Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chocolate Toffee

Chocolate Toffee
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

One more holiday treat to share... my friend Robin made her family's recipe for chocolate toffee. I hadn't eaten this kind of toffee in a long time so I didn't even know that it could be so good.

I always thought toffee was kind of hard and chewy and stuck to your teeth, but this was so fresh that it was not hard and sticky at all. I could taste the fresh butter and toasted almonds. It was quite addicting and I'm embarrassed to admit that I ate half of it in one day.

Because it's a secret recipe I cannot share it, but I was hoping to inspire someone to make or bake gifts rather than buy. Consumable gifts are practical and if they're made/baked by you, it's a lot more personal.

I was also delighted by the care and thoughtfulness of the way she wrapped her home baked gift. She included a couple of cookie cutters - the double heart for me and a guitar shaped one for my guitarist husband. How could I not photograph it and share it with everyone. Thank you Robin!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday Baked Goodies

I got the most amazing and delicious assortment of baked goodies this holiday from my generous friends. Recipes for some of them can be found in the links.

Italian Biscotti and Amaretti - the Biscotti baked by my friend Michael's Italian mom, and the Amaretti by my friend Maria's Italian mom... so they are authentic. I was compelled to make myself an espresso (macchiato) before I sat down to enjoy these treats. Grazie mille signore!
Chocolate Chip Cookie - from my friend Theresa who is Baker Extraordinaire! I once hosted a holiday cookie exchange where we did a tasting and rating, and her cookies won first place out of 12 cookies. She's had this secret recipe for 20+ years and has brought the cookies to many parties over the years - one of my favorites.

Cranberry Bliss Bars - I'm not the number one fan of dried cranberries but in this recipe it works for me because it combines well with the cream cheese frosting. My friend Edith baked these and she says this is a Starbucks recipe

Double Chocolate Cheesecake - also made by Theresa (Baker Extraordinaire) who got the recipe came from Epicurious. She says "I didn't do the ganache glaze and I used half bittersweet and half semi-sweet chocolate. I also crushed some heath bar candy and sprinkled it on the crust." This was my husband's favorite - he's a cheesecake-aholic.

Peanut Butter Blossoms - also baked by my friend Edith, these are a classic Hershey's recipe using the Kisses chocolate. Peanut butter in cookies is always a hit with me and combining it with chocolate is a winner.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Dinner Menu

I hope everyone has been enjoying the December festivities so far. It's been a pretty low key December for me which I am happy about - it's been nice to have less to do. I think the weak economy has cut party budgets so instead of big fancy parties I've been seeing friends for drinks or the movies. Gift exchanges were very minimal with friends and in my family we draw names so we only have to buy one adult gift (maximum $50 is the rule) - the children each get gifts, but nothing extravagant. I prefer a scaled down holidays because the focus is on the people and relationships rather than the stuff.

Food is one area where I like to put some effort in because for me it's enjoyable and is a key part of any celebration - the sharing of meals (breaking bread) bonds people together, and therefore promotes the relationship aspect of the holidays.

I  hosted my family's Christmas lunch, but it was a smaller affair than Thanksgiving was. I didn't attempt anything fancy because we wanted to keep it simple and casual.

Lumpia (Filipino egg rolls made by my Mom)
 - a favorite with everyone in the family, even the non-Filipinos so everyone is happy to have it again; one of several items repeated from our Thanksgiving menu.

Grilled ribeye steaks seasoned with just a little salt and pepper, then topped with course red Hawaiian sea salt when it came off the grill
Prawns, red bell pepper and potatoes "stew" (made by my Mom)

Salad of mixed baby greens, avocado, cucumber, feta cheese, toasted sliced almonds mixed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Brussels sprouts with bacon
Brown rice (my father likes to have rice with steak)
Roasted fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes & carrots w/ garlic & garden herbs tossed in olive oil

Ginataan (a delicious Filipino dessert which my Dad made)
 - a thick coconut milk base soup with tubers (taro, sweet potato), mochi balls, plantains and jackfruit
L.A. Burdick hazelnut chocolate orange cake (sent by my good friend from the east coast)
 - a wonderful flourless cake with a thick coat of hazelnut chocolate

Red wine - Carmenere (brought by my sister)
Mineral water

Yes, another repeat from Thanksgiving, fingerling potatoes and sweet potatoes tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs from my garden. It's so easy and everyone loves it, why not? I roast them in the pan for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees F.

The Brussels sprouts dish is one of my favorites. I didn't add the chestnuts (as I did for Thanksgiving) because I couldn't find the pre-roasted package from Trader Joe's. I remember buying the last box in November and I guess they didn't restock it.

