Saturday, December 14, 2013

Simple and Satisfying Black Bean Soup

There’s something so comforting about this black bean soup. Even though it’s fairly quick and easy to make, it still counts as homemade. It’s adaptable to the vegetables and spices you like best, and provides a nutritious vegetarian option for lunch or dinner. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, making it a great go-to meal any time of year.

This time of year when the days grow short and temperatures drop, it’s especially warming to make and enjoy. Besides the onion needed for its flavor and texture, I also like to add other crunchy vegetables, especially small sweet peppers diced and seeded. If you prefer something spicier, substitute chipotle powder for the cumin. With a good loaf of bread on the side, you have a simple and satisfying meal.

Whenever you feel you need something basic and restoring, come home to this reassuring, health-giving soup.

Cooking with Trader Joe’s Black Bean Soup
(adapted from the recipe on their website)


1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 small sweet peppers, chopped with seeds and stems removed (optional)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 T olive oil
1 t ground cumin (or ground chipotle if you like it spicier)
2 15-oz. cans black beans (not drained)
1 cup of salsa (fresh is best)
2 T lime juice
yogurt or sour cream (optional)


1. In a medium pot, add the olive oil and saute the onions and sweet peppers until soft.
2. Add cumin (or chipotle) and garlic. Saute for one minute.
3. Add in black beans (including juices), salsa, and lime juice. Stir to combine. Simmer covered for about 20 minutes.
4. Top with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream if desired.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Curry Up Now

I don’t know what all the flavors, spices and secret sauces are in these unique Indian-Mexican fusion street foods, but I do know that I love all of them. Both familiar and exotically new, these little bites will pop, dance, and sparkle in your mouth. Spicy, creamy, crispy, soft, all blending together magically on my tastebuds, washed down and perfectly balanced with cooling mango lassi, the food lingers in my memory. It’s a wonderful adventure for your palate, something to anticipate for days. I also love to see others’ faces when they first put these marvelous morsels in their mouths, along with the inevitable question, ‘What is this flavor?’ My response: ‘I have no idea, but I love it!’

If you don’t know what to order, take my advice and try these amazing snacks, all vegetarian:

- Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits, with Tikka Masala Dip
- Gol Gappa
- Guac Sev Puri
- Aloo Gobi Tacos
- Mango Lassi

With locations in Palo Alto, San Mateo, and San Francisco, Curry Up Now is working its way down the Peninsula and I’m sure will find fans wherever they go. I would love to work my way through the menu, but it's going to take time because I can't pull myself away from these instant favorites. Explore the flavors, textures, and curious combinations for yourself. The mystery makes it all the more sensational.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Crunchy Crispix Arare

Crunchy, salty, sweet, and savory. If you like crunchy Japanese crackers with soy sauce and seaweed flavors, you’ll likely enjoy this homemade snack mix made from Crispix cereal. It’s easy to make, smells wonderful, and tastes yummy. It’s also a flexible recipe so that you can add other nuts and seasonings to taste.

This recipe is from my Aunt Margaret, her submission to a family cookbook. The hardest ingredient to find is the Nori Furikake, a mixture of seaweed flakes, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar. I found a jar in a Japanese market called Nak’s in downtown Menlo Park (it’s been there for 44 years and has wonderful treasures inside). If you have trouble finding it, just use cut-up dried seaweed and sesame seeds in whatever quantities you prefer.

Try this snack mix when you’re in the mood for an Asian twist on Chex Mix.

Crunchy Crispix Arare

½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
2 T soy sauce
1 package Crispix cereal (15 oz. box)
½ cup Nori Komi Furikake seasoning, found at Asian markets
whole raw almonds

Place butter, light corn syrup, sugar, and soy sauce in saucepan. Bring to boil and stir until sugar is melted. Pour into large bowl. Add Crispix cereal and mix thoroughly. Add whole almonds or other nuts to taste. Spray deep baking pan with Pam. Spread mix into pan. Sprinkle Nori Komi Furikake seasoning as desired over mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes in a pre-heated 200 degree oven, stirring every 15 minutes. After removing from oven, stir occasionally so mix will not stick to pan. Place in airtight containers and enjoy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Raspberry Peach Almond Crunch Crumble

My daughter Amanda has always had unique and original ideas. For her 14th birthday this month, she declared she did not want the usual birthday cake. Instead, she requested a fruit crumble.

I found this recipe on the New York Times website for a mixed berry almond crunch crumble. It calls for 8 cups of mixed berries including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. However, Amanda does not like blueberries so I adapted the recipe and simply used 4 cups of red raspberries and 4 cups of sliced peaches for the fruit filling. I didn’t bother to peel the peaches, just washed and sliced them.

