Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Tamales

I love making tamales but it has been several years since I've made them.  I used to go all out and make three different fillings, but I didn't have time this year and so I made my favorite filling of Potato, Cheese, Olives and Raisins.  Tamales are really easy to make but if you plan to make a lot of them or several types, you should start a day in advance making the fillings and sauces. The hardest part about making tamales is soaking and sorting through the corn husks.  The rolling is the easy part.  Also, tamales can be enjoyed anytime during the year, but I prefer making and eating them on Christmas Day.   

Think of the tamale as a vessel--kind of like a burrito or taco--you can fill it with whatever you like.  Some fillings that I've used before are leftover 3-bean chili, cheddar and roasted poblano mashed potatoes, or cheddar with caramelized cinnamon apples (yes tamales can be sweet as well as savory)


For my filling I used onion, garlic, fingerling potatoes, Spanish olives, raisins, Swiss chard, Daiya cheddar style cheese, and soy-chorizo crumbles (hubby wanted the chorizo), but it would of been just as delicious without it!  I made a quick enchilada sauce and made my own masa dough.  The dough was super simple to make--I used 1 lb of instant masa flour, 2 tbsp mild chili powder, 1-1/2 tbsp cumin powder, 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1 cup safflower oil, 4 cups vegetable stock and kosher salt to taste.  Place the flour in a large bowl and add the spices and mix well.  Next add the oil and mix to combine and then add the vegetable stock one cup at a time.  The filling should be easy to spread but sticky like peanut butter.  This recipe makes 24 tamales.


Now for the fun part--stuffing and rolling the corn husks.  But before you can do this you need to plan ahead and soak the corn husks in hot water for 2-3 hours, sort through them and drain in a colander.  I just fill up my kitchen sink with hot water and let them soak.  When sorting, I remove any that are torn or moldy and I try to use the same size husks.  Spread about 1/3-1/2 cup of masa dough on the widest end of the husk, leaving a 1/2" border at the top and about a 2" boarder on the other side.  Add about 1 heaping tbsp of filling, 1 tbsp of sauce and top with cheese.  Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the tamale like a cigar all the way to the end and then fold up the tapered bottom of the tamale to create a packet.  Place on a sheet tray and continue rolling until all the masa dough is used up.


Once you finish rolling all the tamales, fill a stock pot with about 3 inches of water and place a steamer basket in the bottom.  Stack your tamales standing upright in the steamer pot with the sealed bottom facing down.  Cover and bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and steam for about 2 hours until masa dough is done.  You'll need to add water to the steamer on a regular basis to keep it from scorching.  Also, check the tamales for doneness after about 1-1/2 hours by removing a tamale and letting it cool for a couple of minutes.

Now for the best part--eating the tamales!  I served mine with a chopped Mexican salad made with chopped romaine, shaved red cabbage, sliced radishes, minced jalapeno, diced avocado, diced tomato, minced cilantro and a chipotle vinaigrette...yummy!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Roasted Wild Mushroom Chowder

Wow, it has been really cold here.  Yesterday it was in the mid 40's and raining.  When it's this cold I could eat soup everyday, especially a soup like chowder.  Wild mushroom chowder is one of my favorites--earthy, creamy and comforting, but I rarely ever make it because my husband is not a big fan of mushrooms.  It's a texture thing.  Oh well...he survived...the flavor of this chowder is incredible!  Next time I'll just rough chop the mushrooms and he will never know the difference!


