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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Creamy Hummus

This past week I took my mom to try Lebanese food for the first time. We were in San Diego, so I took her to Mama's Bakery & Deli and ordered a feast (to be shared with eight people, including my mom). I can't say that she loved it, but I did!

I was really surprised to see that they make their own flatbread for wraps. My favorite menu item was the garlic chicken wrap made with soft and warm schawerma chicken with a garlicky paste, lettuce, parsley and little cornichon pickles...Personally, I am a big fan of garlic so I loved it!

I also really love to make homemade hummus. Ironically, the first time I made homemade hummus was in 2003 in England. No, really! It's a long story...but we even soaked dry chickpeas for it! I don't think that was really necessary, and to prove it, I am going to share with you my favorite hummus recipe. I hope you don't mind, but it is a little on the non-traditional side because it has some extra goodies in it to make it really yummy, but I promise that you will not be disappointed.


* 2 garlic cloves (do NOT use old garlic or it will have a strong bite!)
* 1 can of organic garbanzo beans plus 2 Tbsp. of the liquid (low sodium, if possible)
* 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
* 3 Tbsp. lemon juice (about half of a lemon)
* 2 Tbsp. tahini
* 2 Tbsp. smooth peanut butter (secret ingredient!)
* 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
* 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 2 Tbsp. sour cream (optional)
* Garnish with fresh parsley and paprika and a drizzle of olive oil on top!


* Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until very smooth.

Serve with flatbread, pita, pita chips or fresh vegetables.

Note: This makes a fairly thin hummus, so if you prefer it to be thicker, just add another half of a can of garbanzo beans to reach your desired consistency.

I know what you're thinking--it's a bit unconventional to put peanut butter in hummus. But maybe, just maybe, if you trust me even one iota, you will just close your eyes, scoop the creamy goodness out of the jar and put it in there and you will be so glad you did....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Polenta Cakes with Tomato and Basil

I am so sad the summer season is coming to an end...I still want to bite into sweet early girl tomatoes and eat them like apples and scurry into my grocery store to buy 8 (yes, eight) ears of fresh corn for $2.00. Unfortunately, fresh tomatoes do not freeze well...but, fresh corn does! I just cut all the kernels off the cobs, put them in a ziploc freezer bag and freeze them for later use...I mean I'm not about to tell the Green Giant to his face that canned corn tastes like household cleaning products, but I try to use fresh (or freshly frozen) corn if at all possible...And when I can't have fresh corn, I make polenta. or my favorite super duper easy and fast polenta cakes.


* 1 polenta log
* 1 jar of your favorite bruschetta topping
* fresh basil for garnish
* canola oil for shallow frying


* Cut the log of polenta into slices (about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick).
* Heat some oil in a pan on medium high.
* Shallow fry the polenta rounds until the edges turn crisp--flip them occassionally to get both sides.
* Remove polenta cakes from pan and drain any excess oil on a paper towel.
* Top each round with a spoonful of bruschetta and sprinkle it with basil.
* If you want, you can also top the rounds with some freshly cracked pepper and/or sea salt to taste.

I haven't met a single person who didn't swoon over these things...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sugar Cookie Cream Cheese Bars with Fruit

My cousin's wife, Tara, makes outrageously gorgeous cakes as a hobby of hers and oh my does she know how to make a cake! I keep telling her she should make it into a business, but now she is a full time mommy with two little boys that keep her very busy. Her son, Kyan, had his first birthday and she made this amazing caterpillar cake for the birthday party. That's Kyan reaching for a delicious fistful of cake in hopes to ruin it before we have finished singing Happy Birthday...and that's Tara's hand trying to prevent him from doing so...And here are some other photo's of her exceptional handiwork:

I am so incredibly impressed with her cakes--aren't you?! Tara, you are amazing!

For our family's Fourth of July party this year, Tara made a very simple fruit tart--think soft, chewy sugar cookie with a cream cheese filling with fruit on top! It was such a big hit at the party that I thought I would share the recipe because it is so simple, you just won't even believe it!


