Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cookbook Review: Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals and a Recipe for Quinoa Cakes with Smoked Trout and Lime Mayo

There are people out there who don't want you to enjoy eating. You know who they are -- the carb-averse, all fat-fearing folks consumed with diets and detox. Maria Speck, author of the beautiful new cookbook, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, is not of them.

In her introduction, Speck, in her refreshingly direct tone says, "Almost every conversation about my passion for whole grains evoked this well-meaning remark: 'Your diet must be very healthy.' This comment always leaves me speechless, because health is the last thing on my mind when I eat."

What is on her mind is cooking with unprocessed, real foods -- fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains -- that are full of flavor and which happen to be healthy. Speck began eating whole grains while growing up in Greece and Germany. As a kid, she noshed on oats, wheat berries, and bulgur and as an adult has committed herself to exploring their delicious potential.

uncooked quinoa

In the first section of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Speck describes a wide variety of whole grains from prosaic grits and rice to more exotic kamut and farro. She tells you how to buy, store, and cook with whole grains, and even provides a helpful table with measurements and cooking times.

Chapters are divided into standard meal types with a special chapter called "Modern Mains," in which Speck encourages you to "explore these ancient grains in your twenty-first-century kitchen." Recipes include Spelt Crust Pizza with Fennel, Prosciutto, and Apples and Saffron Risotto with White-Wine Clams and Peas. I am especially impressed with the "Breakfast, Brunch, and Breads" chapter which includes innovative and even sexy recipes. Consider these: Dark Chocolate Muesli with Hazelnuts, Apricot-Lemon Bars with Cherries, and Fig Muffins with Creamy Goat Cheese Filling.

Recipes are clearly written and include tips such as how to "get a head start" or how "to vary it." Interspersed throughout the book are engaging stories from Speck's worldly travels as well as call-outs boxes with cooking tips and food history. Sara Remington's photography is luscious. My only disappointment is that there weren't more photos.

So if you're looking to incorporate more whole grains into your diet (and feel and look better too), then make room on your bookshelf for Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

quinoa cakes with smoked trout and lime mayonnaise

I have made Speck's recipe for Quinoa Cakes with Smoked Trout and Lime Mayonnaise twice already. A third will no doubt be soon to follow. These are like a healthier, trendier alternative to clam cakes. The savory smoked trout is enhanced with aromatic fresh cilantro and nutty quinoa, and the lime mayonnaise is delightfully zippy. I will note that I had to add 1 more egg to the batch in order for the cakes to adhere. If that happens to you, just be patient. They're worth it.

Please click here for a printable version of the Quinoa Cakes with Smoked Trout and Lime Mayonnaise recipe.

Give-away time! Tell me why you'd like to win this book, and I'll announce a winner (chosen randomly) on Monday, May 30th. Good luck! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sweet Corn Season Has Begun in San Diego!

white sweet corn from Little Italy farmers market in San Diego

It's May 23rd and fresh sweet corn season has begun in San Diego! Actually, it began about a month ago, but I've been too busy talking about camping, avocados, and pea shoots to focus on its arrival. So today it's all about the corn, baby.

While sweet corn season generally runs from June through September, Southern California's corn season starts in April and lasts through October or November. White corn reigns supreme here, particularly the Silver Queen variety, while bicolor or Butter and Sugar corn, is the next most popular. My personal favorite, thick, fat, canary yellow corn is hard to find, but that doesn't stop me from hunting for it every year.

I purchased this white corn from Kawano Farms, a favorite vendor of mine at The Little Mercato market. It's crisp, mildly sweet, and ideal for sautéing or grilling to enhance its innate sweetness.

In this Warm Quinoa, Corn, and Arugula salad, the corn kernels are lightly sauteed in olive oil and scallions and tossed with peppery arugula and nutty quinoa for a simple,  vibrant lunch.

I heard that a new bicolor corn called Peaches and Cream recently arrived at the Mercato. Peaches and cream corn? Seriously? I'd better bring a heavy duty, extra large garbage bag to fit all the ears of corn I plan on buying this weekend.

warm quinoa, corn, and arugula salad

Warm Quinoa, Corn, and Arugula Salad
Makes 2 main or 4 side servings
Printable recipe.

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1 cup water

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 ear fresh sweet corn, kernels removed from cob (or 1 cup unthawed frozen corn)
3 packed cups arugula

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Add quinoa and water to a medium pot, and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Lower heat to a simmer, and cook partially covered for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

2. In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add scallions and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned and wilted. Add corn and cook 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from heat. In a large bowl combine cooked quinoa, scallions and corn, and arugula.

