Do Weeknight Dinner Like a Chef!

IMG_3818The beauty of reviewing cookbooks with a group of fabulous and passionate home chefs is that I learn a lot about how others cook and I get to discover books that would otherwise not have been on my radar. One of these examples is a fabulous book called Chefs’ Easy Weeknight Dinners published by Food & Wine Magazine. Almost every recipe in the book is a must-do, and the one I would like to share with you this week is the Ginger-Braised Pork Meatballs in Coconut Broth. Yes, it’s just as delicious as it sounds. Come and cook with us!

We were first a little discouraged by the title of the book. As a home cook, hearing what chefs cook at home can be a little intimidating: what if the recipes are all super complicated and hard to execute. Well, we were wrong as the book is filled with great recipes that sound super tasty and easy enough to pull off on a weekday, even by us home cooks.

The particular beauty of the recipe, above and beyond its visual appeal, is that it is fast and easy to make, but also stands out, at least from my regular weeknight dinner repertoire. Imagine having a pot on your stove filled with “gingery meatballs simmering in a coconut milk-spiked chicken broth fragrant with lemongrass and lime”. Need I say more!

Jenn Louis, chef at Lincoln Restaurant in Portland, Oregon proposed this recipe in the book and I am grateful to her for sharing her culinary creativity with us. Hope you will try it to. Come and cook with us!

Ginger-Braised Pork Meatballs in Coconut Broth

It’s Always Broccoli Time at Our House

FullSizeRenderWhenever I ask my husband what vegetables he wants as a side, it’s always broccoli. He just can’t have enough of them. And neither can I. Whether baked, steamed, or pureed, broccoli are super easy to turn into a delicious dish and they happen to pack a nutritious punch, too. Come and cook with us some broccoli.

We have written about the benefits of eating broccoli before. Broccoli are part of the cruciferous veggies which means that when eaten, they release a compound called sulforaphane (derived from glucosinolate, a natural pesticide) that triggers the body’s own antioxidant defenses. Research suggests that this process may block the COX-2 enzymes which cause inflammation. What’s interesting to note is that these glucosinolate hold up well when the product is stored whole in the fridge or at room temperature over a course of seven days. However, finely shredded vegetables can lose up to 75 of their glucosinolates after six hours. So keep your broccoli whole until you’re ready to consume them.

As part of my cookbook testing project, I came across a divinely-sounding and deliciously-tasting recipe in Seven Spoons by the amazingly talented and fellow food blogger Tara O’Brady from Ontario, Canada. I base this dish on broccolini, the younger versions of full-grown broccoli heads which are less intense in flavor than Tara’s broccoli rabe. The kicker of this recipe is the bagna caudal, a Piedmont-inspired sauce based on anchovies. And for those of us who love anchovies, this pairing couldn’t be any better. Give it a try and let us know what you think. Come and cook with us!

Broccolini with Bagna Cauda

A Fennel Marathon

IMG_3348Did you know that fennel is the Greek name for marathon? Not because eating fennel gives you stamina and endurance. Rather, the Greek beat the Persians in 490 B.C., in a fennel field that is exactly 26 miles and 385 yards from Athens. They sent a runner to bring the good news into town and ever since then, the length of a marathon race has remained the same as the distance between the fennel field and town. Luckily, you don’t have to go that far out of your way to get some fennel. Come and cook with us!

Fennel is often included in supplements as it has a rich mix of health-promoting compounds including anethole (responsible for the licorice flavor), limonene and quercetin (an anti-inflammatory flavonoid) all of which counteract spasms of smooth muscle in the gut, relieve gas and help with cramps. It also makes a nice tea by pouring boiling water over a couple of spoonfuls of the dried fruit, crushing it immediately before using. Steep for 10 minutes and strain.

Fennel is about as versatile as a vegetable can be. It’s great raw, cooked, roasted, and even pickled and many recipes use the fennel seeds, fronds and flowers to make the most of its extraordinary flavor. One can eat it raw but beware, as my college flat mate used to equal raw fennel salad to prison food as it was bleak and dire. Say it ain’t so as it is delicious in mixed with oranges and avocado, or baked with tomatoes, bread crumbs and parmigiano. Another nice use of the fennel seeds is to crush them and use them instead of breadcrumbs on your chicken, turkey, veal or pork scaloppine with fennel salsa verde. We recently tried this recipe from Bon Appetit and it was an absolute hit at my house.