* 1 roll of slice-n-bake sugar cookie dough (I highly recommend seeking out an all natural brand like Cookie Love to avoid partially hydrogenated oils)
* 1 package of all natural cream cheese
* 1/3 cup sugar (preferably evaporated cane sugar)
* 1 tsp pure vanilla extract (no imitation!)
* fruit for topping (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwi, and/or mango)


* Flatten out the dough in a greased 9x13 pan and bake at 350 degrees according to directions on package--it should turn just slightly golden brown but still be a little undercooked. Set aside to cool completely.
* In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until creamy and smooth.
* Use a rubber spatula to smooth the cream cheese mixture out on top of the cookie layer.
* Arrange fruit as desired and refrigerate for at least one hour.

You will be shocked by this simple, yummy dessert!

Another yummy variation is to add 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon and 3 Tbsp. maple syrup to the cream cheese mixture and, instead of fruit for the topping, sprinkle 1/2 cup of toasted and chopped pecans...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fresh Ricotta with Figs, Pistachios, Walnuts and Honey

In the summer of 2005, I got a fancy job working at a US-based law firm in their London office (I also lucked out with the World's Best Boss who took me all around London and even took me to Wimbledon 2005, but that is another story entirely). I rented a flat near the Baker Street tube station--right across from St. Regent's Park. It was perfect. I used to rush home from work, crammed in an insanely packed train trying to avoid having my face smooshed into someone's sweaty armpit, drop my things off at my flat, wiggle out of my suit into some jeans and a sweater and run out to the park to sit by the water and watch the clouds change shapes...

It was also that same summer that I became hopelessly addicted to a brand of strawberry yogurt called Biopot (funny, i know) and became affectionately known amongst my flatmates as the "biopot-monger" because I literally ate a tub a day of the stuff (luckily, it was easy to find at any Tesco corner store). I liked Rhubarb-Vanilla flavor too but the strawberry--oh, the was thick (but not too thick) and incredibly creamy and probably mixed with a wildly addictive dose of crack. There is something remarkably different about yogurt purchased in Europe that makes U.S. yogurt seem thin and watery and shamefully inferior...Since that summer, I have become a huge fan of mixing yogurt with fruits, nuts, berries, granola, and cereals...

I have since branched out (expanded, if you will) from yogurt so, I thought I would share another one of my favorite dishes to have for breakfast--it is extremely flavorful and light with all the right textures and flavor combinations...


* 1/4 cup fresh ricotta
* 1/2 cup fresh figs (green or black), quartered
* handful of pistachios, chopped
* handful of walnuts, chopped
* 2 Tbsp. honey to drizzle

Word to the wise--never underestimate the seductive combination of figs and pistachios. Or ricotta and honey.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Zucchini Carpaccio

Carpaccio is traditionally made with beef, but there are countless variations cropping up on restaurant menu's and cookbooks. One of my favorite versions is carpaccio made with fresh sashimi grade ahi tuna...My farmer's market is brimming with such gorgeous veggies that I figured I should make a carpaccio with a vegetable! Yes, it can be done! Warm summer months call for inventive and unique spins on the good ol' salad...

This is a dish that is maddeningly easy to make, but exceptionally impressive!


* 1 small or medium zucchini (green or yellow or both!!)
* good quality olive oil for drizzling
* 2 Tbsp. fresh ricotta
* 3 Tbsp. fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, chives, chervil, and/or mint)
* 2 tsp. lemon zest plus a nice squeeze of lemon juice
* kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste

The trick is to buy small or medium sized zucchini so it is easy to shave into very thin slices with a vegetable peeler (or mandolin if you have one, but it is totally not necessary). You simply shave the zucchini into paper thin slices, arrange in a flower like design on a plate (working from the outside inwards). Sprinkle the fresh herbs on, drizzle the olive oil, lemon juice and lemon zest, scatter a few dollops of ricotta, salt and pepper it to taste and that's it! It really IS that simple, I promise.
Simply gorgeous.

North African-Spiced Chicken with Apricot-Almond Couscous

I took my friend, Penny, home to Hawaii with me for a week of fun in the sun and when the vacation was over, I came home to find that she had shipped a mini rotisserie affectionately known as a Baby George to me as a gift for showing her my home island! My very own rotisserie! yelp. I felt like a kid who just got her own bike for Christmas. or a teen whose parents bought a car for Sweet Sixteen. yep, if it wasn't official before, it is now--I'm a foodie nerd.

