Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nasturtium Vinegar

I have always loved nasturtiums, starting with the fact that I could eat them as a young child and moving into their delightful, peppery taste as an accent in salads as an adult. And now, as an herbalist, I love nasturtium vinegar!

Not only are good quality, raw, unfiltered, fermented vinegars very good for you, helping to restore proper body alkalinity and supporting digestion, they are also great extractors of vitamins and minerals. Vinegars are a great base for nourishing herbal tonics designed to be taken over long periods, almost like a multi vitamin. Nasturtiums are bountiful this time of the year, depending on where you live you may be able to find them growing wild, or find a friend with some growing, I am sure they will have enough to share. Every color of nasturtium is edible and delicious…the red ones will make your vinegar a great pink color.
Fill a jar ¾ full with freshly picked nasturtium flowers and pour a good quality raw, unfiltered vinegar (I recommend apple cider for its quality and taste) over the flowers until all are covered. Put the lid on, label your jar with the contents and date and set it aside in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place. The vinegar will begin to take on the coloring and medicine of the nasturtiums after about a week and continue to get stronger as time goes on. Allow it to steep for 2 to 4 weeks before straining out the flowers, then keep it in the fridge to use when you need it. You can also keep the flowers in the vinegar once you begin to use it, gently pouring the vinegar from the jar. This allows it to continue steeping for a longer period. I don’t normally strain out my vinegars, so I slowly add more nasturtiums and vinegar to the same jar as I use the stuff in the old jar. Have fun with it and feel free to add other yummy herbs and spices too. Use your nasturtium vinegar in salad dressings, as a sauce or dip for steamed veggies or in other summertime sauces.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eat More Kale!

Kale is a delicious and nutritious dark leafy green, high in Vitamin C, calcium and potassium, as well as countless trace minerals. Greens are the number one food group missing from the average American diet and the funny thing about it is they are by far one of the most delicious tasting and well-liked vegetables by children and adults…when cooked well. Here are some basic technical cooking instructions to help you enjoy your greens in many ways.

Start with 1 bunch kale, you can use curly green, red russian or elephant ear kale. All are delicious it is mostly a matter of preference and availability. Wash the kale and shake excess water from the leaves before cutting into strips, horizontally about 1/2 to 1 inch thick depending on how big you want the pieces. Use the entire stem, discarding any brown or spoiled parts.

In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot add kale, generously sprinkle with salt and pepper (and other spices, optional). Leave the kale in the pan as is until it steams slightly, about thirty to sixty seconds, then begin to stir and flip as needed. Once the kale has wilted down but is still bright green add 3 - 4 cloves of minced garlic, I like to chop it but sometimes I use a press. Stir in the garlic, sauté for another minute, taste for flavor and enjoy. I prefer my kale still be bright green, cooked until soft but not soggy, if you prefer it more or less cooked plan accordingly.

Have you ever heard of Kale Chips? They are a tasty snack and a healthy treat. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and prep kale as above. Heat kale onto two cookie sheets and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and other spices if desired. Put into 425 degree oven until crispy. It is important that the oven be hot and that the kale not have an excess of water on the leaves, either will cause the kale to steam rather than crisp into chips. But don’t fear, steamed kale is delicious too and a great way to prepare the stove top recipe. To steam kale in the oven cook at 300 and stir often, waiting to add garlic at the end as in the pan cooked method above. Making kale in the oven is a great way to prepare kale for a large gathering!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lemon Verbena and Rose Ice Tea

Since my last post, which was far too long ago, I have moved from the hustle and bustle of my Oakland neighborhood to an old farmhouse in Amherst Massachusetts. Here in New England the summer months bring heat and humidity and I have found hot tea to be low on my agenda. I have however been enjoying cooling and calming herbs as the centerpiece of iced tea. To be honest I never actually drink my tea “iced,” sometimes I chill it in the refrigerator, but even at room temperature a Verbena and Rose herbal infusion is the perfect summer treat. It is both relaxing and refreshing…for me, summer couldn’t get any better.

When using roses in tea the best are those that are aromatic and homegrown or grown organically (available dried at your local herb store or health food store). Never use commercially grown roses for anything other than aesthetic purposes. Roses and other flowers are grown with harsh and dangerous chemicals that should not be used internally or externally for medicine. That being said, if you do have access to home grown roses feel free to use them in your tea, the fresher the better! I have two beautiful rose bushes in front of my new house that are in full bloom right now, I have been using them in my tea and drying them to keep for later use.

2 parts lemon verbena
½ part rose petals

Mix the herbs together in a bowl and store in an airtight jar. To brew, use 1 Tbs. of your herbal tea mixture for every 8 oz. of boiling water. Place the herbs in a jar, pitcher or teapot; pour boiling water over the herbs and cover with a lid. Allow the herbs to steep until the liquid comes to room temperature, 6 to 8 hours. Then strain the herbs out and store in the refrigerator; tea should last 2 to 3 days. If you would like to sweeten your tea, add a bit of honey while still hot.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Basil Pesto

Basil is just beginning to pop up at farmer’s markets and in gardens all over the bay area. While there are many different types of basil that are particular to different cultures and dishes all over the word, the most common for pesto is sweet basil, perhaps sometimes referred to as Italian basil. It has broad, light green leaves, thin stems and mature basil shoots will birth small white flowers.