Fennel is great in salads and a new and improved version to the above mentioned orange and avocado salad is this citrusy fennel, apple and olive salad from the recently published Citrus: Sweet and Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes cookbook.  It’s crunchy, fresh and easy and gives me the feeling that summer is not over just yet. Get some fennel, make the salad and let us know what you think. Come and cook with us!

Fennel, Tangerine and Olive Slaw

A Simple Bowl of Chili

38eedf4ea19811e2ae2622000a1fb7e1_6Whether we’re ready or not, here comes fall. Temperatures have clearly dropped in Northern California and even though I know that the few droplets of rain won’t last or make an ounce of difference to the drought, we have definitely turned the corner towards the colder part of the year. Which in my house means the bowls are coming out and a pot of chili is gently simmering on the stove. Come and cook with us!

We have written about the benefits of eating with the seasons. In addition to taking advantage of what is growing right now in your – or your farmer’s – backyard, the way we prepare food also matters. While we tend to eat steamed, quick-boiled and raw light dishes in the summer month, we are attracted and crave warmth and strength through eating slow-simmered, pressure-cooked or baked hearty dishes when it gets cold. Using the appropriate cooking method helps our bodies find balance. A lot of the basics in a macro-biotic diet are based on this concept that strives for the right Yin/Yang combination. It even describes what type of vegetables are best: light and more upward-growing foods in the summer (Yin) and more compact veggies and downward growing roots in winter (Yang).

But back to my pot of chili. Based on the frequency of chili cook-offs I read of and hear about, making the perfect pot of chili is clearly an art, but there are a few basics that will make any combination delicious. We like to make classic-style beef chili with plenty of good tomato sauce and kidney beans. Letting the meat brown to create the attractive umami flavor is key, as is the low-heat simmering that lets the flavors meld and keeps the tomatoes sweet. Truth be told, we go very light on the chili peppers, as one can always light the fire in the bowl once it is served. Give it a try and let us know what you think. Come and cook with us!

Chili con Carne  

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Back to School, Back to Reality…

IMG_3042Saying that the last few weeks were anything but a whirlwind would be understating the current state of affairs. There has been no time to sit down and think about much, let alone form a plan for my weekly posts. The good thing of all this business is that many of my projects include cooking. In fact, lots of cooking and also lots of cookbook reviewing along with many cooks that are much better than I am. And best of all, it’s for a good cause and gives me the chance to learn, and in turn share delicious recipes, great cookbook ideas and much more with all of you. Here is to a great fall together. Come and cook with us!

A group of excellent chefs – and mothers at my kids’ school – have been tasked to select cookbooks for sale at a school book fair. Honestly, I haven’t seen that many great cookbooks in a while. From grilling, vegan, vegetarian, Southern, chicken, citrus, genius, GF, baking, GF baking, Peruvian, Mexican and Lebanese. It’s enlightening to see how hard it is to differentiate yourself in such a busy market coming up with great dishes across the board. What is in it for my readers? After picking the books we like, we’ll select dishes, test them and I’ll pass them along if they are quick, easy, colorful and, most importantly, delicious! And they will all be from the latest crop of fabulous cookbooks! What’s there not to like.

In the meantime, get back on track. It’s time to think about falling back into a routine that works for you and your family. If you had great ideas over the summer, now is the time to try to implement a few new habits. Because no matter how busy I am, I and we all strive for balance. Whether planning and cooking ahead for a week of meals or rather throwing together a dish based on what’s in our pantry, it’s all about finding what is right for me, you and our families. New dishes, recipes, cooking approaches only work if they are aligned with what we want and need, so let’s think about what is important to us and then give it a try. For instance, for me fall means a new CSA subscription (Bloomfield Organics is my new favorite in the Bay Area). It fills me with anticipation and forces me to be creative and try something I haven’t done in a while. Yesterday’s box was packed with chards, kale, baby lettuces, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and crunchy apples. In fact, I can see a chard gratin in my near future…

And above all, keep it fun and simple. Roasted new potatoes, colorful tomatoes with some burrata, a fresh pesto, roasted cauliflower or a greek salad. These are all easy choices that will add a punch of freshness and color to your table. It’s so well versed that it seems almost too obvious to state: shop what’s in season and it will help us find the balance on and off our dinner table. Or at least it will help us appreciate what mother nature is bringing us, every month, every season, every year. Come and cook with us!


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