Friday, January 29, 2010

Eating Well Makes Good Sense

For those who think that going without meat, sugars, and processed foods means a bland, boring diet, think again. Buying local, seasonal, fresh produce and paying attention to what you eat pays off with big dividends.

The truth is, you'll save money and feel better. What's more, you won't be giving up convenience. Most of these dishes can be made in 30 minutes or less.


Arugula Salad with Avocado

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, and Avocados

Arugula Salad with Persimmons and Pomegranate Seeds

Bulgar Salad with Celery

Carrot Salad with Lemon-Soaked Raisins

Chopped Parsley Salad

Cole Slaw with Capers

Couscous Salad with Grilled Vegetables

Egg Salad

Farmers' Market Fresh Chopped Vegetable Salad

Grilled Corn Salads

Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad

Grilled Vegetables

Parsley-Grilled Corn Salad

Potato Salad with Corn

Risotto with Summer Vegetables

Roasted Beet Salad

Salad-e Shirazi: Iranian Cucumbers, Cherry Tomatoes, and Onions
Spinach Salad

Tomato and Avocado Salad

Tomato, Avocado, Corn and Garlic Toast Salad

Wilted Spinach Salad

Soups, Sauces, and Side Dishes

The Amazingly Versatile Blackened Pepper

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sauteed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

Braised Sprouted Broccoli

Cannelini Beans with Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach

Caramelized Vegetable Pasta

Charmoula Sauce for Salads, Side Dishes, and Entrees

An Easy Saute with Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

Grilled Artichokes

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Grilled Vegetables

Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetable Saute

Homemade Vegetable Soup

Kale Sauteed with Garlic and Farm Fresh Vegetables

Kimchi Ramen Soup

Kosher Pickles

Mushroom Soup

Ramen Soup with Kimchi and Farmers' Market Fresh Vegetables

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Garlic-Tomato Sauce

Roasted Tomatoes

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Salt Crusted Fingerling Potatoes

Salt Steamed Broccoli

Sauteed Beet Greens

Sauteed Kale with Vegetables

Steamed Artichokes

Summer Vegetable Risotto

Sweet Potatoes Grilled

Sweet Potato Inari Sushi

Tapenade the Frugal Cook's Secret Weapon

Tomato-Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup


Ginger-Soy Sauce Poached Black Cod

Cioppino with Roasted Tomatoes and Garlic Toasts

Ginger-Soy Black Cod

Green Garlic and Clams

Grilled Shrimp

Grilled Shrimp with a Tex-Mex Dry Rub

Low Cal Breaded Fish Fillets

Israeli Couscous with Vegetables

Native American-Style Salmon

Pasta Alla Checca

Risotto with Farmers' Market Fresh Squash Blossoms and Baby Zucchini

Roasted Cherry Tomato and Shiitake Mushroom Pasta

Sauteed Fish with Capers, Corn, and Tomatoes

Skewered Cherry Tomatoes

Tofu, Beet Greens, and Brown Rice

Tofu with Crispy Toppings


Baked Cherries

Baked Plums


Honey Poached Apples and Pears with Cinnamon, Vanilla, Raisins, and Peppercorns

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to Store Shiitakes and a Mushroom Soup That's Perfect for Chilly Days

At most supermarkets, shiitakes aren't cheap so they have to be used sparingly. But at Asian markets, they're inexpensive. $3.99/pound at Mitsuwa in Santa Monica and $2.69/pound at SF Supermarket in Little Saigon. At those prices, it's reasonable to buy several pounds.

In general, shiitakes come in two forms: the slender stemmed variety and the ones which are fatter, with thicker stems and caps. Mitsuwa and SF Supermarket sell the fatter variety, which have a meater flavor.

With so many on hand, they can be used liberally in pastas and soups, grilled, and sautéed with garlic and shallots.

But how to store the ones not eaten those first couple of days?

Everyone knows that mushrooms should only be stored in the refrigerator in paper bags because kept in plastic they quickly go bad. Use a brown paper bag--not a white one, which is coated with wax so the moisture stays inside the bag--in combination with paper towels. The moisture that normally accumulates on the outside of the mushroom is absorbed by the layers of paper.

Kept in the refrigerator another week or two, the brown paper bag-paper towel combination acts as a dehydrator pefectly drying the mushrooms. This technique only works successfully with shiitakes.

If by chance any of the dried shiitakes develop mold, discard and keep the good ones. In my experience, more than 95% will dehydrate without harm.

To reconstitute dried shiitakes, put them in a heat proof bowl, pour in enough boiling water to cover, place a smaller bowl on top to keep the mushrooms submerged. Leave for 30 minutes until they soften.

