Archive for November, 2011

Dragon Fruit: Sadly, no Dragons

Dragon Fruit is strange.  Alex saw one at Oliver’s the other day and really, really wanted to try it.  He loves fruit and he loves dragons.  What a great combination!  Except, this beautiful, colorful, interestingly named fruit tasted kind of… bland.  I know, I was shocked!  Alex described it fairly accurately  it is reminiscent of a Costco Poppy Seed Muffin.  Its soft, sweet, and has little black seeds in it.  Just make the muffin more “wet” and you’ve pretty much got it. Very disappointing.

It had such promise!  The name alone, the vibrant red with neat flappy bits on the outside, the surprising white with black on the inside.  Like no other fruit.

I do really like this picture of the orchard I found. They grow well in Thailand, Vietnam, Central America, and cam be grown in places like San Diego or in greenhouses.  Its a beautiful plant if nothing else.


Before I forget, the amazing cheese Sarah and I had a few posts ago is called Delice do Bourgogne.  Its the creamiest, most delicious soft white cheese I’ve ever had.

In other news, I made my favorite stuffing this morning for Thanksgiving.  It’s a recipe I got from Raley’s Grocery Store’s magazine, “Something Extra”.  I baked bread, “Italian Herb Bread” we’ll call it.  The highlights of it are the Parmesano Reggiano cheese, dried basil, dried thyme, and dried minced onion in it.  Delicious on its own.  Cube that, toast it in the oven, put it in a big bowl.  Fry about 6-8 pieces of bacon.  I like to cut it up into little pieces first, its easier than crumbling.  When thats done, pour out most of the grease, add some butter, and saute leeks, carrots, and celery about 10 minutes or until soft.  Mix the veggies, bacon, and bread with some thyme and 3 cups of chicken broth.  Bake in a greased 9×13 pan on 350 for 30 minutes.  I love how chunky and bright this dish is, not just in color, but in flavor.  I know everyone has their own preferences on stuffing, as my Grandma Joy said this morning, what she “thinks of as moist, most people probably think is soggy”.

However you like your Thanksgiving meal, I hope your Thanksgiving Day is full of loved ones and gratitude.


Garlicy Baba Ghanouj

I really enjoy Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods and have for absolutely years. I love medleys of flavors and the aromatic spices. In addition, I really like healthy dips and palate-exciting ways to eat my fruits and veggies. Baba ghanouj (and it’s many spellings and cultural significances) is nutritious and delicious. Enjoy it as a dip or condiment (such as a delicious sandwich spread). You can eat it along side hummus, or go all out with a big Mediterranean mezzeh platter of dolma, falafel, kubba, tabbouleh, shawarma, cheese, figs, melon, artichokes, yogurts, fattoush, green salad, etc. Yum, yum! Has anyone made baba ghanouj into a salad dressing? Let me know if you try it out this way. How do you eat it? What version of the recipe do you use?

The other day I made baba ghanouj with sonomafoodgirl. (Thank you so much for helping!) I’m so glad we finally made it. I had intended to for a while, since my last batch turned out so well. The Hummus Guy at the farmers market is always sold out when I want it, so I gave up on waiting. It’s probably cheaper to make my own anyway. My version is inspired by Denise Hajibrahim’s recipe on You Tube.

I added a lot more garlic though and just mixed everything together to store in in jars instead of plating it to serve and eat right away. Both of the methods described below are really easy. The most time consuming bit is waiting for the eggplant to finish cooking.

Garlicy Baba Ghanouj
This dip is also called baba ghanoush, baba ganush, baba ghannouj, and baba ghannoug, depending on which region the batch is from (or who makes it).

4 Medium to 6 Large Cloves Raw or Roasted Garlic, minced
Pinch Sea Salt
1/2 C Lemon Juice
1 C Tahini Paste (Sesame Seed Butter)
2 Medium Eggplants
3 T Olive Oil, garnish
4 T Sesame Seeds, garnish
3 T Parsley, chopped garnish
2 T Smoked or Sweet Paprika or Ground Chili, garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wrap in foil. Bake for 30 minutes to 40 minutes or until soft. Set aside for 15 minutes. Be patient. Be careful not to burn yourself. The eggplant is still very hot. Unwrap them. Cut off the tops. Peel off the skins with either a fork or your fingers, but try not to peel away the tasty goodness just beneath the skin. Cut the flesh into chunks for easier blending.

