Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Brandy Smash

Tonight's cocktail? A Brandy Smash: mint and simple syrup muddled together with 2 oz. of brandy and ice.

a brandy smash cocktail


I think I like it.

Vegetable Recipes for Cancer Fighters

I have a friend, R1 she has been nicknamed, who is one of the bravest people I know.  She is one of two friends who are, at this very moment, raging war again cancer in her body.  Her doctors and her readings have strongly stressed the importance of creating an uninhabitable environment for cancer cells—one of those ways being loading her body with antioxidants from fresh vegetables.

On her blog that is tracking her whole story (you can find it at, R1 requested vegetarian and fish recipes, and so I've decided to create a post for her and for all other cancer warriors out there.  These recipes are simple and delicious and are favorites of mine.  They also feature ingredients that are regularly touted as being high in antioxidants.  I've bolded all ingredients and utensils needed so they can be gathered and prepared ahead of time before you start to cook.

R1, I hope you enjoy them.  And may they be my contribution to kicking your cancer cells' fucking asses!!!

Homemade Guacamole

In a medium bowl, blend:
1 Tblsp water
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. crushed oregano

Halve 4 avocados that yield to the gentle pressure of your thumb.  To halve, hold the avocado lengthwise in the palm of your hand.  Insert a paring knife, then rotate the avocado top to bottom then bottom to top to score the whole way around the seed.  Twist the two halves to separate.  Take a heavy chef's knife or cleaver and whack it into the big seed.  Gently twist the knife to loosen and pull out the seed.  Take the paring knife again and CAREFULLY make three scores down through the flesh to the skin (don't cut yourself!).  Now take a big dinner tablespoon and scoop down along the skin to get the flesh out of it's "shell."  Plop the flesh into the bowl of spices.  Do this with all 4 avocados.

Add to the bowl a small chopped red onion, a tablespoon or two of chopped fresh cilantro, and a small chopped plum tomato.  Squeeze the juice from one lime into the bowl.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and a dusting of cayenne pepper to taste.

Take a potato masher or pastry blender to the bowl and mash everything together to the consistency that you like.  Some people like it chunky, some smooth.  I'm somewhere in between.  Scrape the guac into a serving bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, making sure that you press the wrap down onto the guac.  Guac reacts to the oxygen in the air and turns a nasty brown color if you don't do so.  Pull it out, still covered, about 15 minutes before serving time so it isn't too cold.  Garnish with some cilantro leaves and a cherry tomato half, if you so desire, when you serve.

This recipe makes quite a bit, enough for a decent sized party.  If you make it for just two of you, I'd only use one avocado and scale down everything else to a fourth.

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Cornmeal-crusted Tilapia with Salsa and Spicy Black Beans (adapted from Everyday Food) - serves 2

Shake in a plastic bag then dump in a pie plate:
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. paprika
a dash or two of cayenne pepper
coarse salt and cracked pepper to taste

Rinse and pat dry 2 tilapia fillets and score them at the "seam" with a knife so you make two strips out of each fillet.  

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.  While it's heating get the fish ready: doing one at a time, shake, pat, sprinkle, and roll each strip in the cornmeal mixture, making sure the coat both sides of each piece completely. 

Cook the tilapia strips in the skillet until they are a delicious, crunchy, golden brown, about 2 minutes per side for the thin pieces and 4 minutes per side for the thicker pieces.  Serve with a salsa of your choice and the Spicy Black Beans (below).

Spicy Black Beans
In a small saucepan, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat.  Add 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes and cook another minute.  Rinse and drain 1 can black beans and add them to the pot with 1/2 cup of water and the juice from 1/2 a lime.  Simmer, covered but stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.  Season with coarse salt and cracked pepper and serve with tilapia.

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 Homemade Hummus

Open 2 cans of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Rinse and drain the chickpeas and dump them into the bowl of a food processor with the reserved liquid.  Add to the bowl:
1/3 cup fresh (NOT bottled) lemon juice--and don't go over
1/4 cup tahini (found in the organic or ethnic section--it's sesame seed paste)
2 chopped garlic cloves
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. olive oil
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 1/4 tsp. coarse salt

Turn the processor on and blend, blend, blend, stopping frequently to scrape down the sides with a spatula and redistribute the mixture.  Blend it to the consistency you like.  I like hummus smoother rather than chunkier, but see what you like.

