cinnamon

Steven’s been complaining about my cooking lately. Well, maybe not complaining exactly but pointing out a bit clearly that we’ve been in a breakfast rut for a while—bread and coffee, bread and coffee, bread and coffee. Perhaps we’ve both been a little bored with this monotonous refrain. We do eat whole wheat, which is very healthy. He has his with jam and nut butter; I have mine with Earth Balance. Sometimes though what starts out as a virtue can become a culinary straightjacket.

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

Breakfast food is normally loaded with cholesterol so we try to stay away from eggs, cheese and butter as much as possible. Plus during the week, we have virtually no time to cook in the morning. Both of us want to maximize sleep so we get up and leave for work in about thirty minutes. That includes showering, taking out Clarence, getting ready and sharing a little breakie together. So forget cooking!

Granola is a Northern California stereotype and certainly I’ve seen more than one hiker whip out a pouch of the stuff or a few bars in the middle of the woods. Despite the silliness, just like Martha says, “it is a good thing.”

I adapted this recipe from Alton Brown and David Lebovits. I think they adapted their recipes from someone else because they seem fairly similar. You can vary the ingredients to customize your granola or improvise and just toss in whatever’s at hand in the pantry.

I had originally intended to use maple syrup like that other granola I wrote about years ago but realized at the last second that we’d run out. The date and pomegranate molasses were wonderful substitutes.

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

5 cups organic rolled oats
2 cups chopped pecans
½ cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup cashew nuts, chopped
½ cup Brazil nuts, chopped
½ cup dried grated coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup raisins (or a mix of dried fruits)

2 tbsp walnut oil
1/3 cup rice bran syrup
¼ cup date molasses
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
½ cup warm water

Pre-heat the oven to 300F.

With exception of the raisins, place all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix and set aside.

Add wet ingredients to a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over dry ingredients. Use your hands so it gets absorbed evenly. Spread the granola on two large baking trays and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Stir granola with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool a bit then add raisins and toss to combine. Let cool completely. Transfer to an air tight container and have it for breakfast with some soy milk, or on a hike to somewhere gorgeous.

do you feel the call of the wild

do you feel the call of the wild?

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I have fond memories of a cooking class we took in Chiang Mai, Thailand several years ago. The chef picked us up early in the morning from the hotel then off we went to a thrilling local market to buy the ingredients for the cooking class feast. I think there were about 16 of us divided into pairs. Each group, after a brief classroom training session, was directed to an open restaurant kitchen area to cook different Thai recipes with the produce we bought earlier. We all shared the prepared dishes at the end.

vegetarian Vietnamese Pho

vegetarian Vietnamese Pho

Steven and I made Tom Yum with coconut milk. Since then I learned to make the one with clear broth which is my favorite. I have been making my Thai inspired soups at home for while now. They’re very versatile: here’s one with fresh salmon, another more traditional style and a third with Dungeness crab. Mmmm!

me at a buzzing Chiang Mai market

me at a buzzing Chiang Mai market

our Thai chef instructor

our Thai chef instructor

ready to cook amazing Thai food

ready to cook amazing Thai food

slurping up my first ever homemade Thai Tom Yum soup

slurping up my first ever homemade Thai Tom Yum soup

I have not yet had the honor and pleasure of travelling to Vietnam, but I can’t wait! I love Vietnamese Pho, that brothy spicy clear soup that’s usually served with paper thin slices of steak and other cuts of meat. Since becoming pescatarian, I haven’t really had it in a while. It’s hard to find a good pesce-veggie pho alternative. Though we’re blessed in San Francisco with two places, The Loving Hut and The Golden Era, both of which make good vegan versions. However I wanted to make my own soup at home.

I read an inspiring article in the New York Times on vegetarian pho broth and a related post on the subject at Ellie May’s blog.

Like that Thai cooking class for Tom Yum, these stories demystified pho for me. It is completely easy to make provided that you have the correct ingredients. One funny thing about this is that I have never been a huge fun of cinnamon or star anise and these spices shine in the soup… go figure. I’ve already made it twice and will be returning to this recipe often I’ve a feeling. Pho broth has a tart, salty, smoky, slightly sweet, and earthy flavor that matches perfectly well with the fresh herbs added at the end. Love it!

vegetarian Vietnamese Pho

for the broth:

3 quarts water
1 small daikon radish, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
2 tbsp soy sauce
Kosher salt to taste
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 large onion, quartered
1 shallot, halved
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
4 shiitake mushrooms
5 large cloves garlic, skin on, crushed
2 star anise pods
4 whole cloves
1 piece of good cinnamon (~3 inches)

for the solids:

