Thursday, December 10, 2009

Most Processed. Food. Ever!

My husband likes to say that baked goods are the gateway to processed foods. Wheat is stripped of all its nutty brown, sugar cane is boiled, baked, and made sparking white, and then you add in a generous dose of corn oil, vanilla extract, and voilà: cake!

The internet phenomenon of cake pops takes it to a whole new level. First, take a box of cake mix (preferable red velvet with loads of red dye in it) and crumble the baked cake into a can or frosting. Form this slurry into little balls and shape into whatever you’d like (think Play-Doh people). This is then dipped into coating chocolate (aka sugar, oil, flavor) and decorated.

Okay. Despite all this… I cannot help myself! The idea of a mini cupcake on a stick, coated in chocolate is about as American as it gets. And damn cute.
Don’t make a habit of it, but come on! Just look at these things!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This hippest game in town this October 17th is the Fresno State U-Pick Organic days. From 9am-1pm load up on cheap organic veggies like arugula, turnips, and even some late season cherry tomatoes.

If you are really down, sign up for the Vermicomposting Workshop at 10am. For $20 you can get all the worms you and your happy urban farm can stand.

Location: Classroom at Fresno State Horticulture Unit (NE Barstow & Chestnut)

Friday, August 28, 2009

You've got a friend in me...

How do you know when someone loves you? For me, it’s when they share their last morsel of food… My husband frequently scrapes together little nubs of ham and peas or ravioli in butter sauce, hoists them onto a fork, clearing his plate to ensure I get one last nibble of deliciousness. Awww…

So I’ve got to give it up to my gal pal who recently brought me one, lonely caramel… the last in the box... from the stunning Sweet Revolution organic honey maple caramels.

So there I was, unraveling a nimble red string tangled around a hand printed newsprint box, to find a solitary golden gem twisted in waxed paper… inside held a dark, vanilla speckled masterpiece of sweet delight. The shadowy flavors of maple and mellow breath of honey were paired with an intense spike of salt to create a little pop-rock dance in my mouth. Rarely am I so satisfied by one little morsel. Then again, there was only one sacred nibble left.

Sweet Revolution Caramels

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I can eat a peach for hours...

When it comes to fruit, I can relate to the great lovers of the world… Like Casanova, Don Juan De Marco or Wilt Chamberlin, I know what it must have felt like to be pulled from one siren to the next, tugged by a scent, a hidden curve, or gentle give. When it comes to fruit, I am a fickle lover, merely entranced by the flavor of what is before me.

Fig season has just hit, and immediately, I am gorging myself on bright green Kalamatas. Her prickly fuzz scuffing my tongue before I nibble on her dainty seeds. Already, I have forgotten about last week’s lover, the freckled pluot and her blushed interior, aromatic and mild, spiked with a tart, snappy skin. By now, I scoff at the old hack the strawberry who was my breath of life only a few months back.

And alas, my heart will move on to another in a mere weeks time! My wandering eye is turned to the thought of biting into a perfumed Comice pear over a sink… As Adam Gollner, author of Fruit Hunters noted, “…the texture of softened butter filled with dripping juices.” And then there is the sneaky little November Satsuma orange, hiding her impeccable flavor beneath a wrinkled citrus dress. I am convinced, after many years of eating fruit, my favorite is always what is at the very peak of ripeness… she always wins out over the others.

Thank God I live in Fresno, no? This is the ground zero for fruit, with more California beauties than a David Lee Roth video. We are surrounded by not just a plethora of heirloom varietals, but farmers with passion for their produce, land, and community. And here’s the irony… often, our best fruit gets shipped to LA or SF to people who are real fanatics. We in the Valley are left with the paltry leftovers or worse yet, have our fruit shipped from farm, to distribution center, then to local grocery stores before we get a nibble.

This is why I am so excited about a new business in town, RipeNow, our first local fruit delivery service. Owner Jeremy Lane has searched the valley and discovered farmers who are focused on picking fruit at the peak of ripeness. “This fruit is not meant to withstand the rigors of commercial distribution or win some durability prize,” he says. “These are special farmers who compete for titles such as, most flavorful, juiciest, best color and most fragrant. [Our] goal is to support and encourage the heritage of these local farmers and facilitate greater exposure of this delicious fruit right here at home.”