I like to serve hummus at room temperature with a little pool of olive oil in the middle and a dusting of fresh cracked black pepper, but it does need to be stored in the fridge.  Excellent served with all manner of raw veggies and toasted whole wheat pita wedges (make them yourself, don't buy them) or naan bread.

This recipe makes a LOT.  Good for a party, but cut it in half for two of you. 

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Green Beans with Tomatoes - from Everyday Food - serves 4

In a large skillet with a lid, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high.  Add 1 halved and thinly sliced medium onion and 1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed, to the oil.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add a 14.5 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes in puree to the skillet, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon or your fingers.  Stir to combine with the onions, then add 1 lb. trimmed fresh green beans, 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt, and 1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper, and stir again.  Bring everything to a boil.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the skillet, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the green beans are done to your liking.   Don't cook more than 30 minutes.  I tend to go about 15 minutes.  Stir once more, and then serve.

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Nicoise Salad - serves 2

On a platter or two serving plates, arrange:
2-3 steamed red new potatoes, quartered (optional)
4 oz. steamed trimmed green beans (optional)
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 head of Boston lettuce, rinsed, dried, and torn
half a small red onion, thinly sliced
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced (optional)
1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 can Italian tuna in olive oil (has a gold label), lightly drained and broken up 

Serve with Dijon Vinaigrette:   
In a small jar shake together:
2 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice (NOT bottled)
1 Tblsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small garlic clove, crushed
coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

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Sauteed Zucchini, Peppers, and Tomatoes - adapted from Everyday Food - serves 2

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 medium zucchini, quartered and sliced into 1/2-in. chunks; flesh of 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 3/4-in. squares; 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, and 2 smashed garlic cloves.  Season with coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  Cook, tossing frequently, until the veggies start to brown but are still crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Serve.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jocelyn's Plum Jam

My brother has a friend, Jocelyn, who is a girl after my own heart.  She's getting her doctorate in English (i.e. way smarter than me, but we love the same thing!), and she, too, loves to cook.

One of the other things that I loved about Jocelyn is that she is resourceful.  Plum trees grow like crazy in CA, and refusing to let a good thing go to waste, she gathers their fruit and makes jam.  When my sisters and I showed interest in her jam-making, Jocelyn brought us each a jar of plum jam to take home with us.

The first morning that Chef Reiton and I got back to the Midwest, we made a stack of buttered toast and cracked open Jocelyn's jam.

Ohhhh, my.  Deliciously plummy and not too sweet.  A perfect breakfast.

Sue's Ooey Gooey Brownies

I'm sitting here sipping a Between the Sheets (a fantastic little cocktail consisting of an ounce each of light rum, Cointreau, and brandy shaken with 1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice), still reminiscing over last week.  I just went through most of the pictures taken by the three of us sisters during the trip.  (I actually am going to steal a couple to supplement and replace a few of mine in the past few blogs...)  Anyway, in going through the pictures, I recalled two more food items that I've wanted to blog about.  So, here's the first one:

My father's boss of 35 years (both men long retired) was gracious enough to meet up with my siblings and other relations for dinner at Garibaldi's the second evening of our trip to CA.  He meets with my brother on occasion, but he hadn't seen the three of us girls together since we moved to PA in '81.  My last memories of him were when I was about 12 years old and involved the National Art Gallery, a train museum, and listening to Pomp and Circumstance on his Walkman (which he apparently still has).  Well, I will soon be swinging into my late 30s, just to give you an idea of how long it's been since I've seen him...

ANYWAY.  We met at Garibaldi's and spent FOUR HOURS talking and eating and drinking and laughing.  The evening was spectacular.  Well, Mr. Fisher must have had just as much fun with us as we were having with him, because the following evening we got a message: Mr. Fisher wanted us to come over for dinner the night before we left.

I have to say that my heart leaped at that invitation.  In one evening I had grown completely fascinated with this man who knew my father probably better than all of us, who was incredibly intelligent, sensitive, witty, artistic, and just plain cool.  A feeling of deep respect and trust had come over me in those four hours I had sat beside him, and I was so excited that I was going to get to know him more.