3. To make the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over salad and toss well. Serve immediately.

You might also like these corn recipes:
Elote, or Mexican Grilled Corn recipe from Food Blogga
Smoky Chipotle Chili Corn Chowder recipe from Food Blogga
Spicy Corn with Mustard Seeds recipe from Family Style Food
Texas Jalapeno Sweet Corn Chowder recipe from Rabbit Food Rocks
Columbian Corn Cakes with Fresh Cheese recipe from My Columbian Recipes
Cornmeal Crusted Tilapia with Mango, Corn, and Cucumber Salsa recipe from Food Blogga
Corn Muffins with Poblano Peppers, Fresh Corn, and Queso Fresco Cheese recipe from Cookin Canuck

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Buy, Store and Cook with Pea Shoots

fresh pea shoots

A couple of weeks ago I experienced a revelation: I tasted my first pea shoot.

I was at the Little Italy Mercato buying Asian produce from The Vangs, also known as Mr. and Mrs. Green. After purchasing Thai basil, fresh ginger and sugar snap peas, I asked, "What do pea shoots taste like?"

She replied, with no sarcasm, "Peas."

She tore a small piece off one of the leaves and handed it to me. I bit into it and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds, harp music began playing, and I floated ever so slightly off of the pavement.

OK, that's not exactly what happened. There was no harp music. It was Spanish music being played by a local band.

Pea shoots are the leaves and tendrils of pea plants, usually sugar snap peas. But they're so much more than that. With their celery green leaves and wispy curly cues, they look like Nature's wedding bouquet. As for the taste, Mrs. Green was right. Peas shoots taste just like fresh English peas -- refreshingly crisp and somehow both sweet and grassy.

Pea shoot season is frighteningly short, lasting only three to four weeks, so when you see pea shoots, buy them. It can start as early as April or as late as June depending upon where they're being grown. Here is San Diego, we're nearing the end of our season because pea shoots can't survive the heat. Fortunately, they'll return for a short time in the fall.

fresh pea shoot, sugar snap pea and orange salad

Here's what you need to know to buy, store and cook with pea shoots:

Where can you buy pea shoots? Try farmers' markets first then organic and specialty markets. Look for fresh, brightly colored, crisp bunches void of yellowed stalks and leaves. If you can't find them, ask the produce manager at your local market if they're available.

How do you store pea shoots? Place them inside a brown paper bag, or wrap them with paper towel, and place in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They should last 2 to 3 days.

How do you cook with pea shoots? First, cut off any yellowed or thick stems, then tear into small pieces. Eat them raw by tossing them into salads or eating them out of hand. Like most greens, pea shoots can be steamed, boiled, sauteed and stir-fried. Whichever cooking method you choose, be sure to cook the pea shoots quickly and lightly; you just want to wilt them.

Here are five simple ways to cook with pea shoots:
1. Saute lightly in extra virgin olive oil, and douse with fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
2. Saute lightly in sesame oil and crushed garlic, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and cayenne pepper.
3. Add to warm pasta with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and zest, grated Parmesan cheese, and cracked black pepper.
4. Toss into scrambled eggs with grated Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.
5. Add to soups such as a gingery Asian chicken noodle.

Fresh Pea Shoot, Sugar Snap Pea and Orange Salad
Makes 4 side or 2 main servings
Printable recipe.

1 small bunch fresh pea shoots, large stems removed, and hand torn, about 2 packed cups
1 cup fresh sugar snap peas
1 large orange, peel and cut into segments
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Toss pea shoots, sugar snap peas, and orange segments in a medium bowl.

2. In a small bowl, whisk remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust as necessary. Pour over salad, toss well and serve.

Variation: Add sauteed shrimp or scallops lightly sauteed in sesame oil.

You might also enjoy these pea shoots recipes:
Mabu Tofu with Pea Shoots recipe from The Food Librarian
Crostini with Ramps and Pea Shoots recipe from Taste Food
Sesame, Edamame, and Pea Shoot Salad recipe from Taste Space
Pea Shoots with Shrimp, Bacon, and Chives recipe from Dishing Up Delights

You might also like to know more about:
Tatsoi, a tasty Asian green in the cabbage family.
Mizuna, a bold Japanese mustard green.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blogger Went Down and Ate My Posts

Hello dear Food Blogga readers,

Thank you to all of you who have emailed me to say that my last post, a cookbook review and give-away for The Lazy Gourmet, has disappeared.

Last week, my domain host, Blogger, had a serious glitch and went down. It took my last two posts as well as four more I had written and saved. Ugh.