You can't imagine how easy it is to make the perfect roast chicken....a quick dry rub plus one chicken plus 45 minutes and you have M-A-G-I-C. This meal was inspired by a recipe by Tyler Florence but I sassied it up a bit...I rubbed chicken pieces with an amazing North African Spice Rub and popped them in the rotisserie basket for 30 minutes...and dinner was ready within minutes! Note: If you don't have a rotisserie, you can put the chicken in the oven at 375 degrees for about 35-45 minutes if you use pieces or about 1.5 hours if you use a whole chicken.


* 1 tsp. cinnamon
* 1/4 tsp. cloves
* 2 tsp. paprika
* 1/2 tsp. onion powder
* 1/2 tsp. cumin
* 1 tsp. coriander
* 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
* 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
* 1 tsp. kosher salt
* 1/4 tsp. lemon peel
* 1/2 tsp. brown sugar (optional)

This spice rub is absolutely perfect for chicken, lamb, tofu or vegetables! You could also rub this on some par boiled red potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and pop them in the oven until they turn golden brown with crispy edges...


* 1 cup cous cous (whole wheat if you have it)
* 1.5 cups water (or chicken or vegetable broth)
* 1 Tbsp. olive oil
* Juice and zest of 1 small lemon
* 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
* 2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
* 1/3 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
* 8 or 9 dried apricots, diced
* salt and pepper, to taste


* Boil water and olive oil.
* Turn off heat and add the couscous. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
* Stir in the lemon juice and zest, parsley, cilantro, almonds and apricots.
* Season to taste.

I loved this couscous and I hope you do too! I can't wait for you to try it!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cornmeal Waffles with Peaches and Toasted Pecans

One of my favorite things about living in lower haight is that there are a handful of parks within walking distance from where I live....I really like to go on walks along the pan handle, but smack dab in the middle of my path to getting to the park is this amazing little haven called Delissio Market & Bakery (at Divisadero & Oak) and I always drop by just to gawk at the spread even if I am not even remotely hungry. It's the perfect place to go when you cannot decide what to eat because it is one big hot and cold buffet filled with amazing goodies...and oh, my...the bakery section is wonderful. One time, a stranger caught me staring way too long at the beautiful peaks of meringue on some yummy dessert...only slightly of my favorite items (that they vary by changing up the fruits) are these upside down sticky cornmeal cakes. Any mention of cornmeal and I am SOLD. Cornmeal muffins. Cornbread. Cornmeal Pancakes (uh....Kate's Kitchen!). gimme gimme gimme.

And on those deliciously lazy sunday mornings, if you are in the mood to spoil yourself, then this is what you, need!

* 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
* 1/2 cup cornmeal
* 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
* 1 Tbsp. baking powder
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 1 Tbsp. wheat germ
* 1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
* 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1 egg plus 1 egg white (separate the egg yolk and put egg whites together)
* 3/4 cup buttermilk (or you can do soymilk or milk mixed with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice)
* 1/4 cup applesauce (all natural! no corn syrup!)
* 1/2 cup plain yogurt
* 1 tsp. vanilla
* 1 fresh ripe peach, peeled and sliced
* 1/4 cup pecans, toasted
* maple syrup
* powdered sugar (optional garnish)


* Heat up your waffle iron!
* Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, wheat germ, flax and cinnamon) in a large mixing bowl.
* In a separate mixing bowl, combine the egg yolk, buttermilk (or substitute mixture), applesauce, yogurt and vanilla in a bowl.
* Combine the egg yolk mixture with the dry ingredients, whisking constantly until well mixed (but do not overmix!)
* In another mixing bowl, whip the two egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
* Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
* Use about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of batter for each waffle, depending on the size of your iron.
* Make yourself some waffles! Garnish with sliced peaches, toasted pecans, powdered sugar and maple syrup!