The business model is pure: get amazing fruit into homes and offices on as an alternative to pretzels and 100 Calorie Packs™. Lane describes, “We go to local farms, pick up the ripe fruit, pack it into recyclable wood crates, deliver it to businesses and collect the previous drop off box for re-use. Then it’s back to the farm for more fruit.” Sweet and simple.

RipeNow is supporting farmers who produce rare and soul satisfying fruits that keep me swooning, weak-in-the-knees, waiting for that next stolen moment with something so fare. Scratch the idea of that grocery store peach, picked green and sitting around for days on end in cold storage… for that matter, scratch the Saturday morning peach you buy at the farmer’s market with the caveat to “let it ripen on the counter for a few more days”… RipeNow provides fruit picked and delivered at its peak ripeness… the same peaches a farmer would pluck for an afternoon snack. As stone-fruit expert Andy Martin describes, “The search for the perfect peach is elusive. It’s good for a moment, then a few days later it’s gone. It’s hard to grow. Nuances in humidity and temperature over one night can drastically effect quality.” Given these circumstances it’s a small miracle we ever get fruit. Providing good fruit, that elusive “pleasant resistance” of a peach, borders on heroic. Thanks Valley farmers. And thanks RipeNow.

RipeNow: or (559) 318-7473

Monday, July 20, 2009

July Americana: Red, White & Blueberry

It’s blueberry season again, and I can plow through a pint like a tub of buttered popcorn… easy. Here’s a way to sneak them into yet another meal, dinner. This recipe works great with frozen blueberries, so this is also a nice nugget to tuck away for mid-winter meals when y’all could use a little antioxidant punch.

Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry Dijon Glaze
Serves 4

1½ lb. pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grape seed or vegetable oil
2 cups frozen blueberries
½ cup water
4 tablespoons golden brown sugar
4 tablespoons good quality Dijon mustard (preferably with mustard seeds)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To ensure even cooking, tuck in any thin ends of the pork tenderloin. Secure with toothpicks or cooking twine as necessary. Sprinkle pork loin with salt and pepper. In an oven-proof pan, heat oil on high. Add pork tenderloin and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.

Place pork in the oven in the pan used for browning. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, add frozen blueberries, water and sugar. Mix well, crushing blueberries with a masher until texture slightly resembles chunky jam. Cook on medium heat until heated through and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Pull off of heat and add mustard and rosemary.

After the pork has been in the oven for about 15 minutes, flip the loin and add the blueberry glaze. Put back in the oven. If at any point the glaze looks like it is starting to burn or get very thick (resembling taffy) add a couple of tablespoons of water to the bottom of the pan and continue cooking. Cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 160 degrees.

Remove the meat from the oven and let rest for 5 - 10 minutes (meat will continue to cook outside the oven until it reaches the internal temperature of 165 degrees). Slice and spoon glaze generously over pork medallions.

Serve with wild rice or couscous. Excellent with a side of sweet and sour red cabbage.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Heart Coffee

The last time I ran into Leo Rios he was perched under a pop-tent on a lazy Saturday afternoon with his girlfriend Liz and their button of a toddler. The faint smell of coffee was in the air and customers lined up for cups of the best brew in town: Café Corazon.

Leo is a coffee roaster, and is, at the very least, passionate. In his spare time, he studies plantations and growing practices. On weekends he spends hours filling orders for small batches of coffee beans, hovering over the roaster, jotting down temperatures every thirty seconds. In addition, as the business owner, he is inundated with paperwork and phone calls. “If you are not prepared to have your business consume every part of your life, then you are not prepared to have a business,” he says.

Leo’s first roast experiment was years ago at home with a modified popcorn popper and some green coffee beans. “That very first roast left me in awe,” he confessed. It wasn’t long afterward he knew he had a business on his hands. After a short stint owning a full-fledged coffee shop on the Fulton Mall, Café Corazon now provides fresh roasted coffee beans to local customers. “People are learning the difference that a fresh roast makes,” said Leo. And he’s right.