The raspberry peach combination worked wonderfully well for its mix of tart and sweet flavors, which tasted just as bright as the lovely pink and orange fruit colors looked. It’s a great way to use summer fruits before fall arrives oh-so soon. It also makes a lovely change from the usual birthday cake with its brown sugar-cinnamon-ginger-almond-buttery crumble topping. Besides its buttery spicy flavor, the topping adds a satisfying chewy texture with sliced almonds.

It’s simple to pull this delightful dessert together, and it’s a lot easier to make the crumble topping than to make pie crust.

Enjoy this summer fruit deliciousness baked up in all its crumbly goodness before the best fresh berries and peaches say goodbye until next summer.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Raspberry Coconut Ice

If you’re a big fan of coconut water like I am, try this recipe perfect for a hot summer day. It’s easy, cool, refreshing, and a sweet treat without the guilt.

All you need is some coconut water, your favorite Torani flavored syrup, an ice cube tray, and a blender. Coconut water’s benefits include its taste, which has only a hint of coconut flavor, and its potassium. It’s a great drink to replenish with after a long hike or workout.

Torani Italian syrups come in a wide range of over 100 flavors including fruity (raspberry, strawberry, orange), nutty (hazelnut, almond, coconut) and the truly unusual (lavender, chocolate and waffles, and even bacon!). Torani is a family owned business based in South San Francisco so it counts as a Bay Area treat. The CEO is one of my business school classmates, Melanie Dulbecco. Torani syrups can be used in a variety of ways, most often added to coffee, sparkling water, iced tea or snow cones. You can find more recipes on the company website.

Simply freeze some coconut water in an ice cube tray, blend the frozen cubes in your blender until you reach a shave ice texture, transfer to a serving bowl or cup, and pour your choice of flavored Torani syrup on top. It’s that simple, and it’s that good.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ruth Reichl’s Dangerously Delicious Apricot Jam

It’s hard to go wrong with a Ruth Reichl recipe, especially when the only ingredients are ripe orange apricots, sugar, water, lemon juice, and vanilla bean. The fresher the fruit, the better. I love the way the ripe apricots softly yield when I pull them apart, how the vanilla bean bits disperse enticingly into the fruity mixture, and how the vibrant color practically screams sunshine. It’s quite simple and straightforward, a perfect cooking project for a lazy weekend afternoon. The result is great smelling and beautifully bright. It tastes like sweet summer on your favorite buttered bread.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Refreshing Watermelon Agua Fresca

If you’ve never had freshly made watermelon juice, you’re in for a treat. It’s a refreshing, sparkling summer juice that makes any sunny day that much brighter. All you need is some watermelon, lime, honey, and a blender. A touch of honey adds just the right amount of sweetness, and the lime creates a brilliant dimension of flavor that perfectly complements the watermelon. Your friends and family will appreciate this pink liquid refreshment at any summer meal.

Watermelon Agua Fresca
(Adapted from a recipe from Rachael Ray Magazine)

8 cups seedless watermelon 1” cubes
6 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 1/2 cups water
lime slices

1. Puree watermelon cubes in blender, 2 cups at a time. Pour into pitcher.
2. Stir in honey, lime juice, and water.
3. Chill before serving in glasses. Garnish with lime slices.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Real Simple Asparagus and Pine Nut Pasta

Now that asparagus is in season, it’s time to enjoy the emerald green vegetable in delicious dishes. One of my favorite ways to use this spring sprig is in the following flavorful pasta, adapted from a recipe in Real Simple magazine. I love the way it marries the subtle flavors and different textures of asparagus, pine nuts, Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, and fettucine. It’s quick to put together and looks marvelous.

I try to find local ingredients for this dish: asparagus from the farmers’ market, locally made olive oil, and garlic from Gilroy. Also, be careful what pine nuts you use. I had a bad experience one time after eating pine nuts from China. They altered my taste buds for about a month, which was quite unpleasant.

I varied the original recipe a bit. For one, I think it works better with fettucine instead of linguine because of the chunky asparagus pieces. I also like incorporating the salt with the vegetables in the saute pan instead of at the end.

The next time you see some bright green, pert asparagus, try this out for an edible homage to the lush spring season.

Asparagus and Pine Nut Pasta
(Adapted from a recipe in Real Simple magazine)

12 oz. fettucine
1/4 cup olive oil (I used Olivas de Oro brand)
1/4 cup pine nuts (I used Diamond brand)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 t salt
1 cup shaved Parmesan

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to the pot.

2. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and garlic and cook, stirring frequently until golden. Add the asparagus and salt and continue stirring and cooking until just tender, about 3 minutes.

3. Add asparagus mixture to the pasta and toss. Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cauliflower, Onion, and Parmesan Intermixture

I love eating foods that offer satisfying flavor, nutrition, and easy preparation all in one. My latest go-to warm vegetable concoction combines cruciferous cauliflower, caramelized onion, always welcome Parmesan, and healthy olive oil. It takes just minutes to make, and never fails to deliver.