1-1/2 lbs assorted mushrooms (cremini, shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle)
1 cup leeks, small diced (about 1 leek)
1 cup carrots, small diced
1 cup celery, small diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
1/2 cup pale dry sherry (divided)
2 tbsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Louisiana Hot Sauce or Tabasco
8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth 
2 cups baby red potatoes, small diced
1-1/2 cups cashew cream (see recipe below)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives for garnish

  • Prep mushrooms for roastingCremini: wash, remove very bottom of stem and slice thinly; Shiitake: remove woody stem and slice thinly; Oyster: tear into thin strips; and Chanterelle: remove any dirt with a damp towel, remove the very bottom of the stem and tear into strips.  Note:  Chanterelle mushrooms are very expensive about $19 per pound!  You can use any combination of mushrooms you like, or just use cremini alone.  I just wouldn't use white button mushrooms because they lack in flavor.
  • I pan roasted the mushrooms in a large skillet with some olive oil and salt and pepper, but you can toss in olive oil and roast in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
  • Heat a large dutch oven on medium heat, add a little olive oil, leeks and saute for about five minutes until leeks soften.
  • Add fresh thyme, garlic, carrots and celery and deglaze with 1/4 cup of dry sherry and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
  • Next add vegetable stock, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and bring to a boil, reduce to medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes.  Then add roasted mushrooms and potatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
  • Temper the cashew cream into the soup (remove some soup and place into a bowl, stir in the desired amount of cashew cream and add the mixture back into the soup).  Add the remaining dry sherry and heat soup through.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with chopped chives.  
Cashew Cream:

1 cup cashews (soaked for about 4 hours if you have time)
Water to blend

  • Drain and rinse cashews and place in a blender.  Add enough water to cover cashews and blend on high until creamy.  You may need to strain the mixture if you are not using a high-powdered blender.            

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Raw Autumn Kale Salad

After three days of overindulging I felt that I needed to eat something healthy and so I made my Raw Autumn Kale Salad.  Super simple and full of nutrients...all the good stuff your body needs to keep healthy through the holidays!

You can add whatever ingredients you like, but I added chopped leafy kale, shredded green cabbage, julienned apples, dried cranberries and almonds.  I tossed the salad with a vinaigrette made of sour oranges, sherry vinegar, maple syrup, minced shallots and grapeseed oil.  Really delicious! 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Easy Thanksgiving Dinner

Yesterday was probably my easiest and best Thanksgiving ever.  I swore after last year that I would never spend all day (12 hours) in the and cleaning.  And as much as I love cooking--it's just not worth it.  My menu yesterday took 4 1/2 hours from start to finish (prep, cooking, eating and cleanup)!  So instead of starting to cook at 8:00am, I slept in, had a relaxing breakfast with my husband reading the paper, surfed the web, played games, went for a walk and then at 1:00pm I started my first prep!  So here's what I served:

  • Autumn Wild Rice Salad:  This salad is gluten free.  I used a combination of wild rice, brown basmati rice, red quinoa, diced butternut squash, carrots, celery, sage, thyme, pomegranate seeds and a pomegranate vinaigrette.  I made a similar salad last year using whole grain couscous.  This salad can be served at room temperature or chilled.
  • Blue Lake Green Beans with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette:  I blanched the green beans in salted boiling water for 1-1/2 minutes and then shocked in ice water, drained and set aside.  I then made a quick vinaigrette with minced garlic, shallots, thyme, whole grain mustard, freshly squeezed lemon juice, white balsamic, grapeseed oil and olive oil.  Just before serving I sauteed the beans with some of the vinaigrette to heat through.
  • Smashed Baby Fingerling Potatoes with Garlic & Chive Cream:  This couldn't be simpler--no potatoes to peel...I made a quick roasted garlic-cashew cream sauce (soaked cashews, water, 1 roasted garlic bulb, salt and pepper and blended it together).  I cooked the potatoes in salted boiling water, drained, smashed, added vegan butter, roasted garlic cream sauce and salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Roasted Shallot GravyThis is a delicious gravy made in 30 minutes using no cornstarch or butter.  I thinly sliced 5 large shallots (about 3 cups), along with 6 oz of sliced cremini mushrooms.  I sauteed them in olive oil for about 10 minutes until caramelized and then added minced garlic, fresh thyme and deglazed with ruby port wine.  I cooked the wine off and added 4 cups of vegetable stock and reduced for 20 minutes.  I blended everything together along with 3 tbsp nutritional yeast and salt and pepper to taste.  
  • Field Roast (Celebration): I braised the roast for about 35-40 minutes in a small casserole dish with vegetable stock, fresh sage, fresh thyme sprigs and olive oil.  I browned the top the last few minutes of cooking, sliced to desired thickness and poured remaining broth over top upon serving.
That's pretty much it except that I purchased freshly made cranberry-orange chutney and a vegan pumpkin pie from my work.  As much as I like baking and making pies--it takes too long.  Yes, it is a little bit more expensive, but the time savings is well worth it!  Oh and I can't forget the wine to round out the meal...I served Talbott Kali Hart 2010 Pinot Noir from Monterey.  It complimented the meal beautifully!  