Don't boil the Brussels sprouts... I see many recipes which require you to cook/boil them before cooking on the pan but it just gets overcooked. Just cut them up in quarters and sautee them in olive oil and the pre-cooked bacon. I also add about a quarter cup of water because the moisture helps to cook them faster. Once the Brussels sprouts start to brown, they are pretty much done. Just add a little sprinkle of salt and black pepper once it's all cooked, but remember that the bacon is salty so you don't need to add much salt at the end.

Hazelnut Chocolate Orange Cake from L.A. Burdick of N.H.
My very sweet friend who lives on the east coast came across this cake while reading about it in the New York Times article Guide to Mail-Order Foods several weeks ago. She knows my husband and I are chocoholics so this was truly a lovely and thoughtful gift, and everyone at the Christmas table thoroughly enjoyed it. The orange and hazelnut cake was generously frosted with gianduja - one of my favorite flavors which always makes me think of Italy. Thank you Dear!  :-*

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

White Earl Grey Tea Break

Tea break
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

It's cold today so for my mid-morning snack I had some tea in my handle-less cup so it could keep my hands warm.

The Earl Grey white tea went nicely with a small piece of persimmon fruit. It was just what I needed to give me a little energy boost to take me to lunch.

I got this wonderful white tea from my sister and when I first looked at the packaging I wondered whether flavoring such a delicate tea who be a good idea. The flavor is not as strong as a Earl Grey black tea, but it's still quite good and refreshing. I love it with some sweet fruit.

From the Tao of Tea's web site, this is how they describe their White Earl Grey:

Introduction: Made only from the newly sprouted ‘buds’ of the tea plant. These buds have silvery white hair ‘down’ that provide a smooth, honey texture to the brew. In making white tea, the buds are dried in direct sun with minimal oxidaztion to maintain a high level of anti-oxidants, known to strengthen the immune system.

High Grade Organic White Tea
Although, there are several types of white teas, we choose only the highest grade of ‘Silver Needles’, a fine tea from China for this blend.

Calabria Bergamot
Reggio di Calabria in Southern Italy is the native growing area for 'Citrus Bergamia' Bergamot.
Its arrival in Calabria is shrouded in mystery, and even though it grows elsewhere, only in this area does it give us the essential oil popularily used to make Earl Grey tea. The oil is also widely used for aromatherapy treatments and is known to have antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties.

Small Batch Blending
We use a small batch process to blend the steam distilled organic Bergamot essential oil and organic white tea. This helps maintain an even flavor profile, often ignored by large mechanical processes.
Flavor Profile: Fragrant, citrus, cooling aroma with a light, delicate, lingering sweetness.
Ingredients: 100% Organic White Tea, Organic Bergamot Essence
Certified Organic by: Quality Assurance International (QAI)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Color my fridge with vintage Pyrex - BEFORE

This post is for fans of colorful vintage kitchenware, especially vintage Pyrex. If you're old enough, you may remember your mother or grandmother using some of these pieces in their kitchens.

Here's my refrigerator on the day BEFORE Thanksgiving - all my food prepped and ready to go for Thanksgiving day.

Seeing the colors and patterns makes me happy when I open my fridge. I somewhat randomly stack these dishes and the different combinations of colors or patterns is like creating a colorful painting. I say "somewhat randomly" because they are stacked based on where they fit best.

Continued... on my next post, how the inside of my fridge looked on the day AFTER Thanksgiving.

Color my fridge with vintage Pyrex - AFTER

AFTER - leftovers
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

Refrigerator is filled with leftovers ready to be consumed.

Many of the same dishes from BEFORE but stacked again in a different way to create a different "painting."

If you're still reading then you may possibly be interested in how and why I acquired all this vintage Pyrex from the 1950s-1970s. 

It all started a few years ago when I was helping my parents clean out their garage and I came across my Mom's old Pyrex pieces that she was saving and hoping to give to me and my sisters. Aah... the nostalgia and memories of using the dishes from when I was a kid. It brought me back to a different time in my life, perhaps when things were simpler.

The designs from that era are fun and kind of whimsical, relative to the seriousness and "sophistication" of the stuff that's out there at the Williams-Sonomas and Sur La Tables of the world. Not that I don't lust after the cool stuff in those shops, but I really was craving something different that I don't see in those shops. Everything is so neutral or Tuscany or French Country or contemporary sans soul - it's all nice but ubiquitous which = not exciting me. Yes, I have a lot of neutral stuff in my cupboards but that is why I need vintage Pyrex... to add some "pop" as they say (whoever THEY are).

In general I am drawn to the designs and patterns from the 50s, 60s and 70s (like Marimekko) and my current favorite textile and housewares designers (like Orla Kiely) are also inspired by the designs of that time as well. You may have noticed some Marimekko and Orla Kiely items in my other photos. Isn't retro "in" right now?