In food processor or in a mixing bowl with a fork, combine garlic and salt. Mix in lemon juice and tahini until well combined. Add in eggplant and process or mash together until smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the middle of a large plate or shallow dish. Spread it evenly from the center in a circular motion with a spoon by simultaneously turning it.
If using a plate, create a moat in a circle around a center “island” with the back of the spoon. Just fill the space. It doesn’t not have to be symmetrical; wobbly ovals and ellipses are just as tasty. If you don’t like the way it looks though, you can always smooth it out and start over.
For a shallow dish, use the spoon to evenly spread it out and fill in all of the corners.
Garnish the middle with parsley. Sprinkle paprika around edge of the dip. Pour the oil into the well you created earlier or drizzle it across the top.

These are only two ways to serve the dip. You can always decorate in different patterns or shapes. There are also many flavor variations of baba ghanouj out there with different herbs and spices, like chile powder, cayenne pepper, smoky/sweet paprika, cilantro, flat or curly parsley, mild/strong/sweet garlic, cumin, coriander; it’s your choice really. Keep in mind there are also varieties of eggplant, too. You also can always forgo decorating entirely, merely processing everything together and mixing the garnishes in last, or leave out the garnish herbs and spices completely.

Salad Alchemy- A Book

I was reading a new to me blog, Makeness, and the author, Illana Burk, has a series she’s posting “The Giving Project”.  The most recent one is “Day 6: Give a salad.  Make a happy tummy.”  Well, for Noel’s sake alone I felt I should check it out, since salad is pretty much all that seems to make her tummy happy.  That and LOTS OF TRUFFLES!  Why are the truffles always gone!

Anyways, Illana writes about Salad Alchemy.  This sounds like a wonderful (and inexpensive) book.  It isn’t just a cook book or a recipe book from how its described, but something much richer.  And full of delicious salad.  I’m not crazy about salad, usually.  Its too much work.  I want too many fresh ingredients, but in small quantities because I don’t want to eat the same kind of salad over and over again.  I’ve got to mix it up.  This book looks gorgeous and is making me salad-vate.  That’s like salivate, but puny.

Wine, Bread, Cheese, and Sunshine

Wine, bread, cheese, salami toscano, sunshine.  What a wonderful combination!  My dear friend Sarah was over yesterday and we feasted!  We had crusty sourdough and some funny crackers called Raincoast with fig and olive in them.  Gruyere was a lovely counter to the runny, soft, gooey, delicious cheese we had.  I have to go back to Karen at Oliver’s in the cheeses to find out what it was I greedily consumed.  Really easy to spread, really decadent.  I got blueberries that we didn’t get to, but we did snack on dried apricots.  The wine was good, something red from Spain.  A plastic cork, which I’m not a fan of, mostly because I want enough cork for a cork board.  The salami was like some Alex and I had at our Second Reception.  Its Salami Toscano, and I love the big white bits in it.  Not sure I want to know what that is, it probably isn’t great for me.  Yep, the internet says it is not good for me.  Oh, well.

Now, get off your computer and go make yourself a picnic and get out in this strangely warm and beautiful weather!

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P.S. Did you notice I figured out how to link text to webpages?  I’m so cool… 😉

Two Fantasic Local Restaurants and Chocolate

Monday was my first wedding anniversary. I feel so spoiled! I got gifts all week. To be fair, I had more gifts to give my husband throughout the week, too. 🙂 Last Monday, my husband and I went out to a restaurant we have been eying for a while, called Stark’s Steakhouse, in downtown Santa Rosa. The restaurant was great. They had a full menu and gluten free menu. Their food was very tasty gourmet surf and turf. Hubby had a New York steak with a peppercorn sauce, whereas I had Arctic Char with Indian spices and cucumber dill yogurt sauce (yes, I took my pills to eat them). We also shared a hand cut steak tartare with smoked chili aoli and capers as an appetizer and DeCicco broccoli with pine nuts and golden raisins as our side side. Everything was so good! We must have been starving, because we even had dessert! It was also fabulous, by the way. I had the warm flourless chocolate cake with caramel mousse and buttered almonds chocolate ice cream. I was so focused on my decadent treat, I don’t even remember what my husband ordered. It was chocolate ice cream in something. I don’t quite remember. I know he wasn’t impressed with it. He’s a pretty picky guy though.

Then on Saturday I was in for another treat. We went out to dinner again. This time it was to a cute little husband and wife owned Italian gourmet restaurant, called Cucina Paradiso, in downtown Petaluma, not far from the masonic lodge. It was also very impressive. It was so popular, I’m surprised we got a seat at all, even though it was at the bar, which was still pretty nice. (Yea! I got new super digestive pills made from bromelain enzymes from pineapple. I can more successfully eat meat now. Tested and approved!)