Rice Noodles (~1 lb) – (pad Thai noodles)
Small pack of seitan strips soaked in 1 tsp soy sauce and 1 crushed fresh garlic clove
Field Roast cold cut sliced thinly
2 oz of Yuba cut into strips
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
Chives
Thai basil leaves
Mint leaves
Cilantro leaves
Lime cut into wedges
1 serrano chili pepper cut in rounds

condiments:

Hoisin sauce
Chili garlic sauce

preparing the broth

preparing the broth

Put first seven ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile place onion, shallot, garlic, ginger, mushroom, star anise, cloves and cinnamon in a skillet and toast until veggies begin to caramelize and everything becomes aromatic. Add toasted ingredients to the boiling broth, turn temperature down and simmer for 25 minutes. Discard solids.

roasting the onion, garlic, ginger and various spices

roasting the onion, garlic, ginger and various spices

While broth is cooking boil another pot of water, drop rice noodles in, remove from heat and let soak for about 15 minutes. Check every now and then for doneness. Noodles should not cook too long. Look for an al dente texture. Drain

Using the same skillet add olive oil followed by marinated seitan and cook for about 4 minutes then set aside.

To assemble the soup, place some noodles in the bottom of a bowl, add some mung bean sprouts, then ladle some piping hot broth over them. Top with a wedge of lime, some seitan, yuba, Field Roast cold cut slices, a few leaves of basil, mint and serve with more herbs and mung bean sprouts on the side.

Broth should be adjusted at the table with a dash of hoisin and chili garlic sauce.

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This is another wonderful rice pilaf adapted from our favorite Iranian cook book, New Food of Life, by Najmieh Batmanglij. I prepared it for our New Year’s Eve party and we shared it with our friends Jasmine Turner and Prof. T.

fragrant herbed basmati polow

fragrant herbed basmati polow

Steven “suggested” the meal, and I’m glad. I was a bit jet lagged from our recent trip to Virginia and couldn’t organize my thoughts around what to cook for our last dinner of 2011: obviously an important decision in any kitchen. This rice is wonderfully fragrant and light. It whispers that spring is coming soon…

Here I didn’t use ghee. Instead I used just a single tablespoon of butter, and extra virgin olive oil for the rest. The recipe calls for plain yogurt but I used labneh—I can’t help it, I’m, addicted to the stuff. I mixed up the herb ratios compared to Najmieh’s recommendations and deployed the cinnamon parsimoniously.

Lastly, this dish requires attention to the process of making it otherwise it won’t turn out the way it is supposed to be. I’ve tried making similar recipes before skipping steps and the result was not as effective, so between prepping and the actual cooking, it took me about 3 hours to prepare.

fragrant herbed basmati polow

3 cups basmati rice
¾ cup whole scallions, roughly chopped
1½ cups dill, roughly chopped
2 cups Italian parsley, roughly chopped
2 cups cilantro, roughly chopped
2 stalks fresh Chinese garlic plants, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp saffron threads (~ 1 gram), dissolved/soaked in 5 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp labneh
Sprinkles of cinnamon
1 tbsp butter
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Rinse basmati rice 3 times in warm water. Transfer rice to a large bowl then add 8 cups of water and two teaspoons of salt. Stir it and soak for 2 hours.

Towards the last 15 minutes of soaking, fill a large pot with 8 cups of water, 1 tsp of salt and bring it to a boil. Rinse soaking rice and put it in the boiling water. Parboil it for about 5 minutes and drain.

Mix all herbs with minced garlic and some salt. Set aside

Using a separate bowl combine about ¾ cup of parboiled rice, labneh and a third of the saffron threads and juice. Be careful not to break the rice.

Heat a tablespoon of butter and a couple tablespoons of water in the pot used for boiling the rice. Spread rice/labneh mix over the bottom of the pan and cook rice for a couple of minutes at medium high. This will build the delicious brown crust of the dish. Reduce temperature to low.

Add a layer of rice, a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon and then a layer of herbs. Repeat until you run out of ingredients. The last layer should be rice. Sprinkle with some salt, the saffron water and threads, half cup of hot water and half of the olive oil.

Place a paper towel on the top of the pan and then cover with the lid. Continue cooking for about 45 minutes. Do not open the lid until time has lapsed. Remove from heat and let it rest, covered, for another five minutes. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil over, transfer to a serving plate/bowl and voila! Najmieh suggests that you pile the rice in a pyramid shape and serve the crust on the side. That would make it look cuter, but we were starved by then so sort of mixed it all together.

welcome 2012!!!

fireworks display over downtown San Francisco and the Bay. Welcome 2012!!!