My first cup was supreme. Dark and smooth. None of the tricks certain coffee companies use to substitute complexity for sheer smoky bitterness. It was almost immediately I realized I was screwed- all other coffee tasted inferior to me. I had found the best. The freshest. The Master. Right here in Fresno.

My second bag was an Organic Chiapas from the PROISCH CoOp. Leo painstakingly took into account the natural growing conditions and inherent flavor of the bean. It was roasted to bring out the subtle complexity instead of being burnt to a crisp. I savored… Chiapas has earthy notes and a wisp sweetness that I never could have tasted if it were charred. “When you sip on a cup of Organic Chiapas… you're tasting the true flavor of Mexican coffee. You're tasting the flavors of the rainfall, the earth, the sun and the hard work of the processing that has gone into it,” said Leo. Hats off to respecting the true nature of the beast.

Tasting a cup of coffee made with Café Corazon beans sells itself. Leo’s painstaking care and love of the process is evident in every sip. “It is my aim to bring out the finer aspects of a coffee and give the coffee connoisseur something to savor,” he says. And, Leo is a man with an abundant heart, corazon, for his coffee, his family, and our little spot in the world, “You help in any way you can to improve the community. This is what I saw my parents do growing up, and it's what we wish to do, be true Chicanos. I'm trying to help build a strong community.” We’ve got a true Fresno treasure on our hand people. Drink up.

Get yourself a bag!
Email Leo:
Follow him on Twitter for the latest roasting info: @CafeCorazon
Pick up orders at Yoshi Now! On Broadway in downtown Fresno

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Beboparebop Rhubarb Pie

Until recently, the only rhubarb pie I had was from Marie Callender’s. It was, at best, unremarkable. And then, inspired by a documentary of Garrison Keillor at a rhubarb festival in Minnesota, I decided to try my hand at the real thing.

I was blown away. The filling is deliciously tart, swirled with caramelized sugar and buttery crust. And, technically, is it not a vegetable? Eat up.

Rhubarb Pie

Pate brisee pie dough (enough for a double crust)

1 ½ cups sugar
1 ¾ lbs. fresh rhubarb (cut into ¾ inch cubes)
¼ cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 small egg yolk
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Toss sugar, rhubarb, sifted cornstarch, cinnamon, vanilla, lemon, zest, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside to allow juices of the rhubarb to soften the sugar.

In an oversized tart pan, form bottom pie crust, allowing 1 inch overhang. Add filling (it should be 1 to 2 chunks of rhubarb deep). Tab butter on top of filling. Form lattice crust and crimp edges of pie together. Glaze crust with heavy cream and egg mixture, careful not to allow too much to spill into filling. Sprinkle crust with Demerara sugar.

Place a pan under the pie to catch any drippings and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and put on crust shield if necessary (aka crust is getting too brown). Bake for approximately 40 more minutes, or until center of pie filling bubbles. Cool 2 hours before serving.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Jam!

Alrighty Fresnans! It’s that time of year again when you, or someone you know, has been burdened by an abundance of produce. Your mom’s got a peach tree. Your roommate has been urban foraging for figs again. Or, God forbid, you know anyone who planted a zucchini this year. Fear not! Pencil in an afternoon of good ol’ fashioned canning and make your grandma proud.

Part I: Go Shopping. I always head for Fresno Ag, but really any hardware store will do. Get yourself a bunch of jars with lids and canning tongs. If you are really into recycling, you can always get old jars from thrift stores and merely purchase new lids.

Part II: Kitchen Prep: First off, put a damn radio in the kitchen for some music. Invite over a friend (even if they just sit there). Put on some light summer clothes to sweat in, and have plenty of cold beverages around (beer or iced tea really hits the spot). Clean out all your jars and lids in warm soapy water or the dishwasher. Keep them sterile!

Part III: Make yo’ Filling. I’ve done lots and lots of internet searches, but really it’s easiest to do this all by taste. Basically, dump your washed fruit into a large, heavy bottomed pan, add a squeeze of lemon and start cooking. At some point, I add in a ton of sugar (by a ton, usually about 1/3 of the volume of the fruit in the pot) and one crazy flavoring (lemon thyme, bay leaves, oolong tea, cloves, chilies). Keep cooking this all down until it is thick and sticks to a plate that’s been in the freezer for a while. It usually takes about 30 minutes. No need for that pesky pectin!