It’s also a flexible dish in that you can add ingredients according to your preferences: any favorite herbs like thyme or rosemary, garlic cloves, or pepper would add another layer of taste. But I like it simple with just five ingredients.

Parmesan-Roasted Cauliflower
(Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, February 2013)

1 head cauliflower
1 medium onion
3 T high quality olive oil
½ cup grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Wash cauliflower and cut into florets. Place in large roasting pan.
3. Slice medium onion and place into pan.
4. Toss vegetables with olive oil and salt.
5. Roast for 35 minutes, tossing a couple of times.
6. Remove pan from oven. Add Parmesan and toss to combine.
7. Roast 10 more minutes.

Bon appetit!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Moaning at The Melt

If you’re in the mood for a new spin on good old fashioned comfort food, take a trip to The Melt, a grilled cheese and soup mecca at the Stanford Shopping Center (and across the Bay Area, and moving into SoCal). Even if you can’t make it to the restaurant, you can try recreating these moan-inducing combinations at home:

The Classic: Sharp Cheddar on Potato Bread with Tomato Basil Soup

The Mission: Jalapeno Jack on Sourdough with Sweet Corn Tortilla Soup

The Outlaw: Colby Jack on Eight Grain with Spicy Black Bean Soup

The Italian Job: Fontina and Provolone on Garlic Bread with Italian Sausage and Pepper Soup

The Parisian: Brie and Apple Butter on Country French with Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

Orders come with crispy potato chips, and they even offer a S’more dessert sandwich if you want to go all out.

The Melt has a clean white and orange interior, friendly service, a high-tech screen to show the status of your order, and comfortable seating. The sandwiches taste especially good dipped in the soup, the flavors complementing each other in delightful combinations.

They offer occasional specials too, like the delectable savory Portabello mushroom and Swiss cheese sandwich. It had mushrooms practically falling out of the sandwich, always a good thing for me.

I also lost count of how many times I moaned while eating a Parisian sandwich and soup lunch. It tasted even better since I’d worked up an appetite while shopping, a perfect excuse to stop and enjoy a mouthwatering meal at The Melt.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

Berkeley-based chef Mollie Katzen wrote the classic vegetarian cookbook ‘The Enchanted Broccoli Forest’ in 1982. It offers not only some delicious, imaginative recipes, but also drawings and hand-lettering all done by Mollie. This whimsical, lavender-colored cookbook is named after one of her signature dishes, a delightful rice and broccoli creation. EBF is so beloved there’s even a Stanford University dorm named after it. I decided to simplify it when I realized I could order extra Chinese food take-out and repurpose it the next day in the recipe.

I ordered extra cartons of vegetarian fried rice and spicy garlic broccoli, then eliminated many of the steps and ingredients in the original recipe. The dish turned out wonderfully tasty and scrumptious, with everyone in the family eating it heartily. So try this by getting some extra take-out the next time you order Chinese food, or treat yourself to Mollie’s enchanting cookbook and try the original recipe.

The Simplified Enchanted Broccoli Forest
Adapted from a recipe in the cookbook ‘The Enchanted Broccoli Forest’

1 pint carton of Chinese broccoli takeout (I used spicy garlic broccoli)
1 quart carton of Chinese vegetarian fried rice takeout
3 T butter
1 cup chopped onion
3 eggs
1 ½ cups grated Swiss cheese

Saute chopped onion in butter in a saute pan over medium high heat until the onions are soft and translucent (about 8 minutes).

Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl. Add the shredded cheese and combine. Add in the fried rice and stir well to combine. Add in the sauted onion to the mixture.

Butter a 10” x 6” baking pan or its equivalent in size. Spread the rice mixture evenly into the pan. Arrange the stalks of broccoli upright in the bed of rice mixture to create the enchanted forest.

Cover gently with foil and bake at 325 F degrees for 30 minutes.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Exceptional French Laundry

I recently experienced one of my bucket list items, a dinner at The French Laundry restaurant. Recipient of three Michelin stars for ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’, The French Laundry has earned its accolades through innovative cuisine, impeccable service, elegant presentation, and an overall unforgettable dining experience.

The first challenge was figuring out how to get a reservation. I’d already made our hotel reservations at the nearby Villagio, but became concerned when I discovered online how difficult it was to secure a spot at the famed restaurant. Open Table apparently only has one or two tables available per day, reservations fill up quickly exactly two months before the desired dinner date, and it is so difficult to get through via phone to the restaurant’s host that some people call 500 times before success.

Luckily our hotel concierge came through for us. I don’t know how many spots they’re able to obtain, but I’m sure being just a few blocks away helps. I contacted her several months before our desired dinner date, and had already made our hotel reservations. I mentioned that it was a wish of mine to celebrate a milestone birthday there, pleading my case. By the way, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Villagio as it was comfortable, spacious, near all the great Yountville restaurants, and included a very tasty brunch and afternoon tea.