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advieh

by Stevie on June 2, 2011

This recipe comes from the amazing book by Najmieh Batmanglij, Food of Life. I made advieh for basmati and fava rice.

advieh

advieh

Personally, I find spice mixes fascinating and mysterious bordering on scary. They’re so puzzling when you buy them pre-made. Whatever could be in these things? Chinese five spice is a perfect example. I look at it in its little jar on the supermarket shelf and become baffled. Yet when Heguiberto made it recently from scratch it suddenly became familiar and easy.

So with advieh, though there are some apparent variations. For example, Persian Kitchen adds nutmeg to the ingredients. Chowhound and food.com make theirs the same as Najmieh. However, Javaneh recommends lots more potential spices like star anise, zaafaran, pistachio, turmeric, ginger and many others. She seems to take a more free-form approach, which I always welcome.

Since I’m new at advieh, I basically stuck with the book. Of course, less is more when it comes to cinnamon at my house, so I reduced the total amount.

This is fun. In the act of preparing a spice mix, I always feel connected to the ancient and ongoing history of food.

basic advieh

2 tbsp dried rose petals
2 tbsp cardamom
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cumin

Blend everything together in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Store in air tight container.

{ 9 comments }

This delectable dish comes from the sublime Najmieh Batmanglij’s book, Food of Life. I made it with some success for a recent dinner party on a day when I felt little inspiration. Najmieh always cheers my mind and appetite.

basmati rice with dried yellow fava beans

basmati rice with dried yellow fava beans

Her recipe calls for dried peeled yellow fava beans, which I happened to have. Hegui picked them up at Mi Pueblo long before I’d considered this dish. She uses a special Persian spice mix for rice called advieh. The recipe can be found towards the end of the book, so I prepared my own. Made from cardamom, cumin, rose petal and cinnamon, it was quite aromatic. Since Hegui isn’t too into cinnamon, I reduced the total amount in my advieh and left out the additional ½ teaspoon that’s recommended for the yellow rice.

You’re supposed to use a non-stick pot and allow the rice on the bottom to burn and caramelize a bit. When you plate, you carefully remove the rice, which is served in a large platter in a cone shape with the garnish. Then you remove the burned crust and offer it on the side. I don’t have that kind of pan so omitted the extended cooking at low temperature and stirred my rice to try to prevent sticking. Too bad. The crust sounds quite interesting.

My only real objection to the recipe, since it was fabulous, is that she writes it “makes 6 servings.” This is absurd. I could have fed an army with the amount of finished rice. So be warned.

basmati rice with dried yellow fava beans

3 cups basmati rice, rinsed thoroughly
2 to 3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp turmeric
2cups dried yellow hulled favas
1 tbsp or more salt
black pepper to taste
1 tsp advieh or Persian spice mix
½ cup olive oil
raisins and fried eggs for garnish

Soak beans in water for at least two hours or more.

In a deep pot, brown onions in vegetable oil, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add turmeric, soaked rinsed beans and warm water to cover (she says 7 cups). Bring to boil then simmer for about thirty minutes to cook beans. Add salt, black pepper and rinsed rice. Simmer for another 20 minutes to cook rice. Sprinkle advieh onto cooked rice then pour olive oil over it. Cover and let rest off the heat for about ten minutes.

Plate rice on a large platter forming a cone shape. Decorate with raisins and fried eggs.

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pumpkin coconut compote

by Heguiberto on February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today it’s all about sweets for your sweet. My home State, Minas Gerais in Brazil, is famed for its jams and compotes. They make many sweets from lots of different fruits, including: guava, pineapple, passion fruit, bitter orange, jabuticaba, quice and pumpkin, to name just a few. As a kid, I fondly remember watching my mother spending lots of time preparing these wonderful sweets. She gave them to neighbors and to the Church for their weekend auctions to raise funds for charity.

pumpkin coconut compote

pumpkin coconut compote

I bought a huge French pumpkin last November with the intention of using it for decoration through the holidays and then eating it in the New Year. Well, 2011 is now.

You can’t really tell that well from the picture, but it must have been at least 18 inches in diameter (about a half meter!)

my French pumpkin

my French pumpkin

Here are a few others. I read somewhere about French pumpkin. The description of it made me think that it would work for my mother’s pumpkin coconut compote. The French one has a similar texture to the ones from Brazil; with a similar, bright orange flesh that’s slightly fibrous and a relatively soft and pliable skin that makes it easy to peel.