Part IV: Can it, Lady. Using a funnel, carefully spoon your finished jam into your clean jars. Leave about ½ inch of room at the top. Wipe down the rim of the jar with a clean paper towel. Carefully place the lid and ring on the jar and tighten. Once you get all your neat little jars sealed, boil them in a large pot of water (making sure they are fully submerged) for at least 15 minutes (you can Google specific processing times). Once they have cooled a bit, you can wait to see if the jars are sealed by the gentle “ping” they make when you tap the tops.

Part V: Give someone some love and pass it on. Don’t you feel good?!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tomatillo... You Make My Heart Sing

These are the funky little things that look like green tomatoes in a thin paper hull. They are a ubiquitous ingredient in Mexican cooking and literally do all the work for you to balance out a salsa or sauce. They are both savory and sweet, with a nice acid kick (think lime flavoring included in a tomato). Here’s a dish that drives the men-folk wild:

Enchiladas Suizas

Buy some tomatillos (maybe 15 – 20) and take off the outer leaf-like skin. Cut ½ an onion into large chunks and toss with tomatillos in a little oil and salt and roast them in the oven for about 20 min at about 425 degrees or until they are mushy and the skin is brown… this is not an exact science! You can burn these… and they are also good half cooked. No need to turn them. Just go with it.

In the mean time, fire roast (aka your stove top burner) some peppers. Poblano. Anaheim. Jalapeno. Whatever heat you want. Maybe 2-4. Add these, the rest of the raw onion, about 4 cloves of garlic, some salt, the roasted tomatillo/onion mixture, and a tablespoon of canned chipotle to a Cuisenart. Blend. Taste. It may need more peppers or chipotle, depending on how hot you like it. Then add about 1 to 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream. Or until it tastes good.

Now you’ve got your sauce. And trust me, it’s worth the effort! The tomatillos are so bright and delicious, they are a perfect balance to the cream. Oh boy…

Okay! Have at the ready: a shallow pan of hot vegetable oil (heated on medium heat over the stove). Corn tortillas (5-10). Filling (shredded, salted chicken breast would be great, or even grated summer squash). The pan you intend to bake all this in, with the bottom coated in a little of the tomatillo sauce.

Assemble. Dip a tortilla in the hot oil (about 10 – 30 seconds) so that it warms through. Slap this on a plate and fill with a little chicken (it’s hot! …so take your time), roll up, and place in a pan. Continue until all the little enchiladas are side by side and fill your pan.

Finally, cover the whole dish with your sauce so that the tortillas are just covered. Add a bunch of grated white cheese (jack, provolone, white cheddar, whatever) on top. Bake at about 400 degrees until sides bubble and cheese browns. Garnish with fresh chopped green onion.

Serve with beans, or calabasitas (Mexican preparation of summer squash) or on its own. This is pure comfort food. The hubby was never so happy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hippie Nachos

Okay… I’ve heard these referred to as “White People Nachos”, “Nachos Flanders-Style” (from the Simpsons) and the like. Whatever you call them, they are delicious. Whip these up as a quick appetizer, an afternoon snack, or a light dinner. If you really want to guild the local lily, use a home grown cucumber, make some ricotta (see reference below about home-cheese making) and dry up some salt water from the next time you are in Santa Cruz. Your superiority complex will soar in the faces of all your locavor friends.

1 large Armenian cucumber
½ cup soft, fresh cheese (goat, cottage, ricotta, farmers)
1/8 cup fresh herbs (I like dill or tarragon the best. Parsley is great too).
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice cucumber into ¼ inch rings. Arrange on plate. Top with a dab of cheese, herbs, salt and pepper. Serve!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Suffering Succotash!

The Gibson Farm Market at Fresno State just opened it’s doors for the newest varietal of sweet corn, Vision. Ahh, this golden gem is (if possible) even sweeter and nuttier than the traditional yellow variety. Surely, you can convince yourself to eat your veggies with this one.

