Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sweetie Pie Honey Bunch

So, I have this habit of buying sweet potatoes but never eating them. Here's my theory as to why I have developed the first part of this habit: I grew up in a region that is jokingly stereotyped to be the land of meat and potatoes--but of course, I couldn't eat red meat or potatoes. Great. So I was the "weird" kid that ate sweet potatoes instead (and tofu). But I loved them! And since my family was always running from music lessons to dance practice to soccer tournaments, etc., sometimes sweet potatoes were more than welcome as a simple dinner fix. So, sweet potatoes were a staple in my gotta-break-the-midwestern-stereotypes-when-you-have-a-kid-with-a-weirdo-health-diet home. (That's what they called us, probably along with "those hippies down the street".) Anyway, back to the moral of the story, I still love sweet potatoes, hence my compulsive buying of them. However, I always forget about them at the bottom of my fruit/vegetable bowl...the second, sadder part of the habit. This weekend, I decided to fix that when I realized that I had been craving sweet potato gratin for about 2 weeks in a row. Why? I really have no idea, because I've never even had sweet potato gratin...but I was craving it nonetheless.

Sweet Potato, Parmesan and Gruyere Gratin

Sweet Potatoes
Salt and Pepper 

Okay, I'll take the harassment for not using measurements. I was hungry and didn't feel like being a good food blogger. But really, there's no need to have specific amounts for this dish.
Preheat the oven to 400
First, peal the sweet potatoes and slice them into disks. Then, slice the disks into thin strips, like shoestring potatoes.
Place a layer in a casserole dish and place a few small slabs of butter over. Shred a bit over both cheeses on top (it really doesn't need to be covered, just sprinkled over) and season with salt and pepper.
Repeat with another later of all of the ingredients. Pour the cream in, until you can start to see it peaking through the sweet potatoes. You don't want so much that it starts to come to the top of the them though...just enough at least to start covering the first layer. Specific, I know.
Place in the oven, covered with the dish lid or with aluminum foil for an hour. For the last 10 minutes, uncover so that the cheese can brown on top. Make sure that the sweet potatoes are cooked all the way through before pulling it out.
Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

My craving was satisfied! I really loved those two cheeses with the sweet potato. But really, how can you go wrong with sweet potatoes, cream and cheese? You just can't.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Saturday Morning Cuppa Coffee

Now that I work at a coffee shop, I've sadly become more addicted to really is sad. But delicious at the same time! And at least a great supply of delicious coffee comes with it. However, if I'm going to be running the closing shift and then going home to continue reading for school, I just simply need some artificial liveliness running through my system. It's gotten to the point where all I need for motivation to wake up on Saturday mornings is that beautiful cup of coffee that I know is waiting for me at the farmer's market.

Pachamama Coffee Co-op
At the Davis Farmer's Market

Pachamama is collectively owned by it's 140,000 farmers who ship their beans from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru--improving the lives of small scale farmers and giving us delicious coffee.

Somehow, this beautiful cup of coffee has some sort of magical power over me to get me out of bed even on cold January mornings and to bike my butt over to farmer's. And I'm not even a morning coffee person let alone a morning person! I first had it a few weeks ago and I was shocked that I had never noticed how awesome this stand was before because really what is so unique about their coffee is that they brew it individually for you as you order. They have this beautiful wooden coffee drip bar where the filters fit snuggly in ceramic holders and your cup sits underneath. As you order, they pour your grinds into the filter, place a cup underneath and pour some boiling water right in. With a few stirs of the grinds, you have your personal cup of coffee ready in minutes.

I think half of the magic of my Saturday morning coffee is watching the process of my coffee being made and then after a few minutes of watching and waiting, finally having that cup in your hand. But the other half is certainly the taste. They usually serve their breakfast blend at farmer's and it's almost like a chocolate. After the coffee cools down a bit (rather quickly because it's so cold outside), I can taste more and more undertones of cacao. This blend is so smooth and so delicious that I refuse to add anything to it. Yes, I am a black coffee drinker now. Gasp all you like. So I sit with my breakfast sandwich from Fat Face and my wonderful cuppa coffee and I watch through the winter fog at all the hustle and bustle of the market. No wonder it gets me out of bed in the beautiful is that image?

Side note: Last Sunday, the woman who served me my cup of coffee on Saturday came into the place I work and I was able to repay her with a cup of our roast.

Monday, January 17, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish, Three Fish, Four...

(The title of this post was inspired by my wonderful roommate, Caitlin. She's so clever.)

Last year, Caitlin and I made one of my favorite dinners--Salmon Cakes, Hot Crash Potatoes and Sauteed Spinach--inspired by the wonderful Miss Sophie Dahl. For some reason (probably because I was having too much fun with Caitlin), I didn't take any photos, so I didn't write a blog post for it...something I've felt lame about ever since. I've had a craving for them for a few days now, so I decided I would finally pick up the ingredients from the Co-op and Farmer's and make them over my 4 day weekend.