The thing was absolutely gigantic for two people. I cut it up last Thursday and used some for quibebe, a popular savory pumpkin dish from Minas; some I gave to Jasmine Turner, she wants to experiment cooking with fresh pumpkin as opposed to canned for more pies (Here’s the latest version); Steven plans on making some into pumpkin-filled ravioli with sage and shitake mushrooms; and the rest I used for this sweet.

pumpkin coconut compote served with a slice of queso fresco

pumpkin coconut compote served with a slice of queso fresco

This is essentially a dessert. Typically you’d have it with a white, salty but mildly flavored cheese after the meal. We ate ours with slices of Mexican queso fresco. You might enjoy it as a small snack or at breakfast-time as well. It is delicious and can even be elegant.

pumpkin coconut compote

3½ lbs French pumpkin (or similar) peeled, seeds and inner strings removed, cut into small cubes
1½ lbs sugar
1-2 cinnamon sticks
8 cloves
1½ cup dried coconut flakes

Add pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon and cloves to a large pot on medium heat. Stir occasionally. Pumpkin will release liquid and melt the sugar. Cook for about 1 hour, uncovered, stirring every 3-4 minutes to prevent burning or sticking. Pumpkin should dissolve by the end of cooking and much of the liquid should evaporate. If it remains firm, use a wooden spoon to mash it in the pot. Add coconut flakes and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Eat at room temperature or chilled. This could easily be preserved in jars, which is how you find it in Brazil. I didn’t do that here, so we ate it over a few days and gave some to friends. This recipe is also similar to this from a Brazilian blog.

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Chinese 5 spice powder

by Heguiberto on February 8, 2011

I can’t think of a many dishes I like that come flavored with star anise, licorice or fennel seeds. I’m not a huge fan. My nose and palate simply cannot process these intense smells and tastes. Pernod flavored mussels? a Sambuca Romana digestif? Pastis? Licorice candy shaped like little black Scotty dogs? I’ll pass, thank you very much. Yet when I see something that seems new to me I keep trying…

Chinese five spice powder

Chinese five spice powder

Take the daikon rice cakes that I made the other day. The recipe called for a minimal amount of Chinese 5 spice powder. If you didn’t know already, one of the “five spices” in the powder is star anise. Star A’ and I aren’t really on speaking terms at the moment. I didn’t dare use a store-bought version. That’s way too strong!

Instead, since I had all the individual ingredients at home, I decided to make my own. I added star anise but not too much. I’m still not sure about it. It is fun to discover things that you love, things that you don’t and, sometimes, things that you keep on giving more chances. Star anise looks so lovely, that I keep giving it another shot.

5-spice powder is actually made with six ingredients if you include salt. Online recipes can’t seem to agree on individual ingredients and amounts used. You can find another version here and here and here.

Chinese 5 spice powder

5 cloves
1 star anise
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp Szechuan pepper corns
2 cm long cinnamon stick
¾ tsp kosher salt

Place all of the above in the electric grinder. Pulse until pulverized and voilá!

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My sister, Kris, makes wonderful cakes and quick breads. She lives back East so I don’t see her that often. Years ago she would make this zucchini bread around the holidays in large volume and give it as gifts to friends and family. I’ve never made it before now though I’ve had the recipe for a while. I managed to misplace it in our last move and have finally gotten around to having her send it my way again. It reminds me of her warm kitchen filled with aromas of baking bread, cookies and cinnamon. Aaaaa.

my sister’s zucchini walnut raisin bread

my sister’s zucchini walnut raisin bread

Her recipe doesn’t call for sesame seeds but I had some extra (leftover from Hegui’s yummy wakame salad) so threw them into the mix.

This quick bread is easy to make and a real crowd pleaser. I devoured some right out of the oven with butter melting on top. Heavenly! Thanks for this, Kris, and happy holidays!

my sister’s zucchini walnut raisin bread

2 cups Italian zucchini, shredded (about three medium zucchini)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1 cup walnuts
1 cup raisins
¼ cup sesame seeds
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

I used disposable wax paper cake pans. If using a regular baking dish, grease and dust with flour before use.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda. In another bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Mix in sugar and vanilla. Fold nuts and raisins into egg mixture. Fold flour mix into wet ingredients in two stages until everything is moist.

Pour batter into baking dishes. I made a ring cake and a smaller loaf from this recipe. My sister says that it can make two regular sized loafs.

Bake about one hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. My smaller loaf only needed about 50 minutes. Kris says that muffins might be ready after a mere 20 minutes.

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Irene’s zucchini oatmeal raisin bread

December 17, 2010

Irene is my paternal grandmother, though she prefers “Granny” to “Grandma.” Apparently it makes her feel younger. For a year when I was a child, my family and I lived in Geneva, Switzerland where I attended a private English-speaking school in the Third Grade. I had a Scottish friend in my class who taught me […]

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PPO: pumpkin pie obsession, better known as healthier-than-it-should-be pumpkin pie

November 29, 2010

I do not know what has come over me, but I have this overwhelming urge to eat and fully enjoy pumpkin pie. It might be because it is the season for pumpkins and pumpkins are just everywhere. Also the food advertisements that come in bright colors in the mail every other day make holiday meals […]

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