Friday, May 29, 2009


Food and travel go hand in hand. Certain dishes can take us back to places we visited years ago. Just the other day, I made a Nicoise Salad which of course reminded us of a trip to France where we visited the coastal city of Nice and ate the freshest seafood and soaked up the sun on the pebbly Mediterranean beach. As we ate that hearty dinner salad topped with seared Ahi tuna, we also reminisced about a trip to Australia where we indulged in a similar rendition of the classic Nicoise. Our thoughts turned to the quaint, inexpensive hotel we stayed at in Port Douglas, a coastal town just north of Cairns, which had an attached outdoor restaurant that served amazingly fresh seafood for very low prices. The food was so good in fact; we ate there twice, against our "traveler code". For one of these meals, we sat at the bar and chatted with the friendly bar tender. I ordered sea scallops for the second time while in Australia and again the white firm fleshed circular mollusk that I was so familiar with had an orange colored "wing" on one side of it. From my prior experience, I knew I was supposed to eat it, but now I had the added benefit of being able to ask what the heck this was for I had never before seen a scallop like this in the states. The chef was beckoned and I was informed that it was the roe. I told him I had never seen this before and the chef alluded to the possibility that I was not buying real scallops. Interesting take, I thought, knowing this was not the case, but also finding it amazing that we had such a different knowledge and understanding of a common food, shaped by our geographical location of what we call home. And then there was the lemonade.

I was 4 months pregnant while traveling in Australia and it was an unusually hot summer in that January of 2007. Melbourne was in the middle of a 1000 year drought. While Lou was able to partake in their refreshing beers, I was looking for alternatives. Lemonade seemed to be on all the menus, but I never received quite what I ordered. I was continually getting a glass of soda, like Sprite or 7 UP. I reluctantly drank them, for lack of an alternative as ice tea was no where to be found either. It was on a bar tour in the city of Sydney that we clarified the issue. I was told by some locals that were entertaining family by taking them on the tour that lemonade IS soda. When I described the lemonade made up of lemon juice, sugar, and water that is so common here in the states, they looked confused and said they'd never heard of it. Never heard of Lemonade? I was shocked that such a common summertime drink for us Americans did not have the same reputation in another English speaking country. Perhaps they don't have lemons? Not so. My thoughts quickly turned to the fortune I could make by introducing lemonade to Australians. I figured it would be an instant hit, but then we don't buy much Vegemite either, so perhaps it is just a matter of taste. At any rate, I never pursued that business venture, but in the spirit of good will, perhaps an Aussie or two will find this post and decide to popularize this refreshing, centuries old concoction that we Americans have come to take for granted.


1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 8 lemons)
3 cups cold water
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or to taste

Mix all three ingredients until sugar is dissolved and serve over ice.

Variations: for basil or mint lemonade, muddle a few basil or mint leaves in the bottom of a glass before adding ice and the lemon juice mixture

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angel Food Cake

When our farmers market starts selling strawberries each year, I start buying and tasting samples, eager to determine whose strawberries will result in the most flavorful jams and sauces. Then, when the season peaks I buy a flat of the tastiest variety and set out to make jam. This year, I may have jumped the gun a little as there is still time left in our strawberry season, but I am on a bit of a time crunch with our second daughter on the way and my nesting period in full swing. I made two batches of the freezer jam I make every year using traditional pectin and plenty of sugar as well as a trial batch of a low sugar variety of freezer jam using Pamona's Universal Pectin. This pectin does not require sugar to jell and is instead activated by calcium. I found it at our local natural foods store and thought I'd give it a whirl. It was also quite inexpensive considering how much jam you can make with one box. With the remaining strawberries, I made some simple strawberry topping and package it in two to three cup containers for freezer storage. With just a bit of sugar, strawberries make a fresh and simple topping for homemade vanilla ice cream or angel food cake and the freezer allows us to enjoy them when strawberries are no longer at their peak. So much for eating seasonally, huh? Well, I don't usually find myself craving strawberries in the winter, so we do try to make use of them before our warm fall ends and winter vegetables like pumpkins start showing up in our baked goods again.

With strawberries on hand, angel food cake is now residing in our glass domed cake plate. Not for long, however, as it is a favorite in our household. It is simple, light, even fat free, which seems to make it way too easily digestable. I'm not claiming it is healthy, as it's loaded with sugar and usually made with refined, bleached cake flour, just that it is not in the least bit "rich", and so satisfyingly, yet so unsatisfyingly light that we tend to inhale it. The real bonus is it is so simple to make... that is if you have a stand or hand held mixer to help you with frothing the egg whites. It is no fun (and actually painful if you're not used to it) to whisk egg whites to a stiff peak by hand. Plus, you don't have to grease the pan! I always loved this about angel food cake as a kid, when it seemed like such a chore to grease a pan. The cake actually needs to stick to the pan so its delicate batter can climb up the sides.