And tonight is another easy cooking night...can't wait to eat the leftovers! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving--I really did! 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Spicy Potato & Coriander Samosas

I love Indian food, but I hardly ever order it out at a restaurant because it's very hard to know which entrees use ghee and which use vegetable oil.  There is a small Indian market near my house and I sometimes will drop by on my way home from work and order their Chana Masala and Vegetable Biryani (both are made fresh daily and use vegetable oil), along with a couple of their potato and pea samosas.  Now, I normally don't eat fried food, but every now and then, I can't pass up a good samosa.

I learned how to make samosas while working as a Chef in 2008.  We had a 200 person dinner party and they requested 25 platters of samosas as one of their appetizers.  I only had about three days before the party to make 500 samosas and so I was panicked to say the least.  But the wife of my husband's co-worker came to my rescue and gave me a quick lesson, along with her delicious recipe and I have been happily making samosas ever since.  And they were such a hit that we placed them on the menu permanently.   

Making the dough couldn't be easier (it includes, a/p flour, vegetable oil, water and salt) and once you get the hang of rolling and stuffing the samosas, it goes by very quickly.  A good samosa dough should puff up with little bubbles when fried and be crispy out the outside--never greasy or soggy, even after sitting out at room temperature.

The filling for the samosa should be fluffy, spicy and flavorful.  I have never tasted a filling that compares to the recipe that she shared with me.  I use russet potatoes, green chilies, ginger root, garlic, amchur powder, turmeric powder, red chili powder, garam masala, crushed coriander seeds, chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and sea salt.  And I always serve my samosas with a cilantro-mint sauce and tamarind-date chutney.  Both sauces provide a nice contrast (sweet and cooling) to the spicy samosas.  

Too bad that samosas are deep fried or I would probably eat them everyday!  But once or twice a year seems to satisfy my craving and all is good in the world, or at least in my kitchen! 


Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Margaritaville

In 2008 I attended a six month professional wine course to become a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers.  I did this because I wanted to learn more about viniculture (the growing and harvesting of grapes) and vinification (turning grapes into wine).  But most importantly, I wanted to be able to identify all the flavor nuances in wine and how to pair wine with food.

The course was really intense and covered every wine growing region in the world (old and new), along with tasting and identifying over 3,000 wines.  Once the course was finished I had to take a six hour exam to become certified.   During the exam I had to blind-taste three wines and identify the grape varietal, the country they were from, and the approximate vintage year.   Following the blind tasting, I had to take a 100 question exam, which included two essays and then I was judged on restaurant service and presentation.  Needless to say at the end of the day when they called my name and said that I passed and I was now a Certified Sommelier, I almost cried...well I kinda did...I was exhausted!

So what does a margarita have to do with wine...nothing really, except that my favorite poison of choice during the summer months is tequila, really good tequila.  The bottles alone are beautiful and make you want to purchase them for decoration only.  Yes, I still enjoy going out to dinner and reading over the wine list and choosing the perfect wine to pair with our meal, but nothing is more refreshing to me than a good margarita!