As with many culinary herbs basil is anti-bacterial, helping to eliminate unfriendly food born pathogens as well as other viruses and bugs that you may have been exposed to. Basil is also a digestive aid. As an ingredient in food, as a garnish or in tea basil will help relieve gas, bloating, indigestion, cramping, nausea and even constipation. No wonder it is such a common ingredient in rich, heavy Italian foods!

Basil is also high in Vitamins A & C, making it a good herb to include in your diet for nutritional purposes as well. Basil also promotes circulation and is relaxing to the nervous system. Basil tea or fresh basil leaves bruised and placed on the forehead is an effective remedy for a headache, especially one related to stress or tension! With this in mind, basil makes a good evening time tea, perfect for after dinner or before bed. It will help you digest your food and calm you down for a good nights rest. Try making fresh basil tea with a bit of rosemary, orange peel or cinnamon and sweeten with honey to remove the bitter edge.

Possibly the most common basil dish is pesto! Pesto is a condiment that is made with basil, olive oil, nuts, garlic and sometimes parmesan or other hard, salty cheeses. It is delicious on pasta, eggs, sandwiches, as a dip or sauce for greens and steamed vegetables or as a garnish on soups and other dishes. Pesto is delicious, and it will help you digest and thus enjoy any food you eat it with.

I don’t always include cheese in my pesto; it keeps better and is lighter without cheese. This recipe is for very classic pesto and I use a bit of cheese, but I encourage you to make the choice to include it or not depending on the circumstances and what you are in the mood for. Most importantly enjoy every minute of it and don’t be afraid to include other herbs, this spring I have been particularly ravenous for parsley pesto!

1 bunch, about 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
¼ cup walnuts or pine nuts, preferably soaked for 8 hours.
¼ cup fresh parmesan cheese
¾ - 1 cup cold pressed olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic
salt and paper to taste

If you can remember, soak your nuts or seeds the night or morning before you make your pesto. Strain the soaking liquid and set aside along with ¼ cup coarsely grated fresh parmesan cheese. Wash and pick the leaves from 1 bunch of fresh basil, anywhere from two to three loosely packed cups of basil leaves. Peel garlic cloves.

Method 1: Blending
Combine olive oil, garlic, nuts, parmesan, a pinch of salt (you won’t need much because the cheese is quite salty) and a twist of pepper in the food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Once smooth gradually add basil leaves. Taste for salt and adjust flavors as necessary, if it is too think, add more oil. Serve fresh and enjoy!

Method 2: Chopping
This method demands a lot of chopping but is well worth the effort if you have the time. I particularly recommend it if you are going to eat the pesto fresh that day! On a large cutting board begin to chop nuts with a large chef’s knife. Once small add garlic cloves and continue chopping. Once the nuts and garlic are somewhat finely minced begin to gradually add the coarsely grated cheese. Chop until all are delicate and small with no large chunks. At this point you will probably need to separate the pile into two. Start with one pile and gradually add basil leaves continuing to chop until the leaves are in small pieces and well blended. Follow with the second pile until all leaves are finely chopped and well blended. Mix the two piles, give one last chop and transfer into a bowl. You can pack it into a shapely bowl to make a “cake” and then pat the cake onto a bowl or plate; this looks particularly nice when served as a dip. Pour olive oil over the mixture and finish with a twist of black pepper!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Miso Soup... for the springtime soul!

It’s easy to think that colds and the flu disappear in the spring and summer. But in fact spring can often “spring” a wave of cold and flu viruses, if for no other reason than because we were least expecting it and because of those sunny days that urge us to forget our jacket and scarf when we leave the house! When the body is sick it is important to nourish it with simple foods that provide optimal nourishment in an easily digestible form. Hence chicken and other nutrient dense easy to digest soups that most kids remember being fed while sick and home from school.

My boyfriend got sick this week and I had to pull out all the stops. My stash of home made stock in the freezer had run low, most likely because of the springtime shift and there were only a few vegetable odds and ends floating around from last weeks farmer’s market. This is what I threw together and it was delicious!

Miso is a salty flavoring paste traditionally from Japan that is made from fermented soy beans, rice barley and/or other grains. Unpasteurized miso can be found in the refrigerated section of most natural health food stores and is a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and live active cultures! There are many different types of miso, I prefer the rich taste of the darker brown or red varieties of miso, while white miso is usually on the sweeter side.