Happy weekend, dear reader....I hope you enjoy these as much as I do...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Spiced Tomato Jam

I *LOVE* tomato season. Tomatoes are one of those binary foods--you either love 'em or you hate 'em. I can eat a fresh, juicy, ripe tomato like an apple so that's where I stand on that issue....right now, my farmers market is brimming with early girl tomatoes and sweet cherry tomatoes (and even really pretty yellow tomatoes--good for a colorful salad!).
This recipe takes a lot of fresh flavors of ginger, lemon, sweet cherry tomatoes and I cook it all down with some warm cinnamon, clove, and cumin spices until it makes a sweet, sticky jam that is perfect for topping on goat cheese crostini, polenta squares, pita sandwiches, baked brie with pine nuts, or even grilled vegetables...and sometimes, I even catch Jason eating it right out of the jar with a spoon, but he doesn't know that I know so let's not tell him...


* 1 pound of ripe cherry tomatoes
* 4 Tbsp. sugar
* 5 Tbsp. light brown sugar
* 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced into half moons (remove seeds)
* 2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
* 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
* 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
* 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
* 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
* 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
* pinch of salt
* optional choice for a lil kick: pinch of cayenne pepper, red chili flakes or a serano chili


* Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 40-45 minutes until it thickens and becomes a gooey mess!

Incidentally, your kitchen will fill up with the smell of Christmas (which doesn't really correspond with tomato season, but it's a warm yummy feeling good for any time of the year!)...

Panzanella: Italian bread salad

When I moved to San Francisco back in 2004 (gasp!), everyone told me that the summer months are generally cold, overcast and grey, and that October was the best month for sunny nice weather. I didn't believe them (read: I didn't want to believe them). It's true, I grew up in Maui so my general idea of seasonal weather is all screwy...but I still didn't believe them. There is just something hard wired about expecting June, July and August to pour down sunshine right down on a pool with me sitting next to it with a cold lemonade or margarita in my hand. You too?! Maybe the movies created a vision of summer that I just never spliced with reality or a specific locale. Turns out, for the most part, "they" were right about the weather--it was grey when I wanted it to be gorgeously warm and sunny (except for that strange summer last year when it was sunny and pretty every day of the summer that I had to spend indoors studying for the California Bar Exam and then, lo and behold, like magic omniscient weather, it got grey and windy and cold for the EXACT 3 days I had to take the exam!). Regardless of what the weather is like, I am a rebel when it comes to foods you're "supposed" to eat during certain types of weather because I am from Hawaii so I just never adapted to that way of thinking--I make soup in the summer and eat hot noodle soups even when it's hot outside. I sometime crave ice cream when it is raining. I long for rustic winter vegetables in August...

And any day is a good day for some bread salad, if you ask me....Panzanella might be one of favorite salads--the perfect combination of bread cubes lightly tossed with the flavors of fresh tomato and basil and olive oil!In addition to being a great salad, it is the perfect accompaniment for roasted chicken or other meats because it combines the veggies and starch in one...not to mention it is a lovely way to get all your leftover veggies (or that lingering jar of olives) out of your fridge and into a happy belly. I first started thinking about making panzanella one summer day when it started appearing everywhere--every swanky cafe had it on their menu, various food network chefies started making their own version (try Michael Chiarello's recipe for Pea Panzanella), and I started craving it everywhere I went until I finally made it myself one day (and then made it again about 3 more times in the same week).


* 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
* 1/4 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)
* juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
* 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
* 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
* 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar


* 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
* 1/4 red onion, minced
* 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
* 1 Tbsp. baby capers
* handful of basil leaves, torn or shredded
* 1 loaf of rustic bread, cut into cubes
* olive oil for drizzling
* 2 cups of fresh spinach or mixed greens
* 2 cups of ripe tomatoes (heirloom, early girls, cherry tomatoes or vine ripened tomatoes), roughly chopped
* 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
* salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste


* Make the dressing (whisk together in a bowl) and set aside to let it sit so the flavors combine.
* Put the bread cubes on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and pop them in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes until they turn lightly brown (then set aside to let them cool and they will become crunchy!)
* Combine the rest of the salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix.
* Just before serving the salad, lightly toss the bread croutons into the mix.
* Garnish with additional parsley and basil.