Before I get ahead of myself, we stopped by a chocolaterie/chocolate specialty shop, called Viva Cocolat, a couple doors down from the restaurant. First of all the shop smelled divine.

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They have a full case of chocolates and sweets that were very skillfully and artistically made. There is also a section of tables up front where you can drink hot chocolate, apple cider, specialty coffees, teas, sipping chocolate, etc. and share chocolate fondu with friends. They have prepackaged chocolates from pretty much everywhere in all different varieties. By the way, the chocolate pasta package has a recipe for chicken mole on the back. My hubby is such a dear one. The first thing he did was ask for the darkest chocolate they had. He knows I like my chocolate bitter-sweet (emphasis on bitter, the darker the better). The eyes of the girl helping brightened as she made a beeline for the little Michel Cluizel Nior Infini 99% cacao bars with a teensy bit cane sugar, ginger, cinnamon and Bourbon vanilla. Sounds amazing! I have yet to try them, but I like to snack on straight toasted cacao nibs (crushed up cacao beans) or put them in trail mixes and cereals. I think the highest concentration I have ever had was 90%, which was fabulous. I dislike it when other pesky ingredients get in the way of my chocolate, especially when it’s diluted with milk. I prefer mine also all natural, not Dutch processed. Ick. ;P I’m guess I’m kind of a chocolate snob…. Anyway I got one big piece, a white and dark chocolate covered mushroom shape with a crispy cap and caramel stalk. Mr. Wright got two pieces, a peanut butter truffle a delicious dark chocolate covered toffee, which he is still raving about. After dinner we went back and told the chocolate folks we were so impressed and asked for some business cards to recommend to other people we know; they were all so nice (I got permission to take pictures.)

Ok, back to Cucina Paradiso. We both had a nice light house salad with balsamic vinaigrette and complimentary bread (so glad I took my assortment of pills before hand and afterward.) with a garlic oil and pecan dipping sauce. The service so so quick! I finished my salad and out came our beautifully plated entrees. Hubby got Ravioli Di Anatra, the roast duck ravioli with sun-dried tomato, basil pine nut sauce. I ordered Petto di Anatra al Balsamico e Timo, the medium rare roast duck breast in balsamic vinegar-thyme sauce with roasted squash and lightly seasoned potatoes. The dishes were rich, supremely seasoned and flavorful. Impressed is an understatement. It was so good, we stuffed ourselves full. I’m surprised no one had to roll us out the door. It was painful (each plate was at least two portions), but so good. There was no way we could order dessert even if we wanted to. We wisely decided not to tempt ourselves but instead savored our chocolate bits. What a perfect night!

Fairytale Pumpkin

This is a guest post from the lovely Lark.  She was so excited about Three Chicks Talking About Food she wanted to talk about food, too!  Welcome!

fairytalepumpkinI love pumpkin.  It smells fantastic when it cooks, it is very forgiving–you can neglect the little monster like crazy and do other stuff while the actual roasting takes place and once baked it keeps well in the refrigerator for days.  Most importantly pumpkin is delicious and has a much broader repertoire than the typical dessert it is consigned to.  A baked pumpkin puree adds moisture, heartiness and subtle sweetness to baked goods and can easily cross into the savory side of the meal.

Pumpkin extravaganza!  I started with a beautiful Fairytale pumpkin that looked like this (not my pumpkin, I gnabbed this picture from Tom and Victor’s Totally Joyous Recipes).

According to (I love you, internet) the Fairytale pumpkin is “deeply ribbed and has a very smooth hard surface. It is dark green in color when immature, and as it cures it turns a gorgeous deep mohagony.”  It is a French pumpkin and at home is known as Musque De Provence.  Leave it to the French to grow a pumpkin ribbed for my pleasure.

I had to roast the pumpkin in shifts because of its enormity and my puny oven size.  I hacked the pumpkin in half and placed it in a 9X13 glass baking dish.  At 350 F it took about an hour and a half to roast.  Next time I will put a bit of water at the bottom of the baking dish to ease the post-roast cleanup.  Once I scooped it out of the shell and filled my plastic tubs I was left with a tower of pumpkin.  I will do some baking with the delicious orange pulp and I also plan on making this pumpkin gnocchi recipe later in the week: Pumpkin Gnocchi.  I can attest to the delicious cleverness of many of the recipes over at Brokeass Gourmet but the cunning method of making gnocchi with ricotta and flour instead of potato flour is by far my favorite.  It makes for quick, impressive fresh pasta.