2 stalks fresh green garlic, sliced into moons
¼ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup broccoli crown and stems, split into bite sized pieces
1 cup brown rice, cooked
2 heaping Tbs. red miso paste
small handful daikon radish sprouts, although any fresh sprouts will do

In a medium saucepan bring 1½ - 2 cups of water to a simmer. Add broccoli, green garlic and cooked brown rice and cover. Let simmer for 2 – 3 minutes, turn off heat add cilantro and cover. Meanwhile place 2 heaping Tbs. of red miso paste into a mug, pour boil water into the cup, leaving yourself enough room to stir. Then stir the mixture together until the miso is fully dissolved and all chunks are gone. Pour the miso concentrate into the soup, stir well and serve. Garnish with sprouts and a twist of fresh black pepper!

Variations: Add 1 – 2 tsp. raw tahini to your miso/water mixture for a little extra flavor and nutrition (it really tastes great). Tahini is a nut butter made from sesame seeds, which are high in protein and calcium!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's the season for...ASPARAGUS!

Asparagus is native to parts of Europe, northern Africa and eastern Asia. It grows wild in its native homes as well as in some parts of the United States and is widely cultivated as a vegetable. We eat the tender young shoots of the asparagus plant; left to mature it will grow tall with feathery, thin almost wiry leaves. If you see it growing wild you will most likely identify it from afar by its fragile and feathery appearance, often blowing in the wind along roadsides or by railroad tracks.

The tender shoots begin to appear in early spring, after some moisture and heat have given the roots the signal that it is safe to start their seasonal push. The roots will produce “spears” or shoots continually, until at the end of the season they will be allowed to grow to full maturity and nourish their roots in preparation for the winter and following spring.

I love asparagus and while I could see myself getting tiered of them if I eat too many, the short growing season and high price make asparagus always feel like somewhat of a treat. Don’t be fooled by those thin asparagus spears either, while they too are delicious the fat ones are often more flavorful!

I have two favorite ways to eat asparagus and I look foreword to them partially because of these much loved preparations. To prepare asparagus wash the spears well, then gently snap the hard base from the tender shoot. If you just bend or break the spear gently it should snap at its natural breaking point separating the tough part from the delicate top. From there, follow one of the following simple preparations:


Gently steam washed and “snapped” asparagus until tender and bright green. Remove from heat and set aside on a platter to cool. Serve asparagus cold with fresh home made aioli as a dipping sauce (see rosemary aioli, 3/28)! I often use plain salted aioli or add a garlic clove cut into a few pieces to the aioli as I whisk. The oils from the garlic give the aioli a mild garlic flare, without overpowering the sauce or the asparagus. I also sometimes add a small twist of lemon to my aioli at the end, perhaps just a tsp. or so, this also goes great with asparagus.


Slice washed and “snapped” asparagus into thirds on the diagonal, and in half if they are on the thicker side. Sauté the asparagus pieces in 1 Tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. They will take about 10 minutes to fully cook, you may want to cover them for just a minute or two but not for too long or they will begin to steam rather than sauté. Sautéd this way the flavors and sugars will develop and richen and the edges will become nicely browned. Before serving, toss with a bit of salt and fresh ground pepper.

It is amazing how fresh food prepared simply, but carefully can taste so good!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rosemary, dew of the sea

I have been thinking and talking an awful lot about rosemary lately! With my students and in my own life Rosemary seems to be all around. Perhaps it is the spring season, and those lovely little purple flowers that pop between rosemary’s beautiful bounty of green leaves, or perhaps the taste has just been calling to me. Regardless, just as with spring, rosemary gives us a lot to celebrate. A member of the mint family, rosemary is stimulating to the skin and the senses. It can be helpful as a facial steam for relieving acne, dry skin or sinus pressure and as a hair rinse to stimulate hair growth and relieve an itchy scalp. Rosemary is anti-bacterial and has a rich tradition as a culinary herb. It is also renowned amongst herbalist for its nourishing and healing actions on the heart muscle.

There are two types of rosemary commonly found throughout the bay area. One is the upright rosemary with long, thin leaves and the other is crawling, creeping or hanging rosemary that has a tendency to be more decorative and aesthetic. What I call hanging rosemary usually has smaller, dark green leaves with a lighter underside. While both are edible and tasty, you can probably tell from my description that I prefer the upright rosemary for cooking. If you purchase fresh rosemary at the store or farmer's market, this is the kind you will find.

In cooking I usually chose to pair the strong taste and fragrance of rosemary with saltier foods, although nothing beats a honey mustard salad dressing with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a handful of fresh rosemary leaves. I love fresh rosemary on pork, chicken, steak, lamb and most other meats, on potatoes and other root vegetables and in soups. I also enjoy rosemary as an accent in pesto and combined with orange peel and warming spices in teas, see Rosemary Spice tea below. I also like to add rosemary leaves to my bread and I always enjoy it paired with thyme, sage and winter savory.

Rosemary’s Latin name, Ros Marinus means dew of the sea. I always thought this seemed appropriate, especially in the bay area where rosemary bushes are common and plentiful, those little green leaves as tasty and magical as the dew drops of the sea.