Since many of you had left comments for a chance to win a copy of The Lazy Gourmet, please leave one again today, and I'll announce a winner on Wednesday. Thank you so much for your understanding and patience.

Below you'll find the recipe for Caramelized Fennel I posted from the book. The gals say that "one of the most powerful weapons in the Lazy Gourmets arsenal is fennel." I couldn't agree more.


caramelized fennel

Caramelized Fennel
Serves 2 to 4

2 medium fennel bulbs, leafy tops trimmed and discarded (or saved for another use)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 ounce (about 1/3 cup) grated Parmesan cheese

1. Have fennel bulbs, remove core, and thinly slice. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking  add fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, stir in vinegar, and remove from heat. Serve topped with grated Parmesan.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Camp Blogaway 2011: Paying It Forward

Until last week, I had never been camping. OK, it wasn't hardcore camping. It was Camp Blogaway. We bunked in cabins with heat and bathrooms. But we did have to bring our own sleeping bags, which to me is camping. Since I don't own a sleeping bag, I borrowed one from a Navy friend of ours who said it kept him warm for months when he was stationed in Alaska. Despite this US military grade sleeping bag and my toasty flannel pj's, I was unable to get my core temperature up.

That first night, I finally gave in, plugged in my hair dryer and blasted hot air into my sleeping bag. After thirty minutes, a sous vide Susan was finally warm enough to fall asleep.

Here's what I learned about my camping abilities: I don't have any.
*I'm unable to generate enough body heat to survive temperatures below 55 degrees.
*I didn't know I had to bring bath towels, so I dried off with paper towels after my shower.
*I got lost on a one-way loop trail.

In spite of my camping failures, I did learn a lot at Camp Blogaway, none of which will help me on an episode of Dual Survival, but will definitely help me in my quiet, comfortable, soothingly warm life in San Diego.

*Be part of a community: Our lives are full of communities. It could be a mommy and me community, a blogging community, an art community, you name it. Whatever your community is, make sure you're contributing something positive to it.
*Be authentic: Stop comparing your self to others. Be who you want to be, not what you think others expect from you.
*Define success for you: Think seriously about what "success" means to you. Is it higher blog traffic, a bigger pay check, more time with your family, a sense of self-worth? Then work honestly and diligently toward achieving that success.
*Pay it forward: Promote other people, celebrate their successes, be as generous as possible.

Scallop stuffed avocado with mango salsa

In the spirit of paying it forward, I'd like to list a few bloggers with whom I made a personal connection. I hope you check out their blogs and make your own personal connections: Sarah of Average Betty, Lana of Bibberche, Dara of Cookin' Canuck, Diane of Created by Diane, Andrew of Eating Rules, Jean of Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes, Jennifer of Kitchy Cooking, Adair of Lentil Breakdown, Stacy of Little Blue Hen, Amee of Rabbit Food Rocks, Stephanie of Recipe Renovator, Julie of Savvy Eats, Shefaly of Shef's Kitchen. Thanks to Patti Londre of Worth the Whisk for her leadership and enthusiasm, and to Ray for taking the great photo of us pictured at the top of this post.

Now for the recipe. Just like Camp Blogaway, these simply fresh and elegant Scallop-Stuffed Avocados with Mango Salsa are all about community. The avocados were given to me by the amazing folks at the California Avocado Commission, and the bay scallops are from my friend and fisherman extraordinaire, Tommy Gomes, of Catalina Offshore Products in San Diego.

Scallop-Stuffed Avocados with Mango Salsa
Makes 4 avocado halves
Printable recipe.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound bay scallops
2 medium-large avocados of your choice

Mango Salsa:
1/2 medium mango, peeled and diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 teaspoons)
Couple pinches of cayenne pepper
Couple pinches of sea salt
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a large skillet over medium-heat, warm oil. Add scallops; saute about 4 minutes per side, or until meat is opaque and scallops have a golden seared crust. Remove from heat.

2. In a medium bowl, combine mango, scallions, lime, cayenne pepper, salt and cilantro. Toss well.

3. Slice avocados in half, remove the pits, and rub the flesh with lime juice. Divide the scallops evenly among the four halves. It's OK, if you have a few scallops tumbling on to the plate. Top each half with a scoop of mango salsa. Serve immediately.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cook Book Review: Green Market Baking Book and Recipe for Gluten-Free Energy Bars

Laura C. Martin wants you to have your cake and eat it, too. That is, only if it's baked with all-natural, preferably locally sourced ingredients. Think it can't be done? Martin proves it can in her new book, Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet and Savory Treats

The recipes, some created by Martin and others by influential chefs and food writers including Alice Waters and Dan Barber, are made with all-natural, organic, sustainable ingredients. Refined sugar is out. Brown rice syrup, agave nectar, and barley malt syrup are in. White flour is used, but many recipes suggest substituting at least part of the flour with whole-grain alternatives such as rye or spelt.