Succotash is one of my summer staples, being that it’s easy, uses up all sorts of stuff in your fridge, and it super-duper healthy. Try it as a side dish with some grilled chicken or sausage… or with a dollop of sour cream and a few beans for a full force vegetarian meal.

Summer Vegetable Succotash
Serves 4

2 tsp. olive oil or butter
½ onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pepper (bell, Italian curly, jalapeno, etc. depending on your desired heat level) chopped
1 small zucchini diced in ¼ inch cubes
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 ears of corn, sliced off-the-cob
2 sprigs fresh basil, chopped

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions, garlic, pepper, zucchini and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until onions are wilted and zucchini is just tender. Remove from heat. Add in corn and basil. Mix until corn is just heated through.

It’s that easy! Try it cold the next day for lunch as well.

Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market
Corner of Barstow and Chestnut

Thursday, April 23, 2009

American Made

There once was a time when eating Japanese food in this country was an austere, strange, highly foreign experience. Shizo leaves dressed cold sashimi, sake was served warm, and you could find a plethora of seaweed, gnarled mushrooms, and even the occasional yam on the menu. It was a weird affront to our American palates (and portions). To me, this is a good time.

To the rest of America is seems, sake bombs and cream cheese are a good time. When did most Japanese establishments turn into loosely veiled TGI Friday’s? Every time I am convinced to go to sushi, I am struck by the scene of ruckus, tiny- tittied waitresses, yelping sushi chefs, and heaps of mayo. Mayo over muscles. Mayo mixed with cock-sauce, drizzled over a roll. Mayo in potato salad (seriously?). My nimble mouth stretches helplessly to fit in a slice of a California roll the size of my fist… rice is forced out through my lips and piles listlessly on the plate. Chucks of fish and seaweed are gnawed off mid-bite in an attempt to halt my gag reflex. Is this anyway to serve food? And is this anyway to name food: Double Climax, Sexy-Sexy, Blond-Bombshell (see above reference to TGI Friday’s)? At the end of the evening, I am overwhelmed at the staggering amount of food I have managed to pile down and the enormous bill ($20 lunch? Of course!). I’m freakin’ sick of it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Real Slim Shady

Did you know cabbage is one of the best foods out there for you? Rock on with this in-season treat:

Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage ala Julia Child

Serves 4 or 5. Sauté 1 cup red-onion slices in a large sauce pan in 2 to 3 tablespoons butter or oil or pork fat until tender. Blend in 4 cups of shredded red-cabbage, a grated sour apple, 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, a pureed garlic clove, a bay leaf, ½ teaspoon caraway seeds, 1 teaspoons sugar, salt, pepper, and ½ cup water. Cover and boil on high heat for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally and adding more water if necessary, until cabbage is tender and liquid has evaporated. Taste and adjust seasonings.

*Note: I often use apple cider vinegar and double the amount of sugar and vinegar (I like it really sweet and sour!). Play with it. It’s a great recipe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot Chicks

Last Saturday, I became a chicken mama. For the next few weeks I have 4 little guests in my spare bedroom, scratching, flapping, peeping, and sleeping (sleeping, and sleeping). My intention is to wean them into their outdoor coop where they will become fulltime egg laying machines!

Urban chickens have become a trend among elitist types, obsessive foodies, humane activist, Reece Witherspoon, entrepreneurs, hippies, and even the occasional hipsters. Fresh, pastured eggs are going for upwards of $8 a dozen at Farmer’s Markets across the country and more and more people are on board with the nutritional benefits of well fed chickens. Think of it like this… If I sit around and eat Fritos all day (aka chicken feed) versus my neighbor who eats salad and a few nibbles of lean protein, who at the end of the day, is going to have a better lean muscle mass? The same applies to chickens. Feed a chicken corn and soy and watch the cholesterol in their eggs skyrocket. Feed a chicken carrot tops, grass, flax seed, and the occasional garden snail and their eggs will provide a plethora of vitamins, Omega-3s, and nutraceuticals

Chickens are also most effective gardeners, scratching in the dirt, nibbling tender weeds, snapping up seeds, shitting every where, and gobbling up bugs. They are a one-man organic team of aeration, herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer!