Rosemary Spice - Herbal Tea

2 fresh rosemary branches, or 2 Tbs. dried leaves
½ cinnamon stick, or 1 tsp. cinnamon chips
1 Tbs. orange peel, or the peel of one small organic orange or tangerine

These measurements are approximate; follow your nose and your tongue. This recipe makes about 1 quart of tea, about the size of a large teapot.

To make an herbal tea/infusion place the herbs in a cup, teapot or glass jar and pour boiling water over to fill the jar or pot. Place on a tight fitting lid and let stand for anywhere from 15 minutes to up to 8 hours. The longer you let the herbs sit the better, especially with these herbs the flavors will release and become richer over time. You can strain your tea before you drink it or let the teapot catch the big pieces and enjoy the little tid bits that make it into your mug. If you do a long steeping infusion you may want to heat your tea slightly on the stove, or add a little fresh boiling water to your tea to heat it up before drinking.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rosemary Aioli

Aioli is essentially mayonnaise, a beautifully whipped blend of egg yolk and olive oil, flavored with a little salt and sometimes herbs or garlic. It makes a great dip for vegetables, as an ingredient in salad dressing or as a sauce for fish and other fine foods. Once you have a little practice aioli is fun and easy to make… not to mention it can turn any meal into a fancy feast! I am including it here as an accompaniment to my earlier posting for celery root hash. The hash sautéd nicely into hot cakes and I used the aioli sauce with a hint of fresh rosemary to bring out the rosemary in the hash and the creamy undertones of the celery root. Even if you have not yet tried making the hash, don’t wait to make aioli!

Aioli is one of those simple foods that must be made with quality ingredients to taste good. Use fresh flavorful egg yolk and good olive oil! The trick to making good aioli with the perfect consistency is to whisk it vigorously the whole time and add the oil slowly. The oil should be at room temperature and the egg yolk too, although it works fine for me right out of the refrigerator!

1 egg yolk
¾ to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt
1 tsp. filtered water
1 tsp. fresh, finely chopped rosemary leaves

Separate the egg yolk from the white and store the white for another use. Add a generous pinch of salt to the yolk and begin to whisk, slowly add 1 tsp. filtered water. When the water and yolk are well blended slowly begin to add the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking all the while. As you whisk your aioli will slowly start to thicken, as it thickens you may slowly add more olive oil. Again, whisk it until thick and slowly add a bit more. The oil will initially dilute your aioli and alter the texture, but as you whisk it in they will combine and become thick again. Handmade aioli will rarely turn out as stiff as commercial mayonnaise, but it should be stiff and form peaks similar to whipped cream.

The amount of oil you add is up to you, you may decide you like your aioli to have more of an egg flavor or more of an olive oil flavor. In theory an egg yolk should be able to “take” up to a cup of oil. Meaning that an aioli made with one yolk will continue to thicken with up to a cup of oil, after that it may begin to thin it out. When you have added all the oil you wish to use, add the finely chopped rosemary leaves, this is also a nice time to add finely chopped garlic, parsley, a little lemon juice or other herbs. Make sure the rosemary is finely chopped so that the flavor remains subtle, we do not want it to overpower the delicate flavor of the aioli. Experiment, 1 tsp. of fresh herbs may be too much for you, start with ½ and then add more as desired. You can serve aioli with anything! Aioli keeps in the refrigerator for a few days, but I always prefer it fresh. If you know you only need a little bit for that occasion, use less oil and enjoy a small amount of fresh aioli with a more pronounced egg flavor.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Celery Root Hash

On Wednesday afternoons I cook and do childcare for a family in Oakland (they are all in this picture somewhere...and no, I didn't make the cake). When I first arrive I investigate the contents of their weekly produce box for inspiration. Then I look in the fridge and pantry for supplementary items. To accommodate a special diet, I am asked to cook without any starches including most grains and flours, potatoes, certain legumes and some other foods. I often make soups or curries usually with a base of chicken stock, vegetables and meat. This week there was chicken already cooked and lots of roots. Friends of the family had recently made a corned beef hash and I was asked if I could experiment with something like that. This is what I came up with and I must say, I think it’s a keeper!

I love Celery root and suggest you give it a try in this recipe, particularly if you have never had it before! Don't be alarmed by the roots gnarly appearance, it is easy to tackle. The texture is similar to that of a potato and it has a lovely earthy and herby celery like flavor. It is more mild than celery however, and for those of you who can not eat potato I fell it is the best substitute....besides sweet potato of course. To use the root, start by cutting off the straggling and small roots on the end and the top stem area. Then cut it down the center and peel each half. From there either grate it, as in this recipe, or cut it as you would a potato. You can also roast celery roots whole (skin and all), which is easy and delicious, be sure and clean off all of the dirt first.

For the chicken you can use meat left over from a roast chicken or meat from making stock and broth. If you are a vegetarian or do not have chicken on hand substitute potato, sweet potato, other grated vegetables, nuts or even grains for the chicken and make veggie patties!

From the Produce box I used, 1 medium sized celery root, 3 sprigs of green garlic, 2 celery stalks and 1 small fuji apple.