If you're still reading because you're wondering why on earth I would be interested in such tacky old junk... well I would love to convince you that these pieces can be combined nicely as accent pieces with more contemporary or classic or neutral pieces. There are some fun designs that are fun to bring to potlucks and when they stand out on the table I get questions about where the dish comes from.

After taking home the pieces from my Mom's garage collection I fell in love as I was hand washing them. Soon after I found myself at garage sales and on eBay looking for good deals on barely used vintage Pyrex. I also found a Flicker group called Pyrex Love where I found vintage Pyrex collector soul mates, which of course spurred my desire to collect more pieces than I can actually use. I've even swapped dishes with of few of my mates across the country, putting a big ding on carbon footprint score (yikes!).

How did I justify this? Because I was RE-USING them, an environmentalist's/conservationist's excuse to collect... I saved them from going into landfills... I'm lowering my carbon footprint? Plus I was saving money by not buying the fancy new stuff and the fancy shops. I really do use them a lot and in fact I started a Flickr group called Pyrex in Action for photos where people are actually USING their vintage Pyrex. My friends and I had a potluck retro themed dinner party for our friend's birthday who was born in the mid-century era - we brought dishes in our vintage Pyrex and it was a blast.

They really are so practical to use - the vintage Pyrex are the hardest working pieces in my kitchen. They're excellent for baking and they're fun to use as prep bowls. The only small issue is that because they the dishes are 40-50 years old, I have to hand wash them to maintain the bright colors and patterns. But it's worth it!  :-)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Macadamia, panko and furikake crusted salmon

Crusted salmon
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

The last of the summer's stash of wild salmon came out of the freezer this week and was baked with a crust of panko, macadamia and Japanese rice seasoning, also called furikake.

Here's wikipedia's definition of furikake:

"Furikake (振り掛け / ふりかけ?) is a dry Japanese condiment meant to be sprinkled on top of rice. It typically consists of a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt, and monosodium glutamate. Other flavorful ingredients such as katsuobushi (sometimes indicated on the package as bonito), salmon, shiso, egg, powdered miso, vegetables, etc. are often added to the mix.

Furikake is often brightly colored and flaky. It can have a slight fish or seafood flavoring, and is sometimes spicy. It can be used in Japanese cooking for pickling foods for onigiri, or rice balls."

How it ended up in my pantry...
Yes, MSG is a no-no in my household... but I got addicted to this after babysitting my 4-year old nephew, who loves to eat rice seasoned with this stuff, so I'm making a small exception here. It was the only way he would eat the brown rice - and if you're a mom, you know how difficult it can be to get your kids to eat so you make exceptions every once in a while right? After feeding my nephew and eating with him for a week, I was hooked too and ended buying some when my sister and I visited the Japanese store.

I don't eat rice very often so my jar of furikake seasoning is getting close to expiring. I hate to waste food so that's how I ended up using this seasoning in my salmon crust. Plus I like how it adds some color to the crust, makes it look more appetizing.

Crusted with macadamia, panko and black sesame seeds

I've also used black sesame seeds to make my crust look more interesting and it gives it a nice flavor too. My husband and I cook/eat so much salmon throughout the summer season that I have to find different ways to prepare it. 9 out of 10 times we just throw it on the grill seasoned with just salt, white pepper and dill or sometimes I spice it up or marinate it. But when the weather gets colder I'm more inclined to turn on the oven - that's when I can experiment with making a crust.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blue potatoes

Blue potatoes
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

On the outside they look like a deep purple color. Why are some dark inside but some are white inside? It's interesting and beautiful. Nature is a remarkable thing.

I used these potatoes to make an omlette with red bell pepper and onions. I was so hungry I forgot to take a photo of the final product. The primary colors of red, yellow and blue made it nice to look at and fun to eat.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tapioca pearls

Tapioca pearls
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

When I picked up the little 6-ounce box of tapioca I didn't believe it actually made 17 servings as it said on the box. I had 11 people for dinner and I wanted to make sure to have enough so I bought 3 boxes, just in case. I hate running out to get last minute ingredients, especially during holiday season. Well sure enough the one little 6-ounce box did indeed make MANY servings.

The recipe on the back of this box called for coconut milk (rather than regular milk, I used light coconut milk) which I was happy about because I was planning to top it with some Asian fruit. I used turbinado sugar (instead of granulated white sugar), which gave it a nice flavor.

The only thing I would change on the recipe is to decrease the water. Too much water made the consistency more soupy than I was expecting. I wanted a pudding-like texture, so next time I'm going to add only 1/2 or 3/4 of the water. Luckily I had a tapioca powder (by the same company) so it was easy to thicken with that. But I had to wait until it was half cooled before I can determine what the final consistency was going to be, never having made tapioca before. So I had to re-heat the soup to add the thickener - reheating something always makes me nervous because you never know what's going to happen.