Sophie Dahl's Salmon Cakes with Tartar Sauce, Hot Crash Potatoes and Sauteed Cabbage
Inspired by The Delicious Miss Dahl and Miss Dahl's Volumptuous Delights

1 large serving, plus a little left over for your roommates to nibble on.

For the potatoes:
2-3 small potatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Red pepper powder
Olive oil
For the Salmon Cakes:
1 cup flaked salmon (I baked mine ahead of time with salt pepper and lemon juice)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill
1 red chili finely chopped (I forgot to buy one this time, so I just put in a bit of red pepper powder, but it was way better with the fresh chili when Caitlin and I made it)
2 teaspoons good quality mustard (I used Sierra Nevada Stoneground)
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the Tartar Sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 small gherkins, finely chopped (a few teaspoons of capers would be a nice addition if you have them)
A small handful of chopped parsley
Juice from 1/2 a lemon.
Salt and Pepper to taste
For the cabbage:
1 chunk of cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste.

Bake the salmon ahead of time. Let it cool and flake it.
Set the oven to 400 degrees.
Boil the potatoes in salted water for about 15 minutes, until they are softened all the way through. Once they are softened, drain the water and in a baking pan, lightly crush the potatoes with a fork. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and red pepper powder. Place in the oven at 400 for about 15-20 minutes until they are crispy and browned on top.
Meanwhile, prepare the tartar sauce by mixing all the ingredients. Set aside.
Combine the ingredients for the salmon cakes and form into two patties.
Head two skillets with oil--one for the salmon cakes and one for the cabbage. Place the cabbage in one skillet and season. Saute on either side for about a minute each. Don't let it get too mushy. Place the two patties in the other skillet and cook to brown for a couple minutes on each side.
Serve all together and enjoy!

I don't often make a full meal for myself--sides and all--so this was a real treat to prepare and to eat! I love these cakes because unlike some others, they aren't loaded down with bread crumbs and the salmon is still able to shine through in the dish. The purple potatoes I used were so delicious, especially with the added red pepper powder. They were a lot creamier than I was expecting--almost decadent. I'm also a huge fan of this homemade tartar sauce it goes perfectly with every part of this dish...the cakes, potatoes and cabbage! This was a perfect end to my MLK weekend. I could always do with more time in the kitchen, focused on the delicious smells wafting from the oven and practicing the art of cooking while relaxing my nerves before another week of hectic days and long nights. In honor of the day, I'll leave you with this:

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' "-MLK Jr.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mornings in Mom's Kitchen

As I was growing up, my mom was the queen of breakfast! Whether it was grapefruit, a full on brunch, coffeecake, hot cereal, eggs, pancakes or a fruit salad, it was always ready on the breakfast table to start off our days. For Christmas this year, I got slow cooker and the cookbook, Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook--which isn't a very good title in my case because my mother owns the same cookbook which is how I discovered it and why I love it! After a trip to the Farmer's Market last weekend, where my roommate ate slow cooked steel cut oats, I decided that oatmeal would be the first meal made in my slow cooker. Oatmeal from my mom's slow cooker on freezing cold IL winter mornings is such a beautiful memory and I was so excited to recreate it with my roommates.

Slow Cooked Oatmeal
Adapted from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook

2 cups rolled oats
4 3/4 cups water
Pinch of salt

Combine the ingredients in the slow cooker and stir. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours (overnight). This could also be done on high for 2 to 3 hours.
In the morning, stir the oatmeal well and set onto warm. Serve with your preferred toppings. That's it!

I topped mine with pure maple syrup, soy milk, cinnamon and brown sugar. The texture of the oatmeal is completely different when it it made in a slow cooker. It is thick and creamy and absolutely wonderful. I can't believe I've been making mine on the stove top all these years! I just simply can't go back to that now. This really brought my back to our kitchen in Illinois and the cold winter mornings when this breakfast got me warm and ready for the day. My whole house enjoyed a warm hearty meal that morning and our tummies were full and happy for hours.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Some of my favorite memories from High School involve loads of pasta, garlic bread, occasionally salad, episodes of The Office and the wonderful Alyssa Hook! We were obsessed with making pasta together. I even made her a recipe book with our favorite pastas in it and we still use that book to this day. When we were back for break, we decided to use the old recipe book (which she always packs to bring home on breaks, just in case), and we made one of our favorites--Creamy Baked Fettuccine with Asiago and Thyme, or as we like to call it "The Creme Fraiche Pasta". Alyssa and I both have major issues with fettuccine (we think it's way too thick and creates a completely incorrect pasta to sauce ratio), so we substituted it with linguine and one of our favorite pastas was born.