From the refrigerator I used, 1 pint of cooked chicken and 2 eggs (from the same farm as the produce!).

From the garden I used, three sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves!

Peel and grate the celery root and finely chop the green garlic into moons. Remove the leaves from three sprigs of rosemary, slice celery into thirds and finely chop, and core and finely chop the apple (include the skins). In a skillet, over medium high heat, sauté the grated celery root, green garlic and rosemary in 2 Tbs. of extra virgin olive oil. When the mixture is soft and partially cooked add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and add chopped celery and apple. Continue to cook until flavors are well blended and all is soft, then add two cups shredded, cooked chicken. Continue to cook for a bit and check for salt!

You can serve the hash as is, or you can form it into patties, which is what I did! To make patties, whisk together two fresh eggs. Allow the hash to cool slightly and then add it to the eggs and stir all ingredients together. Form into patties, using about a half a cup of hash in each and sauté in olive oil over medium heat. They should be golden brown on each side and cooked long enough so that they stay in tact when you flip them, about 5 minutes per side. Garnish with paprika and serve with fresh avocado slices and rosemary aioli (rosemary aioli recipe will be posted this week!).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quiche & Frittata ... egg pies for evey occasion!

If you are looking for a savory excuse to make a pie crust this week, quiche is the treat for you. Quiche can be a breakfast or brunch special served with some fresh fruit or a simple salad, or it can serve as the main course for an elegant dinner. Whatever the occasion, I have found that quiche is a crowd pleaser. And it is simple! Use fresh ingredients, good eggs and keep the flavors simple and balanced. I like to do combinations of one or two veggies with a fresh herb accent or spice blend. Be creative with whatever vegetables, meats and cheeses you have on hand. Years ago when I first started making quiches I went looking for the secret ingredient. It didn't take me much experimentation to discover that the light, rich taste I love in quiche comes from the addition of naturally fermented crème fraîche. Apart from quiche, crème fraîche is wonderful as a garnish to soups and as a sauce for salads and desserts. Since the crème fraîche discovery I have also experimented with using yogurt (always plain). Yogurt has a similar effect texturally, but is a bit sourer (yum!) and will affect the flavor accordingly. Consider this when you chose your ingredients and work with it.

If you do not have yogurt or crème fraîche you may substitute milk, or even better, cream. I also like to add a tablespoon or so of cold water to the egg batter to fluff it up. Make sure that you beat the egg very thin; when you lift a fork or whisk through the egg it should slide right through without stringy chunks or lumps.

The trick is to have all ingredients mostly cooked before you add the egg and bake it. Once in the oven they will not have much time to cook before the egg is done and your pie is ready. For harder vegetables like winter squash and potato boil or steam them before sautéing. Softer foods like leeks, onion, summer squash, pepper or mushroom can be fully precooked in your initial sauté.

8 - 10 eggs, depending on the size
¼ cup crème fraîche or yogurt
1 Tbs. cold water
1 large or 3 small leeks
1 cup cubed butternut squash
3 branches of fresh thyme
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut in half, remove seeds and skin and cube enough butternut squash to make 1 cup, more or less. Cook the prepared squash in a large pot of salted boiling water for 10 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain well and set aside. Note: You can either start with a small squash or save or freeze the extra (raw or cooked) for a soup, quiche or other dish. Butternut squash is great as a side dish tossed with butter, fresh thyme leaves and salt and pepper.

Slice leeks thin and wash well, if large cut into half moons. Remove the leaves and tender stems from the thyme branches. In a skillet heat 2 Tbs. butter, when hot add leeks. After a few minutes, salt generously and add a twist of black pepper. Cook until leeks are tender and sweet, 10 minutes or more. When fully cooked, add thyme leaves and cooked squash. Sprinkle with salt and stir well. Adding salt as you go will help the flavors develop and give each ingredient a great flavor on its own. Cook until ingredients are well blended, taste for salt and place evenly into a pre-baked and cooled pie crust.

In a large bowl whisk together egg, crème fraîche, water and a dash of salt and pepper. Whisk until well beaten. A fork or whisk should be able to slide through easily without encountering lumps or stringy spots, this is important to a light fluffy quiche. When beaten to your satisfaction pour the egg mixture into the crust, adjusting or taping to get the egg through the leeks and squash. Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan and some fresh black pepper.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, this depends a lot on your oven. The quiche will first start to rise and cook around the edges, slowly moving into the center. To test for doneness lightly press your finger into the center of the quiche, be careful it’s hot. If the center is still mostly liquid then it needs to cook longer, but if there is just a thin layer of liquid on top that's okay. Turn off the oven, prop the door open slightly and let the quiche cool in the warm oven. It should feel springy but firm to the touch. It will set up and finish cooking as it cools.

I recently spent the night at a friend’s house. When I arrived she hit me with a challenge: “I always make the same thing. I have all the ingredients I normally have, can you help me make something new?” Generally she takes her favorite veggies and stir-fries them with various treats like sausage or whatever else she has around and serves it with brown rice. While her family loves it, she needed a creative boost. That night we ended up making a wonderful cream of broccoli soup. I also planted the frittata seed. Frittatas are simple, quick and easy, yet they look finished and beautiful and make a very satisfying meal. Best of all, you can throw in your favorite ingredients and have it taste good, just like a stir-fry!