So now I know how to work with tapioca and I'm looking forward to making it again.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Easy dip with feta & cottage cheese

Feta & cottage cheese dip
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

Here's a very easy and quick recipe for a dip to go with raw veggies. I never measure anything that I make up myself so the measurements here are approximately what I think I used. Please adjust the amounts to your taste.

1 1/2 cups of low fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup (or more) of finely chopped feta cheese
1 t. finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
1/4 t. black pepper

Mix it all up and it makes a nice dip for carrots, celery, red bell pepper and other veggies. Remember that feta cheese is very salty so you won't need to add more salt.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


The other day I received an email from my friend Deb announcing that she has redesigned the web site of Kiger Family Vineyards - she and her husband are the owners.

Having worked with her as a fellow marketeer, I felt I had a duty to click to her site to review it and provide helpful feedback, which I did, but found myself drawn into the story on the web site about their "verjus".

What is verjus you ask? From the KFV site:

Verjus: (vair-zhoo)

1. the tart, fresh, non-fermented juice of unripe
wine grapes. From the French, vert (green) + jus (juice); sometimes called verjuice

2. A true culinary delight

I asked Deb what it tastes like and I pasted below her email response:

"The verjus tastes a little like very tart lemonade. There's some sweetness in it (at the time of green thinning, the fruit is at about 16 degrees brix, compared to the 26+ brix levels found in grapes ripe enough to pick for wine.

From wikipedia: In the food/beverage industry, the term Brix is used to describe the approximate amount of sugars in fruit juices, wine, soft drinks.  For fruit juices, one degree Brix is about 1-2% sugar by weight.  This usually correlates well with perceived sweetness.  As the Brix reading increases so does the perceived sweetness of fruit, fruit juices, etc.)

So you don't drink it straight up. It is very acidic like lemon juice and vinegar, but has enough sweetness to lend a little to the food or drink. Sometimes I pour a little in sparkling water for a refreshing drink. Again, it has no alcohol because you prevent fermentation from taking place."

All she had to do was mention "like a tart lemonade" and you know I became even more intrigued. It's so interesting to learn about things that go on at the vineyard that aren't directly related to wine. I can't wait to make a trip to Sonoma Valley to pick up the bottle she has so kindly set aside for me!

Check out the verjus story on their site in which Deb describes what "green-thinning" is, and to see other fun pictures about the process. Or visit http://www.kigerwine.com/Home.html to learn about which wineries use their grapes and or to find out other fun activities happening at their vineyard.

Deb and her friend Tim unloading the grape clusters that will make the verjus. Photo credits: Debi Wallstrom

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meyer lemons now in season

Can you see the difference in color? See how much deeper the color of the Meyer lemons (left) is, almost yellow-orange, compared to the Eureka lemons (right)?

Yesterday I was at my friend's house who has a Meyer lemon tree abounding with ripening fruit. The branch pictured below is just one of many that practically has more fruit than leaves - it always amazes me when I see trees producing such a copious amount of fruit.

I was so happy that she shared some with me and that there are plenty more that will ripen over the next 3-4 months... which gives me an excuse to visit her more often.  :-)  Hopefully the weather cooperates - a cold front is coming and if we go into many days in a row freezing temperatures she will likely lose most of her lemons.

I love Meyer lemons - it's honey-like flavor is much sweeter than regular lemons. Really juicy too - you don't need to squeeze very hard and lots of juice comes pouring out. I'm guessing they're not cheap at the supermarket. I know regular lemons can be pricey - that's why I try not to take my own Eureka lemon tree for granted. The Eureka lemon has its place because sometimes you just need that classic sour lemon flavor and Meyer lemons wouldn't work where that's needed.

I learned from Wikipedia that this lemon is... native to China, thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin orange or sweet orange. The Meyer lemon was introduced to the United States in 1908 as S.P.I. #23028, by the agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture who collected a sample of the plant on a trip to China.

One of the main branches of my friend's Meyer lemon tree.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanksgiving: Desserts

 Pumpkin Bars, Pumpkin Bread, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I knew that my mother was stocking her fridge with lots of pumpkin and pecan pies and that we would eat at the meals on the other days of the weekend. So I had to come up with some other dessert ideas.

The Pumpkin Bars taste like a pumpkin cheesecake in between a crumbly crust with rolled oats and walnuts, topped with white chocolate chips and white/milk chocolate chips.

The Pumpkin Bread was made using a recipe posted here earlier this month, only without the zucchini.

The Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies were for anyone who didn't want to have pumpkin.

 Coconut Tapioca Pudding

I also wanted to have a dessert with an Asian influence so I served Coconut Tapioca Pudding in individual glass bowls topped with chunks of fresh persimmon fruit. The combination was delicious and I was happy it worked out.

Chocolate from Europe and the USA

Everyone in my family loves chocolate so I set these bowls out so everyone can have their chocolate fix.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving: Flowers for the table

Thanksgiving flowers
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

I like to keep my floral centerpieces simple because I don't want it to take up a lot of space on my table. It does end up off the table eventually to make room for the food so having a small arrangement also makes it easier to move away.

I almost always use this vase (by Finnish designer & architect Alvar Aalto) because it allows for a minimal flower arrangement. It's my favorite vase because the shape of the vase can stand alone as a decorative piece even without flowers. So placing a lot of flowers in the vase would cover its beautiful and interesting design.

These cute flowers are called "Button Mums". I usually put Gerbera Daisies in this vase but they look too spring/summer. But I found these cute chrysanthemums with a nice golden yellow color, more appropriate for autumn.

The Aalto vase was created for the luxury Savoy restaurant in Helsinki that opened in 1937. It has won awards for its design and is showcased worldwide in galleries and museum collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York and is manufactured by iittala of Finland.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving: Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

Believe it or not, the most favored dish by most was the Brussels sprouts with chestnuts and bacon. I don't have a recipe but it's really easy. Here's how I prepared them.

After removing the Brussels sprouts from the stalk and washing them, cut them in quarters. Set aside.

Cut the cooked chestnuts in quarters. I cheated and bought the pre-cooked ones from Trader Joe's. Set aside.

Cook some bacon until it's about 90% done and then slice them up into small pieces. Set aside.

Heat up some olive oil in a large pan and cook the bacon until it's 100% done. This will allow some of the bacon fat to mix in with the olive oil.

Add the Brussels sprouts and cook on medium-high heat for about 12-15 minutes. I added a little water to help it cook a little faster. Add the chestnuts when it's about half way or 3/4 of the way cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remember that the bacon is salty so be careful not to add too much more salt. Once the water evaporates the sprouts can be cooked until you see the nice brown caramelization.

I had intended to add shallots but forgot to buy them, next time I will.

I love the way that Brussels sprouts looks on the stalk. They seem to taste better/fresher when you can buy them this way. I was surprised to see them this way at my local Trader Joe's.


Thanksgiving: Roasted Potatoes and Carrots

Even though we were already having the traditional mashed potatoes (the one thing my husband made from peeling to the final product, with lots of butter and perfectly salted), I wanted to add some roasted fingerling potatoes (red, white and blue colored) which are super tasty.

Adding sweet potatoes and carrots added a nice autumn orange color, and along with the blue potatoes it just added a nice splash of color to the entire meal, not to mention a nice splash of taste.

I chopped up fresh herbs from my garden - rosemary, sage, thyme and marjoram. Mixed in olive oil along with a little finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper. I prepared it all the night before and just put it in the 400°F oven for about 40 minutes until they were crisp on the outside. I did stir it about half way through so it can brown more evenly.

Herbs from my garden
Living in Northern California many herbs can thrive well into the early winter. Rosemary is not affected by the cold weather but even if I lose a few leaves of the other plants in December/January, by March I have fresh leaves again.

My father used these same herbs to season the turkey he made for our Thanksgiving dinner and it was quite tasty - but you only tasted it if you were lucky enough to get one of the outer slices of turkey meat.

Back to the potatoes... here they are in the pan ready the night before because I knew I wouldn't have time to prep them the day of. Actually, it worked out well because they "marinated" over night and really infused the potatoes with flavor.

The only caution I would give is that all of these potatoes cook at a different rate so the textures varied. The blue potatoes ended up a bit dry and tough - pretty to look at but not the tastiest IMO. The sweet potatoes cook quickly and did not crisp - they were on the soft/mushy side, but I didn't mind and they tasted great.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving: Cranberry sauce is SO easy

It seems like a big secret... how easy it is to make fresh cranberry sauce. I bought the canned stuff for many years out of convenience, but since making it fresh for the first time about two years ago, I haven't gone back to the canned stuff. But I have never heard anyone discuss just how super easy it is to make your own.

It was actually my Mom who insisted that I make it fresh and because she had already bought the fresh cranberries, I thought I should make that and let the can be stored until... forever?

Here's what you do...

STEP 1:  Rinse the cranberries to remove any debris. I also remove the rotted and unripe fruit - I bet the canning people don't do that so doing this is probably optional.

STEP 2:  Boil 1 cup of water  and 1 cup of sugar - stir to dissolve the sugar.