The Creme Fraiche Pasta
Adapted from Everyday Italian on The Food Network

1 lb linguine
2 cups grated asiago cheese, plus 1/4
2 (8 oz) containers of creme fraiche
1 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh, chopped thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Bring salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain pasta and reserve 1 cup of the water (this is key).
Meanwhile, combine the 2 cups of asiago cheese, creme fraiche, parmesan, thyme, reserved water and pasta and toss until the pasta is coated. Place in a baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining asiago cheese. Bake until golden on top, around 25 minutes.

Almost too beautiful to dig into.

But we do it anyway.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Sometimes, I see a recipe and I simply cannot wait to make it. It doesn't even go into my list of recipes to try, and instead, the ingredients go straight onto my shopping list. When I saw the recipe for this noodle and bean soup, that's exactly what happened. It was my first day back in Davis and as I sat watching my fence steam outside, I knew that this dish was exactly what I needed to feel right at home. Plus, who can resist the beautiful sight of beans soaking on the counter all day?

Bean and Noodle Soup
Vaguely adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 cups vegetable broth
2 cups dried bean mix of your choice
1 can cooked garbanzo beans, rinsed
½ pound angel hair or some other thin pasta (I used whole wheat)
3 oz fresh spinach leaves, finely shredded
¼ cup finely shredded cilantro leaves
Juice of one lime (I had to use a lemon, but a lime would be much better!)
For the Toppings:
Very thinly sliced onion
Crème fraiche
Chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced jalapeño
Lime wedges

Optional: soak the dried beans over night or even for just a few hours before.
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and the pepper and cook until they soften. Add the spices and then stir in the broth. Bring to a boil and add the dry beans. Cook until they are just tender, around 1 hour. Stir in the cooked beans garbanzo beans. Add salt to taste and let cook until the beans are heated throughout. Add the noodles at the end to the simmering pot soup and cook until al dente. Stir in the spinach and cilantro. Add a squeeze of lime/lemon.
Serve topped with the thinly sliced onions, crème fraiche, jalapenos and cilantro.

I was right. This was a perfect first meal back at home, all cozy in my warm house before venturing out to bike to work.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nesting in Davis

I'm back to school and back to blogging! It's been quite a while, but I'm ready to get back into the whirl. This break was much different than past ones. I had to stay in Davis for a while to work at the coffee shop, and with a lot of my Fresno friends either very busy or out of town entirely, there was a very different vibe--not bad, but different. I did, however, have a wonderful break with my friends that were in town and with my family. I had a few food adventures as well, including gnocchi with my friend's Nonna, a cupcake making party (also at Nonna's house), baked goods galore and tamales with my mom and of course, pasta with Alyssa (some of these dishes will of course be the stars of future posts). After the excitement of break, I wasn't quite ready when I packed my friend's car to come home to Davis last Sunday night. It was not a good feeling. Usually, I am pretty ready to return to Dtown by the end of break, but this time, it just didn't seem right. For me, there's no better way to cure a homesick heart than to nestle into wherever I am. And that is exactly what I did Monday morning.

Monday, I had no classes, so I started the day by waking up around 9 (good time for me!) and taking a trip to TJ's for groceries. I had to fix my pathetically stocked kitchen! Looking in my side of the fridge and only seeing parmesan cheese was not doing it for me. Once the kitchen was stocked once again, I was already starting to feel better, so I sat down to one of my favorite breakfasts--a grapefruit. That's it. Nothing to it. However, I am awfully particular about the way I eat grapefruit. My mom taught me this technique when I was a child and I still do it this way to this day.

I begin by cutting the grapefruit in half and cutting around each section to separate the segments from the walls. It's totally worth it when each section comes neatly out into your spoon and you don't have to spend time digging out all of the good stuff.

And then it looks beautiful like this! Just the site of a beautiful grapefruit like this makes me feel happy. Side note: I use grapefruit scented face wash so I can have feel the joy of this breakfast whenever I wash my face!

The final step is squeezing all of the juice into a bowl and drinking it all. Mmm, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. It was beautiful to sit at my dining room table and watch out the glass door as the fence in the backyard steamed from the rising sun hitting it's surface. I was all warm and cozy inside with my grapefruit in the beautiful new bowl that my mom got me for breakfast. Everything was starting to feel homey.

Throughout the day, I consumed a lot of tea. Tea always relaxes me and sets my mind at ease, so it felt like a perfect medicine to settle me back into my home. 

After breakfast, I spent much of the day unpacking and cleaning the house--kitchen, bathroom, floors, and my own bedroom. Something about getting everything in order made me feel a lot better about being back in my Davis home. Around mid day, I started dinner--a beautiful bean and noodle soup that will be featured in my next post. At night, I went to the coffee shop to close. It was great to be back at work and out of the land of Starbucks (Fresno).  By tuesday morning, I woke up ready to go to class and completely excited to be back and starting a new quarter.