A frittata is a thick, baked omelette, similar to a Spanish torta. It is very similar to a quiche only it doesn’t have a crust. In general since frittatas lack the structure of a crust it is fun to add heavier ingredients, like squash or potato. Follow the same instructions for a quiche (above), but leave out the crust. Precook and sauté your ingredients, place them evenly into the dish and pour egg over, bakes the same. Maybe this is where the expression “easy as pie” came from!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Perfect Pie Crust

Perfect is a relative term, but for me the perfect pie crust is light and flakey, crunchy but not hard or chewy and a balanced dance between salty and sweet. With that in mind, I don’t put sugar in my crust, the sweetness comes from the subtle flavors of real butter and fresh, high quality flour. I use the same crust for savory and sweet dishes, pies or tarts. I make pie crust a lot and at this point I don’t even measure my ingredients! So, don’t be intimidated by the lengthy instructions, as you experiment with making crusts you will see how easy it is.

In general when I make crust I use ½ or ¾ whole-wheat flour and the remainder white. While I enjoy the flavor and added nutrition of this hearty combination, the most delicate crust for special occasions or refined desserts will be better made from all white flour. Since I find this is a bit boring to the eye and to the taste buds, on the rare occasions that I do this I usually roll out the crust with a course ground whole wheat flour to give it a more dynamic appearance and flavor. If you have a gluten or wheat intolerance or allergy try making your crust with buckwheat flour. While buckwheat has its own unique flavor I find both the texture and flavor appropriate for a good crust. Lastly, please use real butter. Margarine and shortening are not good sources of food or nutrition, and they will make your crust heavy and stale.

The trick to making flakey pie crust is to keep the butter cold. This keeps the butter in small pieces so that when the crust bakes the butter separates the dough into very small layers, making it flakey. Start with the butter straight from the refrigerator, or better yet the freezer. I had a friend who puts his bowl, flour, and utensils in the refrigerator too, if that inspires you go for it. Personally, I always felt that would make my hands too cold and my experience taught me early on cold butter and ice water works just fine.

This recipe makes one crust, if you wish to make a pie with a top and bottom crust you will need to double this recipe.

1 cup flour (see above)
½ tsp. salt (if using salted butter leave out)
¼ cup butter (cold or frozen)
ice water

In a large mixing bowl measure out flour and salt, if necessary, and stir together well. Consider adding some black pepper if you are making a savory dish. If the flour is lumpy then sift it through a fine sieve or metal strainer. Once your flour is well mixed remove the butter from the refrigerator or freezer and slice it into thin chunks. Separate the slices from each other and gently toss them throughout the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or two butter knives cut the butter into the flour, taking time to remove the butter pieces stuck to the utensils as you go. Keep at this for a while, it takes some effort particularly if your butter was frozen. The idea is to eventually have the butter in hundreds of little peppercorn sized pieces, each one coated with flour. Once you have achieved this to your satisfaction, remember the smaller the better, clean any stray butter pieces from your utensils and give it one last dry stir.

Fill an 8 oz. glass with as much ice as will fit and then add water. Slowly pour about 2 oz. of water into the flour/butter mixture and stir it in. The dough should begin to clump, but still look pretty dry. Continue to add ice water, 1 oz. at a time, stirring well between pours. The crust will begin to clump together more and more. Adding water is an art, you want the crust to be moist enough to form into a coherent dough, but not too moist so as to be sticky or wet (although if that happens just add more flour). Use your hands to squeeze the dough together, when it sticks easily together but not to your hands it is ready to go!

Flour a large, dry surface; I like to use my dinning room table so I have a lot of room to work. Shape the dough into a round flat disk and then roll it from the center out. Rotate the crust often to maintain a circular shape and add more flour as necessary. If you are transferring the crust into a pie pan wrap the crust gently around your rolling, place the pin over the center of the pan and unroll the crust into the dish. Note: if you do not have a rolling pin a clean wine bottle will work fine.

If the crust is for a pie throw in the insides and put the top crust over, rolling up the crust on the edge and pinching it with your fingers or a fork. Remember to put holes in the top for the steam to escape. If you are making a quiche, tart or cheesecake you will want to pre-bake the crust. In this case, roll up the edges and pinch them flat. It is important that the crust have a heavy lip, well formed on the outer lip of the pie pan, otherwise it will sink down the edges toward the center as it bakes. use a fork to poke holes all over the bottom of the crust and place the pie pan on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Bake the crust for 10 minutes or until the butter bubbles and the crust begins to change tone. Don’t overdo it, the crust need not be browned, that will happen later. Allow the crust to cool for at least 15 minutes before adding your filling.

Sometimes when I have some left over trimmings I throw them in the oven with a little cinnamon and honey for a sweet little treat.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pea Greens- a sweet sign of spring!

