Beautiful Autumn Foods

I haven’t been super active at blogging again- I find that sitting in a chair for too long to be painful nowadays. Being 7 months pregnant, I need to constantly stretch my legs and hips. However, it hasn’t stopped me from shopping at the farmers markets and eating well. I haven’t had strange cravings so far. My husband hasn’t had to run around the city in the middle of the night to satisfy my cravings. I am not sure if its just my well trained eating habits, but I’ve had no desire to binge or eat foods I normally would not eat. In May, I couldn’t get enough of blueberries. Throughout summer, I did have an insatiable appetite for all melons. Right now, I want everything pumpkin, cranberry, and apple!

Here are photos of all the foods I am enjoying right now. I do love this season and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite meals of the year. I am especially looking forward to November 28th this year!

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I hope you have been following me on all the other social media channels, as I am very active there.

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Farmers Market Finds: Mother’s Day

It was gorgeous day at the Farmers Market. Everyone seemed livelier, maybe because the sun was briefly out and it was Mother’s Day. There were more people than usual too. I was in bit of a hurry and could not chat much with familiar faces or stop to take beautiful photos. I needed to pick up a few ingredients and quickly prepare for our Mother’s Day picnic and hike. Though, I was delighted to find lots and lots of squash blossoms. We are going to eat amazing frittatas and snacks this week!

squash blossomsSquash blossoms are the flowers of zucchinis. They are delicate and are a special treat. The blossoms go quickly at the market and don’t last long in the heat or fridge. I usually use them up within a few days of buying. They can be eaten raw, slightly sautéed, or stuffed and fried. The blossoms come off as exotic, so it’s fun too serve them at a special meal. At restaurants, I loved eating them on pizzas, but it’s hard to find speciality gluten-free pizza. 

blueberriesI couldn’t resist taking a photo of these beauties.

A tradition only started last year, my brother and I choose a local state park to have a picnic and hike with our parents. We thought it would be a nice way to spend quality time with our parents and get them to hike, something they normally do not do on their own. We try to keep the hike moderate, so it’s enjoyable for everyone. Walking amongst the giant trees sparks interesting conversations. It’s also a nice alternative to worrying about reservations and dining out.

treesThis year, we went to Roberts Regional Park in Oakland. We live nearby so many state parks, but have not visited half of them. Mother’s Day is our new reason to explore the parks and trails around us.

picnic

After a small, homemade picnic, we went for a moderate hike. We had pea pesto marinated chicken, turkey stuffed bell peppers, poha (spiced flattened rice dish), lentil and chard pilaf, dolmas, spicy hummus, mangos, and cherries. A very ethnic and delicious picnic.

treesI am so thankful to live within half an hour of these beautiful redwoods. The air was amazing.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!

Cookies for a Cause: Bakesale for Japan

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The first time I attempted to bake cookies from scratch was when I was 10 years old. My two girlfriends (pictured above on the header) were my guinea pigs. They were really nice to me, but honestly the cookies were more like bricks. Since then, Rajita and Nafisah have endured many of my failed cookie attempts until I got it just right. Though, by the time I got it just right, I didn’t care about baking anymore. I found more satisfaction and restraint in just buying one serving size at a cafe and not worrying about over indulging.

Then, during this past holiday season, I got the baking itch. That may be because I have been hanging out (online and offline) with more food bloggers and bakers. Social influence. So at the 18 Reason’s DIY Desserts: Holiday Cookie Swap I baked cookies for the first time in over a decade. I was nervous and intimidated. I also didn’t have any of the fancy baking equipment, like a Kitchen Aid mixer. There were a ton of cookie recipes out there, too, which was overwhelming. I also wanted to make something healthy-ish and couldn’t find anything uncomplicated. So after anxiously debating if I really wanted to bake (the strong Vata in me), I remembered baking a cake using only almond flour years ago and it turned out fantastic. So I applied the same methodology and attempted to make cookies out of the pistachio flour I already had on hand. I was  pleasantly surprised that the cookies turned out pretty good. I took them to the cookie swap, and everyone seemed to really like them too. Also, my husband, who thinks he is an Iron Chef judge, told me he really liked them. So, I did the natural thing, and baked these cookies for every holiday party we had to go to for rest of the season.