For a $1 each, indulge in the joys of rearing chickens in your own backyard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Peas, Glorious Peas!

It’s spring again. Little nubs of growth have popped up on the fingerling ends tree branches. Irises taunt us with their mangy beards. Birds prance and sing and act-a-fool over thoughts of passionate nest making. And at the farmers market, delicate flavors or early spring come peeking out between the masked flavors of winter.

The flagship for these troops is asparagus. Sometime in March they pop their closed-fist tips out of firm frosted soil and we are blessed with a grassy green ancient veggie until almost June. Every week I buy $2 bunches from the lady who sells exclusively asparagus making creamed soups, adding into carbonara pasta, sautéing with peas and mint, grilling, and even blanching elegant little log-cabin stacks next to eggs for brunch. Alas! Nature is perfectly timed so that just as I am sick-and-tired of these green spears and I can pee stinky no longer, the warmer weather smacks them down and they disappear for another 6 months.

My second omen are the sugar snap peas, dressed in plastic green baskets with little bucket hat foliage tips. I eat these by the dozen as a mid-morning snack, crunchy and raw, amazed at the balance between the saccrine pod and the bitter green babies tucked inside. Where there are peas, there are pea tendrils (great sautéed) and sweet pea blossoms ($5 will buy you a heap in fuchsia, soft pink, and white that will perfume your pad for days).

If you really want to splurge, grab a bag of English peas that have been shelled. These, I suppose, are related to the guys you buy frozen, but bear no resemblance in flavor. They are a stunning addition to pasta, sidled up next to a piece of ham, or just steamed and buttered. If you’ve got time on your hand, grab a bag of fava beans and spend your Sunday like a Southern lady shucking, boiling, and shucking again for little thumbs of bitter beans that are truly the prize of the season.

Other delights to be on the lookout for are faintly orange Meyer lemons, spearmint, delicate baby lettuces, new potatoes, purple-tipped scallions, green garlic shoots, chives, Bloomsdale spinach and of course, strawberries.

Follow the calendar and use the seasons as a guide for how to cook! All these subtle flavors of spring meld together perfectly for almost any dish… the green garlic shoots never overpowering the rustic funk of peas or the bright bite of mint. And as the weather warms, bold flavors hum and intensify until in August we are sweating and delirious with the intoxicating bounty of red blushed peaches, potent red onions, eye-rolling tomatoes, sour plums, and sweet purple basil. Wait for it. Enjoy the journey that is spring. It’s worth it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Sweet Life

Sweet Potato Chorizo Street Tacos
Makes 8 tacos

3 tbsp vegetable oil or lard
1 medium finely chopped onion
¾ lb. peeled sweet potato, chopped into ¼ inch cubes
4 inches of Mexican chorizo
5 cloves of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
8 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cabbage
8 sprigs cilantro, chopped
8 tbsp sour cream
1 lime
hot sauce to taste

In a large sauté pan, heat oil and add onion and sweet potato. Cook over medium heat until onions are tender, about 7 minutes. Next, remove the chorizo from the casing and add to sauté pan. Cook with onions and potatoes until it is crumbled and starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, or until sweet potato is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Steam tortillas in a clean, damp dish towel for 1 minute in the microwave. Next, assemble your tacos, dividing all remaining ingredients among the 4 tortillas. Start with the potato chorizo mixture, top with cabbage, cilantro, and sour cream. Squeeze lime and add your favorite hot sauce to taste.

Note: I keep chorizo frozen and saw off a couple of inches every time I find the other ingredients for this recipe in my house. I even use “soyrizo” the vegan chorizo, quite often and it is great!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Milky Way

My husband has always stood by the claim that if he ever had to get a tattoo, it would be a loaf of bread and a slab of cheese; two passions in life that will never go out of style. I’ve got his back on this one. What could be more primal and delicious than the magic of fermentation to raise and set such delicate foods?

This all hit home while reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I was swept away with a passage about family pizza night. No, no… not a Boboli with bagged cheese and a sauce packet… making pizza from scratch. Dad would gingerly proof the dough in the late afternoon from a little yeast and flour. The kids would prep the toppings of choice. And Mom would make the cheese. Yes, make the cheese.