STEP 3: Add the 12-oz package of fresh cranberries (about 4 cups) and boil for 10 minutes. Let it cool.

And your done!

The canned stuff doesn't taste bad and in a real pinch I would still buy the canned whole berry (not the jellied). And I really can't even say that making it fresh is tastes so much better. But making it fresh does give you the option to maybe change the recipe a bit. For example you can decrease the sugar if you like it more tart. Also making it fresh gives it a nice "sauce" look, rather than that "cylinder" look, which is fine if you're going for that kind of aesthetic. Actually, I do like the look of those neat round slices. :-)

One year I added a few persimmon chunks which was delicious. But you can also add raisins, currants, nuts and other spices like nutmeg or cinnamon.

Cranberry and Lingonberry
The jar on the left is the cranberry sauce I made from fresh berries and on the right is lingonberry jam from a jar. Lingonberry grows in Scandinavia and is a popular condiment in Finnish cuisine - they eat it with meatballs and venison (along with mashed potatoes). Both the cranberry and lingonberry taste very similar, but perhaps because the lingonberry grows wild it has a little more punch of flavor. The lingonberries (called puolukka in the Finnish language) are also a lot smaller in size.

I was just in Finland in September where the berries were ripening in the autumn forests throughout the country. I ate many lingonberries straight from the low bushes that they grown on. They are not nearly as sour as cranberries so I'm guessing that not as much sugar is needed to make the jam as would be needed to make cranberry sauce - which might be the reason why the lingonberry jam packs a lot more flavor, spoon for spoon (like the boxing term "pound for pound").

Well anyway, my Finnish husband appreciates having the lingonberry jam and he loves it with his turkey - and so did everyone else.

Lingonberries in the wild

And just in case you were wondering (or not) what lingonberries look like, I've posted this photo I took just this past September while I was in Finland. There is so much growing in the forests throughout the country it does not need to be cultivated. These berries here are not quite at their peak ripeness. Another 2 or 3 more weeks they would have been a deeper, almost burgundy color.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Menu

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving!

I cooked dinner for my family this year and as usual, whenever I make a big meal, I plan a big menu and end up dropping a few things at the last minute. I always run out of time, no matter how well I prepare and also, we just don't really need that much food.

Here's the menu I planned and the words that are striked out are the items that didn't make it to the table.

Bread & crackers
Crudités: carrots, celery, red bell pepper, cucumber, walnuts, olives, cheese cubes, falafels
Dip 1: Hummus
Dip 2: Bagna cauda mixed with sour cream
Dip 3: Cottage cheese mixed with crumbled feta cheese and chopped greek oregano
Spread: Cream cheese with smoked salmon & chives
Persimmon slices with bacon & goat cheese
Lumpia (Filipino egg rolls made by my Mom)

Turkey, stuffing & gravy (my Father made it)
Stuffing 2: with wild rice, mushrooms, apple sausage and walnuts
Pork chops grilled w/ rosemary served with persimmon chutney on the side

Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts
French green beans tossed in olive oil w/ fried onion
Organic greens salad with avocado, cucumber, feta, toasted almonds, O/V
Mashed potatoes
Roasted fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes & carrots w/ garlic & garden herbs tossed in olive oil
Cranberry sauce
LaBrea multigrain bread

Persimmon crisp w/vanilla ice cream
Pumpkin cheesecake bars
Pumpkin bread w/ walnuts
Coconut tapioca pudding topped with persimmon fruit
Chocolate candies

I was inspired by my November 12th post where I found the photo of my persimmon-themed dinner from 2 years ago. And while our Thanksgiving dinner did not have that theme, I thought that using the persimmons to decorate the table would be nice. Everyone in my family likes the fruit (especially my parents), they're very pretty, and they add a nice splash of autumn color against my green tablecloth and white and black/gold rimmed china.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Obamas' first state dinner is vegetarian

President and Mrs. Obama hosted their first White House state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The full article can be found on the Associated Press' web site.

"The menu – created by Guest Chef Marcus Samuelsson and White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, with the First Lady is respectful of the Prime Minister's dietary concerns, being a vegetarian, as well putting an emphasis on healthy eating from the Obama White House. White House Pastry Chef William Yosses and his team created the desserts."

Some of the herbs and lettuce served came from the White House garden which Mrs. Obama helped to plant - that's pretty cool.

Here is the menu:

Potato and eggplant salad
White House arugula with onion seed vinaigrette
2008 sauvignon blanc, Modus Operandi, Napa Valley, Calif.

Red lentil soup with fresh cheese
2006 Riesling, Brooks "Ara," Willamette Valley, Ore.

Roasted potato dumplings with tomato chutney, chick peas and okra or green curry prawns, caramelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut-aged basmati
2007 grenache, Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez, Calif.