Last Saturday I participated in Bakesale for Japan, which meant I spent Friday night baking. I had overambitious plans to make a multitude of desserts, but then when it came down to the wire, I only had the bandwidth and courage to make two types of cookies. My baked goods were going to be placed right next to professionals and pro-bakers like Tartine Bakery, Eat The Love, and Desserts First. So I baked my now infamous pistachio cookies and adapted a recipe from 101 Cookbooks. I accidentally came across the recipe and it looked so simple to make. Plus, I love and trust everything on 101 Cookbooks. I hope to post my adaptation of the recipe here soon enough.

It was really fun spending the evening baking. I opened a bottle of wine, that I randomly picked up from Whole Foods for $10, which turned out to be excellent. So with a glass of vino rojo in one hand and whisk in the other, I was baking away. Also, I would intermittently go on Twitter and follow the hashtag #bakesale4japan to chat with other bloggers who were doing the same thing I was (but probably without the bottle of wine). I  felt like I was apart of something really BIG. A few weeks ago, I felt so small and helpless when I was following the Twitter stream during the earthquakes and Fukushima meltdown.  Though, after seven dozen cookies had cooled and seeing a tweet about someone’s cute packaging, I went into panic mode. I hadn’t even thought about the packaging! Normally, I am on top of these things and have been coined the name Martha Stewart amongst my friends, but with all that has been going on, I just forgot about cute labels and packaging. And, I hate a missing an opportunity for DIY creative packaging. Then, the creative side kicked in, and managed to come up with something really unique and chic. I used leftover silk favor bags from my wedding to put the cookies in and used my adorable Moo business cards for the labeling. I didn’t even make the connection until I saw a few Japanese people really enamored by my cookies (err packaging). The silk bags were red and had gold flowers on them that looked like cherry blossoms. In the end, it always works out.

The turnout at the bakesale was incredible! I got to the Bi-Rite  Market location right at starting time, and managed to squeeze in my cookies on the very crowded table. That table was a sweet-lovers dream come true. I was tempted to buy everything. There were so many baked goods, graciously made by the blogging community, home-bakers, and professionals, that boxes had to be dispersed to a multitude of locations. At last count, together, we raised $120,254.38. The money will benefit Peace Winds Japan.

Since the community really came through at the Bi-Rite location of the bakesale, a lot of the baked goods had to be dispersed to other locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Marin, and San Jose.

Around the corner, 18 Reasons hosted an art sale where people made origami cranes.

Irvin (Eat the Love) and Anita (Desserts First) at 18 Reasons.

Someone bought my cookies!

I also stopped by the SPQR location in Pacific Heights to say hello to a few friends.

SPQR closed down the restaurant to host the bake sale. They also made paninis and crostini for the bakesale. Blue Bottle and Blue Bottle Sweets were also on site, serving their delicious coffee drinks and pastries. Nearby restaurants, Citizen Cake, Jane, and Out the Door, also pitched in with delicious desserts.

The clever ladies, Annelies and Laiko, dished out deals throughout the bakesale. I got there just in time for the 2-for-1 deal, and snatched up cupcakes to share with friends that afternoon. Let’s just say, I didn’t pay attention to my sugar intake that day.

I promise to post the recipe for the cardamon-rose pistachio cookies soon!

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Valentine’s Day

Original from iPhone 4

 

Filtered in Instagram

 

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Brunch for Lovers or Just You: Blood Orange Pancakes

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People either love or hate Valentine’s Day, with very few people oblivious to February 14th’s significance. I had a roller coaster of emotions when it came to V-Day. I loved it for what it stood for- hopeless, romantic, I will do anything for you, fairy-tail kind of love. Of course, V-Day never was that easy as a single girl. I’ve been through my fair share of relationships, but my husband was my first real Valentine. For the first 25 years of my existence, I never seemed to be in a relationship circa Feb 14th. Strange. I am a sucker for the commercialization of the whole thing, and I think a girl should be showered with pretty flowers, chocolates, and gifts. Equally, a man should receive the same thought and affection. I am all for fancy romantic dinners, but the prix-fix menus and price mark-ups annoy me. It also does not feel as special when you know you are in a dining room with 50 other couples who are there just because it’s Valentines Day. So it’s nice to cook a romantic, thoughtful meal at home. It’s also just as nice to cook a special meal for yourself!