When I used to live in San Francisco I shopped almost weekly at the Alemany Farmer’s Market. I enjoyed this market in particular because it is inexpensive, wide open with lots of vendors and not as well polished as other city markets. At various stands on any given day I could choose between some 20 different varieties of dried fruits, fresh nuts, jams and breads or eat a tamale or two while I watch the market unfold. As the Alemany market serves the diverse Asian and Latino ethnic populations of San Francisco, it carries many exciting foods that you would not find at your average grocery store or even farmer’s market. One of my favorite finds from a few springs back are fresh sweet pea shoots. Usually available are the fresh clippings of pea vines that are still young, before it is warm enough for the plants to flower and bear those sweet pea pods! In northern California our early February spring is the time for these sweet green beauties, another of the many things to look foreword to as the days get longer!

Although I no longer live in San Francisco, I try and visit the Alemany market whenever I can. This past Saturday I went with a friend who was just beginning a five-day raw foods cleanse. We both bought sweet pea greens. I have been enjoying my greens so much I wanted to share them here, and in honor of the raw and the cooked I have included two very simple recipes for sweet pea greens, a sauté and a salad.

While little compares to the freshness of market greens, you may also be able to find sweet pea shoots or sprouts in some natural food or Asian food stores. Keep your eyes open…and ask around.

Sweet and Salty Pea Green Sauté

This simple sauté is a great accompaniment to meals or served with grains or potatoes as a meal in itself. Pea greens are also great in soups or added to more complex stir-fries.

1 Tbs. Butter
4 oz. fresh sweet pea greens
fresh ground black pepper
salt to taste

Wash pea greens and break or cut into bite sized pieces, about 1 inch long. You may include the stems, which are very tender when cooked. In a skillet melt butter and add a few twists of black pepper. Once the pepper starts to cook and simmer add the sweet pea shoots, it is okay if there is excess water on the greens, it will help them cook. Sauté on medium high heat, stirring often until greens are wilted and tender but still bright green. Salt generously and serve hot. 4 oz. of pea greens will make two small servings or one more substantial serving, they are often sold in half pound (8 oz.) bunches.

Sweet Pea and Potato Salad

Raw sweet potato has a beautiful nutty and creamy flavor and while it doesn't have as much fat, its flavor begins to rival avocado if you are doing the raw food thing!

4 oz. fresh sweet pea greens
½ small sweet potato, grated (skin is okay)
½ lemon, juiced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. ground coriander
salt to taste
Garnish with black pepper.

Wash pea greens, shake off as much excess water as possible and break into bite size pieces, removing any tough stem. In a large bowl toss pea greens with grated sweet potato so that they are well mixed. Add coriander, salt (start with ½ tsp. and add more if necessary), lemon juice and olive oil and toss well. You can also add chopped walnut (¼-½ cup) if you would like to make the salad more substantial. This recipe will make two medium sized servings.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Amaranth - a savory side

Amaranth is an itsy-bitsy grain from South America. Like quinoa, another South American favorite, amaranth is high in the essential amino acid lysine, making it higher in protein than other grains. When cooked, amaranth becomes thick and a little gooey with soft and satisfying pops as you chew. It has a mild, nutty flavor and is quite often eaten as a breakfast cereal or porridge. I think amaranth makes a great addition to a decadent meal or on its own as a quick dish or snack. This particular amaranth I served with breaded eggplant rounds, crumbled Bulgarian feta cheese and a chervil salad with lemon vinaigrette. Try serving it with the goodies in season near you!


Group 1: soak for 12 – 24 hours
2 cups Amaranth
2 cups filtered or de-chlorinated water
½ lemon, juiced

Group 2:
2 Tbs. butter
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup filtered or de-chlorinated water
½ lemon, juiced
1 carrot, grated
½ onion, grated
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt/ to taste

In a bowl or saucepan soak group one at room temperature for 12-24 hours, the longer the better.

In a saucepan on medium heat, sauté grated carrots, garlic, rosemary and 1 tsp. pepper. After 2 -3 minutes add onion and salt and mix well. Once the mixture is hot, add the soaked amaranth (pour off excess water), 1-cup chicken stock and 1-cup water. Bring to a soft boil on medium heat; it should look smooth with rolling bubbles. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring often. The amaranth is done when the excess water and broth has cooked off, slight sticking to the edges of the pan is usually a sign. The amaranth should be thick, but very soft and easy to stir. Add lemon and salt to taste. Serve hot, garnish with rosemary and black pepper.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Word About Bacteria...

What do I mean when I say that an herb is "anti-bacterial?"