So here are my tips of "Do's" and "Dont's" for purchasing a great tequila and making the perfect margarita...whether it is served blended or on the rocks.
  • DO purchase a 100% pure blue agave tequila (read the label carefully).
  • DON'T purchase a cheap tequila (no matter how tempting).  A good silver or blanco tequila should cost you between $20 and $30 for a 750ml bottle, and a good reposado (slightly aged) tequila should cost you between $30 and $40.  I do not drink anejo tequila which can be aged for up to a year or more and is a bit more expensive.
  • DO drink a margarita "on the rocks" as an aperitif when going out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  
  • DO use a reposado tequila when drinking a margarita on the rocks.
  • DO drink a "blended" margarita when eating at a casual restaurant consuming mass quantities of chips and salsa...:-) or on a warm summer's day hanging out by the pool. 
  • DO use a blanco or silver tequila when blending a margarita.
  • DON'T purchase a pre-made margarita mix, ever!
  • DO spend the time juicing your own fresh limes, lemons, oranges, grapefruit or a combination thereof to make your own margarita mix.
  • DON'T make a simple syrup using refined sugar to make your margarita.
  • DO use "blue agave syrup", from the agave plant to make your simple syrup.
  • DON'T use idolized salt or purchase margarita salt to rim your margarita glass.
  • DO use a course natural sea salt and grind it to your liking to rim your margarita glass.
  • DON'T use Triple Sec or Cointreau in your margaritas, use Grand Marnier instead.  Triple Sec and Cointreau have bitter undertones, while Grand Marnier is fruity and smooth.  
  • DO use fresh fruit juices to flavor your margaritas.  Some of my favorites are watermelon, mango, pomegranate, cactus pear, tangerine or pineapple.
  • DON'T use banana in your margaritas.  Bananas are good with rum, not tequila.
  • DO use crushed ice when making a blended margarita.
But most importantly, DO have fun when making your margaritas...whether you serve them blended or on the is the perfect summer drink!  Enjoy!     

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Thai Braised Tofu with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines.  I just love combining the flavors of spicy, sweet, sour and salty together to create a dish.  This dish is simple to prepare and light to enough to eat on a warm summer's evening.

For the tofu I marinated it with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, tamari, lime juice, and sriracha and braised it for a short period of time.  For the rice, I steamed brown basmati and tossed it with cilantro, toasted sesame seeds and lime juice.  To finish the dish, I topped it with a salad of shaved carrots, red bell pepper, green cabbage, green onions and tossed it with a spicy peanut-tamarind dressing.  Finally, I garnished the dish with toasted peanuts, and Thai basil.  

So beautiful and so delicious! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Summer Melon Fruit Salad

Wow, it has been so long since my last post--four months to be exact!  I've just been really busy working.  I'm a chef at a vegan cafe and I love cooking and being around vegan food everyday!  I am really very fortunate that I get to do something that I love for a living!

Anyway, last year for the 4th of July I made an elaborate spread, but this year since I only have a few days off I wanted to keep it simple.  Hubby and I are just grilling some vegan dogs and I made this really delicious melon salad that I wanted to share with you.  

You can use any type of melons--just make sure that you add all the other ingredients to give it lots of crunch and plenty of spice.  I guarantee that if you take this to your next BBQ, or picnic that people will devour it in no time.  Plus it's really beautiful to look at!

For my salad I used a combination of:  cantaloupe, watermelon, jicama, English cucumber, white corn, jalapeno, mint, lime juice, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper.  Cilantro would be a good addition too.  Just so fresh--I could eat this everyday during the summer months! 

Until my next post--Happy 4th everyone!


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kale, Sunflower Sprout and Pepita Salad

I get on these salad kicks where I'll eat the same salad everyday for like a month or so.  I went through my tabbouleh salad stage, my mixed salad stage and now I can't get enough of this kale salad and it's so simple to make. 

I first tasted this salad last year at New Leaf Community Market in Half Moon Bay and knew that I had to make my own version.  You can change up the ingredients and add whatever type of sprouts, nuts/seeds or vinaigrette you like, but I love it just the way it is.  If you want the salad to be raw then don't toast the pumpkin seeds and use Nama Shoyu instead of Bragg's Liquid Aminos.  But the Bragg's gives it a really unique flavor and a little goes a long way!