Valentine’s Day or Single Awareness Day just so happens to fall on a weekday this year, so a pre-brunch is in order. Nothing is more luxe and seductive as blood oranges. Sure, strawberries are the fruit of love and seduction, but that’s only because no one has looked at blood oranges. Their season is fleeting between the months of January and February. Sometimes, they appear as early as December and last until March. They are mysterious, seductive, and one bite makes you want more. In my opinion, strawberries are played out (and not in season)!

Blood Orange Pancakes
serves 2
Ingredients
1 cup Almond meal
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
zest of one medium blood orange
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp melted, unsalted butter or 1 tbsp blood orange olive oil
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
butter for coating
blood orange compote

1. Combine buckwheat flour, almond meal, baking soda, and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl and mix well.  In another bowl, whisk together zest, ginger, melted butter, egg, and milk until well combined.

Zest of one blood orange

2.  Add dry ingredients slowly into the wet ingredients. Stir the batter gently as you add in the dry ingredient. The batter should be lumpy and slightly thick. Add a teaspoon of whole milk at a time if batter is too thick.

The batter should be lumpy.

3. Heat a  griddle or heavy bottomed pan to medium-hot, and place 1 tablespoon of butter into it. Let the butter melt before spooning the batter into the pan.

3. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot pan. Cook until bubbles break on surface, turn and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until browned. Remove from the pan and smear a tiny bit of butter on top. Keep warm by placing the cooked pancakes in the oven, covered loosely with foil.

4. Serve warm with blood orange compote and blood orange juice.

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Blood Orange Compote

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It’s time blood oranges are brought into the culinary spotlight. They are full of vitamins, minerals, folic acids, and antioxidants. Not to mention fiber. They taste like a cross between a very sweet Valencia orange and a grapefruit. The interior is a beautiful, jeweled crimson hue. The anthocyanins in the blood oranges gives them the red color, which are flavonoids. Their season is short, making them all the more desirable. Also, they can used in savory and sweet dishes. Blood oranges have long been used in beauty products and elixirs as well. Also, they happen to be in season during Valentine’s Day. Their color speaks love and romance.

Blood Orange Compote
I use this compote to smear on toast, pancakes and french toast. Bakers can even use this compote as filling for cupcakes and cakes. It’s sweet and slightly tangy.

Try to pick blood oranges with a reddish exterior as well.

Ingredients
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar or muscovado sugar
4 blood oranges, peeled and cut into sections, membranes discarded
1/2 cup currants or black raisins
1/2 cup blood orange juice

Method
In a saucepan bring water, maple syrup and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add in the blood orange juice and blood oranges. Stir well and reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on it to make sure the liquids don’t completely evaporate. Taste the mixture and add in a bit more sugar if it’s not sweet enough. Stir in the currants and cover for 10-15 minutes, until you have a thick, sweet consistency. Transfer to a glass container and refrigerate overnight. Or you can serve it right away.

Stir compote before serving.



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A Meatless, Unprocessed Christmas (With Pumpkin Soup Recipe)