I was curious. They swore of a 30 minute mozzarella recipe that birthed little white balls of fresh (and inexpensive) real cheese that melted and browned beautifully in the oven. I could not resist the pastoral sales pitch.

After a quick purchase on, the website of the self-proclaimed Cheese Making Queen, Ricki Carroll, I was set.

The first and perhaps, most important part of making cheese is the milk. Grocery shelf milk is typically “ultra-high pasteurized” meaning is it heated to a really, really high temperature to cook out all its beautiful, tiny enzymes. These little guys are necessary to make cheese (and for all you lactose intolerant people out there, also to properly digest your milk… Hello! It’s no wonder you clog up like a disposal after Thanksgiving… your milk has been killed!). But I digress… Fresno State pasteurizes their milk, but not to scorching hot temperatures, so it works like a champ. The other option is of course the local folks at Organic Pastures, whose raw milk has the full spectrum of flora and fauna needed for cheese.

Once you’ve got your milk, you start in on the chemistry. It’s a matter of a little rennet (some little vitamin-like tablet that’s a digestive enzyme), citric acid (a sour powder), salt, and water. Mix, heat, and then the whole thing sets up like a giant pot of silky white custard. From there, you separate the curds (future cheese) from the whey (strange translucent yellowed liquid that secretly tastes really good). For mozzarella, you heat the curds until they are almost unbearable to touch and then stretch the whole mess like taffy to twirl into little balls. Ricotta, you simply hang in a little cheese cloth for about 30 minutes and voila!

I confess, the mozzarella took about 45 minutes on the first attempt, but honestly, it was a milky miracle to make something so complex and enigmatic in a matter of minutes! The taste was fresh and silky, moist and gentle. And the ricotta was firm and mild, a distant cry from his store-bought, soupy, gelatin enhanced cousin. Let’s just say, I’d do it again… and I’m game for giving lessons.

Take back your kitchen and learn to pull off a couple of tricks that would have wowed your great grandma or your high school chemistry teacher. Now… if you could just learn to make the perfect loaf of bread…

- Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll at
- Organic Pastures Dairy Company at
- Fresno State Dairy at

Friday, February 27, 2009

The New Joint: Indian

The other night I had another food induced dream: saffron colored curries rolled like rivers around pakora boats and feather-weight rice rained from the sky. It happened again. I ate way to damn much Indian food before bed.

My stomach becomes a bottomless pit in the face of a good curry and naan and I am no match for the charms of Mehek Punjab de. Alas, I went to bed, slumbering with an overfilled belly and hallucinating sleep.

Mehek Punjab de is a gorgeous little spot nestled in a strip mall (what isn’t in Fresno?) offering up quaint yellow walls, north Indian handicrafts, substantial tables and a gleaming case of sweets that spans the length of the joint. It’s usually packed with old ladies in saris and doe-eyed Sikh kids with hair bundled atop their heads. Dishes are served on traditional stainless steel plates and in little metal bowls, providing all the glitz I need for a night on the town.

And then there’s the food. To start, try the paneer pakora: little sandwiches of fresh, firm cheese spread with a green spice paste, deep fried. I’m also a fan of masala mago chips which are basically Indian nachos served up with chickpeas, yogurt, and a rim of fresh vegetables to garnish. If you are brave, dive into the pickles on table which will blast your tongue with a salty prick through the snap of crazy veggies.

The breads are divine. Throughout your meal you can watch generations of ladies spinning and tossing varieties of elastic dough down a hot tandoori oven. Try the makki di roti, a thick corn tortilla, traditionally served with spinach as a breakfast food. Fall in love with the sweet naan stuffed with cherries and nuts or go for the ultimate, aloo paratha, flat bread stuffed with mashed potatoes and onions.

Out came the masala dosa, a giant sourdough-like crêpe filled with spicy spuds, served with a dab of poppy seed studded soup and two incredible sauces: roasted red pepper and creamy coconut. In your mouth, crispy and smooth, hot and soothing all come together to create a far-east flavor boogie.