One disappointment about the Fairytale, because the pumpkin is so meaty the body cavity is small and there wasn’t a wealth of pumpkin seeds to bake, but there were enough to fill the bottom of a 9X9 pan and they roasted while I fixed my pumpkin bread batter.  I used the recipe MAdame Saslow posted earlier this week for Pumpkin Gingerbread.  The only change I made was to leave out the brown sugar and substitute ginger puree for powdered ginger.  I’m glad

I left out the extra sweetener, because the molasses and the squash itself were certainly sweet enough.  Next time I might add walnuts, dried cranberries or little pieces of dried ginger as the original recipe suggest to change up the texture.  Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced my breadpans, so instead of a bananabread-style soft loaf I decided to use my muffin tin.  It made 16 muffins. After baking the muffins for about 20 minutes they were moist and tender at the center and had a nice slightly crispy edge (I attribute this wonderful texture to the large amount of butter in the recipe.)

Mmmmm, muffins for dinner.


Chicken and Vegetable Meatloaf

I wanted to make a healthier meatloaf with lots of vegetables in it. At one time I made a delicious one for my husband and I, but last night I couldn’t find the recipe. I didn’t want to completely wing it (no pun intended), so I dug around and used a few recipes (1, 2, 3, 4) I found online as guidelines. I also wanted to use what I had in the house.

Generally I try to use organically grown or raised foods. I also avoid dairy products, wheat (and or gluten) and egg yolks due to allergies. In October I tried being vegan, mostly succeeding, since I’m not really supposed to eat meat either (too bad it tastes so good). The only exception I made was eating fish about four times. At the beginning of this month I reintroduced meat into my diet, only eating it during one meal a day and being otherwise vegan. Honestly I am feeling much better than before my “diet” when I was eating meat more often. I still think I would feel even better if I didn’t eat meat daily, since my stomach usually lacks the enzymes to efficiently and effectively digest meat. (Mental note: pick up digestive enzyme supplements.)

This meatloaf is actually dairy and wheat free. If you want, it should be rather easy to make it without eggs by using flax or chia “eggs” instead*. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. Sorry I didn’t take many pictures. (We were entertaining guests. It wasn’t done until midnight, and we were in a hurry and starving.) Keep in mind that when I served up the portions, I cut it into six rather large pieces (four and an half square inches), but you could cut it smaller to serve with salad or a side of veggies.

Chicken Vegetable Meatloaf
Serves 6 – 9

1 T Olive Oil
1/2 Sweet Yellow Onion, peeled, chopped
2 T Garlic, peeled, minced
1/2 C Vegetable Broth
1/2 tsp Black Peppercorns, ground
1 tsp Sea Salt
2 Brunches Broccoli, finely chopped
1 pkg Frozen Mixed Vegetables, chopped
3-4 Stalks Celery, chopped, optional
2 Medium Carrots, chopped, optional
1 lb Ground Chicken
1 lb Pesto or Italian Chicken Sausage, removed from casings
1 Egg or 2 Egg Whites*
1 1/2 T Italian Seasoning
1/2 T Herbs de Provence
2 tsp Mustard Seed, fine ground
2 T Gluten-Free Teriyaki Sauce
1 1/2 T Gluten-Free Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2 inch baking dish with foil, and lightly coat the foil with oil.

Saute the onion and garlic in oil until the onions turn clear. Add the broth, vegetables, salt and pepper and cook the mixture on medium heat for 8 minutes. (You can add herbs and spices now or later, depending on how strong you want them to taste.) Set aside.

Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, hand mix the meat, egg, herbs, sauces and vinegar. Mix the vegetables in the meat.

Transfer the meat-vegetable mixture to the prepared baking dish. Smooth the mixture to evenly distribute it in the dish. Cover the loaf with foil, and bake it for 30 minutes. Uncover the meatloaf, and bake it another 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle (do not touch the thermometer to the bottom of the dish) reads between 160 and 170 degrees F. Remove the dish from the oven to cool for 5 minutes. Portion the meatloaf as you like. Serve and enjoy.

Note: You can wait until the meat is fully cooked to use the teriyaki as a glaze on top instead of adding it to the meat mixture earlier on, if you like, for a different texture and color.