This is the type of the cookbook that you really must peruse first before delving right into a recipe. Otherwise, you'll likely find that you don't have many of the listed ingredients in your pantry. Here's where Martin helps: In the book's opening, she explains unfamiliar ingredients, suggests sugar substitutions, provides guidelines for using oils and dairy in baked goods and even tells you how to stock your pantry.

energy bars

Once you've prepped, you'll be ready to bake. Recipes include beloved classics such as Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies and Pumpkin Pie as well as fresh faces including Fig and Blueberry Scones and Peach and Nectarine Upside-Down Cake. Among the book's many tarts, pies, cookies, cakes, puddings and breads, you'll discover several dairy and gluten-free as well as vegan and low-fat options.

Readers will be glad to know that the recipes are clearly written and divided according to season. However, visual readers will be disappointed that there are no photos. Instead, Martin's lovely watercolors grace many of the book's pages.

So whether you're trying to "green" your kitchen, make a smaller carbon footprint or simply try some new recipes, The Green Market Baking Book, is definitely a worthy purchase.

Give-away time! Tell me why you'd like to win this book, and I'll announce a winner (chosen randomly) on Monday, May 9th. Good luck! 

Gluten-Free Energy Bars by Rebecca Wood
Makes 8 bars 
These gluten-free energy bars are the perfect post-exercise snack -- they're chock-full of "good" carbs and lean protein and taste great. Feel free to adapt ingredients to suit your personal preferences. For one batch, I used oats and red flame raisins then tried oats, dried cherries and pistachios in another. Both were delicious.

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple juice, milk, or water (I used water)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups oat, rye, or quinoa flakes (I used rolled oats)
1 cup chopped nuts (I used half almonds and half walnuts)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1/3 cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Light butter an 8X8-inch-pan, or line it with parchment paper. 

2. Place the raisins in a small bowl and stir in the apple juice (or other liquid) and vanilla extract. Set the bowl aside for 20 minutes to allow the raisins to plump.

3. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the flakes and nuts and sauté, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the nuts are aromatic and a shade darker. Stir in the cinnamon and salt and saute for an additional minute. Pour the contents into a large bowl.

4. Stir the eggs and honey into the raisin mixture. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until uniformly blended.

5. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and pulling away for the edge of the pan. Invert onto a rack to cool. Cut into bars. The energy bars will keep for 1 week. 

Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes but was not paid. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Bacon Guacamole!

May 5th is Cinco de Mayo, the day when Mexicans commemorate their victory over the French in the Battle at Puebla of 1862. In the Mexican town of Puebla, schoolchildren will study history, artists will sing and dance and chefs will cook traditional foods, all to honor their brave ancestors.

And in cities throughout America, Americans will get drunk. Somehow, this day of national pride for Mexicans has become another excuse for Americans to get sloshed. Think I'm exaggerating? According to Time magazine Cinco de Mayo is the 4th drunkest holiday of the year.

How about this year you get drunk on bacon guacamole instead?

If you think traditional guacamole is irresistible, then be prepared to get punch drunk in love with this porky version: Classic creamy guacamole is studded with nibs of salty, smoky, crisp bacon. And in case you're wondering, yes, bacon guacamole does taste better if you eat it while wearing a sombrero and shaking some maracas.

Like this recipe? There are over 60 more like it in my book, Recipes Every Man Should Know, co-authored with Brett Cohen. It's a little, sleek black book that fits neatly into every man's back pocket.

Bacon Guacamole
This recipe is from my book, Recipes Every Man Should Know
Makes 6-8 servings
Printable recipe.

6 slices bacon
Flesh of 2 ripe avocados
1 medium tomato, chopped
4 scallions (white parts only), finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
A couple of pinches of salt
A couple of dashes of hot sauce
Small handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. Place bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until crisp. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Let cool and chop into small pieces.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until chunky.

Here are more guacamole recipes you might enjoy:
Grilled Guacamole recipe from The Kitchn
Grapefruit Guacamole recipe from No Recipes
Edamame Guacamole recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod
Roasted Garlic, Poblano, and Red Pepper Guacamole recipe from Ezra Pound Cake

Photo credit by Sala Kannan of