste-testing, Gruden emerged the winner.

Here are some photos of the evening.

The large pot of paella served by Kitchen Window. If you ever have to cook for 100, this is the pot for you.

Johnny Michaels and Birk Gruden doing what they do best.

With the other two judges: Mecca Bos-Williams of MetroMag, and Ezra Sauter, the lucky audience member.

With event chair Becky Opdyke.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Taste of Summer

While iced tea is probably the drink most synonymous with summer, I find that most could use a little something extra. A little more flavor, a little pizzaz so to speak. Enter the watermelon. Summer is the perfect time for fruity drinks and watermelon is the perfect fruit for summer drinks. Add fresh watermelon juice to freshly brewed tea and you have an exciting and refreshing summer drink.

Watermelon Peppermint Iced Tea
Serves 3 to 4

2 cups boiling water
2 bags of peppermint tea
4 lbs seedless water melon, cubed (about 6 cups)
honey (optional)

1. Pour hot water over the tea bags, cover and allow to brew for at least five minutes.
2. Meanwhile, puree the watermelon in a blender, strain and discard the pulp. In a large pitcher, add watermelon juice and tea. Sweeten with honey if desired and stir well. Chill before serving or serve immediately over ice cubes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zucchini Flatbread and Tag: a game of getting to know more about our favorite bloggers.

A while back, I received the following fun exercise from Gera at Sweet Foods. The purpose: getting to know more about our favorite food bloggers. Now, it's my turn. Following Gera's example, I have attached some photos, some random ones chosen from a few of my trips.

First, though, here is my newest flatbread recipe: zucchini, almonds and mozzarella. Initially, I intended to make a simple zucchini flatbread but realized that I had a handful of slivered almonds left and not wanting them to go to waste ( nuts in general last a a good two or three months in the pantry, even longer in the freezer, before turning rancid) I added them to the mix. And not a bad idea either.

Zucchini Almond Flatbread
Serves four

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 tsp salt
2 zucchini, sliced
2 cloved garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup toasted, slivered almonds

1. To make the dough: In a mixing bowl, add the water to the yeast and sugar, set aside until foamy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flours and salt and mix into a ball. Remove to a flat, floured working surface and knead until soft and elastic about four to five minutes. Set in the mixing bowl that has been oiled. Cover and let rise for about an hour.
2. In a skillet set over medium heat, add the zucchini, garlic and oil. Cook until zucchini softens about three to four minutes. (It is not necessary to thoroughly cook the zucchini here because it will finish cooking in the oven.)
3. Roll the dough unto a well greased baking sheet to about one eighth of an inch thick. Evenly layer the zucchini and mozzarella. Finally, sprinkle the almonds. Bake at 450 degrees for ten to twelve minutes. Serve while still warm.

Now, on to the questionnaire.

Diamonds or pearls?
Not crazy about either.

What is the last film you saw?
Dark Knight

Your favorite series?
I'm a LOST junkie! It's the first series I actually followed from season one and I'm still hooked. Also watch Law and Order, CSI and anything interesting on Discovery and National Geographic.

What kind of breakfast do you have usually?
It depends on whether I'm eating alone or with my husband. Alone: some sort of cereal. With my husband: pancakes and omelette, or a traditional Trinidadian breakfast.

Lighthouse, Kauai.

Second given name?
Pearl. Yes, Pearl. When I was born, being her first granddaughter, my grandmother thought I was her little gem, hence "Pearl. " I'm just grateful Diamond or Gold didn't come to her mind.

Which kind of food can't you stand?
Processed food

Favorite name (at the moment)?
Don't have one.

Which car do you drive?

Which trait or character don't you like?

Star fish at Aquarium in Minneapolis.

Favorite clothes?
Badgley Mischka, Cache, Banana Republic, BCBG, Adidas.

If you could take the aeroplane to go somewhere, where would you go?
Tough one...Hawaii or Tahiti.

Sea horse at Aquarium.

Where would you want to live when you are retired?
Hawaii. I could seriously spend my days snorkeling, hiking the Na Pali cliffs, and eating fresh seafood.

Which birthday do you remember the most?
My last: my father and youngest sister had visited; I hadn't seen them in more than three years.

Your birthday?
October 10.

Shamu! San Diego.

If you were a color, which one would you be?

Chocolate or vanilla?

Coffee or tea?
Coffee! I started drinking coffee in college to stay up to study. Now, it seems I cannot start my day without a cup. Nothing fancy, just regular coffee; I grind my own beans though. I do have tea on most evenings.

Feeding the animals, Wild Animal Park, San Diego.

The last person you had on the phone?
My sister Nancy in Toronto. We speak to each other almost everyday.

Sweet or savory?
Sweet! My sweet tooth is going to be the end of me.

The day of the week you prefer?
Wednesday night because LOST is on!

Now, let's find out more about:
Sarah at Broken Yolks
Zerrin at Give Recipe