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Satish and I drove down to LA last Wednesday to spend the Christmas holiday with his sister and family. I had planned to make the Christmas Eve dinner as I really want to create tradition for Satish and I.  This entire  meal was going to be vegetarian, since my sister-in-law is a vegetarian and with all respect doesn’t like meat cooked in her kitchen. Therefore, I had packed up all of my key spices, herbs, oils, and favorite kitchen tools. I almost packed up my most versatile pan, zester, and spatula, but decided I could live without them. (Later, I learned I can’t live without the zester.) It’s tough cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. I had plans to visit a farmer’s market in LA for the main ingredients.  LA has at least 120 farmer’s markets happening during the week, so there is hardly no excuse to not go.  I curiously went to the Westwood farmer’s market on Thursday, with high hopes of finding all of the ingredients I needed for the Christmas Eve dinner.  I was disappointed to find that it was a sparse market, but I still bought kale and parsley. Later, I met my dear friend for tea and hot soup. She suggested we stroll through the farmer’s market nearby, but time seemed to slip by at the Jewish bakery as we sipped our tea, flirted with the rows of baked goods, laughed, cried, shared, and reminisced. By the time we were ready to leave the bakery, it was dark and I needed to rush back to avoid being stuck in traffic. Of course, I didn’t listen to our GPS, made a couple of wrong turns, and missed the closest 10W onramp. Awhile ago, I stopped getting upset with myself for making wrong turns and getting lost and started enjoying the new route I created. Due to the wrong turns, I happened to drive by the La Cienega Farmers Market. Since, I was crawling in the local traffic, I got to look into the farmers market held at the parking lot of the La Cienega Plaza Shopping Center. It was beautiful. The sun was already gone, Christmas lights were bright, food trucks, fresh flowers, all amidst red break lights. Peering, I saw berries, popcorn, chestnuts, citrus, and greens. I was surprised by the berries…maybe it’s the mild, spring like weather in SoCal. I was tempted to pull into the driveway and finish shopping for the ingredients needed to make the next day’s dinner. Though, I knew that every minute I waited to get onto the highway would be to risk being stuck in major LA traffic. I sighed and kept driving.  The next morning, I woke up early and rushed to the nearest Whole Foods in hopes of avoiding the last minute mad dash for groceries. I had a simple grocery list: pumpkin, Delicata squash, arugula, eggplant, spinach, ricotta, feta, and Parmesan. The Whole Foods in Santa Monica has a very tiny fresh produce section so I drove to the one in Brentwood. Surprisingly, most of the Whole Foods in West LA are much smaller in general. I nearly had a panic attack when I couldn’t find half of the fresh ingredients that I needed. The problem was solved easily by asking the grocers, who went into the back to get what I needed. (I had not made a back-up dinner menu)…

After getting a great latte at Caffe Luxxe (which was recommended to me on twitter), I was ready to start cooking. The menu was simple but I wanted to give myself ample time and not rush to finish during the end. The starter was a rather easy pumpkin soup spiced with cumin and cinnamon. I had an incredible pumpkin soup at Garibaldi’s earlier this week, which was the main inspiration. I had even made it on Tuesday, using my beloved Fairy Tale Pumpkin. Next on the menu was the Squash and Pomegranate Salad, Kale and Quinoa, and Garlic + Bread (inspired by Little Star Pizza). The main course was a variation of my vegetable rich lasagna. My niece helped me make the pistachio cookies that I made for 18 Reasons’ cookie swap, which would be dessert along with rich, hot chocolate.

Cumin Scented Pumpkin Soup

1 medium Sugar or Fairy Tale pumpkin (4-6 lbs)
olive oil for coating pumpkin
4 large garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons cumin, fresh grounded
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1/2 stick of unsalted butter or 1/3 cup olive oil
6 cups water, approximately
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup Creme Fraiche (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Cut pumpkin in half, discard the stem, seeds and stringy pulp.  Rub oil over the pumpkin, coating well. Place the pumpkin cut side down on the prepared pan. Tuck 2 garlic cloves under the cavity of the pumpkin. Bake pumpkin until it is very tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to touch, remove the peel. Cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces so it’s easier to puree.

2. In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the cinnamon sticks. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add in the cumin and ground cinnamon. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.

3. Puree the pumpkin in batches by adding in 1 cup of the pumpkin pieces  with a 1/3 to 1/2 cup of water. Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add water to reach a consistency of your liking.

4. Put the pot back on the stove-top and heat on medium. Once the soup is heated thoroughly, add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the Creme Fraiche. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

Pumpkin Soup garnished with Sage

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My Sustainable Holiday Table

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Last month for Thanksgiving, Phantom Floranista and I collaborated to make a beautiful Thanksgiving table arrangement. We tried to use all compostable and sustainable materials to create a feeling of warmth, abundance of food, and elegance. The table arrangement was so beautiful that I had a hard time taking it apart once Thanksgiving was over and it was time to transition into Christmas. Therefore, we consumed all of the edible fruit and composted the flowers and some of the leaves. Even though, we didn’t have any specific plans to entertain during this month, I just had to do something with the table now that Phantom Floranista showed me the basics of floral arrangement. We also got our first tree as a married couple this year and decided to really get into the spirit of things by decorating our apartment. Inspired by magazines and in-store displays, I bought extra glass ornaments and other decorative knickknacks to put on our long, rosewood table.

I carefully placed large, round ornaments in places where the apples, corn, pomegranates, and mandarins were for the Thanksgiving table.

I also placed a few taller ornaments to give height and character.