Pumpkin pie tart, pear tatin, whipped cream and caramel sauce
Sparkling chardonnay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Va.

Petits fours and coffee
Cashew brittle
Pecan pralines
Passion fruit and vanilla gelees
Chocolate-dipped fruit

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rooibos tea - unflavored - yay!

OK, I know my cupboards are well stocked with tea but I couldn't pass up this deal for rooibos tea.

World Market (formerly Cost Plus) was clearing out this tea and each box (of 40 tea bags) was only 59 cents! Actually I got an additional 20% for signing up for the free store membership. lol!

I drink lots of tea in the winter and what I love about rooibos is that it has no caffeine (and tons of antioxidants). I can't drink caffeine past 3pm or else I can't go to sleep.

Many ways to drink rooibos

Most of the rooibos I see on the shelves is flavored and expensive - plain rooibos is an acquired taste so I can see why no one sells it plain. Even Trader Joe's stopped carrying it and in the last year or 2 it has been challenging to find it. And if I do see it, it's usually relatively expensive. I know this tea is not expensive so I have a problem paying a lot for it.

There are many wonderful flavored rooibos teas and I especially love the ones offered by Teavana and Numi Tea (Ruby Chai is my favorite). And if you want to have a little flavor occasionally, adding honey, lemon or a small drop of vanilla extract is excellent. Adding honey and milk (or soy milk) makes it a real treat. In the summer I have served it iced with crushed mint leaves. Rooibos tea is really quite versatile.

When I lived in Cape Town S.Africa for several months (many yrs ago), where the plant of this tea is native, and I learned to appreciate it there. The locals showed me how you should "cook" it in hot water for about 30 minutes. But steeping it in boiling water for 3-10 minutes is also fine. Oh, and like green tea, it can be re-steeped, but I only re-steep in once.

Look for it at World Market
I'll confess that I actually bought 8 boxes, but will give the other boxes to my 2 sisters. I would have cleared out their whole stock and gift them, but I'm pretty sure that not many of my friends like plain rooibos. Here's a tip if you plan to look for them at your local World Market shop... I found them on the very bottom shelf and sort of hidden back. So if go, be sure to move things and dig around, or ask a clerk.

Now I have a good stockpile of tea and I can drink generous amounts in these winter evenings without worrying about the price. :-D

Cool Design
I adore the retro design of the packaging - simple, clean, vivid colors. It's obviously the same company but 2 different brands - I wonder why they packaged it this way? Why is one labeled "organic" but the other one not - I'm sure their from the same source. Were they targeting different markets? One of the boxes had an Australian address on it as well as the U.K. address. And interesting how the one shop was selling both brands.

I checked the manufacturer's web site to learn more but the site was down. www.ticktockteas.co.uk/

Monday, November 16, 2009

Easy Persimmon Crisp Recipe

Persimmon crisp
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

OK, I promise this will be the last post on persimmons this season but I wanted to share this...

When I have a huge bounty of fruit I like to make "crisps" because it maximizes the amount of fruit you use in the recipe. Unlike a cake or cookie where you have a lot of other "fillers" - like flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc.

Why don't I just eat it raw you say?

I do. However, during the harvesting process much of the fruit falls to ground and get damaged. The cracked and bruised fruit are perfectly good but I can't eat them fast enough. They tend to rot very quickly and end up throwing them away. So instead of discarding them, I like to salvage the parts of the fruit that are still good and either freeze it or cook with it. I've done this with other fruit too because I have apple and plum trees that like to produce a ton of fruit every other year.

I searched and tried many crisp recipes and have arrived at a recipe modification that I like best because, as usual, I've decreased the sugar and increased the fiber. Fruit is naturally so sweet, why would you need to add more sugar? But I do like how the brown sugar caramelizes with the butter to add that extra punch of wonderful flavor in the crisp topping.

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup ground flax seed or oat bran
¼ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2½-3 pounds persimmon, cut into cubes/chunks about ½ to 1-inch in size
1 tablespoon cornstarch or tapioca starch

For topping:
Mix first 9 ingredients in large bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until small moist clumps form. Cover and refrigerate 20 minutes.

For fruit:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss persimmon chunks and starch in bowl. Transfer persimmon mixture to 11x7-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle topping over. Bake until topping is dark golden brown and fruit is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Transfer crisp to rack and cool slightly, about 30 minutes.

It tastes great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Persimmon-themed Dinner

When we got the last huge bounty 2 years ago (every other year seems to be the cycle) I had some friends over and prepared a dinner with a persimmon theme. It was a hit!

1st course: sushi (no persimmons).