Sunday evening came—a bittersweet evening: bitter because it was the last evening with my siblings and my uncle, who had come up from LA; sweet because we got to spend it with Mr. Fisher.  But that night was one of my favorite nights.  Again, we laughed and drank and talked and ate.  For five hours we sat around the dinner table, the dining room lit by candles, and we shared another meal together.

(You are probably wondering at this point what any of this has to do with food.  This blog entry hasn't been about food! It's been a damn story! Well, hold onto your napkin, foodie friend...)

Now, Mr. Fisher has a very good friend, Sue, who loves to cook.  She never actually said she loves to cook—but it's obvious.  She came over for dinner and made, well—dinner. 

Aaaaand dessert, being a deliriously good chocolate creation that she calls Ooey Gooey Brownies.  She cut them into huge squares, plopped a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and served them with a pitcher of hot fudge.  Real hot fudge.

The best part? She gave me the recipe. So here you go, dear readers.  And thank you, Sue!!!


1 cup butter
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate

Stir in:
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla


Pour the batter into a 9 x 13" pan, spread 12 oz. chocolate chips and 2 cups of mini marshmallows on top, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Buena Vista Cafe—San Francisco, CA—A Restaurant Recommendation

I can't go on a romp about CA and not write about something alcoholic.  I am happy to report that in our search for a trolley ride that didn't happen, we landed right across the street from the first American bar to serve an Irish coffee,

Below is their delicious concoction.  I'm a dork and got it decaf.  I'm just getting old and can't do caffeine past noon...

Photo courtesy of Michelle
Check out their story on creating it:  Makes you want to go create something...

House of Nanking—San Francisco, CA—A Restaurant Recommendation

Another restaurant that my siblings and I, our uncle, and Chef Reiton and son visited in our recent California trip is apparently known by many.  It is the infamous

a Chinese restaurant in downtown San Francisco that you need to get to by 6 p.m. or you will have a looooooooooooong wait for dinner.

Photo courtesy of Michelle
My brother had visited before, and we took his recommendation: DON'T order off the menu.  Ask the waitress what is good that day, being sure to tell her what you don't want, and then wait for your table to be flooded with food.

Below are two of the eight items that were deposited onto our table: fried chicken wontons with peanut sauce and beef with green beans, garlic, and fried rice noodles. I'm not going to show or tell you anything else because I don't want you ordering off the menu!  Follow the directions above!!!

Still have concerns about ordering en masse? The bill came to about $25 per person, which included beer and tea and tip.  Not bad for an incredible meal that gives you leftovers AND has you rolling out the door.

Trattoria La Siciliana–Berkeley, CA—A Restaurant Recommendation

In a recent trip to California, I visited THE best Italian restaurant I have ever been to.  I was in town visiting my brother with my two sisters. Our first night together we visited a little place called Trattoria La Siciliana on College Avenue in Berkeley.  It is a teensy tiny place that has been family-run for 15 years. 

Our reservations were a little bit late, but considering I got to sit on a bench and talk to the adorable owner while I watched her guys cook (and learn a new pasta-cooking tip in the meanwhile) made it completely worth it.

After being seated and while we decided on what we were hungry for (which took awhile since we all hadn't been together for 8 months), we pigged out (really) on the most amazing of simplest concoctions: olive oil, minced fresh garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, fresh Italian parsley, dried rosemary, cracked black pepper, and salt.  Dip fresh Italian bread in the above and NIRVANA.  (Although Chef Reiton, who arrived later that night, said that he could smell the garlic on me for the next 24 hours...)

The waiter (and I mean the waiter) suggested that we do our meal family style, so we took his advice and ordered the following:

  • bruschetta topped with mozzarella
  • "fresh" green salad with olives and mozzarella
  • risotto in a cream-tomato sauce with olives and artichoke hearts
  • ravioli filled with mushroom and tossed in a butter sauce

Our experience? I think the pictures below says it all:

Check them out if you are in town:  A wee bit pricey, but you won't be sorry.  I promise.

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