Gently squeeze out the water but reserve the liquid for later use. Cut and discard the stems. At this point the mushroom caps can be cooked as if they were fresh.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup with Garlic

Shiitakes have a meaty, sweet flavor that is deliciously satisfying in this easy-to-make soup, perfect for a drizzly winter day.

Yield: Serves 4

Time: 45 minutes


2 cups shiitake mushrooms, fresh (stems and caps) or reconstituted (stems removed), washed, thin sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
4 shallots or 1 small yellow onion, peeled, findely chopped
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


In a large sauce pan, sauté the mushrooms, garlic, and shallots with the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the chicken stock and, if using reconstituted mushrooms, 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Simmer 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.


Substitute water for the chicken stock to make a vegetarian version, in which case simmer the mushrooms a bit longer and add 1 tablespoon of butter for flavor

Season with 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Add to the saute 4 cups spinach leaves, washed, stems removed, roughly chopped

Add to the saute and brown 2 Italian sausages, roughly chopped,

Add to the saute and brown 1 chicken breast, roughly chopped

Add to the saute 1 cup fresh, deveined shrimp, roughly chopped

Add to the soup 1/4 cup cream and 1 tablespoon butter

Add to the soup at the end 2 packages ramen noodles cooked first in boiling water for 10 minutes then divided equally among the 4 servings

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Caramelized Vegetable Pasta

If you can't get your kids to eat vegetables, try caramelizing them to bring out their natural sweetness. It's as easy as tossing them in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and pepper, sauteing, grilling, or roasting them in the oven.

For a quick, affordable, nutritious meal, add pasta, leave a little broth in the bottom of the bowl, top with grated cheese and they'll come back for seconds.

Caramelized Vegetable Pasta

Yield: 4

Time: 30 minutes


1 small yellow onion or 3 shallots, washed, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 pound mushrooms, shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thin sliced
1 cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1 cup corn off the cob during the summer
1 cup broccoli stems or florets, washed, roughly chopped
1 pound pasta, preferably De Cecca, spaghetti, gnocchi pasta, penne, ziti or whatever you like
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt and pepper


Saute all the vegetables in 1 tablespoon olive oil until softened. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Boil a large pot of water. Add the Kosher salt. Add the pasta. To prevent sticking, stir well throughout the cooking, about 10 minutes. Put a heat-proof cup or a Pyrex measuring cup that can hold 1 1/2 cups into the sink next to the strainer. When you drain the pasta, capture 1 1/2 cups of pasta water. Set aside.

Put the pasta back into the pot. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the pasta. Toss well. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss. To keep the pasta warm, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pot but do not seal. Set aside.

Put the sauteed vegetables back on a medium flame. Add 1/2 cup of the pasta water and the sweet butter and reduce over a medium flame for 15 minutes. Toss the vegetables to coat. Add the pasta and another 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss the pasta and vegetables to mix well. If you need more liquid, add more of the pasta water.

Just before serving, pour the pasta, broth and vegetables into a large bowl. Serve with the grated cheese alongside.


To add heat, put 1/4 teaspoon of tabasco or a pinch of cayenne when you're sauteing the vegetables.
Add 2 cups sliced cooked chicken breast.

Add 1 cup raw shrimp, washed, deveined, roughly chopped to the vegetables when you add the pasta water.

In addition to the vegetables in the recipe, add others you enjoy, like peppers, asparagus, zucchini, celery, chopped tomatoes, even cooked potatoes.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sundance and the Sundance Film Festival

To most people the Sundance Film Festival means Park City, Utah. With a broad valley at the base of the mountains, the city has the look of a classic winter resort, except that during the Festival most people aren't skiing, they're either standing in line outside theaters or inside watching movies.

But the Festival also screens films at its namesake, the Sundance Resort, just 30 minutes away.

If you want to see some of the Festival films in a quieter setting, try seeing them at Sundance.

Sundance occupies a narrow canyon with majestic Mt. Timpanogos looking down on the slopes. The crowds of filmgoers stay in Park City so you won't have to stand in line or miss a screening because it's sold out.

After the film you can take a walk outside, enjoying the clear mountain air. To get some exercise, take a break by skiing down the mountain, then, if you're hungry, walk to the Foundry Grill and have a bowl of hot soup and a sandwich. Before you go back inside for another film, take a minute to enjoy the scenery, and, as many people do, stand on the wooden bridge and watch the turbulent stream calm itself in the reflecting pond.

That way you'll get the best of both worlds.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region Comes to Il Fornaio

Wedged between Austria and Slovena, the northern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the south and the Alps to the north. Reflecting a climate which can be buffeted by cold fronts, the region's cuisine emphasizes comfort food: hearty soups, polenta, charcuterie, grilled meats and fish, risotto, gnocchi, and ravioli.