You can find recipes for angel food cake in almost any basic cook book and all over the internet, but I tend to reach for the same recipe my mom used- the one out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. Most recipes I've come across do not vary too much on ingredients and instructions, but unfortunately, some of the ingredients are not in the average pantry. Quite a few recipes call for superfine sugar and most call for cake flour. I don't usually buy superfine sugar, but do keep a stock of powdered sugar. I usually keep cake flour on hand, but have improvised when I've found the box to be almost empty while my eggs whites are whirring in the stand mixer. Cake flour has a lower gluten content than all purpose and will result in a more tender cake that rises a bit higher. If you don't want to buy a box of cake flour for the one cup of flour you need in this recipe, you can substitute 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour plus 2 Tablespoons of corn starch for one cup of cake flour.

Angel Food Cake

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour (or 3/4 all-purpose flour + 2 Tablespoons corn starch)
1 1/2 cups egg whites (10 to 12 depending on size of eggs)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift together the powdered sugar and flour. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer until foamy. Beat on high speed, gradually add the granulated sugar, then the salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Continue beating until stiff and glossy.

Remove bowl from stand mixer or set hand mixer aside. Using a large spatula, fold 1/4 at a time the powdered sugar and flour mixture into the egg whites just until incorporated. Spread the batter in an ungreased tube pan, cutting through the batter with a clean knife to break up any air pockets.

Bake at 375 degrees until the top springs back when touched, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool cake upside down in pan. If the cake has risen above the cooling prongs, you can balance it on an upside down funnel placed in the center. Remove from pan when fully cooled by running a knife along the outside and center edges of the cake and inverting it onto a serving platter.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


There's nothing like a plate of Madeleines sitting on your counter top under a glass dome. It's like owning a French Bakery and getting to eat all the Madeleines you want for a day or two... that's all the longer they last around here. To me, Madeleines and croissants are the benchmarks for a French Bakery. If they can't do either of those well, then the bakery cannot succeed, or at least shouldn't succeed in my opinion. Important as they are, it is rare that I find a truly fresh, light, flavorful Madeleine. And, so I make my own.

I've tried other flavors like hazelnut and chocolate, but the following recipe for a classic lemon Madeleine is my all-time favorite. It produces a cakey textured cookie that is light and fluffy with just the right hint of lemon. Sprinkling the cookies with powdered sugar strikes the perfect balance as it off-sets the slightly sour lemony taste.


Special equipment: 2 Madeleine pans which make 12 large madeleines each

2 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter and flour pans for 24 madeleines and set aside.

In a large bowl or bowl of electric stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon peel, and salt. Add flour, beating just until blended, then slowly add cooled melted butter, beating as you add it, just until blended.

Divide the dough amongst the 24 madeleines, using 1 1/2 Tablespoons of dough for each cookie. Bake until puffed in the center and browned around the edges, about 15 minutes, checking after 13 to ensure you do not overbake. Cool 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely before sprinkling with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pork Tenderloin

I have a favorite recipe for pork tenderloin that seems to never disappoint. I've made it for countless dinner parties, brought it to camp outs for cooking on the grill, and it is a staple in our home dinner rotation. I recently prepared a meal with a friend who wanted different ideas for her family's dinners. I chose pork tenderloin as the main dish since it is simple to prepare and cooks in little time- both great qualities for a busy mom.

One gadget that makes the preparation of this or any other larger piece of protein a cinch, is a digital thermometer with an alarm. It enables you to set the desired temperature and will sound an alarm when the internal temperature of the meat reaches that temperature. For this cut of meat, I find 145 degrees is a safe temperature that leaves the meat moist and juicy.

Pork Tenderloin

1 12-ounce pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
Pinch of ground allspice

Combine the salt, pepper, thyme, and allspice in a small bowl. Place the pork tenderloin on a large sheet of plastic wrap laid out on your countertop and rub the spice mixture and the minced garlic onto all sides of the meat. Wrap the pork tenderloin in the plastic wrap and if preparing within an hour, allow to sit at room temperature until ready to sear. The tenderloin can also be seasoned a few hours ahead of time, wrapped in plastic wrap, and kept in the refrigerator until ready to sear.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place an oven-safe pan with a diameter large enough to fit the length of your tenderoin over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil and when the oil is hot, but not yet smoking, place the tenderloin in the hot pan and allow it to sit, without moving, until the underside is seared. You will know when it is time to turn the meat when it easily releases from the pan. Repeat until browned on all sides. Place the pan in the preheated oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, about 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil, allowing to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
The rub on this meat is flavorful enough on its own, but if desired, you can make a pan sauce with the beautiful frond that will be left in the pan. Here's a rough guide that will surely require some experimentation on your part: Use white wine or chicken stock with a dash of white wine vinegar to deglaze the pan then reduce to sauce consistency. Remove from heat and whisk in cold unsalted butter until nicely emulsified and tastes balanced. Add additional salt and pepper as needed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yet Another Reason to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