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I also replaced the Fairy Tale pumpkin with a cubed vase filled with ornaments and decorative balls for the centerpiece. I bought the red cubed vase last year and filled the bottom with tissue to prop up the decorative pieces. I also used  tall candles that I already had to give more height and depth.

I covered up an empty aluminum can into a festive utensil holder with tissue paper, rubber band, ribbon, and an ornament.

Please share your holiday decorating tips and pictures!

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Farmer’s Market Find: Rose Germanium and Hot Chocolate

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I really had no desire to get out of bed early on Saturday morning. It was raining, cold, and dark. Though, I really wanted to get Recchiuti’s hot chocolate, farm fresh eggs, and a few other things that I would need for a holiday brunch potluck.  I am so glad I went to the Ferry Plaza Market because:

A little mistletoe action by the doorway to get the party started.

I have a good Aloe Vera story, but will save it for later. I was surprised to see it being sold at the Farmer's Market. It's grown locally but is native to dry, warm weather.

I bought this beautiful Acme bread to complete a cheese platter.

Rose Germanium. It's really special and good for tea and baths.-Eatwell Farms

Inside the Ferry Building

Pineapple Mint and Edible Flowers, a sweet holiday gift from Heirloom Organics.

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate Recipe

Ingredients Serves 2.
1/4 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups whole, organic milk
2 teaspoon Madagascar vanilla
8 ounces semi-sweet cacao chocolate*, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Add water and cinnamon sticks to a stainless steel pot and place over medium heat. Once the cinnamon sticks open up, add the milk and vanilla.
2. When milk mixture is hot, add the chopped chocolate and salt. Stir constantly with a whisk or blend with an immersion blender until the chocolate is incorporated with the milk.
3. When mixture is starting to simmer, take off heat and serve.

*For the best results, use fairly traded, minimally processed chocolate. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.

Happy Holidays!

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Eating Beyond The Holidays (With Recipe)

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A few weeks ago I attended a Thanksgiving cooking demo at We Olive SF, a sustainable olive oil store. Teresa studied holistic nutrition, manages Oak Hill Farm’s CSA program, and has started Can Can Cleanse. Teresa showed us how easy it is to prepare seasonal food for a holiday gathering. It got me to thinking that often times, Seasonal Food is also known as Holiday Food to be only consumed on holidays. Well then, what about rest of the season? We don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving or any holiday to eat fresh, homemade dishes. Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, are available throughout Fall and Winter and there a ton of ways to enjoy these foods.

The dishes served at the holiday dinner table are richer and more decadent (more fats and sugars), which makes that meal so enticing and is nothing to feel guilty about. Though, the same ingredients can be prepared in a healthier way for daily consumption. The food that is grown locally and seasonally should be eaten everyday and not just saved for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  The turkey or ham may take center stage, but the abundance of vegetables (green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, potatoes, Brussels sprouts) really make up the holiday table.

It’s always been all about the vegetables.

Butternut Squash soup is easy to make, delicious, and very healthy.

Brussels Sprouts are another typical holiday side dish that can be enjoyed any night of the week. Brussels sprouts are easy to pack also, so you don't have to resort to fast food for lunch.

Homemade Cannellini Bean and Rosemary Dip

Winter Squash Salad with Arugula, Feta & Pine Nuts

This recipe is modified from Teresa Piro’s Thankful Soups and Sides cooking demo at We Olive SF. It is a mouthwatering salad that looks really pretty and elegant. The salad is packed with antioxidants and flavor that you will want to eat it everyday. The warm squash makes the salad perfect for a cold, winter evening, also.

Ingredients
2 cups Delicata squash, seeded
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
2 tbs pine nuts, toasted

1 tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup arugula

Preparation
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut squash into 1 inch squares. In a large mixing bowl,  toss squash,  sea salt, black pepper, and  olive oil to coat the squash well. Evenly lay out the squash on a baking sheet. Roast in oven for 30-35 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy. Remove from oven and let squash cool slightly.


3.  In the same mixing bowl, add roasted squash, feta, toasted pine nuts,  pomegranate seeds, extra virgin olive oil and gently toss. Garnish with arugula and serve.

A warm winter salad of squash, arugula, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds is soul satisfying and super simple to make, and is a perfect everyday meal.

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