There are many, many strains of bacteria and some are stronger than others. Those bacteria and viruses that cause the common cold, flu or stomach virus are often more mild than those that cause more serious, even deadly infections. In general herbs that are referred to as anti-bacterial are effective against a variety of bacteria that may be harmful to the human system. The more bacteria they are effective against the stronger their anti-bacterial powers are, so to speak, and thyme (see Thyme Honey, 2/20) happens to be one of the more powerful. However, this does not mean that they will be effective against all bacteria. I believe that using anti-bacterial herbs as part of a general wellness plan is very effective in eliminating potentially harmful bacterial while allowing those that help our system to flourish and do their job. It is important to remember that while these herbs are effective against bacteria they are not sterile and of course you may sometimes need a more powerful anti-bacterial agent than the common herb. While it is important to be mindful of bacteria, keep in mind that we live in a culture that is very cautious and weary of bacteria. This caution is important, as I mentioned earlier, bacteria can often be very harmful. But bacteria is also a very important part of all of the earth's ecosystems (including the body) and something that we should definitely not be afraid of. In fact the less bacteria we are exposed to the poorer our digestion and the weaker our immunity. I find that different herbs provide different and refreshing levels of "anti-bacterial" cleanliness. In fact the plant world made an anti-bacterial herb for almost every occasion and you will be able to read about many more of them here at Cook'n Thyme in the months to come!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thyme Honey

I thought it only appropriate to begin this blogging journey with a little something about Thyme. Like all culinary herbs, thyme has become a cornerstone of cuisine for good reason. It is a wonderfully diverse plant medicine, the virtues and uses of which I could barely begin to uncover in a single post. In the context of our season I want to share the benefits of thyme as an herb for winter health wellness. Thyme is anti-bacterial. In fact it is one of the most anti-bacterial herbs of the plant kingdom. It has also been tested and proven to have incredible powers as an anti-fungal, attesting to its ability to support the body system by eliminating harmful and unwanted bugs and organisms. It grows easily in a backyard or potted inside and fresh trimmings can be purchased for culinary uses in most grocery stores, natural health food stores and farmer's markets.

I encourage you to try making this thyme honey. It is a tasty treat and will provide you and your family or house mates with good medicine. In addition to keeping the winter bugs away, thyme is also an appetite stimulant! With this in mind, I recommend you keep a jar of home-made thyme honey on the table and have a teaspoonful before meals. This will help you to digest your food, while squashing bacterial and other bugs that may lead to illnesses! This is a simple and yummy way to support your wellness when colds and the flue are rampant during the winter season.

Why Honey?
well, first of all honey tastes great. Raw, unfiltered honey is full of nutrition, is mildly anti-bacterial and soothing to mucus membranes. This makes it a healthy and delicious way to deliver medicine to those who are resistant or to those who enjoy exploring the complexity of their senses.

1 cup raw, unfiltered honey
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves and stems

Start by finely chopping the thyme leaves and stems. If they are dirty you can rub them together between two towels to remove some of the dirt, or you can wash or soak the branches to clean. If you do this make sure that you allow them to completely dry before cutting them for use in this recipe. Any water left on the thyme and added to the honey will make it more likely to spoil.

The next step is to gently heat the honey and thyme together in a double boiler. To make an at-home double boiler, heat several inches of water in a medium saucepan. Place a glass jar, glass pirex measuring cup or other smaller saucepan (that has the honey and thyme added to it) into the saucepan with the warm water. This allows the honey to be heated by an indirect heat source; the heat is more evenly distributed throughout the honey and it will not burn. Let the water steam or lightly simmer, but not boil hard. Heat the honey and thyme uncovered until the honey is a thin liquid. Keep the honey at this texture for an hour or more, then let it to sit as is, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours. The purpose of leaving the honey uncovered is to avoid condensation the resulting water of which would drip into your honey. However, once the honey has cooled you may cover it to avoid contamination.

Once the honey has "steeped" for the length of time you desire you may strain it with a piece of cheese cloth, or a piece of clean cotton muslin. To strain your honey, heat it to a liquid again in a double boiler and pour it through the cloth into a clean jar. Allow the honey to cool before placing the lid on. Straining your honey is not necessary. I often keep the leaves in with the honey and eat them when I take my daily dose. The bitter compounds that stimulate digestion will be stronger and it adds a nice texture.

Label your honey with the name and date, and store it in a place where you will remember to take it. Remember the old saying, just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down! And I must say, my experience has show me that honey is even better!

Welcome... it's cook'n thyme!

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

As many of you may know, I absolutely love to cook! I love to uncover medicinal and culinary traditions of the past and to create my own from my love and knowledge of foods and herbs. My goal as an herbalist is to help restore and build a culture that values sustainable home food production and embraces food as our primary source of nutrition and medicine. I am continually learning new things and I love to share what I know, that's why I started teaching what I call "herbal cooking classes," out of my home in Oakland. Here on my blog, you can learn right along with me! I will post things I have made a hundred times and things that I just made for the first time that day. This will include herbal teas, treats, condiments, sauces as well as facts, tid bits, techniques and of course recipes for soups, dinners you name it. I hope that this becomes a place where people learn not just how to cook but all the ins and outs of the nutrition and technique behind ancient and contemporary cooking and healing lore....actively building health and tradition one day at a thyme.

Enjoy, be well and stay in touch!