Out marched the excitement of sholey blaock: black garbanzo beans smacked with raw green chilies. Then onto hahi paneer which held light chunks of cheese suspended in rich orange colored curry. All these flavors are flowing through the medium of homemade yogurt and sweet ghee washed down with impeccable chai and a banana milkshake (seriously).

Finally, onto the sweets! Black chum chum, mitti seerni, ladoo, neatly stacked on silver platters like rows of lace on a petticoat. Orange and white, pink and green, they are concocted from carrots, sweet potatoes, coconut, cheese, pistachios, rosewater, honey. Get on board with the jalebi, a dayglow orange funnel cake soaked in syrup.

Alas you see my predicament of overfilled belly and turmeric educed sleep. Sweet dreams, Fresno. Enjoy.

Mehek Punjab de
3173 W. Shaw Ave.
Fresno, CA 93711

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ten Things to Put in Your Mouth.

I don't have much in common with Oprah. I'm a fixed-income kid from Cali, without too much press. But like Oprah, I'm cool with my place in the world. And I definitely have some favorite things. Get ready to squeal with delight... see below for my Top 10 of 2008.

T&D Willey Farms Nantes carrots.

These suckers are fierce. Thick orange broads packed with sugary sweetness and a dense, moist snap. Cut into carrot sticks, they will leave a florescent film in their baggie. Look for the blue rubber band and snatch these up at Whole Foods or through their CSA.

Charlotte’s Bakery Sourdough Wheat.

I feel as though I am in a Bruegel painting each time I am lucky enough to sink my teeth through the chewy crust into the spongy interior. Robust, traditional, and brown. How bread once was. Find her in the Tower District.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fresno State Butter.

These kids know how to do dairy. Little tubs hold insanely fresh churned golden butter with a nice salty bite. It is heaven on toast or dabbed over vegetables. You'll have a hard time going back to sticks. Find it at the Rue & Gwen Gibson Farm Market on Barstow and Chestnut.

Organic Pastures kombucha.

Gnarly, energy giving, microbe housing, fermented tea served up in a brown beer bottle. It's a little sweet, pH tangy, and faintly fizzy. Rumor has it, it cures just about anything. Grab a bottle for breakfast at their stand in Vineyard Farmer's Market on Saturday morning.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tonno tuna in olive oil.

I once saw Julia Child on PBS touting the virtue of tuna packed in oil as a pantry staple. "Oil?" I thought, "how… fatty." I now see the error of my ways and slam down a can almost weekly. The quality of this fish suspended in such a flavorful medium makes it a meal unto itself. It bears no resemblance to its fishy, watery brother. No need to mess around with mayo and pickles on this one. Buy it at Sam's Deli, Piemonte's, or Trader Joe's.

Torani Blood Orange syrup.

A mix of sour punch, pithy bite, and true orange flavor makes this deep blushed stickiness a perfect addition to a cocktail... or in true 1994 fashion, an Italian soda. Pick up a bottle at Cost Plus.

FAGE Total Greek yogurt.

One bite and you’ll never go back to low fat again. Luscious, tangy dairy delves into your whole mouth for a rich and velvety feel. Dollop instead of sour cream, dab in cereal, or spoon with honey and almonds for dessert. Find it at most grocery stores.

Alternative Baking Company vegan cookies.

How do they make them taste so damn good without any of the crap in a normal cookie? Dare I say, better? Superiorly moist with top-shelf ingredients and a dense crumb, these things are seriously satisfying. Get them at health food stores or the occasional mountain general store.

Koda Farms Organic Nirvana rice.

The ancient tradition of growing rice is alive and well in Dos Palos, where they are cultivating heirloom varieties of plump sushi rice. The Organic Nirvana mix is floated with number of other old-school grains which result in a delicate creaminess giving way to a nutty chew. Get it while you can at Tower Health.

Spanish chorizo

Sliced wafer thin, little rings look like stained glass windows when held up to the light, dotted with translucent fat cubes, striped pork chunks, and crimson spice. Cooked, you’ll find its little orange oily trail marking your plate. Cold, it holds its own with cheese and anchovies. Olé! Find it at Sam’s Deli.