There really is no recipe to this salad.  I just used raw dino/lacinato green kale and chopped it into small pieces, thinly sliced red onion, sunflower sprouts, toasted pumpkin seeds, the juice of 1 lemon, a couple splashes of Bragg Liquid Aminos, a slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Just a toast the pumpkin seeds, I always get the pan really hot first, remove it from the heat, add my pumpkin seeds and keep tossing them until they are golden brown.  I then drizzle in a 1/2 tsp olive oil, sea salt, stir to combine and let them cool completely on a plate.  Most people start with a cool pan and then toast their seeds over low heat.  This takes too long and so I always get distracted doing something else and end up burning the entire and learn.

Also, I purchase my sprouts from Whole Foods from a company called New Native, but I plan to start sprouting my own seeds and using them in my salads and sandwiches.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thai Soba Noodle Salad with Teriyaki-Sesame Tofu

I've never been a big fan of plain tofu it has a very synthetic flavor to me.  I can't quite describe it actually, but it almost has a "plastic-like" flavor...not that I've eaten any plastic in my life--at least I hope not...:-)  So I'm always looking at ways to change the flavor, as well as the texture of tofu and I definitely nailed it with this preparation.  Some people love the flavor of tofu and soy not so much, but I could eat this anytime!

For the tofu preparation, I pressed the tofu to remove any excess moisture, sliced it thinly and marinaded it in a homemade teriyaki sauce made with tamari, mirin, orange juice, agave, and sesame oil.  I then coated the tofu with flour and toasted sesame seeds and pan-seared in a little olive oil until crispy.  I reduced the marinade to a thick glaze and brushed the tofu just before serving.

For the soba noodles, I tossed them lightly in teriyaki sauce and then topped the noodles with a salad of shaved cabbage and carrots.  I finished off the dish with a spicy curry-lime vinaigrette.  Beautiful and delicious!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Portobello Stroganoff with Fried Capers & Dill

Sometimes all I want on a chilly evening is a big bowl of comfort food and a creamy pasta dish always hits the spot--especially my Portobello Stroganoff.  It's creamy, earthy, tangy, hardy, and really delicious.

When I was a kid my mom used to make stroganoff with cream of mushroom soup, but mine is made with a Madeira cashew cream, portobello mushrooms, leeks, capers, vegan Worcestershire sauce, fresh dill, parsley, lemon, and whole wheat linguine, and it is to die for...seriously!  This dish does not skimp on calories and so I don't make a habit of eating it very often, but it's perfect if you want some serious comfort food! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pickled Beet Salad with Fennel-Orange Vinaigrette

Growing up my mom always had pickled beets in the back of the refrigerator.  Unfortunately she combined them with eggs in a large jar, but I avoided the eggs and went for the beets.  I always felt that it was a strange combination (pickled beets and eggs), but I guess it was her German upbringing. 

Lately, I can't get enough of beets.  I just love their earthly flavor and vibrant color and they go really well with fennel and orange.  Also, when you pickle them it gives them a nice tang, which compliments their earthiness and brings out their natural sweetness.  This salad is beautiful and can be served any time but is a really nice first course to serve to impress your dinner guests.  Normally, I would make this with both red and golden beets and alternate the beets on the plate, but the market only had red at the time.  Whatever color beets you use, it's still a beautiful salad and absolutely delicious!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Roasted Beet, Farro & Kale Salad

My father-in-law's name was Valentine but everyone called him Val for short.  I wonder if he was ever teased as a child for having such a unique name.  And I wonder if he knew that his name came from the Latin word Valentinus, derived from Valens, which means "strong and healthy".  