*Typically flax or chia (yes, the same seeds used on chia pets) eggs are made by mixing one tablespoon of either kind of seed (I prefer ground for a smoother texture) and three tablespoons on water. If you want a more yellow or golden color to your eggs, use golden flax seeds. If you aren’t worried about the eggs affecting the color of your dish, go ahead and use brown flax or chia, which I have found only in black with white speckles and turn gray when ground up.

One of the reasons it took so long to make this dish is that one of my meat thermometers broke. I’m very glad I had an extra one to double check. If it takes longer than an hour to reach 160 degrees F, definitely double check. I highly recommend having a back-up cooking thermometer! In addition, I also recommend testing your oven with an oven thermometer before hand to learn how to trick your it into cooking at the right temperature; many ovens out there are inaccurate to varying amounts in either direction. So be careful. I ended up baking the meatloaf for at least an extra hour.

Kitchen Conquered!

Phew!  That was a lot of dishes!  But so worth it.  This afternoon I baked stupid little pre-made cookies that you break apart and bake (they were on sale because of the Halloween Packaging), three small pans of lasagna, and chai concentrate. 

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The cookies are only okay.  The chocolate chips in them don’t taste like chocolate, just sweet due to their color swirled nature.  But at 2/$1 I couldn’t resist adding cookies to everything else I wanted to get done today.

The lasagna is a beautiful creation.  My sauce has 8 fat cloves of garlic, a pound of ground beef (Hick’s Valley Grass Fed Beef, yum!), and a pound of mild Italian sausage.  Tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano from my garden, some dried basil, and a bit of salt.  I forgot to put a splash of balsamic in it, but oh well. I mixed the ricotta cheese with an egg and a bunch of basil from my yard.  Layers included noodles, sauce, ricotta, spinach, kale, shredded mozzarella , and some diced black olives (we’ll see how that goes, what do you think?).  So much cheese!  This is what happens when my husband says he wants meat and cheese.  I made two 8×8/9×9 and then determined to avoid overflow I should also put together a little bread pan of it, too.  I’ve got one in the oven for tonight and the other two in the freezer for some other lucky nights. What do you like in lasagna?  I was thinking I should get mushrooms involved next time.

Alex and I drink at least a chai latte a day.  He prefers his cold (and he uses rice drink, to avoid too much dairy.  So much for lasagna smothered in cheese…), I like it both ways, depending on my mood.  The chai I make at home is better than my favorite chai, Oregon Chai, which I now find a little too sweet on the occasions when I buy chai out or bring home a box.  Its really easy, too.  I also loved the excuse to clean up little jars, spray the lids white, and label them in sharpie for all my bits of bulk spices!  My cupboard is so pretty and organized inside, it makes it easy and pleasant to prepare things.

So, to make the chai I put x amount of water in a pot, 5 cups for a small batch, or about 4 inches in a big batch.  Today was a big batch.  I put in about 5 peppercorns, 25 cloves, 15 cardamom pods, 2 generous lids of nutmeg (being the lid of the spice jar), 2 generous lids of cinnamon, a big squirt of minced ginger, a glop of orange carrot marmalade strangely enough, not quite a tablespoon of anise seeds and I bring it to a boil.  I turn it off, add a small cupped handful of brown sugar, teaspoon or two vanilla, a long squirt of honey, and of course, tea.  I have been using earl gray, maybe 4 tablespoons or more.  The earl gray in the bulk section of Oliver’s is probably the best earl gray I’ve found.  Its very aromatic.    After about 5 minutes of steeping, I strain the concoction in my french press and keep it in the fridge.

Maybe next time I’ll just have to video tape myself making chai.  Typing up my recipe was hard.  My measurements are quite vague, and I kind of like it that way.

Bee Kind, Sebastopol, CA

My favorite new little shop is Bee Kind out in Sebastopol.  Their honey is so good!  They let me sample to my heart’s context, tasting and comparing flavors.  Their variety of honey is unbelievable.  So many different local differences.  Sonoma Lavender vs. Forestville Blackberry vs. Eel River Honeydew, etc, etc, etc.  The item that I most often drive out there for isn’t even honey.  Its their honey roasted almonds.  Addicting little morsels of deliciousness!  And I can pretend they are good for me, too.  Local honey helps with allergies (which have never bothered me anyways, but shhh) and almonds having Omega 3 fatty acids which I do need more of in my diet.  The creamed honey is wonderfully thick, almost like an apple butter.  Great on apples or toast.  If you love honey, you should get out on the 116 and try it.  If you don’t really like honey, but want to experiment, you should get out there and try it because they may have just the honey for you.