2nd course: salad with prosciutto, organic greens, a round slice of persimmon (like a flower) and pistachios w/ oil & vinegar.

3rd course: macadamia & panko crusted salmon w/ spicy persimmon chutney - baked garlic shiitake mushrooms on the side and brown rice lightly fried in a little coconut oil, with tofu and pine nuts.

Dessert: vanilla ice cream with fresh persimmon chunks and toasted almonds, served with green tea.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Persimmons galore!

Persimmons galore!
Originally uploaded by love_yellow

One of my favorite things about the fall season is the Fuyu persimmons that grow on the 2 trees in my parents' backyard. The Fuyu variety is the smaller and firmer fruit (and to me, more edible and easier to eat), as opposed the Hachiya which ripens into a mushy and gelatinous mess.

They are so beautiful to look at - the various shades of orange, from light golden orange to a deep red-orange, depending on its ripeness. And the shape of the fruit is lovely, looking a bit like a tomato or apple sometimes, but I hate to compare them to other fruit. They are just so photogenic, I may have taken hundreds of photos of them.

I'm always amazed at the huge bounty we get every other year. It takes a break in the off years, bearing only about 20 pieces of fruit in the case of last year. I guess it needs to "rest" and regenerate its energy to produce more the following year.

This year the trees have gone bonkers and today we picked about 200 of them. Unfortunately about 25% of them fall so hard to the ground that they get battered and bruised. I salvaged as many of the battered ones as I could and will try to consume them quickly before they get moldy. I've been scanning the internet for good and healthy recipes. If you know of any please let me know!

A friend of my just emailed me and suggested I slice them up thinly and serve them with prosciutto. I bet that would look really pretty - can't wait to try that one. Maybe I'll place them on a platter along with a small chunk of cheese. Thanks Deb for the great idea!

Two years ago I added chunks of persimmon in the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. I've also made a persimmon crisp - it uses up a lot of fruit, unlike a cake or cookies which has other "fillers" like flour, butter and sugar. ;-)  A crisp is pretty much pure fruit with a nice topping of a little whole wheat flour mixed with rolled oats, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and walnuts. I also add a little flax seed and keep the sugar to a minimum because the fruit is already sweet enough. But the sugar caramelizes and adds a nice touch of flavor that compliments this fruit especially well. I'll be making that crisp soon and will be sure to post the recipe!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I'm in love with Marimekko & Finnish design

I was just reading Skimbaco Home's blog and became enamored with the colors of these Marimekko items in the images above. Reds aren't in my home's color palette - I have greens, yellows, earth tones and black accents - but lately I've been noticing red more. Maybe it has something to do with the holidays coming soon, or maybe it's because I received a red glass Maribowl  as a gift during my recent trip to Finland to visit my husband's family and friends. It's the first red decor item in my house and I love it! It's small but gives a pop of color in my earth tones bedroom where the only colors are the brown stained woods of my floor and furniture and the greens of my plants - my bedding is all white and my walls are a warm creamy cappuccino color.

I first noticed this goblet-like Maribowl (designed in the 50s) on my 2007 trip to Finland and I wasn't too crazy about it. But during my recent trip (just in September), I saw them in many Finnish households, where they collect as many colors as they can. I became mesmerized by all of the beautiful colors and how pretty they look all together, or served with sugar, tea, small fruit or candy in them. It's not your typical minimalist Finnish design, but that's what makes it stand out in the shops against all of the other wonderful and also colorful glass wares (like the famous Aalto vase or bowl that I keep sugar in).

Anyway, back to Marimekko... it's a Finnish textile company that's been around since the early 50s and made fashionable in the 60s in the U.S. by Jackie Kennedy. I love many of the new patterns, including some of the ones you see at the top of the post, but my favorite is the highly recognized floral Unikko pattern, designed in 1964 by Maija Isola - unikko is Finnish for poppy.

The Unikko pattern is recognized worldwide and I've seen it on everything from sheets, housewares, furniture, wallpaper, bags, shoes and even cars! Sometimes I get tired of looking at the busy and bright pattern, but yet whenever I see an item decorated in that pattern I'm always drawn to it. I know that Marimekko designs are coveted outside of Finland (especially in Japan) - I've seen vintage Marimekko fabric go for big bucks on eBay and I'm always amazed and wonder who's buying.

If you want to see/read more about Marimekko, I recommend going to AlwaysMod's Marimekko blog. They've done a great job accumulating images of the hip styles from the 70s, as well as great examples of modern ways the fabrics and patterns are used. The Marimekko Christmas 2009 catalog can also be found there.

OK, enough of this design talk... gotta get back to my favorite subjects of food, eating and gardening! Though I still have more to say about Finnish design... but later.

{Drives away in her Unikko-clad car - just kidding!}