My husband Brad ordered the regular menu, while I opted for the vegetarian. Besides the nine courses listed, we received the usual bread service with several types of bread and two kinds of butter, a canape course, and many extra and welcome sweets at the very end. The canapes included a perfect, crisp little cone with creme fraiche and salmon tartare, and a little cheese puff. Each menu included some pricey supplements, but we opted out of those.

The servers showed astute knowledge of the food and drink, the observational skills of an anthropologist, and the understated service I imagine royal families expect from their staff. They knew just how much interaction and service to provide, whether diners wanted less hovering and talking as we did, or wanted to talk more about the various wines and dishes as some neighboring parties preferred. They seemed to know what we wanted before we did, anticipating, guiding, and revealing the meal’s gems.

The setting was cozy, elegant, understated, and quiet. No music played, the rooms slowly growing more animated as more diners arrived and as we consumed the excellent food and drink.

Each dish was a work of art visually, in its delivery, and of course in its flavor. Most often we could not exactly determine what all the various ingredients were, and so were grateful to receive a copy of the menus as we left. Our menus were personalized with my birthday greetings, a nice touch (and they didn’t embarrass me with any more acknowledgement of the occasion).

The meal exceeded our high expectations. The bottom line? We will fondly remember and savor the experience, and will return someday. I’m already looking forward to it.

Here are both menus, the regular first followed by the vegetarian. The menus change every day since the chefs decide at midnight what they will serve the next day based on what’s fresh from the garden across the street. That sense of adventure and uniqueness only adds to the restaurant’s well-deserved reputation.

c h e f ’ s t a s t i n g m e n u | 2 8 D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 2
6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 70 7.9 44.2380

“OYSTERS AND PEARLS” (Brad enjoyed this with a beer brewed with oyster shells, a perfect and unusual briny complement to the elegant starter)
“Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters
and White Sturgeon Caviar

Candy Cap Mushrooms, “Pain Perdu,” Sour Cherry,
Red Walnut and Mache

Young Fennel, Hass Avocado
and Citrus “Vierge”

Celery Salad, Black Truffle
and Celeriac Pureé

Potatoes “Rissolées,” San Marzano Tomato Compote,
Romaine Lettuce and Spanish Caper Jus

French Laundry Garden Crones, Broccoli, Garnet Yam,
Pomegranate and Madras Curry

Flowering Quince, Petite Onions, Dijon Mustard
and Ibérico Ham “Vinaigrette”

Champagne “Granité,” Brown Sugar Streusel
and Fresh Cream Sherbet

Pearson Farm Pecans, Cinnamon Whip
and Banana Ice Cream

MIGNARDISES (a fun and dramatic flourish to the end of the meal including macadamia toffees, hand crafted artisan chocolates, cinnamon sugar donut holes, and coffee mousse in a little demitasse cup)

t a s t i n g o f v e g e t a b l e s | 2 8 D e c emb e r 2 0 1 2
6640 WASHINGTON STREET, YOUNTVILLE CA 94599 70 7.9 44.2380

PARSNIP VELOUTÉ (incredible flavor, probably the most surprising and delicious soup I’ve had, with a creme brulee sugar coating on my spoon that dissolved as I ate)
Gros Michel Banana, Pearson Farm Pecans,
Sorrel and Noble Maple Syrup

Belgian Endive Marmalade, Black Winter Truffle,
Garden Mâche and Juniper Balsamic

Quail Egg, “Pain de Campagne,” Black Trumpet Mushrooms,
Tardivo Radicchio and Oxalis

MUSQUÉE DE PROVENCE “PORRIDGE” (the most dramatic dish I’ve ever had, including the precious black truffles revealed in a silver box, and the waitress shaving large quarter-sized slices of the truffle on top of the parmesan sauce....I was expecting 5 to 7 shavings, but she just kept going and going; it may have been 20 or more all together!)
Parmesan, Sicilian Pistachios
and Black Truffle

Cranberry Beans, Kale, Peppers, Meyer Lemon
and “Sauce Pimentón”

MASCARPONE-ENRICHED CHESTNUT “AGNOLOTTI” (the most delicious pasta I’ve ever tasted with an unbelievable combination of buttery chestnut and who-knows-what-else flavors)
Celeriac, Cutting Celery

Flowering Quince, Toasted Walnuts
and Peppercress

DASHING RANCH PEAR SORBET (packed with delicious fruit flavor, a definite wow)
“Financier au Beurre Noisette,” Candied Hazelnuts
and Asian Pear Jam

Spiced Crème Fraîche, Rum Syrup
and Manjari Chocolate Ice Cream