MERCURY. Mercury, you say in high fructose corn syrup? Egad, yet another source of this toxic metal, and yet another reason to avoid this processed sweetener. Found in not only obviously unhealthy foods such as soda, high fructose corn syrup is also found in yogurt, soups, ketchup, cereals and even breads, almost any processed food and unfortunately, in foods kids love and eat every day. Mercury intake seemed controllable when we only had to worry about how much, how often, and what types of sea food we consumed, but when it starts to show up in our staple foods, how can we know how much our kids are consuming? Change the staple foods you buy. Vote with your consumer dollars and refuse to buy foods with high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list, especially those foods your kids consume in quantity. For example, it might be hard to find a super market ketchup that contains sugar, but given the small amount your kids consume at one time, it is of less concern than say, yogurt. Next time you buy yogurt, look at the label, see what you are actually buying, is it filled with corn sweeteners, thickeners, and things you cannot pronounce in an ingredient list more than an inch long? My yogurt has two ingredients: organic whole milk and live active cultures. If we want to sweeten it, we add honey, and as far as I know, that's mercury free.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides

The Environmental Working Group recently updated their list of the Dirty Dozen- those fruits and vegetables that have the highest levels of pesticide residue. Very little changed since last year's list. Kale and Carrots replaced Spinach and Potatoes. That's not to say that Spinach and Potatoes are now on the clean list. They just fell off the top 12 and are now the 14th and 15th most contaminated. Click on the title of this post to find the full list and see how your favorite vegetables ranked.

Monday, March 16, 2009

One-Day Whole Grain Bread

My Grandma used to make a bread called "colonial bread" that was similar to a peasant bread in that it contained mostly all-purpose flour with a little whole grain for added flavor and texture. In this case, the whole grain was corn meal and whole wheat and rye flours.

The rising food prices of last summer provoked me to unearth my bread maker, but unfortunately, it didn't seem to work right anymore. The bread was not rising, so I would end up with a heavy loaf that was about half the size it was supposed to be. I was using the same recipes I had in the past, so I bought new yeast, retested the recipes and again ended up with the same disappointing results. The breadmaker was about ten years old, so perhaps it had made its last loaf. I decided I didn't need a bread machine and dug out my bread books and favorite recipes and resolved to make bread the old fashioned way- using my KithenAid Stand Mixer.

I came across my grandma's colonial bread recipe and noticed a very unique step in the process she used. It started with boiling water. Boiling water can be a disaster in a bread recipe if you add the yeast at the wrong time. Water at boiling or even close to boiling temperature will kill yeast and leave you with an unleavened lump of a loaf. To prevent this from ending in disaster, the recipe calls for an equal amount of COLD water to be added before the yeast is finally mixed in. To contrast this method, I found that many of the breads that contain a whole grain (at least one that has not been milled to a flour), start with a soaker consisting of a grain and some liquid that stands overnight. According to Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, "Its purpose is to activate the enzymes in the grains in order to break out some of the trapped sugars from the starches. It also softens the coarse grain." The boiling water method my grandma used seemed to shorten the time needed for "soaking" the coarsely milled grains, allowing me to make bread the same day I set my mind to it, which makes it that much simpler when your trying to work around naptimes.

The following recipe has evolved from what I have on hand in the freezer, so feel free to supplement other grains as desired. This recipe calls for use of a stand mixer, but you'll need a larger mixer fitted with a 5 or 6 quart bowl. (I have the professional 6) If you have a smaller stand mixer, such as an Artisan the recipe can easily be halved to make one large loaf. If you do not have a stand mixer, use a large mixing bowl to soak the whole grains and then add the flours, cold water and yeast and mix with your hands. Then finish by hand kneading on your counter top. It'll be much harder work, but you may find it to be therapeutic!

One Day Multi-Grain Bread
Makes 2 ten inch or 3 eight inch loaves

In a small bowl, mix together, then set aside:
1/2 cup warm water
4 teaspoons active dry yeast

In a 5 or 6 quart bowl of your stand mixer (or large mixing bowl) combine and let stand for 10 minutes:
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup flax seed meal
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt or 2 Tablespoons table salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups boiling water

Fit the bowl onto your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the following ingredients (or work the remaining ingredients in by hand in a large mixing bowl):

4 cups whole wheat flour
5 + cups all purpose or bread flour
2 cups cold water

Mix with the dough hook until combined and the dough is just warm and no longer hot, then add the yeast dissolved in the 1/2 cup of warm water. Continue to knead with the dough hook on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes, adding additional all purpose or bread flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl. It should stick slightly to the bottom but clear the sides. When finished kneading, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the risen dough from the bowl and place onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into two (or three, depending on the size of your loaf pans) equally sized pieces. Form round balls, spray them with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Season your loaf pans with a thin coating of spray oil, then lightly flatten the balls and roll into a loaf shape pinching the loose seam-end into the dough and place each loaf into a prepared pan seam-side down. Spray the loaves lightly with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 20 minutes before you are ready to bake. Bake the loaves on the middle rack of your oven, about 30 to 35 minutes for 3 eight inch loaves or 45 minutes for 2 ten inch loaves. They should be lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped.

Cool on a cooling rack in the pans until they can be handled, then remove from the pans. I would tell you to allow them to cool before eating, but this never really happens in practice, and there is nothing like fresh baked bread straight from the oven, so enjoy!

The extra loaves freeze very well. I usually use one immediately and freeze the second. Allow them to cool completely (overnight if necessary), then bag and freeze.