Most of us go though life without ever giving much consideration to our beating hearts, until one day we wake up with clogged arteries and need a triple by-pass.  But by eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, I know that I'm doing everything I can to diminish the possibility of getting heart disease later in life.  But that doesn't mean that on Valentine's Day I won't enjoy a glass of red wine, or a eat piece of dark chocolate because both contain flavonoids, which are considered to be "heart healthy".  But to balance it out, I'll definitely make sure to eat a healthy salad like my Roasted Beet, Farro & Kale Salad and go for a brisk walk.  Remember, Valentine's Day isn't just for that special person in your life--it's also for you and your "heart" and keeping it "strong and healthy"! 


1 cup farro, cooked, rinsed and drained well
2 red beets, cooked until tender, peeled and diced
2 golden beets, cooked until tender, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, shaved thinly on a mandolin
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 cups thinly sliced kale leaves
1-2 tbsp minced basil leaves

Maple-Sherry Vinaigrette:

3 tbsp aged sherry vinegar
Juice of 1 orange
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp chipotle powder (optional)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (more or less to taste)
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

  • Add sherry, orange juice, mustard, garlic and chipotle to a blender and blend on high until combined.
  • Slowly drizzle in olive oil until emulsified and then blend in maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste.  
  • Pour over salad to moisten--you may have extra vinaigrette left over.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Saffron Couscous

We are having beautiful spring-like weather in the Bay Area--68 degrees today and 72 tomorrow and I have spring-fever big time!  Spring always reminds me of carrots and so I couldn't pass up getting a bunch of beautiful tri-color (purple, cream and orange) carrots at the market today.

With carrots this sweet and tender I didn't want to cook them and so I shaved them into thin ribbons and tossed them with a Moroccan Vinaigrette made with freshly squeezed orange juice, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger, garlic, cilantro and olive oil.  I then made a whole wheat couscous with saffron, dried apricots, almonds, pistachios, oil cured olives, preserved lemon and chickpeas.  So easy, fresh and delicious--perfect for a day like today!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Green Tea Soba Noodle Soup

The health benefits of green tea have been proven to reduce the risks of heart disease and certain types of cancer.  Green tea contains catechins, an antioxidant that helps remove free-radicals from the body that can damage DNA and potentially increase your risk of getting cancer.  Other foods that contain catechins are grapes, berries, red wine and chocolate.  Green tea is also minimally processed--it is withered and steamed and therefore the catechins are more concentrated.  Now, I do not have a medical background and I'm not a registered dietitian, but I can tell that just by looking at this soup and even better eating it--that the health benefits are pretty amazing!   

When looking for green tea noodles, read the back of the package carefully.  Some products may contain green food coloring to obtain a bright green color.  Food coloring does not belong in any food product so stay clear of it.  Also, some noodles contain white wheat flour instead of buckwheat flour, which will result in a brighter green color.  For this soup I used the buckwheat version, but I have both in my pantry.

Broth Soup Base:
(Serves 2)

6 cups filtered water
1 3" piece of dried kombu (kelp seaweed found in Asian markets)
2 star anise pods
1" piece of peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
3 tbsp low-sodium tamari sauce
1-2 tsp miso paste
  • Place water, kombu, star anise, ginger and porcini mushrooms in a large sauce pan, bring up to a boil and immediately remove pan from heat.  Cover the pan and let the ingredients steep for 30 minutes, or more to extract the flavors.
  • Strain the broth and return the liquid to the pan and add tamari sauce and miso paste.  Bring broth to a slight simmer, making sure that the miso paste has dissolved and then add ingredients of choice.
I used only organic ingredients in the soup--green onions, carrots, enoki mushrooms, baby bok choy, freshly made soybean cake (tofu found in Asian markets), ChaSoba green tea noodles and fresh mint.  But you can add whatever ingredients you like such as edamame, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, or spinach.
I also add the vegetables to the hot soup just before serving and only cook them for a minute or so because I like them to be vibrant and crisp tender.  Also, I cook the noodles separately and then rinse them in hot water to remove any starch and then add them to the soup, just before serving.
Finally, I garnished the soup with fresh mint, but Thai basil would also be good.