To celebrate the New Year, a group of friends gathered at the Santa Monica Il Fornaio (1551 Ocean Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310/451-7800), opposite the Santa Monica Pier, for a tasting of the Festa Regionale (January 4-17) . Along with a selection of regional dishes, we also sampled wines from the family run Tenuta Luisa winery located close to the Slovena border.

When we arrived at the restaurant, a cold chill caught us by surprise, so soup was the order of the day. The Cannellini Bean Soup (Zuppa E Antipasti) was deeply flavored with carrots, potatoes, and Swiss chard, topped with a thin slice of Il Fornaio's bread, crusted with grated Parmesan cheese. The light and fruity but not sweet Friulano (2008) made a good companion for the soup.

While we studied the menu, we feasted on a basket of delicious, fresh-from-the-oven Il Fornaio bread--the restaurant is called "The Baker" after all--with slices dipped into a small plate filled with their own extra virgin olive oil. The struggle, always, is to eat only a few slices of the bread and not the whole basket.

Although off the familiar tourist routes, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is well-known for one of its products, San Daniele prosciutto. Our appetizer was a plate composed as much for the eye as the palate (Prosciutto San Daniele e Formaggi Misti). The sweet, delicate San Daniele could be eaten by itself, each slice practically melting in your mouth.

What's fun about a charcuterie plate is the mix-and-matching that is possible. A piece of prosciutto can be eaten with a bite of a meaty Cerignola olive, or it can be wrapped around a crisp thin bread stick studded with sea salt. My favorite way was to dredge a slice of soft Montasio Vecchio in olive oil I seasoned with sea salt and pepper, quickly wrapping the cheese in the San Daniele, popping the little package in my mouth before too much of olive oil dripped off, followed by a sip of Friulano. Yum.

Reflecting their proximity to the Alps, the pasta courses featured hearty cream sauces. Usually anathema to calorie counters, a special dispensation should be made for these delicious sauces.

When there is a choice between Ravioli with Roast Duck in an Asparagus Cream Sauce (Ravioli d'Anatra Agli Asparagi), Pasta with Shellfish in a Parmesan and Tomato Bechamel (Pasticcio alla Gradese), Gnocchi with Sausage in a Tomato Cream Sauce (Gnocchi alla Friulana), or Risotto with Mushrooms and Vegetables in a Cheese Sauce (Risotto del Cansiglio), you'd want the tasting to focus entirely here and never move on.

But good sense prevailed and we sampled two of the four.

The ravioli hit every comfort note. The sauce, light and creamy, was leavened by the asparagus. The filling of braised duck meat was mixed with San Daniele prosciutto and pillowed softly inside the delicately sweet dough. Needless to say, generous amounts of fresh bread were used to collect every last drop of the sauce.

In the risotto, the sauce had been absorbed into the grains of rice. By comparison with the ravioli, the effect was almost austere but the effect was no less luxurious. The risotto melted in the mouth, with thin slices of wild mushrooms and fresh vegetables providing added flavor to the sweetness of the rice.

With both courses we had the Pinot Grigio (2008), a crisp companion perfect to contrast with the pastas' richness.

For protein, the region looks both to the mountains and the sea. Shrimp and Spaghetti in a Marinara Cream Sauce (Gamberoni alla Busara con Spaghetti), Wild Sea Bass with Mashed Potatoes and Spinach (Filetto di Branzino alla Greca), and a Mixed Grill of Chicken, Sausage, Lamb, and New York Steak (Carne Mista alla Brace).

Choosing the sea bass, I would have happily just eaten the mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach with cherry tomatoes, capers, Kalmata and Cerignola olives. They were that delicious. The sea bass had no trouble competing with such formidable accompaniments. Moist and sweet, the skin turned into a crisp confection that dissolved in my mouth. The Friulano was a bit too fruity for the dish and the Pinot Grigio too crisp, so we switched to the Sauvignon (2008) which had just the right amount of lightness and full flavor.

Outside we could see people leaving the Santa Monica pier, their coats pulled tightly around them, so although we were well-satisfied with the meal, we decided to take another moment and relax in the warm comfort of the restaurant and share the regional dessert.

A small cake topped with ice cream came to the table. The Italian name, Tortino di Mele con Gelato al Rum, was certainly a mouthful. But we were so busy eating the cake, we didn't bother practicing our Italian. To our simple American tastes this was a great version of a Fruit-Nut Cake. And the rum raisin ice cream was as good as it gets.

For more posts about Il Fornaio's Festa Regionale check out:
Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
A Tasting at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica--Trentino-Alto Adige
A Trip to Italy is Just Around the Corner at Il Fornaio--Calabria
Il Fornaio Heads South to Campania for May's Regionale
Il Fornaio Heads North to Lombardia
Abruzzo at Il Fornaio, Santa Monica